Tag Archives: martinis

Verona: 1111 Ritz-Carlton Dr. Sarasota, FL

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It was my mother’s birthday and we met at Verona to celebrate. It happened to fall during Savor Sarasota restaurant week, so we were excited to be able to have 3 course dinners for a fraction of the cost that it would usually be. Verona is inside of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and it is fancy. We arrived to find valet parking, beautiful floral arrangements, and excellent live music at a gorgeous grand piano in the main lobby.

When we entered the restaurant, we were led to our table but then asked to be seated outside as they have a really lovely outdoor area. ¬†We soon realized that it was actually uncomfortably hot out there and decided to move inside after all. Our waitress was more than accommodating to our ever-changing minds, and we could tell that she was equally relieved that she wouldn’t have to be melting outside serving us.

Our drink orders were taken and I must say, I immediately got the sense that we had an exceptional server. She was very friendly, knowledgeable, polite and articulate and she served us wonderfully throughout the whole meal. If I’m not mistaken, I believe her name was Kimberly. If you can be seated in her section, I strongly recommend it. She was a big part of why our meal was so wonderful.

A delicious basket of bread and fresh butter was served along with our awesome cocktails and we happily tasted each type as we looked over the menu.

I started with the crab bisque with popcorn, mango and mint and it was presented in a whimsical way. It reminded me a LOT of the way my favorite restaurant in the world would do it: ABC Kitchen in NYC. (See that review here: https://bigforkinmouth.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/abc-kitchen-35-east-18th-st-new-york-ny-10003/) It started with a simple bowl containing crab, popcorn, mango and mint and then the waiter came around with a pitcher of the warm bisque to fill the bowl with. It was outstanding. Creamy and delicious with large chunks of fresh crab. Yum.

Next I had the Hammock Hallow Daily Harvest which was eggplant, bok choy, ginger topped with an amazing fried/poached egg. WOW. This was so tasty that I think I will try to recreate it at home sometime. The crisp outside of the egg was a wonderful contrast to the creamy, rich, soft yolk inside, and the way it lightly coated the fresh vegetables was genius.

For dessert I had the key lime pie with vanilla/mango coulis and citrus sorbet. It was beautifully presented and a great, refreshing way to end the meal. The portions here (at least when you order from the Savor Sarasota menu, I’m not sure about the regular menu) are definitely on the small side. I am fine with that- as I’d always rather small portions of exquisite food over large plates of mediocrity, but for some, the plates might be too small. That said, I definitely left feeling full but not overstuffed, and with the memory of a truly wonderful meal. I’d strongly suggest a visit should you have the time before restaurant week ends- or a visit on another day, should you have some extra money to spend ūüôā Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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Brasserie Belge: 1990 Main St. Sarasota, FL

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When we lived in¬†NYC, Gabriel and I used to use¬†Groupon-type¬†deals ALL the time. It was a way that we could go out to try new restaurants without spending a¬†fortune-¬†and the opportunities were endless as we got new offers at least daily from¬†Groupon, living social, yelp deals, buy with me,¬†KGB¬†deals etc. When we moved to Florida, it was one of the things I knew I’d¬†miss-¬†in fact, we even included it on our ‘will miss’ list on our blog: byebyeny.wordpress.com . The offers here are few and far between, and usually for activities and spa services as opposed to dining.

Imagine my excitement when, after our first month of living here, we finally received a¬†Groupon¬†offer for a restaurant we’d been wanting to try called¬†Brasserie¬†Belge¬†in downtown Sarasota. Most of the offers I see are up near Tampa or¬†St. Petersburg, so I was really happy to get a local one, for a great deal, just 20 minutes from where we live. I jumped on it and called for a reservation. My father, who had strongly recommended the¬†mussels¬†here, also gave us a great tip that if you sign up for emails on their website, you can print out a coupon for a free crepe dessert. Score!

