Tag Archives: dining

Sardinia: 5770 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34231

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You’d think I was totally setting myself up for disaster when I ended up going to Sardinia for lunch. I was REALLY craving Thai food, so I’d intended to go to my favorite, Isan Thai, not realizing that they are closed on Mondays. I had a limited amount of time on my lunch break, so I decided to try Sardinia even though I really wasn’t feeling like eating Italian food.

When I went in, I was seated right away and the waitress brought me a menu and ice water. I looked over the lunch menu and was happy to see lots of delicious sounding vegetarian and pescatarian options and realized that my Thai craving had quickly disappeared. Most of the choices were around $10, very reasonable for a lovely selection.

I ordered the Grilled Marinated Vegetable Sandwich with a cup of Minestrone soup. When it arrived, it looked and smelled awesome. The fresh baguette was crusty and warm, and filled with artichokes, zucchini and various other lightly roasted veggies with a small amount of excellent olive oil over the top. The Minestrone was basically just a light veggie soup topped with a sprinkle of fresh parmesan.

The whole meal was very satisfying and a great value. I will definitely go back!

 

Happy Dragon: 11161 E rd 70 #102, Lakewood Ranch, FL 34202

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 When I opened the bag of ‘crunchy noodles’ and found VERY stale ones instead, I was worried that this was a bad sign about the meal I was about to eat. Luckily, this was the ONLY part of the meal that I wasn’t impressed with. This little restaurant has turned out to be a very pleasant surprise in Lakewood Ranch. Most Chinese restaurants around here really stink..but the food served here (except for the crunchy noodles) is SUPER fresh, cooked to order, and quite delicious. My husband and I order take-out frequently from Happy Dragon and have been consistently satisfied with everything we’ve tried. Nothing is drowning in sugary, over-seasoned sauces or oil. They take a lot of pride in serving only fresh ingredients- nothing from a can or frozen….so while you may be bummed that there are no baby corn or black straw mushrooms, I am happy knowing that the ingredients they cook with are the same as the ones I’d choose to use at home. I especially love the shrimp and eggplant in garlic sauce and the Mei Fun with vegetables. YUM. This is a great go-to place when you want Chinese food without the typical ohhh-I-wish-I-hadn’t-eaten-that feeling that usually comes an hour later. BRAVO Happy Dragon..We will see you again soon!

El Lago Ranchero: 8126 Lakewood Main St Ste 101, Lakewood Ranch, FL

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lago chips and salsatortillas shrimp and veggies rice and beans lago toppings We’ve lived near here for almost 2 years and had never been to El Lago Ranchero before last week. We wanted to use a coupon we had for our old standby, Mi Pueblo, but it was closed. Still craving fajitas, we decided to give El Lago a shot, despite the fact that we’d heard it wasn’t that great. We were happy to find them open on a late afternoon and were seated immediately.

Our waitress was fun and friendly, and brought us our drinks right away (including a sample taste of a margarita for Gabriel) as well as a basket of chips and salsa. We ordered the shrimp and veggie fajitas for 2, which came with sides of rice and refried beans, tortillas, and all of the typical toppings: cheese, sour cream, tomatoes/cilantro/onions, lettuce and guacamole. Everything was tasty, fresh, and was served quickly.

Granted, we didn’t order anything particularly complex, and it’s hard to really mess up fajitas too much, but we really enjoyed it. It’s definitely more Americanized Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican food…but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The shrimp were fresh and cooked well, the vegetables were fine, not over-seasoned or over-cooked, and the bill was very affordable.

We will surely go back!

Antoine’s Restaurant: 5020 Fruitville Rd Sarasota, FL

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antoine's carrot bean souprolls with butter escargotpasta with veggies and shrimpmusselsfries

Gabriel and I lived in a condo nearby to Antoine’s for a few months, and when it opened, I put it on my short list of restaurants I wanted to try. We never got around to it while we still lived over there, but about 6 months later, we happened to snag a Living Social deal to go…and finally cashed in on it last weekend. If you notice that the building looks an awful lot like a fast food joint from the outside, you’re very perceptive. It was apparently a KFC before the new owner gutted the interior and made it into an adorable, 12 table, fine dining restaurant.

