Tag Archives: bradenton

Columbia Restaurant: 411 St. Armands Circle, Sarasota, FL

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Sometimes I think atmosphere is equally important to food for a dining experience. In the case of a gorgeous day and wanting to eat outside, this was one of those times. Gabriel and I were walking around the lovely St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota when we found ourselves ravenously hungry for lunch. Having been to Columbia Restaurant before with my mother a few years ago, I remembered having a good lunch salad here and suggested we try to get a table outside for lunch.

We went to the hostess who told us it would be 5-15 minutes for a table and that they’d call our names when they were ready. 5 minutes later, a waiter came and started leading us to an indoor table. When I stopped him and told him we’d requested outside, he took us back to the hostess and informed her of the mistake. She told us that  it would be another 5 minutes or so for an outdoor table. 10 minutes later, an outside table opened up and we noticed it being cleared, presumably for us. Two women walked in, went up to the hostess and were immediately seated at that table. Confused, we went up to the hostess to ask why people who’d just waltzed in got seated before us since we’d been waiting. She was a bit nasty, explaining that she just takes the names and doesn’t choose who sits where. We made our aggravation clear and a few short moments later a waiter asked us if we wouldn’t mind one of the umbrella tables. Being that those are also outside, we answered that sure, that was just fine. Hmmmm. So far, not impressed with the service here.

A few minutes later the waiter came over with water and menus and some warm bread and butter. He was sort of gruff in his explanation of the specials and I noted his name tag, Sandor. I ordered the gazpacho to start and the Mahi Mahi with rice and plantains for my entree. When he came over with my cup of soup and the platter of chopped veggies to top it with, I opted to have a little of each added. I asked for just a few croutons and he, again rather snottily, said ‘Well, I can only fit a few anyway’. Hmmm again. Gabriel and I exchanged a look wondering what we’d done to be treated so rudely. I know it doesn’t sound so bad, but it was his tone and attitude and the way he ordered me to ‘please enjoy the food.’. I wish I could capture the sarcastic tone better in my writing.

My soup was actually pretty good. I enjoyed the very garlicy flavor and the fresh vegetables. The crunchy croutons on top were a nice textural addition and I finished my cup in just a couple of minutes.

My entree arrived shortly after. The plate was half filled with rice- way too much as far as I’m concerned, but the fish in a citrusy sauce was tasty- even though it was smothered in far too many onions. My fried plantains were both greasy and mushy, and I happily gave most of them away to Gabriel. Sandor didn’t check on us once during our entree, even though we noticed him checking on the table next to us (seated with 3 attractive women) more than a few times.

When we were clearly done, he asked if we were ready for the check. Ok. I guess dessert was not an option. (even though the menu made it clear that it was).

We did not hesitate in tipping 15%. We tip 20% pretty much everywhere we eat, so that was pretty indicative of how we felt. I will not be returning. There are plenty of other options in the area for outdoor eating minus the nasty service.

 

Duval’s New World Cafe: 1435 Main St. Sarasota, FL

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Gabriel and I had tickets to see a show at the Florida Studio Theater last night so we asked my father for a recommendation of a restaurant nearby to have dinner first. As a newbie in the area, I’m excited about so many options to choose from, many with great reviews online. My father suggested that we make a reservation at Duval’s for good food, reasonable prices and close proximity to the theater.

I made a reservation on Open Table for 6:30 for the 2 of us, and we lucked out in getting a parking spot directly across the street. When we went in, it was clear that we really didn’t need the reservation after all. There were about 8 people total inside the large space. Oh yeah, it’s Easter! I guessed most people were with their families.

I loved that there was a flat screen tv behind the bar upon which you can watch the chef preparing meals. Talk about transparency in a kitchen! It was spotless in there and very entertaining to see the 2 chefs working together on their preparations.

The waiter came out right away to take drink orders and bring our menus to us. Soon after, he returned with ice water with lemon (which I love and it seems that all of the restaurants do that around here) and a basket of bread and butter.  The bread was doughy and fresh, but it was served cold and we would have preferred it to be warmed. He also went over the specials, all of which sounded very appealing.

