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Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni: Born in Brooklyn, based in Florida, available at many fine dining establishments!

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tortoni When the chefs behind Brooklyn Biscuit Tortoni asked me if I would help them out by taste testing a few different versions of their product, I rolled up my sleeves, took a deep breath, and decided that out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, that I would grant them that favor. It is precisely moments like these that remind me of that cliche, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” While there isn’t paper money involved here per se, delicious tastes of dessert are worth way more than dollars as far as I’m concerned.

I grew up in New York, where it was common to see tortoni on just about every pizza place or Italian restaurant menu. The choice was usually tortoni, spumoni, or cannoli, and given the option of dried, candied fruit and nuts in spumoni (yuck) or ricotta cheese filling of a cannoli (Um, ew. Why would I want cheese and carbs for dessert after presumably eating cheese and carbs for dinner?), the choice was always clear to me. Add a single-serve sized paper cup that meant I didn’t have to share, a maraschino cherry and almond cookie crunchies on top and well, who could pass that up?

I didn’t realize until many years later that at some point I stopped seeing these delightful treats on menus. I didn’t even realize how much I missed them until this dessert duo brought it to my attention by offering me a taste of their version of this classic.

The first sample I had was creamy, cold, sweet, and sparked so many memories for me that I simply forgot to slow down and savor each bite. It was gone before I knew it and I was clearly NOT wearing my culinary taste-tester hat that day. I would definitely require another one to be able to give helpful feedback.

The second sample was a different story. I was mentally prepared to take small bites and really let all five senses tune in. The crisp cookie crumbles on top were my favorite part. They are blended throughout the cup giving a slightly granular feel and keeping that almondy flavor consistent from top to bottom. I saved the cherry for last, as I always do with any cherry-topped dessert, and it was a wonderful last juicy bite.

The taste is very similar to ice cream, but more like frozen custard with a slightly eggier quality to it. It’s sort of like someone melted one of those yummy, toasted almond, Good Humor popsicles, re-constituted it, used better quality ingredients, and then perfected that concept in a cup version. It was *almost* the perfect tortoni, but for me, someone who has a serious sweet tooth by the way, it was actually too sweet overall. Now that did not for one second mean that I left even one drop uneaten, it just meant that I actually had something other than a full rave to come back to the creators with.

And so, that brings me to the final version. The chefs tweaked the original recipe that they used by reducing the amount of sugar and the amount of crumbled almond cookies by nearly half. They brought me my third and final sample. The moment of truth. I used a small spoon so as better to slow my bites down and to allow me to savor every delectable taste. Now this is perfection. Creamy, sweet but not-too-sweet, crispy, almondy, cold, and just the right portion size (although I could admittedly eat 2 or 3 of these easily- I really shouldn’t).

This is a memory in a paper cup. A great memory…and now one that can live on in the present instead of only a distant past. Bravo!

You can have your own “creamy, dreamy, taste embrace” too! Find them at Mozzarella Fella, Solorzano, Don Giovanni’s and MANY more restaurants coming soon! Follow their Facebook page to see where they are going to pop up next! https://www.facebook.com/brooklynbiscuittortoni

And if YOU want to carry them in your restaurant, contact the chefs via their website for wholesale information:

http://www.brooklynbiscuittortoni.com/

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

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sardinia

 

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!

 

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!

Lavanda: 1938 Adams Ln Ste 105 Sarasota, FL

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shrimp salad lavandascallops lavanda

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.

 

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.

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

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heart of palm salad kale salad salmon

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!