We made an early reservation and were greeted by the waiter, Olivier, when we arrived. There was only one other couple there, and we felt like we got VIP service right from the start. We were told that it’s staffed by only the one waiter, one chef and a dishwasher…Impressive, and the waiter clearly had a lot of pride in what he does. Unfortunately, as the evening went on, and the tiny restaurant filled up, the service we received got worse and worse. By the end of the meal, we sat at our table waiting with empty plates in front of us for more than 20 minutes before they were cleared. When I mentioned to the waiter that he could really use a busboy or another staffer’s help, he replied, “This is fine dining and people are used to good things taking a long time.” Ummm, no. I disagree. People who are paying $80 for a meal for 2 expect 5 star service throughout the meal, not only during the times when the restaurant is mostly empty. That said, our experience was excellent anyway, the food was some of the best I’ve had in Sarasota, and for that reason I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it to others…but I would strongly encourage going early- before the place fills up.

We started with an amuse bouche which was a carrot, bean soup that we both loved. It was just enough to make my hungry, pregnant tummy stop growling- but was thin and light…not so filling that it spoiled the courses that we ordered to follow.

Next, we were served 2 warm, freshly baked rolls that were delicious along with a pat of butter shaped into a flower that the waiter proudly announced he’d sculpted just for me…very sweet until I heard him present it the same way to every other lady who sat down. Humph. I thought these rolls were quite delicious, but didn’t ask for more since we had ordered an appetizer and 2 entrees…However, a few days later, my father and his significant other went to dine there and asked for more the waiter brought out ONE more roll, cut in half. Huh? Then, when they asked for more again, they told they’d be charged for them. WHAT? No. Not ok. Not ever ok. That is just so cheap and pathetic. At a restaurant like this, PLEASE serve your guests as much bread as they want and don’t be so tacky as to try to charge for them. That’s really just appalling to me.

For our appetizer we ordered a traditional escargot- which we both loved. The snails were fresh and the herby, butter sauce they were served in was full of flavor. If we weren’t worried about filling up before our entrees even arrived, we definitely would have asked for more bread at this point to sop that amazing sauce up with.

For our entrees, we HAD to order a pot of mussels- having loved them at Brasserie Belge (the owner’s previous restaurant) and also the fettucini with vegetables and shrimp (which we added at the waiter’s suggestion…and he was right, they were amazing). The pasta here is made to order, and it really showed. It was my favorite part of the meal. It’s touches like homemade pasta and seafood that arrives fresh daily, that make this a standout restaurant.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend Antoine’s. I think it’s a REAL standout in Sarasota purely because of the lovely, romantic atmosphere and the amazing food. That said, if you do, be warned that you WILL wait a long time for service if you go during ‘normal’ dinner hours, that you WILL spend a lot of money, and that you WILL pay for rolls if you want more than one per person, which again, I think is totally ridiculous. Other than that, enjoy…The food is truly top quality and if it wasn’t so pricey that it can’t really be a regular spot for me, I would totally go back frequently. If you go, let me know what you think!

Rev.el.ry Pub & Grill: 3005 University Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34243

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revelry 2revelry 1revelry 3revelry 5revelry 4revelry 6 When we got a val-pak coupon for this new restaurant in our area we were really excited because on the coupon it exclaimed things like: “vegetarian options!”, “organic herbs!”, “wild caught fresh seafood!” We thought for sure we would have tons of healthy, non-meat related, locally sourced options. Sadly, once we looked over the menu we quickly realized that was not the case. There was a grand total of ONE vegetarian option on the main courses section of the menu- and it was vegetable curry. There was also ONE veggie sandwich option and 2 vegetarian pizza options. I don’t know about you, but personally, if I want curry, I’ll go to an Indian or Thai restaurant. I am not really interested in going to a ‘Rustic Pub and Grill’ that specializes in burgers and wood-fired pizzas and then ordering a curry dish. Humph. We thought, well, luckily, we are pescetarian…surely there will be wonderful fish options. There was ONE. It happened to be the one type of fish that neither of us really like, and one of the most expensive choices on the menu. Womp womp. We decided we’d be best off ordering some small apps and salads to share.