I started with the Harvest Salad, a small starter of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and great, chunky blue cheese dressing. The salad was on the small side, but as an accompaniment to my entree, and priced at only $2.50, it was the perfect size for me. For my entree I had the Trout Almandine, one of my favorites. When I see it on a menu, I almost always go for it. It was served with butternut squash and lemon/dill mashed potatoes. I asked for the chef to go light on the butter and was very pleased that he took my request to heart. The fish was cooked perfectly. Rather than being served with the slivers of almonds on top like most restaurants do it, this filet was crusted in a coating of ground almonds which made for a crisp and flavorful layer. The mashed potatoes were awesome, with a bright lemony flavor but I could hardly taste the dill- even though I could see it clearly. The squash was al dente, cooked with onions, mushrooms and balsamic and it was a lovely side to my fish, but being that the potatoes were already a carb-laden side, I would have preferred a green, less starchy vegetable.

I don’t usually write about what Gabriel orders if I’m not sharing with him, but this time it’s worth a quick mention. He had the crab and shrimp stuffed salmon which I had a taste of and I thought it was excellent. His side of risotto with mushrooms was also awesome.

We both completely cleaned our plates which really didn’t leave room for dessert. We looked over the offerings anyway, but nothing really jumped out at me as a ‘please make a little more room for me’ necessity. The waiter described the bread pudding and it did sound delicious, but we were really both too full to manage it this time.

Given the great service, appealing menu, easy location and reasonable prices, I think we’ll definitely be back!

The Waterfront Restaurant: 111 S Bay Blvd, Anna Maria, FL

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My dad and I went for lunch at The Waterfront Restaurant today and had a great time. On a gorgeous day, sitting outside looking at the water, the blue sky and the Tampa bridge, it’s not difficult to feel completely at peace. Our waitress was friendly and helpful and took our orders right away.

I was trying to decide between the stuffed tomato and the fish tacos, so I asked the waitress if the shrimp salad that came inside of the tomato was very mayo-y. She told me that yes, it was, and I really appreciated her honesty about that. I decided to go for the tacos.

My father started with the lobster bisque, which I tasted and thought was excellent. Very creamy and with decent sized pieces of lobster, it was the kind of soup I’d like to eat on a chilly day. My grouper tacos for  came with a side of Texas caviar (black-eyed peas, lima beans, corn, onions etc) and fresh salsa. They were excellent. Filled with fresh blacked fish, cheddar and jack cheese, jicama and the salsa that came on the side, they were summery, flavorful, and just filling enough without being heavy. I REALLY enjoyed the Texas caviar- something I’d never heard of before, and think I’ll try to make it for myself soon.

I will definitely come back again to try some of the other options on the menu. The prices were reasonable, the service was fast, and the scenery can’t be beat.

 

Bonefish Grill: 8101 Cooper Creek Blvd. Sarasota, FL

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My family and I went to Bonefish for dinner last night and I have to say that it was about as so-so as a restaurant can be. It’s basically typical wedding food, trying to be fancy- but really not quite making it there. The prices are very reasonable though- with the addition of a salad or soup to an entree for less than $3, so having super high expectations wouldn’t really be fair.

We started with the very popular appetizer, Bang Bang shrimp. Tasty, yes…but what food that’s tempura battered and then smothered in a mayo-y sauce wouldn’t taste good? It sat atop a bed of lettuce which made it appear that it had tons of shrimp, but once I realized how much lettuce was underneath the shrimp, each of us only ended up with 3 or so per person. It was supposedly so spicy that we’d need the bread to cool our mouths off, but no, not really, just a slightly kicky aftertaste.

The salads came out next and I actually really enjoyed mine. The citrus and herb house dressing was full of flavor and the mesclun lettuce were topped with pumpkin (?) seeds, heart of palm, tomatoes and olives, a nice diversion from the boring side salads that often come with entrees from other chain restaurants. With the addition of a few anchovies that came with my father’s salad, this was pretty much the highlight of my dinner. The bread was pretty good too, hot and fresh from the oven- and I enjoyed a crusty piece with the olive oil before the entrees arrived.

For my entree I shared two dishes with my boyfriend, Gabriel. One was the pecan and parmesan crusted trout with a lemon butter sauce, artichokes and basil, and the other was the grilled shrimp and scallops with chimichuri. The shrimp and scallops were the winner, fresh and not overly seasoned. The herby sauce brightened up the seafood and I ended up using it on the green beans as well. The pecan crusted fish was one small step above airplane food. Edible, but not particularly enjoyable. It was sort of bland, which was surprising given the description, and I couldn’t really detect pecans OR parmesan…just a lot of breading. The lemon butter sauce helped a bit, but not really enough to redeem the meal. The steamed veggies were cooked nicely, but the odd side of chickpeas that was the vegetable of the day seemed totally out of place to me with it’s Indian flavoring that really didn’t go with any of the main courses.

