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Indigenous Restaurant: 239 S. Links Ave, Sarasota, FL

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I’ve had my eye on Indigenous for a few months now, waiting for the perfect opportunity to try it. What I’d heard about this restaurant made it sound like it would surely end up topping my list of local choices. Everything from the rustic, lovely outdoor seating area, to the creative and healthy locally-sourced menu was so appealing to me. I was very excited to finally go with my boyfriend and my parents last night.

We arrived to a neighborhood I’d never been to before and I was instantly in love with the adorable, colorful, artsy houses and galleries that abound in this artist’s colony. I made a note to myself to return during daytime hours when I could explore the shops a bit to see what else this area had to offer. Parking was easy, and we were seated right away. I’d been told that sitting outside was the way to go, but it was a bit too humid to do that on this particular evening. It was really lovely out there though, and the next time I go I’ll be sure to ask for seating out there.

We were taken into the second little section of this house-converted-into-a-restaurant to our table, tucked away in a private, cozy nook. The wicker chairs and gentle, natura, art on the walls totally spoke to me, and I felt that it ended up perfectly coordinating with the menu (something that I felt was not quite right at my other top pick in the area, which has a somewhat similar feel to the menu¬†https://bigforkinmouth.com/2012/08/05/dereks-culinary-casual-514-central-ave-sarasota-fl/) In fact, I found a lot of similarities between these two restaurants and was interested to find out that the two chefs will be coming together to put on an event next month…it should be awesome and I’ll have to see about going.

Our waiter attended to us quickly; bringing over yummy, crunchy, cheddar-y homemade crackers, taking our orders for wine, and going over the specials- which all sounded wonderful. As always, there was a lot of sharing between Gabriel, my mother, and I- which allowed tastes of a bunch of options. (My step-dad, historically, humorously, and much to our collective chagrin, does not share very often.) The three of us started with the following three apps.

1. Beet Tartar (Apples, radish, pea shoots, creamy horseradish) I LOVED this one. The combination of crunchy and soft textures, bite from the horseradish and radish and sweetness from the apples and beets, not to mention the beautiful presentation made it a total winner for me.

2. Watermelon Salad (jicama, watercress, goat feta, mint, pistachios, vanilla balsamic and fresh black pepper) This was a very close second to the beet tartar. Again, a gorgeous plate tastefully served as edible art. Again, the mixture of consistencies was intriguing and the fresh fruit contrasted with the creamy feta and the bite of the pepper was exciting. This one was incredibly refreshing and summery and I’d strongly recommend it on a hot day when you aren’t ravenous.

That said, we WERE ravenous and we found that overall the portion sizes for the appetizers and the entrees were on the rather tiny side. We are active people and though we do try to eat healthfully for the most part, we can put away a pretty good quantity of food and these plates all fell just slightly short size-wise. The cheesy crackers were a nice change from the typical bread that is served with dinner elsewhere, but in the long run, we felt that we could have used some to help fill us up. The good part was that it left plenty of room for dessert…but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll get there soon ūüôā

3. Chilled Mango Soup (cucumber lime sorbet, red chiles, hibiscus flower) Another interesting dichotomy of tastes. The chiles had serious zing to them, and the creamy cool soup and sorbet did their part to cut that burning. I didn’t love this one as much as the other two, but not because it wasn’t delicious. I think I just preferred the ingredients of the others because there was simply more going on. This was comparatively simple and not quite as impressive.

For our entrees, Gabriel and I shared the special which was a wonderful (yet tiny) piece of arctic char served atop some shaved brussels sprouts with raisins (one of my favorite veggie/fruit combos that I make at home on occasion, incidentally) as well as an incredible dish of huge, wild-caught, gulf shrimp over lobster-edamame succotash and baked cheesy grits. WOW. This entree was the standout for me. The shrimp were out-of-this-world. Perfectly cooked and served over the most amazing, cake-like, baked grits and creamy, succotash. I would be very likely to order this one again, as much as I always try to order something new on repeat visits to restaurants. This plate was pretty much perfection for me with pretty much everything I love about food all on one plate.