We went for date night last Saturday and were seated right away outside, as requested. Our waiter came out right away to offer sparkling or flat water, tell us the specials and take our drink orders. I decided on a ‘Hot¬†and¬†Dirty Martini‘ which was¬†absolut¬†peppar¬†vodka, dry vermouth, olive juice and blue cheese stuffed olives and hot peppers (which were AMAZING) I loved my cocktail and could probably have really spoiled my dinner with a few more of those delicious olives. Fresh, soft bread and butter was brought to us soon after. It was¬†fine-¬†but nothing special and fairly unremarkable. This was actually a good thing since we had lots of food coming and I’ve definitely been known to fill up on bread before the meal arrives.

For our apps, we shared the¬†Salade¬†Brussels;¬†Iceberg lettuce, shredded parmesan cheese,¬†hard-boiled egg,¬†croutons,¬†Caesar dressing. I was fairly disappointed with it, but it was really my own fault for not noticed the ‘iceberg lettuce’ part. I was expecting a classic Caesar, but it was really boring. The dressing had almost no flavor, and the personality-less lettuce didn’t help things at all. The thinly shaved parmesan was plentiful, but couldn’t really support the rest of the salad. Even the¬†croutons¬†were sadly bland and I really would have really liked some anchovies or lemon to make it come alive. Oh well. Our other app totally made up for the first one. We ordered the special which was¬†sauteed¬†calamari and shrimp with olives in a creamy tomato sauce. It was outstanding.¬†The shrimp were¬†huge and cooked perfectly and the calamari was fresh and not at all chewy as it often is. The¬†kalamata¬†olives still had a nice bite to them and the sauce was creamy and warm and served as mature comfort food. Total winner.

For our¬†entrees, we shared the Mussels¬†Tomate¬†and the Meatballs “simmered in a sweet¬†li√®ge¬†sauce of reduced¬†fresh apples and pears”. It, like the¬†mussels, were served with¬†Belgian fries. The fries were served with a mayo-y sauce that was delicious and the twice-fried fries were¬†awesome-¬†super crunchy and just the right amount of salt. The meatballs were¬†amazing-¬†the sweet sauce they were served in reminded me a bit of Swedish¬†meatballs–¬†but were uniquely seasoned in way that was both sweet and savory. The¬†mussels¬†were fresh and cooked¬†perfectly-¬†and the portion was very generous. It’s understandable why most of the menu consists of different flavors of¬†mussels¬†and¬†meatballs-¬†they know what they do well and have made a great niche for themselves doing it.

For our complimentary crepe dessert, we were brought a thin, hot crepe topped with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. It was tasty, but kind of boring. The chocolate that topped it was fantastic though- a dark, semisweet chocolate that was obviously of very high quality

Overall, I really enjoyed my meal. Our waiter was friendly, knowledgeable and very attentive. The prices were reasonable, made even more so by our¬†Groupon¬†and our free dessert. The atmosphere, including a talented pianist/vocalist, was lovely ¬†and sophisticated. We’ll definitely plan to go back!

 

Salute!: 23 N Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL

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My family and I went here for dinner tonight after our first attempt had an hour long wait and our 2nd attempt was closed. Salute has a great outdoor eating area with available tables and we were seated right away. Our waiter came over with menus and went over the specials. None of us wanted to order cocktails so we just asked for flat water. I also asked if, when he had a moment, he’d bring over some lemon for the water. When he came back to take our orders and to bring us bread and dipping olive oil, I again reminded him that I wanted some lemon. When he came back a third time to bring us our appetizers, I asked him for a third time for some lemon. Finally, he came back with 3 slices of lemon (for our table of 4. Hmmm) and my water glass was, by then, empty. Big fail. The bus boy overheard me complaining about the timing of this and re-filled my glass. Ok. Better late than never.

For my app, I shared an arugula, endive, radicchio salad with Gabriel. It came with a creamy balsamic dressing and shaved parmesan. Very nice and fresh, but kind of on the boring side.

For my entree, at the suggestion of our waiter, I ordered the chicken parmesan with penne. It was a great portion sized- very manageable and not overwhelmingly large which I appreciated. The chicken, however was totally overcooked, stringy, dry and unimpressive. The sauce and cheese on top were mediocre at best. I’ve had better chicken parm at a diner.

For the prices here, I would not return. Just a few nights earlier, we went to Cafe Baci for the same price and MUCH better food. I guess you’re really just paying for the lovely outdoor seating here and not much more.

