Darwin’s on 4th: 1525 4th St Sarasota, FL

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Yesterday was my honey’s birthday. We searched a few menus online of restaurants that we’ve heard great things about and ultimately decided on dining at Darwin‘s to celebrate. We arrived to find a very cool looking building.  Inside was dim, with romantic lighting and beautiful attention to detail in everything from the ceiling, draped in rich colored fabrics hanging from wrought iron fencing, rustic lamps, woven placemats, all the way to the awesome open kitchen where we could watch the chefs make their magic happen.

We were warmly welcomed, first by the hostess and then by our waiter. He told us that hand-crafting beer was one of their specialties- but neither of us are really beer drinkers. That said, the descriptive menu was so appealing that I felt like I had to at least have a taste or two- and our waiter was more than happy to oblige. I tasted the pumpkin spice and their signature beer, and while I’m still not really a fan of beer in general, I can understand that there are different notes and flavors to be appreciated just like with wine.

We looked over the menu, full of very appealing choices, and had a chat with our  waiter about his favorites. Apparently, he pretty much loves everything there- and had a lot of excitement in describing a few of them. We decided to share a bunch of appetizers rather than limiting ourselves to just 2 entrees. We are always happy to share plates (just another reason why I love him) and agree on just about everything food-wise- which really isn’t difficult since we both love eating.

The bus-boy brought out a few little popover-type rolls- they were almost identical to the ones they serve at Derek’s Culinary Casuals, just down the street, so I (wrongly) assumed that perhaps the chefs were buddies from culinary school. Very soon after, our first 3 choices arrived and were presented beautifully- full of color, texture and creativity.

The first was the Yuzu butter poached lobster taco: Miso-truffle black bean puree, avocado, pico de gallo, soft flour tortilla. It had generous pieces of lobster claw meat and that bean puree was incredible- smooth and just the right amount of truffle oil. The tortillas were fluffy and fresh. It was the perfect amount for 2 people- one taco each, and just delicious.

The 2nd was the Limi chopped salad: Spring mix, romaine lettuce, tomato, onions, avocado, choclo, black beans, queso fresco, orange chipotle vinaigrette. It had been recommended to us by a co-worker of Gabriel’s so we felt we better try it. It was colorful and filled with fresh produce, beans and queso fresco to make a refreshing combination. That said, it didn’t blow us away as something all that special- but it was still a nice, light compliment to our other, heavier dishes. I could see ordering it for lunch with another app and feeling like it was the perfect light meal.

Our 3rd plate was the Octopus Tiradito: Sashimi-style tender octopus, black olive puree, onions, avocado, toasted bread. Octopus is Gabriel’s favorite so we had to try it. It was tender, but not as melt-in-your-mouth as we have had it on a few occasions. The olive tampenade was an interesting contrast that I didn’t think would work, but in reality was quite tasty in and a cool texture along with with the chewier meat and soft, creamy avocado.

After those first 3 dishes, we wanted something salty and crunchy and were excited to see tostones on the ‘sides’ menu. (So sorry that we dove into these and polished them off before I remembered I hadn’t taken a photo!) They are one of my favorite snacks when done right and these absolutely were. Wow. Hot, crispy, just the right amount of batter and with a wonderful, herby, chimichurri-type dipping sauce alongside. These were really awesome, and as a classic, authentic Peruvian dish, I’m sure that Darwin has had these under his belt for a while. Finding genuine, ethnic food in Sarasota never ceases to amaze and surprise me. I should really stop doubting how many fantastic restaurants hosted by talented chefs this area offers.

We wanted one more small dish to end this awesome meal and so we asked our waiter one more time for a recommendation. He told us that the Tuna Tiradito was not to be missed. It is Darwin’s signature Sashimi-style tuna, ginger soy sauce, cubes of fresh watermelon, leche de tigre. I’m SO glad that we listened to his advice because this ended up being my favorite of the night. The sweet, cool, juicy watermelon was a fantastic contrast to the tender, fresh, raw, tuna and the lemony sauce that came alongside was a tart compliment to the whole dish. It was beautifully presented and tasted even better than it looked.

We were about to ask to see a dessert menu when our attentive waiter, Enrique, showed up with a surprise ‘Happy Birdday’ dessert for Gabriel. Yes, birdday. Ummm. Cute mistake. The dessert was the Lavender Poached Pear with Goat cheese ice cream, black pepper caramel sauce. Not something I’d really ever order, but definitely enjoyable and very different. The black pepper, caramel sauce was especially unique and neither one of us hesitated in coming as close to licking the plate as is socially acceptable.

Overall, this was a very different dining experience than I have had in a while. Very NY. Very sexy. Very delicious. We will most certainly be back again soon. Thank you Darwin!

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