Category Archives: New York

Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni: Born in Brooklyn, based in Florida, available at many fine dining establishments!

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tortoni When the chefs behind Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni asked me if I would help them out by taste testing a few different versions of their product, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and decided that out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, that I would grant them that favor. It is precisely moments like these that remind me of that cliche, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While there isn’t paper money involved here per se, delicious tastes of dessert are worth way more than dollars as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up in New York, where it was common to see tortoni on just about every pizza place or Italian restaurant menu. The choice was usually tortoni, spumoni, or cannoli, and given the option of dried, candied fruit and nuts in spumoni (yuck) or ricotta cheese filling of a cannoli (Um, ew. Why would I want cheese and carbs for dessert after presumably eating cheese and carbs for dinner?), the choice was always clear to me. Add a single-serve sized paper cup that meant I didn’t have to share, a maraschino cherry and almond cookie crunchies on top and well, who could pass that up?

I didn’t realize until many years later that at some point I stopped seeing these delightful treats on menus. I didn’t even realize how much I missed them until this dessert duo brought it to my attention by offering me a taste of their version of this classic.

The first sample I had was creamy, cold, sweet, and sparked so many memories for me that I simply forgot to slow down and savor each bite. It was gone before I knew it and I was clearly NOT wearing my culinary taste-tester hat that day. I would definitely require another one to be able to give helpful feedback.

The second sample was a different story. I was mentally prepared to take small bites and really let all five senses tune in. The crisp cookie crumbles on top were my favorite part. They are blended throughout the cup giving a slightly granular feel and keeping that almondy flavor consistent from top to bottom. I saved the cherry for last, as I always do with any cherry-topped dessert, and it was a wonderful last juicy bite.

The taste is very similar to ice cream, but more like frozen custard with a slightly eggier quality to it. It’s sort of like someone melted one of those yummy, toasted almond, Good Humor popsicles, re-constituted it, used better quality ingredients, and then perfected that concept in a cup version. It was *almost* the perfect tortoni, but for me, someone who has a serious sweet tooth by the way, it was actually too sweet overall. Now that did not for one second mean that I left even one drop uneaten, it just meant that I actually had something other than a full rave to come back to the creators with.

And so, that brings me to the final version. The chefs tweaked the original recipe that they used by reducing the amount of sugar and the amount of crumbled almond cookies by nearly half. They brought me my third and final sample. The moment of truth. I used a small spoon so as better to slow my bites down and to allow me to savor every delectable taste. Now this is perfection. Creamy, sweet but not-too-sweet, crispy, almondy, cold, and just the right portion size (although I could admittedly eat 2 or 3 of these easily- I really shouldn’t).

This is a memory in a paper cup. A great memory…and now one that can live on in the present instead of only a distant past. Bravo!

You can have your own “creamy, dreamy, taste embrace” too! Find them at Mozzarella Fella, Solorzano, Don Giovanni’s and MANY more restaurants coming soon! Follow their Facebook page to see where they are going to pop up next! https://www.facebook.com/brooklynbiscuittortoni

And if YOU want to carry them in your restaurant, contact the chefs via their website for wholesale information:

http://www.brooklynbiscuittortoni.com/

Oasis Cafe Mediterranean Cuisine: 4246 South Tamiami Trl Sarasota, FL

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oasis cafe I had a craving for falafel a couple of weeks ago, so I headed for the one place I know of to get some for lunch, a little cafe called Zante Gyros on Superior Ave. When I got there I was surprised to see it was gone. Out of business. Kaput. Bummer! I was already short on time on my lunch break and quickly checked Yelp for another choice close by. I found great ratings for Oasis, and drove over.

I arrived to find a small, casual, take-out cafe with a few tables and booths to sit at. I ordered a falafel platter with sides of Mediterranean salad and Tzatiki. It came with pita and 4 pieces of falafel.

It was all pretty good, but nothing spectacular. The pita was regular, store-bought pita. When you’ve had homemade, fresh, warm pita (like the kind they have at Pyramida in NYC), that makes just about everything else shy in comparison. The tzatiki was alright- but it was a bit tangy for my liking, and there wasn’t enough chopped cucumber in it. The falafel and salad were good and made fresh to order.

Overall, I might go there again in a pinch, but I think I’ll keep looking for another one that’s even better.

 

 

Sal’s Pizzeria & Pasta House: 6582 Gateway Ave Sarasota, FL

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saladsals pizzaEither I’ve lived in Florida for long enough that I’ve forgotten what real NY pizza tastes like, or I just found a GREAT place for a slice here! Given that it’s still less than 2 years since my big relocation, and factoring in the total number of slices I ate while living in NYC for 5 years, I’m pretty sure that I can still consider myself a fair pizza critic, and this passed with flying colors. This is not a gourmet, fancy, brick-oven slice, this is a true, NY style, fold-over, crispy crusted, melty cheese slice. Just a good, no-frills, plain, classic cheese slice- and exactly what I wanted.