Oh well, they can’t all be winners.

New Pass Grill & Bait Shop: 1505 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL

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Gabriel and I stopped here for a quick lunch today before our fun day of going to see a waterski show and then to the Mote aquarium (both just down the street). It’s a great setting, right next to the Longboat Key bridge at the water’s edge. Tons of boaters dock here for lunch, beer and bait, and it was cool to see them coming and going as we ate outside under an umbrellaed table.

We stood in line for about 15 minutes waiting to place our order at the takeout counter. We decided to share a cheeseburger and a clam basket (which consisted of clam strips, fries and cole slaw). I was happy to see that they had malt vinegar– something I really love on fries that not a lot of places have available. We sat at a gulf-side table and waited for our name to be called over the loudspeaker that our lunch was ready to pick up at the side door. About 10 minutes later it was ready and we picked it up. The burger was basically cafeteria quality. The bun was better than average, but the meat patty was pretty poor. Not juicy, not flavorful, not really any better than a frozen grocery store cheapo one or one you’d get at a fast food joint. The clam strips were very good, not greasy, just super crunchy and a generous portion. The fries were also better-than-average. Super crunchy and tasty. We also shared a large, unsweetened ice tea that hit the spot.

I wouldn’t recommend coming here for great food, but for a lovely, casual setting and fun people, bird and boat watching, this is a great choice. For just under $20, I think next time we’ll choose to make sandwiches and sit at one of the many waterfront park picnic tables.

Cafe Baci: 4001 S. Tamiami Trl, Sarasota, FL

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From the street, Cafe¬†Baci¬†looks like it’s from 1960. The sign as well as the outside of the restaurant is dated and falling apart, and does nothing at all to represent the excellence that happens inside.

We were welcomed very warmly by the hostess and quickly led to our table. We saw right away that the clientele of this establishment is pretty much the over 65 crowd, and we felt slightly out of place and underdressed. The hostess assured us that people come in wearing just-off-the-beach clothes sometimes and that we were totally fine. Our waiter came over with menus and ice water and went over the specials, all of which sounded great. Shortly later, he brought over a basket of foccacia, delicious garlicy/parmesan breadsticks and some herbed olive oil. You see from my picture that we had all dived into those before I remembered to take a photo, and the basket is already partially empty.

This restaurant came very highly recommended by my friend and duo partner Mike (please visit mikesolomusic.com and careyyaruss.com com for more info ) and one of the things he mentioned to me was how accommodating they are to their patron’s requests. Knowing that, I asked if it would be possibly to add some grilled shrimp to the¬†cappellini¬†primavera, to which the waiter happily agreed.

When my entree came out, I was very excited for my first taste. It was loaded with huge, gorgeous, grilled shrimp, tons of fresh vegetables and homemade cappellini with a creamy, tomato sauce. It was seriously delicious, rich and indulgent. I was totally happy with it, even though I was expecting a nice, light pasta dinner and it was definitely on the heavy side. The portion was extremely generous and I happily shared it with Gabriel and my mom and step-father, who all agree that it was super tasty.

For dessert, we decided to order one tiramisu for everyone to share. When it arrived with an old looking strawberry on top, we assumed it must have been made much earlier and was just sitting in the fridge waiting for someone to order it. It was covered in a 2 inch thick layer of whipped cream on top and the espresso soaked cake was kind of overwhelmed by that. The flavor was good and if there had been less whipped cream I think we all would have really enjoyed it, but as it were, I pretty much was the only one who ended up eating it.

Overall, I was very impressed with Cafe¬†Baci¬†and would definitely go back. I would love to see some younger people in there, but unless they update the outside and make it look a big livelier and hipper, I doubt anyone under 40 will be going in anytime soon. With¬†nearly full¬†tables, it seems like their business isn’t suffering because of that, and maybe that’s really the crowd that they are aiming to attract.¬†With it’s rustic, Italian interior, it has a classic feel that’s sure to please an older (and wealthier)¬†clientele. The food is really top quality and I’d certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a hearty meal. Enjoy!

