Tag Archives: outdoor

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.

 

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

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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!

 

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!

Cracker’s Bar & Grill: 502 NW 6th St. Crystal River, FL

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After an AMAZING experience of swimming with a wild manatee, Gabriel and I found ourselves starving and in a town we knew nothing about. Our boat captain told us that Crackers is the best place around to grab lunch, so we headed straight there.

We walked through the restaurant to be seated out back, and found a huge deck with round tables and umbrellas. It had a tiki bar/casual vibe and there was even the predictable dude-with-guitar playing decent, classic rock, cover tunes.

Our waiter took our order and made a few suggestions. We started with the clam strips appetizer- one of my favorite and very rarely indulged-in snacks. We decided to share the suggested salmon and grouper sandwiches with sides of fries and a salad.

The clam strips came out quickly and looked awesome- if not kind of skimpy. They were hot, crunchy and a little bit more breaded than I like, but we polished them off so quickly that we felt a little shorted. The price was more or less fair, but the portion really could have been a bit more generous.

The sandwiches and the bread they came on were delicious. The fish was simply prepared and fresh, and the ripe tomatoes and crunchy lettuce were refreshing. The rolls were great for the first few bites, but quickly got soggy beyond holding, and ended up on the plate while we used a fork to finish the fish. The fries were exactly as requested- extra crunchy and well-done. The salad, made mostly of iceberg and croutons, left a lot to be desired. I find it especially odd when the sandwiches come with a decent lettuce like romaine, and then they skimp with a salad made of iceberg.

Overall, the setting was what made this a memorable meal. The food was pretty good- but not really noteworthy. If you’re in the area, it’s a fair choice, but I’d be inclined to explore more if I’m ever back there with some time and hunger on my hands.

 

Mattison’s City Grille, 1 North Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL

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As you may or may not know, Gabriel and I donate blood regularly every 8 weeks. When we moved to FL and continued the tradition we’d started in NYC, we found that the donation center here gives a restaurant gift card after every 3 donations. Score! Everyone wins!

We decided to go to Mattison’s City Grille.  On our first attempt, a loud, not-very-good, cover band was playing and we decided to change our plans. We tried again a couple of weeks later and found a great jazz band playing and we asked to be seated.

We sat at a corner table on the outside edge of the dining area (and didn’t realize until later that the smell of gasoline from the torches would repeatedly waft over to us). The waiter came over and took our order, and at that time we also asked for bread, water, and utensils. We did not see our waiter again until almost 30 minutes later, when he showed up with our bread and entrees all together at the same time. We still had no water or utensils. We requested them. More than 5 minutes later, another waiter walked by and we asked HIM to bring us water and utensils, which he gladly did immediately.

Our food was actually pretty good, and had the service not completely ruined it, my opinion on Mattison’s would be quite different. The bread and butter were both delicious, with touches of rosemary and garlic. The salmon that topped the dinner salad was fresh, and cooked exactly right. The mushrooms that came with the ravioli were meaty and probably my favorite part of the meal. The ravioli and sauce were also excellent.

Overall, well, I’m not really sure. Did we just get one really bad waiter but maybe the others are all good? We still have another gift certificate so I guess we’ll go back eventually. I’ll let you know!

Jacks on Marion: 201 W Marion Ave, Punta Gorda, FL

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I was SO excited that my old friend Betsy- who was my restaurant buddy when I lived in NYC, was here for a visit last weekend. Her parents have a condo in Sanibel Island, which is about 3 hours from where Gabriel and I live in Sarasota. We checked Google maps and found that Punta Gorda was about halfway between us and off I went to check Yelp for a place to meet for lunch. We found Jacks on Marion, took a look at their menu online, and thought it would be a great place to try.

We met there and were seated immediately. The waitress brought over water and menus and made some suggestions for us. The three of us decided to share the ‘Island Goat Cheese’ appetizer, which is described as; ‘warm macadamia nut crusted, apricot coulis served with flatbread Crostini ‘. It was okay, but not as spectacular as the description made it sound. The macadamia crust really just tasted like deep-fried breading to me. The cheese inside was warm, creamy and gooey. The apricot coulis added a nice sweet touch, but was nothing more than apricot jam as far as I could tell. The bread was fine, but not particularly fresh. It was basically just corners of pita-type bread.

For my entree I ordered the ‘Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella’ and added grilled shrimp to it. It was fairly basic greens with slices of not-very-ripe tomatoes and mozzarella on top. This is clearly not truly ‘fresh’ mozzarella as it had that sort of rubbery/chewy texture. I’ve had homemade mozzarella that melts in your mouth- like the amazing creation from Mozzerella Fella in Sarasota, https://bigforkinmouth.com/2012/09/13/mozzarella-fella-1668-main-st-sarasota-fl/ and I guess it’s pretty much ruined me for any and all store-bought, not-homemade, cheese at this point. The shrimp on the salad were fresh and cooked right, and the balsamic glaze and basil were well-balanced and flavorful, but the salad overall was pretty boring and not particularly creative or high-quality.