The salad was nothing particularly exciting, but did include a fresh veggies (carrots, lettuce, tomatoes)  and olive slices, and my side of blue cheese dressing was above average with decent sized chunks.

For $4.99 to get a slice of pizza, a soda and a salad for a quick lunch was a great deal.

I will absolutely be back! Thanks Sal’s!

UPDATE August 1 , 2017!

I’ve been continuing to go to Sal’s whenever I’m in the area for the last few years and was SO excited to find out that they are now making cauliflower crust pizza. It’s a real pain in the ass to make at home, and I don’t have a pizza oven to really give it the perfect texture. Well, this did NOT disappoint. At around $13 for a small/personal size, I wasn’t even able to finish half on my own so I would say, for the amount of effort that has to go into making it, it is WELL worth the price.

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Lavanda: 1938 Adams Ln Ste 105 Sarasota, FL

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The setting of Lavanda is lovely. The restaurant‘s wrap-around porch in the Towles Court Arts District is one of the most peaceful places to eat in Sarasota. It’s almost charming enough to not notice that we are, by about 35 years, the youngest people dining here. It was my birthday, and Gabriel had taken me, by request, to this restaurant that I’d heard so much about.

For someone who reads and writes reviews as frequently as I do, it is no one’s fault but my own that while the overall ratings for Lavanda are excellent, I ignored the fact that it’s simply not my taste. My favorite meals are inventive, exciting, unique. The food at Lavanda is classic, traditional, boring, bland. As soon as I looked over the menu I was concerned. Nothing on this list sounded at all inspired or new. This is the kind of food that feeds (and impresses!) the over 70 crowd who remembers old New York eateries for it’s dimly lit, stodgy, upper crust predictability and not for it’s cutting edge, melting pot, thrilling creativity.

I started with a half-size appetizer. (something worth noting is that I really appreciate half-sizes as an option. I often want a taste and not a filling first course) Steamed large shrimp over baby spinach, artichoke hearts, mandarin slices and toasted pine nuts drizzled with tahini tamarind dressing. The shrimp were large and fresh and the salad itself was a nice mix of flavors and textures- especially the fresh mandarin orange wedges and creamy dressing. There was nothing wrong with this salad- but I did not expect that it would be the best part of my meal. Gabriel had the warm mozzarella with tomato sauce started and I was not particularly impressed. This was not fresh, homemade mozzarella from what I could tell- and if it was, they should really take some brush-up lessons from the amazing owners at Mozzarella Fella on Main St. The tomato sauce was fine- but nothing special. The extra bread they brought us after we’d finished the 2 warm rolls they’d allotted us, was cold.

For my entrée, I had the scallops sautéed with cream, Amaretto and almonds with mashed potatoes and an odd spinach/chick pea side. Who puts chick peas with spinach on the side of scallops and mashed potatoes? That was just a very weird choice that really didn’t go with the meal at all. The scallops were fine- the mashed potatoes were good, the spinach side was just nothing but strange. Overall, it’s not that the food was bad, it was just so totally hum-ho, boring, sleepy, uninspired.

For dessert, we shared the lemon souffle and frankly, it was not worth it. I am VERY much a dessert person, so when a dessert makes me say ‘meh’, you know it’s pretty bad. The souffle was denser and wetter than it should have been, the flavor was more bland, than lemony, and the whole thing had nothing at all interesting about it. Just total blah. Let’s go home to have some ice cream instead.

 

Isan Thai Restaurant: 5758 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

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shrimp fresh rolls cucumber salad cashew nut veggies and tofucoconut mango sticky rice

Gabriel and I were hungry after class at Family Tree Yoga ( http://familytreeyogasrq.com )  on Tuesday night (taught by my hunky honey ( www.magicsandbox.com ) so we decided to check Yelp for somewhere close by with great Thai food. When Isan came up, we thought it was be a perfect idea. I actually pass it frequently since I work nearby and often go to Phillippi Creek park on my lunch breaks to read…I just had no idea that it had so many great reviews.

We walked in to find a sparkling clean establishment with pretty, carved-wood booths and smiling waitresses dressed in traditional Thai outfits. Our menus and waters were brought over promptly and we took a few minutes to decide what we wanted to order.