When the dessert menus arrived and I was not already stuffed, I was pretty excited about it. Not that being stuffed really ever stops me, but still. Gabriel and I decided, very quickly, on ‘The Brownie‘ (toasted marshmallow ice cream, graham cracker dark chocolate brownie, belgian chocolate sauce.) My mouth is watering again just thinking about it. We thought it was interesting that both Indigenous and Derek’s have their interpretation of S’mores on the menu. Coincidence or perhaps a bit of unspoken competition? In any case, it’s just fine with me. As it turned out, they are really two totally different variations on similar ingredients and both are totally outstanding. The ice cream and caramelized marshmallows on top of the brownie (which was really a blondie as far as I am concerned) were creamy and dreamy. I’m kind of off in la la land just remembering it as I write this. The melty chocolate inside the brownie along with the crisp, graham pieces were oh-so-decadent. The dark sauce that was drizzled around the dish was the perfect icing on the cake, as it were. It’s pretty rare that I don’t love the final course of a meal, but there are certainly times like these when it’s really just as perfect as can possibly be.

My mom and step-dad, by the way, had the lemon/thyme pound cake with blueberries by the way- which I did taste. It was light and exactly as expected. Not particularly exciting. I did, however, also ask the waiter if by any chance he’d let me have a little taste of the special ice cream offered that night which was popcorn flavor. He obliged and WOW, it was really awesome. I was really pleased that he was kind enough to bring me my little spoonful sample.

All that said, it wouldn’t be an honest review if I didn’t check back with reality for just one tiny second. For the most part, the service of this meal was totally on par. That said, there was just one problem at the end. When we ordered our desserts, my mother ordered a cappuccino and my step-dad, a regular coffee. My mom’s came out right away, about 5 minutes later our desserts arrived. At that point, we reminded the waiter that my step-dad had ordered a coffee and he apologized and said he’d go right back to get it. 10 minutes later, we’d finished our desserts, but still, no coffee. We flagged out waiter down again and he explained that he had to make a fresh pot. It finally came out about 10 minutes after we’d finished our desserts and had our plates cleared. Timing is definitely an important part of service, and if I’m being fair, I really do need to deduct a star for that mistake. Other than that, everything was absolutely awesome and my experience definitely lived up to the high expectations I went in with.

Bravo Indigenous. Can’t wait to come back.

 

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Jim’s Small Batch Bakery. 2336 Gulf Gate Dr, Sarasota, FL

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Stop #2 on my father and I’s little culinary adventure in Gulf Gate led us to Jim’s Small Batch Bakery and WOW this was the highlight of the day for me. This tiny little shop tucked away in the corner of Gulf Gate is just awesome, with a staff who clearly has a ton of integrity about what they do. Jim was on hand to chat and give us some samples of his sorbets and ice creams and I simply couldn’t resist. I ended up with a scoop of coconut sorbet and a scoop of strawberry sorbet and they were both so incredibly delicious. Smooth, creamy and very natural with nothing but the fruit, a little sugar and a binding ingredient. Some of the best sorbet I’ve ever had actually. I couldn’t help topping my cup with a lemon sand dollar cookie that was super thin, crisp and delicate. I also tasted my father’s vanilla ice cream which was equally outstanding.

The case full of treats was extremely tempting, and I’m lucky that I work pretty close by. I will absolutely be back for lunch soon- as they had a wonderful little menu of sandwiches, soups and quiches in addition to their baked goods. The almond croissant was LOUDLY calling my name and I promised it that I’d come back for it soon. The lemon bar, breads and cakes also looked amazing and I’m sure I’ll eventually try them all.

YUM. I will be back within a week, I’m sure of it. Thanks Jim!

G’s Pizzaria: 7119 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

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This is another one of those “I am a NY pizza snob” type posts where I go to a restaurant to try a slice from a place that claims to be owned by a NYer. I’m always pretty skeptical when I go on these little adventures but am willing to give it a fair shot. When I first walked in and found out the the owner is actually from WAY upstate NY and not the city, I got pretty worried.

I sat down and ordered a plain slice and a side salad with blue cheese dressing on the side. The salad came out and (good first impression) was NOT iceberg lettuce! It was a mesclun mix with beautiful, thick, red tomato slices, black olives, onions and fresh mushrooms on top. The dressing was pretty darn good too. So far, so good.