Harry’s Continental Kitchen: 525 Saint Judes Drive, Longboat Key, FL

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As a ‘Welcome to Florida’ gift, my generous father sent Gabriel and I for a celebratory dinner at Harry’s. What a wonderful treat it was! Great service, a romantic setting, excellent food and a truly special place that we probably wouldn’t have come across on our own. As a favorite of my father’s, he wanted to make sure we got a chance to try it. By sending us there as a gift, he ensured that we’d be able to see what was so lovely about the experience.

When we arrived, we were asked where we wanted to sit. We chose the corner table outside, surrounded by lit-up palm trees and flowers. It is such a cute restaurant, as you can see in the pic of Gabriel. It has a casual feel outside, and the inside room is a bit more formal. This is a combo I really love. A super casual and low-key atmosphere but with a high-end, fancy menu. This is the perfect juxtaposition for someone new to the Florida lifestyle…Someone who is really not missing the ‘suit and tie’ necessity of a NYC restaurant with a similar menu.

Our waitress was excellent right from the start. She went over the specials and brought out water and some warm bread served with butter and roasted garlic cloves (YUM). The menu made for a difficult decision. Just about everything on it appealed to me and I kept changing my mind about what to order. In the end, I decided to take my father’s recommendation which was to have the caesar salad and the duck. Duck is not normally something I order, but given his very strong feelings about it, I thought it was a great opportunity to branch out from the foods I generally gravitate towards.

The salad came out ¬†quickly. It wasn’t the lettuce, parmesan and croutons simplicity of a typical caeser and instead was enhanced with wonderful with ripe tomatoes, anchovies and crumbled blue cheese. The caesar dressing was perfect and I was very happy with this as my appetizer. It also went beautifully with my glass of Pinot Grigio. Gabriel had the macadamia-crusted scallops in a citrus sauce, which I happily had a taste of. I thought the crust and sauce were both awesome- as did Gabriel who ended up using the leftover bread to sop up the sauce after the scallops were gone. The scallops, however, were a bit overcooked. They were tougher and drier than they should have been. That said, they were full of flavor and tasted quite good anyway.

Our entrees came out and looked incredible. My duck had a super crisp and crunchy skin and the tender meat was rich and succulent. It came in a maple/berry sauce that complimented it perfectly and I polished it off. I guess I love duck now, at least the way they prepare it here. It came with a side of squash and zucchini that lighted it up a bit. The vegetables were simply steamed and I thought they went very nicely with the duck meat without competing at all with the flavor. It also came with a side of wild rice that seemed to be undercooked. It had some very crunchy pieces that were so hard I thought I might chip a tooth on it. I liked the flavor of it very much, but the under-doneness of it was rather off-putting.

Gabriel ordered the pasta with grouper, shrimp and scallops, and the seafood on it was all amazing. The perfectly cooked scallops clarified that the scallops we’d had earlier were definitely overcooked because these were tender, moist and so full of delicate flavor. The shrimp were enormous and tasted wonderful in the light sauce. The grouper was also cooked just right, tender, flakey and light. The pasta itself was cooked more than I like it- I strongly prefer my pasta al dente and this was kind of on the mushy side. That said, the highlight of the dish was clearly the seafood and the plentiful amount of pasta was almost unnecessary.

For dessert, I ordered the key lime pie with meringue topping. It was plated beautifully and tasted SO delicious after my heavy meal. The thick meringue topping was fluffy and light with it’s wonderful crisp top. The filling was limey, springy and bright and just sweet enough. I gobbled it up and was left feeling incredible satisfied with the whole meal.

The service was really exquisite. Our waitress checked on us just enough without being overbearing. She made sure we had topped off water glasses and were happy with everything we were served. The maitre d’ also came by to check on us and we felt like we were treated with respect and courtesy, and that they really cared about how we were enjoying our evening.

I would strongly recommend Harry’s to anyone looking for a special evening out. I would love to return for brunch or lunch someday since there was so much on the menu that sounded awesome. Since it’s a bit out of my normal budget, it was really such a great gift from my father and I thank him, as well as the staff at Harry’s, for such a warm welcome to Florida.

 

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.