We started with the shrimp fresh rolls and the cucumber salad. Both were served quickly, filled with crisp, fresh, bright, ingredients and flavored simply. The peanut dipping sauce for the rolls had a creamy, rich taste, and was smoother than most peanut sauces I’ve had. I believe it had more Hoisin sauce than I’m used to, and I really enjoyed that. The cucumber salad was dressed lightly with a little vinegar and maybe some lemon and olive oil. It was a subtle dressing that allowed the flavor of the various vegetables to come through.

For my entree, I had the cashew nut tofu and vegetables. It was a generous portion of colorful veggies with a light sauce. I would have like more cashews- they were quite few and far between, but the relatively small number of them DID make for a super healthy entree and I was happy about that. The tofu was lightly pan fried- with little or no breading- exactly the way I like it. I asked for no rice knowing that the fresh mango-coconut sticky rice dessert would be calling my name. Half of that carb-y dessert would be plenty of starch for me, and I knew I didn’t need to fill up on rice with my entree also with such a plentiful plate of vegetables.

The dessert was awesome. The chunks of mango were sweet and juicy and the coconut sauce over the sticky rice was heaven. This is historically one of my favorite desserts, and though I’ve never had a version as unbelievably addictive as the one from Land in NYChttps://bigforkinmouth.com/2010/04/22/land-northeast-thai-1565-2nd-avenue-new-york-ny ) this was came pretty close and Gabriel and I demolished it in less than 5 minutes.

Both of us really enjoyed our dinners and the attentive waitresses. The setting was much prettier on the inside than we expected from the outside. My only complaint was that it was freezing inside and I really wished I had a sweater. Otherwise,  I was totally impressed with Isan Thai and will definitely return!

 

Louie’s Modern: 1289 N. Palm Ave. Sarasota, FL

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heart of palm salad kale salad salmon

I have a new Sarasota favorite! YAY! I met my family here for a goodbye dinner as my parents are heading out of town for the summer. Knowing that it’s run by the same people as Libby’s, (another fav) I knew I was in for a treat. I did go with slightly lowered expectations because of a surprising number of poor reviews on Yelp, but I had an open mind having been misled by Yelpers before.

Pulling up to the cool building/parking lot/outdoor bar area, It looked like a pretty fancy place by Florida standards. We walked inside to find beautifully tasteful decor. A sleek fountain in the front sets the tone of the ambiance which is minimalist, detail-oriented and chic. It is young, modern and hip feeling, but not in a trendy way.

We were seated at a comfortable banquette and looked over our placemat-menus. It has one of the most appealing selections of any restaurant I’ve been to. Even as a non-meat-eater, there were tons of awesome choices and picking one was not an easy task. It was made a little easier when Gabriel agreed to share two different salads as a starter.

The Kale Caesar was exceptional. I happen to love Kale in any form, but for the many people who don’t, I think this salad would be a great way to try it again. It didn’t even need the dressing that it came with, but once I tasted the creamy, delicious version of this classic, I devoured it even faster. The other salad we ordered was the Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with roasted beets, sunchoke, shaved fennel, radish, cucumber, pressed ricotta, and a fancy aged balsamic. It was light but full of flavor with ingredients that definitely don’t find their way into my at-home salads. Although I preferred the Kale salad, this too was wonderful.

For my entree, I ordered the Wood Fired Scottish Salmon served with blood orange confit, hearts of palm,  and pomegranate. I had a delicious side of roasted mushrooms- which sadly, I forgot to photograph. Both were outstanding, cooked to perfection and full of unexpected, complimentary flavors. The portion sizes were just right- and except for a small taste of a homemade cracker and some garlic toast, I didn’t even need to fill up on the awesome (and dangerously tempting) basket of bread on the table. I did, however, fall victim to sharing a glorious slice of Key Lime pie. It’s one of my very favorite desserts and not even wedding-preparation dieting could hold me back from indulging in a shared piece. (This too, I forgot to photograph. Sorry!)

Overall, my experience here was way above my expectations. It’s no surprise that even in the ‘off season’ they were crowded and having a reservation proved to be a good (and necessary) idea. I hope that my 5 star review will help the Yelp ratings, which I am happy to report, are WAY off.  I will surely be back asap. The prices are reasonable for an amazing dinner out, and I honestly loved everything about it. Bravo!

 

State Street Eating House: 1533 State St, Sarasota FL

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state st clam chowderstate st grilled lettuce state st grilled cheese

I was excited to finally visit State Street Eating House with my dad for lunch last week. I’ve walked past it a bunch of times and am always intrigued by the menu, the minimalist/industrial atmosphere and the young, hip crowd dines and drinks there. When we met on a Wednesday at 1:30, we were greeted by the owner- who I was sure (and turned out to be wrong) must be from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It felt so familiar in a New York-y way, and everything about him from his persona to his plaid shirt and bow tie made me think of the Brooklyn hipsters I left behind when I moved to Sarasota last year.