A few minutes later, the owner brought my slice over, piping hot from the oven and looking an awful lot like a NY slice. BIG, flat, bubbly top, and the right ratio of cheese to sauce to crust. Hmmmm. Could it be? I took a bite. WOW. Ok. I am impressed. This IS a NY slice after all. Is it the best slice ever? Well, no, but let’s be realistic. The truth is that the classic NY slice has a lot to do with the water there, and no one outside of NYC will really ever be able to duplicate that. But this was definitely the closest to NY I’ve had since I moved here a few months ago. Ah. Good enough to evoke nostalgia. The crust was the right mix of crunchy and chewy, the flavor of the sauce was spot-on; not too sweet, the right amount, and the cheese was exactly right. I added my sprinkling of oregano and parmesan- which was on the table like it should be, and it made for a VERY satisfying lunch. BRAVO to you G’s!¬†Bonus that it’s about 1/4 mile from where I work. I will absolutely be back. YAY!

 

Mi Pueblo: University Walk Plaza, 8405 Tuttle Ave. Sarasota, FL

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Everyone we have met here has told us to try Mi Pueblo. Apparently, it’s known as the very best Mexican food in the area. A waitress at a different restaurant also told us that they make fantastic margaritas- which my boyfriend loves, so last night we decided to give it a try.

We arrived to find a really adorable building, a friendly hostess, cool lighting and shadows, and a comfortable booth ready for us. Menus and ice water were brought for us right away. Soon after that, our drink orders were taken and a basket of delicious tortilla chips and spicy fresh salsa was served. The margaritas came out super fast and really were outstanding.

I knew what I wanted before I even looked at the menu because I’d heard their chicken Mole was awesome. It’s one of my favorite Mexican dishes, so that was an easy choice. We noticed there weren’t really any sides on the menu, but when we asked if we could have a side of veggies, our waiter told us that they did have tasty grilled vegetables as a side to offer. Great, we’ll take one of those.

Gabriel ordered the ‘2 choice’ combo plate with 1 verde enchildada, and 1 chimichanga. We decided we’d share everything so that we could really get a good feel of the food here.

Our meals came out very quickly, and WOW! Everything was awesome. Super fresh, cooked perfectly, served with sides of Mexican rice and refried beans topped with cheese.

When our bill came, we did a double take. Two entrees, a side and 2 drinks for less than $40!?!?!? WOW again, that is really awesome.

I was so full but somehow managed to keep noshing on the 2nd basket of chips that was refreshed during our meal. Ohhhhh. I think I overdid it. Next time we come, when they ask if we want more chips, I will definitely remember to say ‘No thank you.’ In spite of my eyes-bigger-than-stomach rookie mistake, this was an excellent dinner and we’ll definitely return soon!

Club A Steakhouse: 240 E. 58th St. New York NY

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My friend and I had a prix fix dinner deal for 2 from Living Social that we finally got to use tonight. It was $69 and included 2 apps, 2 sides, 2 entrees and 2 desserts. What a great deal! I walked in and was greeted by B, sitting at the bar, sipping a glass of red wine. It was a beautiful atmosphere to walk into with an abundance of warm red fabrics, candlelit tables and red roses. The host asked if we’d like to be seated downstairs or upstairs, and told us that upstairs had banquets instead of tables. Wanting the cozy warmth of a booth, we opted to go up. What a¬†great decision. As soon as we got up there we noticed the red quilted ceiling and the huge window looking out on twinkling, white, Christmas lights in the trees outside. We settled into our seats and I ordered myself a glass of Malbec, my favorite red wine.

A basket of lovely rosemary bread, onion bread, and breadsticks were brought out along with butter and ice water. The waiter brought us our menus a few minutes later. We had about 6 choices in each section- better than most prix fixes I’ve seen, and just about everything sounded appealing. B and I are EXCELLENT at sharing and we always seem to agree on the same dishes which, along with a easy, lively conversation, makes us perfect dining partners. We opted to share everything.