I guess my summary of Jacks is that it’s fine. It’s okay. It’s nothing really special or worth re-visiting. There aren’t a ton of great lunch options in this sort of sleepy tourist community, but I think it’s worth a little more searching if we go back. We DID however find a fantastic homemade ice cream place that I forgot to photograph…and I would STRONGLY urge you to go eat your lunch in a cone if you are in the area 🙂 It’s called Cubby’s. Give it a shot! http://www.yelp.com/biz/cubbys-homemade-ice-cream-punta-gorda

Drunken Poet Cafe: 1572 Main St. Sarasota, FL

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I was supposed to meet my father at Pho Cali, one of my favorite downtown Sarasota Restaurants, but it was closed- as it often is when I attempt to go. Their hours and days are sort of weird and never seem to coincide with my cravings. Grrrr. We decided to give Drunken Poet a try since it’s a couple of doors away, had a menu that sounded good, and neither of us had been there before.

We sat at an outside menu and looked at the menu. They had Japanese and Thai lunch specials to choose from and we both ended up picking Thai. I ordered the Shrimp Pad Pak: Shrimp with assorted vegetables in oyster sauce. We also shared a seaweed salad. My entree came with a chicken/rice soup that came out first in a chipped bowl. I was going to take a picture of my father’s soup instead, but his bowl was also chipped. The soup itself was not good. It was very salty and the flavor was just off. I left it aside after having 2 spoonfuls. The seaweed salad was standard and we both enjoyed it. Nothing special, but I always love seaweed salad and this time was no different. My entree was enjoyable. There wasn’t a ton of shrimp in it, but the shrimp that was there was cooked well, flavored lightly and fresh. The veggies were also light and fresh. This tasted like a healthy meal to me, without a ton of oil, or unnecessary chemicals or seasonings.

Overall, this was a lovely lunch- not the best Thai I’ve had, but not bad. I’m not sure if I’d go back, but If you’re in the area and want a reasonable priced Asian lunch I would recommend it.

 

Via Napoli: Italy Pavilion at Epcot World Showcase, Orlando, FL

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My honey and I went to Epcot to celebrate New Year‘s on January 1st. We did not expect to have good food there. We did not even really expect to have halfway decent food there. Imagine our total surprise when we ended up having an outstanding meal. WHAT? Amazing pizza, delicious bread, a great salad AND some of the best tiramisu I’ve ever had? WOW. I am still a bit in shock.

I had read reviews of Via Napoli– a lot of people rave about it. It’s the newest restaurant in the Epcot World Showcase and should have been impossible to get into. I read that the pizza in the take out stand in the Italy pavilion was absolutely NOT the same as what they serve in the restaurant and that it was worth the wait if possible to get a table. As luck would have it, we waited in line for maybe  a total of 10 minutes before a lovely indoor/outdoor (right on the edge of the outdoor section) table for 2 opened up.

A very friendly waiter straight from Italy came over to greet us and take our order. We joked with him about the irony of moving to the U.S. from Italy to work in a fake Italy. He explained that it was a great job where he had lots of friends who were also transplanted here from Italy to work there, and that he really loved being close to home in a sense, even though he was so far away. He also told us that he thought very highly of the food they served and that he felt it was quite authentic.

After a glass of wine and some delicious fresh bread and excellent olive oil, we ordered a salad and a pizza with artichokes, truffle oil and fontina. The salad was quite lovely with marinated mushrooms, green olives, plenty of fresh veggies and a balsamic dressing. The pizza was, dare I say, AMAZING. The crust was chewy, crisp and pretttttttty perfect and the toppings were perfectly proportioned. We polished it off so quickly and sort of regretted getting the tiny sized one even though it really was plenty for a meal along with the salad.  It also, as we came to realize, left enough room to share a wonderful tiramisu for dessert. I also had a fantastic cappuccino, complete with a delightful heart of foam on top.

The meal was not cheap, as really nothing at a Disney park is, or is expected to be. You are paying for the experience of it as much as for the food itself, but this time, I would actually say it really is worth every penny. I doubt I’ll be back at Epcot before I have a kid of my own to bring with me, but if YOU ever go, I would STRONGLY encourage you to pay a visit to Via Napoli. Total winner.

Roessler’s Restaurant: 2033 Vamo Way, Sarasota, FL

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I am a huge fan of living social/groupon type deals. I often buy too many at one time, and then realize that at least one of them is getting close to expiring. I bought the Roessler’s deal a while back when my honey and I were still trying to find a venue for our wedding. I had heard that Roessler’s was a really pretty setting and worth checking out, and then a few days later, I saw a $40 for $20 offered online and scooped it up. I figured it would be a perfect way to check out the setting and the food at a fair price. Roessler’s is known for being on the pricey side, so a Living Social opportunity made it a lot more doable for us.