We sat at a table and were brought menus and asked if we wanted tap or bottled water. We asked for tap, which we quickly realized was not going to cut it. The water was notably bad, as it often is in Florida, and we ordered a ($6!!) bottle of Evian instead. This turned out to be the ONLY thing about our experience here that we didn’t both love. We did, in fact, chat with the owner about it after our lunch and he was very open to hearing the criticism. He explained that they were expanding into the space next door and planned to add a filtration system. We also discussed his ideas about charging for bread and filtered water, which my father and I cautioned him against. We both agreed that we’d rather see price increases on the menu items to cover his costs there rather than charging extra for things that our society definitely expects to be included.

Anyway, back to the meal. We decided to order a bowl of soup, a salad, and a sandwich. We asked the waiter if he would ask the chef if he would split our three choices for us to share. When our food arrived, we were both pleased to see that the splits had been made. The portion sizes were STILL so large that I was surprised it was only ‘half’ on my plate and in my bowl. I liked the simplicity of the presentation and felt that it coordinated well with the decor of the restaurant. The way the ambiance, menu, staff and food all went together showed clear attention to detail and sophistication.

Our clam chowder had whole clams, chunks of potato, celery, little puffed crackers, and a creamy, smooth, not-too-thick base. It had a wonderful flavor that could only come from the fresh clams. The semi-thin consistency made it a lovely first course instead of the heavy, filling, appetizer that most chowders are.

Our salad and sandwich came out next, looking amazing. The salad was wonderful; Grilled lettuce hearts topped with ricotta salata and fried hearts of palm. It came with a side of bread, but I chose to leave it behind since the bread on the grilled cheese was already carb-indulgent enough. Well, ok. I did have one little bite of it, but it wasn’t different enough from the sandwich bread that I could justify it. The salad was tossed in a grainy mustard dressing that added texture and a little sharp bite to this creative salad. It was my own fault that I didn’t ask for the dressing on the side. I almost always do, but forgot this time. It was overdressed for my taste, but I still ate every bite and really enjoyed it. The classic grilled cheese sandwich was served on crusty sourdough, with thin slices of tomato. It was grilled perfectly and adorably topped with a green olive. Some creamy coleslaw came alongside of it, but was also a bit overdressed for my taste. I love cabbage, so too much mayo is always a disappointment.  The cheddar cheese was awesome; gooey, sharp and exactly the comfort food I’d expected.

Overall, aside from the bad tap water and overpriced bottled water, I thoroughly enjoyed this meal and restaurant. I would love to go back some evening after work for cocktails (they use craft liquors that add to inherently artsy quality) and snacks like the housemade pickles and mini lobster rolls on their snack menu. If you need a cool spot to meet a date or some friends, I think State Street Eating House makes a great choice.

Solorzano Bros Pizza, 3604 Webber St, Sarasota, FL

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As a New Yorker who moved to Sarasota a year ago, I’m constantly on a quest to find pizza that comes close to what I know and love. Most pizza places around here, to put it bluntly, really suck. A few months ago, I found G’s Pizza (https://bigforkinmouth.com/2012/07/25/gs-pizzaria-7119-s-tamiami-trail-sarasota-fl/) and have been pretty happy to satisfy a craving there when the need strikes. It’s very close to work which is great, but it’s pretty far from where I live- and we are definitely NOT in their delivery zone. I think it was my review of G’s which prompted the owner of Solorzano’s to email me suggesting that I give them a try. Well, a pizza craving hit hard yesterday so Gabriel and I headed over to their Webber St. location which is less than 10 minutes from our house.

When we arrived, we found that their choice of slices was limited to plain or pepperoni only- apparently they’d had a busy day already and sold out of everything else. The boy behind the counter told us he’d be happy to make us slices of whatever we wanted anyway, which we were happy to hear. The very reasonable $6 lunch special I ordered included any slice, a house salad, a drink and 2 garlic knots. (Well, I’m actually not entirely sure that it normally includes the garlic knots or if that was something he threw in after I mentioned that I’m a food blogger. Either way, nice touch.)  I ordered artichoke and mushrooms for my slice of pizza and sat down to wait for my meal. A few moments later, a lovely salad with perfectly ripe, red, tomato slices, red onions, fresh cucumbers, romaine lettuce and a great balsamic dressing came out, along with my slice and a couple of huge garlic knots.