When we found out that the chef makes all of the cheeses there, we decided to try some dishes that highlight that. The 2 salads (house and jewel) we shared were both very good- even if not totally exciting. They were full of  fresh veggies, homemade cheese (mozzarella and goat) and really outstanding citrus vinaigrettes (one was lemon and the other orange and they both had bright, fresh, fruity flavors to them).  Soon after we finished our salads, our waitress brought us out some beer biscuits which were moist, crunchy, lightly sweet, and soooooo good. The fact that the rolls came after the salads was kind of odd, but better late than never.

At this point, I mentioned to the waitress that I’d love to meet the owner/chef- who is apparently also from NY. This is a new restaurant, and as a blogger who loves to hear the backstory of a vision like this, I always try to get a chance to chat with the person who dreamed it up. I was told that she was there and would be told that I’d like to meet her…but that was the last I heard of it. She was apparently hanging out in back and couldn’t be bothered to come say hello. The manager did come say hi, but honestly, meeting him really wasn’t what I was looking for. Oh well….I guess a little blogger like me isn’t important enough to greet personally.

Next, our avocado and gulf shrimp cocktail came out. It was a total disappointment, nearly drowned in a mayo-based sauce. The shrimp were plump and cooked well, but the goopy sauce totally ruined the dish. There were 2-3 tiny pieces of avocado- not the chunks that the menu description promised. The tuna tartare was similarly ruined, swimming in too much soy sauce. Raw tuna is such a wonderful consistency and covering it with the soy seemed to turn it into salty mush. The flavor that it carries naturally was overpowered by the sauce and I honestly couldn’t even eat my half. The presentation was lovely, but a dish should never look better than it tastes.

Our fifth and final dish was the redeeming factor. The homemade almond crusted brie was glazed with apricot and served with crispy ciabatta, blackberries and apple slices. It’s melty, oozy, warmth was full of flavor and creaminess. We seriously cleaned that plate in record time and kind of wished there was more- although the portion was perfectly generous.

It was clear to us that this chef’s real gift is in her ability to make outstanding homemade cheeses. Knowing that now, I might consider going back to try the pizza- although it really wasn’t what I was in the mood for at this visit. It also makes it’s even weirder to see a curry option on the menu, and I’d suggest to the owner that maybe that veggie offering should be reconsidered. Maybe a baked veggie parmesan dish would be a better choice where she could really show off her cheese skills instead of diving into the unrelated curry territory. Don’t get me wrong, since I didn’t even try it I realize there is a possibility that it’s great…but seeing it on a menu where it really didn’t seem to belong was just sort of off-putting.

Overall, the atmosphere really does have an upscale sports bar/pub kind of feel to it. The lounge area is cozy with couches and a fireplace, and If I liked sports and/or beer, it would have been really appealing. As it is though, I really just like food…and that wasn’t good enough to make me ooh and ahhh over Rev-el-ry. Maybe it’s worth trying one more time after they’ve been opened for a year or so…Maybe they are still ironing out the kinks since they’re pretty new. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt this time, but there is definitely quite a bit of room for improvement.

Shoogie Boogies, 1919 Morrill St, Sarasota, FL

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I was lucky enough to have a beautiful bridal shower thrown for me at Shoogie Boogies. It was the most perfect setting I could imagine, and everything was flawless. I found the owner to be extremely patient, detail-oriented, friendly and with seriously awesome taste. I’ve read a bunch of reviews of Shoogie Boogies on various websites and am honestly shocked to read anything that’s less than top notch. I’m guessing that some of the complainers are ‘bridezilla types’ who found some way to make it the restaurant’s fault if it rained, or if the strawberry wasn’t exactly the shade of red that they’d requested.

My guests and I were warmly welcomed into the flower-filled garden area with champagne flutes of elderberry water. Yummm, delightfully refreshing! We sat at a long table under giant white umbrellas, and took in the amazing presentations of tea sandwiches on pedestals, cheese and cracker plates, fresh bread and olive oil, and ginger/pear iced tea. The touches on each table setting were adorable, from napkin rings with fresh flowers, to lovely floral arrangements and quirky fairy-tale touches everywhere. You really have to see this place to believe just how girly/romantic/charming the setting is. It’s really a dream.