We made our reservation for the exact day the coupon was going to expire because we literally could not find any other day that would work being the busy X-mas/New Year’s season. We arrived to find a really lovely restaurant in an unexpected place- along South Tamiami Trail among Target, Walmart etc. It was sort of off of the main street in the back, where you’d really never expect to find a pretty restaurant hiding.

We were led into a large dining room and seated by a window with a view of a garden. If we weren’t already totally thrilled with the beach front wedding venue we’d chosen, I could totally see having it here. Our waiter was a bit on the schmaltzy/theatrical/cocky side, but more or less entertaining none-the-less, and definitely efficient at his job. He brought us menus and water, and went over the specials for us. After seeing that the entrees were in the $30-$40 range, we decided on sharing a bunch of appetizers instead, and with a list of many appealing ones, the choice wasn’t easy. We settled on 2 salads; an excellent caesar and an iceberg wedge- which was described to us as having smokehouse bacon, fresh tomatoes and a buttermilk blue cheese dressing. When it came out, smothered in way too much dressing, and having one, lonely, halved, grape tomato, we were a bit disappointed. The dressing was really outstanding with it’s chunks of aged blue cheese- even though it was pretty much drowning the lettuce, but the one skimpy tomato, two sad croutons and tiny bit of crumbled bacon was sort of a let down.

Next we thoroughly enjoyed the smoked salmon appetizer. It was served with toast, cream cheese, capers, red onions and sliced hard boiled egg. The quality of the fish was clearly very fine, and we polished this plate off quickly.

The scallops in citrus sauce were probably my favorite dish. Huge scallops, cooked perfectly without a hint of chewiness. The sauce was buttery and fragrant and I admit to using bread to sop up some of what was left behind. The escargot were prepared in the classic French manner and were good, but not particularly exciting in their garlic herb butter. Again, however, the sauce made me want to ask for a refill on our bread basket, which I did.

For dessert, we decided on the chocolate mousse. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most daring or creative sounding option, but we saw a few go to the next table and it just looked so darn good. It arrived quickly and totally met our expectations. Rich and chocolatey and as light and airy as a heavy cream based dessert can possibly be.

The atmosphere (mainly the outdoor atmosphere)  is definitely the highlight at Roessler’s, even though the food is surely very good. It would probably thrill a ton of people, but my tastes tend to sway more toward very creative, original foods instead of the classics. The crowd here is definitely older and a bit stodgy, making this an ideal restaurant to take your grandparents for a fancy occasion. As far as coming back as a couple, I would doubt it.

The Burg Bar and Grill: 1752 Central Ave St Petersburg, FL

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Gabriel and I had to go up to St. Pete to meet with our wedding photographer (EEEeEEEEeee!!!) so we decided to make a day of it and head to the Dali museum afterwards. We’d been wanting to check it out for a while and were excited to spend the afternoon there. It was a very interesting way to spend some time, and we thoroughly enjoyed not just the art and the guided audio tour, but also the amazing architecture of the building itself as well as the beautifully manicured grounds and awesome views of boats on the water.

When we finished looking around, it was after 3:45pm and our stomachs were growling. Although the cafe in the museum looked great, I was craving iron and feeling deprived since we skipped our post-blood-donation burgers the week before. We decided to check Yelp for local burger joints and found 5 star reviews for the Burg Bar and Grill.

We arrived to find a tiny, dive-y bar with a few tables and a friendly bartender/waiter happy to seat us. Apparently, during ‘normal’ meal times, it’s nearly impossible to get a table so we were lucky that hunger stuck at an odd hour. We looked over the menu and quickly chose our burgers. I love that they have a small and large size so that I don’t eat an 8oz just because it’s on the plate in front of me when I’m perfectly satisfied with a 5oz. I ordered mine cooked medium and topped with american cheese, grilled mushroom and grilled onions and Gabriel got his with blue cheese and bacon. We both asked for our fries to be very well-done.

About 10 minutes later, our waiter arrived with our lunch/dinner much to our delight. The fries were super crispy and the burgers looked amazing. I was very happy to find that they had malt vinegar for my fries- a preference of mine over ketchup. One bite and I was sold. This absolutely deserves all of the stars it’s been given. The burger was cooked perfectly with just the right amount of gooey cheese and sauteed onions and mushrooms. The roll was fresh and doughy, not the typical out-of-a-package roll at all. I tried a bite of Gabriel’s burger and found that it too was perfection.

Overall, for less than $20 we left feeling thoroughly satisfied, pretty darn fat and totally happy. If we are ever in the area again, we might just have to go back. If you live nearby, definitely give it a shot- you’ll be glad you did.