Everything looked awesome and I was ready to dive in. The salad was a generous portion of fresh and colorful veggies, and the slice looked VERY New York. My first bite was promising. Yes! The cheese was full of flavor, hot and bubbly and the sauce was slightly sweet and the right amount. My only gripe was the crust. The texture and taste were spot-on, but it was just slightly too thick for me. I personally like a good, thin, fold-over-able NY style crust over one that’s really bread-y.  Even so, this is pretty damn close to what I want in a slice, and I will definitely give it my stamp of approval. The garlic knots were really oversized compared to the typical NY ones, and they tasted great. Crusty outside and doughy/chewy inside. They could have used a little more garlic, but I’m admittedly a garlic freak. I am very curious to go back to try the other types of pizza- there were SO many appealing choices, like ‘Farmer’s Market made with fresh local produce, the ‘Sinatra’, a white pie with fresh tomato slices and basil, as well as the ‘Margarita’ with fresh basil and mozzarella. I’d also like to try the eggplant parmesan at some point.

The setting itself was very authentic and made me feel like I was back up north. I liked the Rat Pack music playing on the speakers and thought it added a cute touch to the old time-y Italian feel. There are plenty of tables outside which I would have enjoyed except that it happened to be a very windy day. We decided to sit atop the red stools inside and were comfortable there. We thought it was interesting that there’s another supposedly authentic NY pizza shop in the same plaza, and after seeing 4 stars on Yelp figured that now we’re gonna have to try that one too. That said, I am quite sure our next delivery order will be from Solorzano’s regardless. I’m very happy to be able to throw away the delivery menus I’ve collected and rejected so far and replace the subpar choices near me with the very good Solorzano Bros. instead. Bravo! We will be back!

Tandoori Indian Restaurant: 3440 Clark rd. Sarasota, FL HAS MOVED TO 8453 Cooper Creek Blvd

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mango lassipappadum and 3 sauces, tamarind etcchickpea potatoes patties appnaanrotieggplant entreesaag paneerbasmati rice

I feel like I’ve said this a lot more times than I ever expected to, but WOW, great ethnic food in Sarasota?!?! Amazing! Who knew?

Gabriel and I bought a coupon deal to go to Tandoori Indian Restaurant based on a recommendation from my boss. We decided to go a few nights ago when I had a serious craving for Sag Paneer. (Fresh homemade cottage cheese cubes cooked in fresh creamy spinach gravy, very delicately spiced.) This is one of those dishes that I get intense cravings for every so often, and since I’ve recently cut meat out of my diet and am finding less options on most menus, I am so happy to say that this favorite of mine is still a-okay.

When we arrived, it was a fairly empty restaurant but we noticed quickly that a lot of their business seems to be in take-out. Quite a few people came to pick up their ‘to go’ orders while we ate. The waitress came over and brought menus and water and made some suggestions at our request. She also brought out the delicious, creamy, sweet, mango lassis we ordered, as well as some crisp popadom with the 3 classic sauces: tamarind, mint chutney and onion. My favorite is always tamarind and I always ask for extra to use on the rice and entrees as well.

We decided to try the Ragda Patties (crispy fried potato patties topped with chick peas cooked in onion & tomato paste spiced with ground spices and finished off with our house yogurt and tamarind & mint chutney) as our appetizer. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it WAS really delicious. It was mainly chick peas, spiced with really interesting flavors, and the patties it sat atop were decadent, creamy, potatoes. They didn’t really seem crispy to me- as described in the menu, but they were very flavorful and the texture contrast with the chickpeas was interesting.

For our entrees, we shared the Sag Paneer, which was perfect, and the Baingan Bharta (roasted, de-skinned and pureed eggplant, cooked with turmeric, onions and tomatoes, seasoned with herbs & lightly flavored with a hint of freshly ground fried spices) which was also really wonderful. The basmati rice that came with it and the Tandoori Naan and Roti we ordered were the perfect platforms for the complex flavors of our entrees.

Overall, I am really happy to have had a chance to try Tandoori and will definitely be back. The owner came out to chat with us to tell us that they will soon be moving to a new location in Coopers Creek off of University Drive- and we are glad to know they will be in an area that we frequent. As a New Yorker who used to think that Jackson Heights, Queens is really the best place outside of India (not that I’ve actually been there) to eat Indian food, I am VERY pleasantly surprised to find awesome, authentic, Indian cuisine right here in Sarasota, Florida. Bravo Tandoori!

 

UPDATE: Tandoori Grill has moved to 8453 Cooper Creek Blvd and is STILL awesome. Gabriel and I had dinner there last week and the food was FANTASTIC. YAY!! It’s so close to where I live now and the $9.99 buffet still has tons of vegetarian options.

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!