Overall, the service was good and the prices were very fair, but the food was totally unexciting and uninspired. I may go back again since the fish is all fresh and not frozen, but I’ll probably stick to the salads and the very basic grilled choices. I was surprised to find out that they aren’t open for lunch which is a bummer because I think going in for a salad with grilled shrimp on top would actually be a pretty good mid-day meal. Oh well.

 

Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB): 5238 Ocean Blvd, Sarasota, FL

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I was invited to sing at an open mic here hosted by Ben Hammond so my boyfriend and I made it into an impromptu date night and went for dinner and drinks before I performed.

There was a 30 minute wait for a table at this hopping place- full of fun-loving tourists in casual beachy clothes. We went to sit at the bar while we waited and ordered cocktails from the bartender. Watching her make the drinks we realized that they don’t skimp on the booze here the way they do in NYC, and for half the price, we got double the size.

Once we were seated, we ordered a dozen oysters, sweet potato fries and fish tacos- all which were recommended on yelp.com or by the waitstaff. The oysters, though cheap and fresh, were fairly flavorless and really needed the horseradish and cocktail sauce that they were served with. The fish tacos were okay but pretty skimpy on the fish- and could have been much better if they’d added a bit of avocado or guacamole to them. They were served with a creamy cilantro sauce and salsa, but I really couldn’t taste the cilantro at all. The blacked grouper was fresh and flavorful, just too small to fill the tacos. The sweet potato fries were awesome. Super thick and crunchy and fried to perfection.

Overall, I felt that the prices were reasonable but the food was only so-so. The service was friendly and efficient, and very nice to let us sit for a long time after we finished eating to listen to the band. This is a place you come to for great drinks, a fun scene and awesome music…but not for fantastic food. I’ll be back for the music again for sure…but I think I’ll eat elsewhere next time.

Pho Cali: 1578 Main St. Sarasota, FL

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WOW! What a totally pleasant surprise! As a newly transplanted New Yorker, one of the things I was worried about when deciding to move to Florida was that I’d really miss the amazing ethnic food that’s so easy to find in NY. After trying Pho Cali, I realize that is not so at all. This was absolutely outstanding and I can already tell I’ll be back frequently.

Gabriel and I went in for lunch and ordered 2 dishes and a bubble tea to share. The bubble tea was lychee slush, made with real fruit. It was icy and sweet and totally refreshing and we slurped it down very happily after being outside in 85 degree weather.

Our dishes were the grilled shrimp vermicelli with peanuts and the shrimp and pork lotus stem salad. Both were light and healthy, with a sweet vinegary sauce on the side. I loved the lotus stems which were new to me- I’d only had lotus flower roots before, and the crunchy fried shallots on top added to the interesting combination of textures. The shrimp were incredibly fresh, cooked perfectly and lightly grilled. The thin strips of pork were full of flavor, but very lean and not at all overpowering to the delicate dish.

We left feeling satisfied but not stuffed, exactly what we were hoping for. All of this for a check of around $25 including tip. Oh yes, we will certainly be back soon. Hooray Pho Cali!

Toojay’s Original Gourmet Deli. 3501 S. Tamiami Trail. Sarasota, FL

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My mother and I had to go look for a dress at the mall and we decided that we were really too hungry to do any productive shopping. I’d had the matzo ball soup from here once before and was really impressed that a non-NYC restaurant could pull it off so well. We were seated right away and the huge menus were brought out for us. There was a ton to choose from including salads that sounded great, deli sandwiches, healthy options and full meals at a great value.

I decided on the chicken marsala that came with a side salad (with great blue cheese dressing), fresh baked rye bread (YUM) the vegetable of the day, and roasted potatoes. I decided to swap my potatoes out for sliced tomatoes so that I wouldn’t feel the guilt that would come from eating the bread AND potatoes…one starchy source was plenty for me after a few days of driving from NYC and eating totally unhealthy fast food for most of the meals. I was pretty impressed with the food overall. It’s not a ‘fine’ restaurant, but reminded me of a good NY diner. The chicken was cooked well, with nice, big pieces of mushrooms, the broccoli on the side was cooked just right and the bread was delicious with an excellent crispy crust and soft interior. If I wasn’t so full from my generous portion, I probably would have treated myself to one of the many tempting dessert options. Maybe next time!