We started with the caesar salad and the fried calamari. The salad was covered in delicious shavings of parmesan. The homemade dressing that came with it was perfect with just enough anchovies to give it great flavor- but not totally too many which can be overpowering. The calamari was ok- a little too breaded for my taste, but nice and crunchy and accompanied by an awesome spicy marinara.

Next we shared the hanger steak and the filet mignon and both were cooked to absolute perfection. The filet was SO buttery and tender and actually had a lot of flavor. We expected that of the hanger but not the filet which I often find is sort of flavorless but a great consistency, so that was a pleasant surprise. The hanger was our favorite though. It was still very tender but also extremely juicy and flavorful. It was cooked to the exact specification that we requested, medium rare. For our sides we asked for the mashed potatoes and the truffle infused creamed spinach and were delighted when they surprised us with the mac and cheese as an additional side. Yes, surely a nice, light dinner. Haha. The dishes were all so generous that I was able to bring home some of everything to enjoy the following day. All of the sides arrived in their own little crocks, an adorable presentation of delicious and hearty food. What a great meal for a cold, winter night with a dear friend.

Our desserts were pretty good but not outstanding. Then again, that might have just been because we were already stuffed to the brim. The tiramisu was fine, but not terribly exciting. The cream puffs were tasty, but boring, simply filled with cream and covered in more cream. It definitely could have used some berries to brighten it up a bit. Those were the only 2 choices for dessert and I was pretty unimpressed with them considering the quality of everything else. No chocolate option? No ice cream, sorbet, pie or fruit option? That was the only part of the meal that wasn’t awesome.

The only other thing that I think is worth a mention is the service. Although they were very professional, polite and friendly, they were slow as mud. We didn’t really mind since we wanted to chat and they didn’t seem to care if we lingered for hours, but it would have been nice if they checked in on us a few times during our meal and in between courses. We literally sat for an hour sipping the end of our glasses of wine waiting for the check and eventually flagged someone down to bring it over. Again, I’m not sure that this is a negative…just something worth mentioning.

Overall, I really liked Club A. I thought the atmosphere was incredibly romantic and sexy and would be a great place¬†for a date on Valentines’ Day or another romantic occasion. I will certainly consider a repeat visit…especially if they run another fantastic deal like this one!

ADDENDUM!!

Gabriel and I returned to Club A to celebrate Valentine’s Day and WOW, what a special evening it was.¬†

There was SO much food we practically rolled out of there at the end of the night, but the overindulgence was worth every single calorie and ¬†I can’t possibly say enough good things about the way we were treated and the food we consumed.

We were treated like absolute royalty by the staff and Bruno, the owner. First, a bottle of champagne and a basket of bread was brought over. Next a complimentary bottle of wonderful red wine was elaborately decanted for us.

Two of the largest shrimp cocktail were our next surprise, YUM!

We shared a caeser salad and a garden salad and I must rave for a moment about the outstanding caeser dressing. It was thick and creamy, with a lovely anchovy flavor and a hint of parmesan. One of the best caesers I’ve ever had.

We were then surprised yet again with a treat of lobster ravoili. The chunks of lobster inside were so decadent and fresh, this might have been my favorite part of the meal. At this point, we already felt SO full, but there was still a ton of food coming so we prepared ourselves. I began thinking that my skintight pencil dress might not have been the best choice for my outfit.

Out came our hanger steak and NY strip, cooked to perfection with the perfect amount of pink in the center. The outside was crisp and had so much flavor and juice inside…we were in meaty heaven. We also shared 2 wonderful sides of truffle oil creamed spinach and amazing mashed potatoes. We took some of the steak home and began thinking that perhaps we’d opt to take our desserts home too… Just then, out they arrived before we even ordered them! A PLATTER of sweets for us to squeeze into our bellies. It’s funny how there always seems to be just a little more room when you absolutely need it. We shared a gorgeous array of chocolate heart-sharped cake, cream puffs AND tiramisu and were blown away by the beautiful presentation of fruit that arrived ¬†shortly after. WOW.

This was seriously the most food I’ve put away in one sitting. I was still full the next morning! Thank you SO much to Arben, Bruno and the whole staff at Club A. This was a night we will cherish in our memories forever.