Soon, wonderful salads were brought out, and we all enjoyed the excellent quality cheeses and fresh fruits and veggies. When the owner noticed dark clouds overhead, she thoughtfully prepared one of the inside rooms for us, and invited us to move under cover for desserts and gift-opening. We took her up on her offer, not wanting to get soaked any more than her staff did, and moved inside to another beautiful setting. Her portrait photography on the walls is exquisite, and everyone enjoyed looking at each one in what felt like a private dining room at a gallery.

Our iced teas were refilled and dessert platters were brought out to share. Each of the sample-sized cakes were delicious, but the total amount for 12 sugar-loving women was a little on the skimpy side. That alone is seriously the only fault I can find in this beautiful day, and really not enough of one to even bother with. I do have to be honest though, and if everything I wrote was gushy, you wouldn’t believe it anyway 🙂

I can’t possibly recommend Shoogie Boogies any higher. If you have a ladies lunch, a girls outing, a bridal or baby shower or even a wedding, it’s a perfect choice. I can’t wait to go back, so please feel free to invite me!

Don Pablos: 5911 Fruitville Rd. Sarasota, FL

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pablo margarita pablo dip sampler pablo chips fajita sides:beans and rice pablo tortilla portobello fajitas shrimp fajitas

Gabriel and I had a ‘free dip sampler’ coupon for the longest time and finally decided to use it. When we arrived, we found a very casual but cool atmosphere in a huge space that looked like a converted warehouse or fire station. It was busy, and very family/kid friendly. We were seated immediately at a booth and the waitress took our orders for a frozen margarita to share and the dip sampler. We also placed our entree orders at that time for the shrimp fajitas and the portobello mushroom fajitas.

The dips arrived a few minutes later with our massive (way too sweet) margarita, and we enjoyed the fresh, warm chips and super indulgent dips. This is not the kind of food we’d normally order because it was probably a week’s worth of fat and carbs, but we thought it was a pretty tasty treat. Being that this was ‘moving week’ for us, we were starving, out of kitchen supplies, and totally ok with eating junk food for a meal.

The fajitas and toppings were very plentiful and the quality was so-so. Nothing to write home about, nothing to rush to go back for, but definitely filling and tasty. The shrimp were on the salty side and the mushrooms were flavored with seasonings that I didn’t love, but the tortillas were fresh and hot and the guacamole was cool and creamy.

I doubt we will be back- but not because it wasn’t a perfectly decent meal. We just really love Mi Pueblo, and the price, efficiency, atmosphere and food there all trump Don Pablos by a long shot.

Papa Nick’s Pasta & Pizza: 4940 Fruitville Rd, Sarasota, FL

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For 3 months, Gabriel and I lived practically across the street from Papa Nick’s. It wasn’t until the night before we moved to another town that we finally got around to trying it. It was fairly late for dinner (by Florida standards) and there was just one other group there when we arrived. We sat in the main dining room but quickly asked to be moved because it was freezing in there. The waitress was happy to find us a table in a warmer section and we sat down to look at the menus.

The prices are very reasonable, with most entrees around $13 and including soup, salad, bread and pasta. The menu, however,  is nothing special. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect of a strip mall Italian restaurant. We ordered a glass of Chianti to share- but found it to be extremely watery. I guess for a $5 glass, we shouldn’t have expected anything great. The bread was at least a day old already and had a stale crust. The clam chowder was watery and sort of gummy with no real clam pieces and only an occasional bite of potato. It was also sort of luke warm. The salads were mostly iceberg lettuce with a couple of ripe grape tomatoes and a slice of cucumber, and were served with plastic squeeze bottels of dressing. Classy.

Our main dishes were actually quite good- but pretty much everything is quite good when it’s smothered in loads of mozzarella cheese. I should definitely give credit where it’s due however, and the truth is that the tomato sauce is fantastic. It’s exactly how I like it with a slight sweetness to it and a smooth, thick, consistency. The spinach/ricotta stuffed shells were the favorite over the eggplant parmesan, but really both were enjoyable.  The pasta was typical boxed penne- and at that point I was too full to want more carbs.

Overall, for about $15 per person including tip, I guess I would recommend it in certain situations…For instance, if you are starving from packing all day, close by, and with less than $20 per person to spend, give it a shot!

 

 

State Street Eating House: 1533 State St, Sarasota FL

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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!