Neo Sushi Studio: 1410 1st Ave, NY

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For our final dinner in NYC before the big move to Florida, Gabriel and I were VERY lucky to have our dear friend Betsy take us to Neo Sushi to celebrate. I’d never been, but recently read some reviews claiming that it’s a new UES treasure, even better than Gari or Sasabune (Sasabune, though it’s ridiculously expensive and I have only been once is what I think of as the best sushi I’ve ever had) and at much more reasonable prices.

We were seated right away and the very friendly waiter came to chat with us about what we were in the mood for. We decided to let him choose for us, and I’m very glad we did. He sent over the hamachi sashimi to start. Thinly sliced pieces of exquisite fish topped with cilantro and yuzu black pepper. WOW. This was so incredible and I already felt that this was indeed a special restaurant with a very talented chef. Next we had the Spicy Tuna Rice Crisp. These were little fried rice balls, somewhat reminiscent of tater tots if they were made of rice instead of potato. We were told to top them with the spicy tuna and then dip them in the sauce. Delicious. The mix of hot and cold, spicy and salty, crunchy and squishy was so enjoyable and whimsical. Then the main sushi spread arrived. We had a beautiful assortment of sushi including; salmon with tomato, tuna with soy cream, and hamachi with garlic. We also had a spicy tuna roll and another roll that was filled with asparagus and scallop (If I’m remembering right) and topped with a hot pepper sauce and a special black salt. The salt was a little too much for me, but I enjoyed the crunchy texture of it.

This whole meal was such a wonderful treat and I’m sorry that I didn’t find out about it sooner. Being that it was just a few blocks away from my apartment, I would have gone much more frequently had I known that It was so wonderful. This was such a perfect last meal in NY and exactly the way that I want to remember the NYC dining scene: amazing food, great people, friendly service and reasonable prices. I hope you’ll go check it out.

Delhi Heights: 37-66 74th st, Jackson Heights, NY

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Known as the place in NY to get great Indian cuisine, this street in Queens is filled with one lunch buffet after another at super low prices. We checked Yelp when we arrived in the area and saw that just about all of them have 4 stars, so we figured we just try the first one we saw. Delhi Heights advertised a $10 AYCE buffet and had hardly anyone in there, so we decided to head in.

About 10 silver bowls with lids and ladles lined one side of the restaurant and we checked them out before taking a seat. The waiter brought out fresh, hot nan and water in little silver cups and told us we could dig in.

I filled my plate with little tastes of just about everything that was offered. Amazing spinach paneer with huge chunks of cheese, mushroom masala, chicken tiki, lentils, peas, and basmati rice. I used the nan to scoop everything up and before long was totally stuffed. The food is absolutely incredible and at $10, a true bargain. I suggest you take the trek out to Queens to try it for yourself.

3E Taste of Thai. 34-16 Broadway, Queens, NY

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I have always heard that the best Thai food in NY is in Queens. It took me a very long time to go check it out- and actually this was only a week before moving out of the city to Florida. Well, better late than never. 3E Thai was indeed some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had and at prices that are FAR below my previous favorite (Land, on the Upper East Side)

Gabriel and I were in the area to pack up his apartment for our big move and when we finished our long day filled with boxes and packing paper, we were excited to replenish our lost calories with some great food. We arrived at 3E Thai and were seated right away in the fairly full restaurant. We looked over the menu and, after realizing that the prices were so awesome, decided to share a bunch of things.

We started with a spicy Tom Yum soup, one of my favorites, that came with a few large shrimp. The broth was full of lemongrass flavor with a little kick and we finished it quickly. Next, out came an awesome papaya salad, wonderful shrimp dumplings and an order of chicken satay. We shared the Pad Thai entree as well and it proved to be a bit less peanuty and heavy than it sometimes is. The whole meal was so fresh, light, and healthy and I’m a bit bummed that I won’t get a chance to repeat this whole meal. Oh well- at least I got to try it once! Go check it out…for half of the cost of a meal on the UES, you can eat twice as well.