Tag Archives: wine

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!

 

 

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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.

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 🙂

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.

 

Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar: 8433 Cooper Creek Blvd. Sarasota

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The novelty of a menu on an Ipad instead of paper is certainly amusing, but my first impression was that it was probably going to end up as the only impressive part of Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar. I’m happy to say that I was wrong with that assumption, and that the food was better than expected.

Gabriel and I went in for a late night dinner after yoga class when there’s not much open and restaurant choices are limited. We were seated right away and given our Ipad to browse through. After scanning through pages of options for small, sharing plates, we decided to ask our waitress for some suggestions and advice. She told us that the flatbreads, salads and a few other dishes were the standouts, and that we should start with one or 2 two plates with intent to order more as we went along. We took her advice and started with the Grilled Lemon Chicken & Artichoke flatbread with arugula and parmesan (deliciously chewy, crisp and full of flavor.  I especially liked the candied lemon peel on top) as well as the Red & Yellow Roasted Beets with goat cheese, watercress, arugula, toasted pistachios and a vinaigrette on the side. I adore beets, so this was an obvious pick, and it didn’t disappoint at all. The roasted beets were slightly sweet, not over-cooked at all, and beautifully colorful with the greens. The combo of lettuces and nuts with the cheese and beets was wonderful- both in their flavor and texture.

When were near the end of those 2 plates, we sent our next order via Ipad to the kitchen. I must comment that the turnaround time is super fast, and you really can order plates and expect to get them in 5 minutes or so. It makes me wonder if everything is precooked and just reheated when you order, which isn’t great, but still- the food tasted pretty darn good. Our next order was the calamari & cannellini with herb marinade, pomodoro, and pancetta and the meatball lollipop pomodoro with fresh pomodoro sauce. The calamari was ok- but I didn’t love it. I do adore calamari in general, but somehow, even with the nice assortment of herbs, this lacked flavor. The meatballs were also kind of boring, nothing special- even though the waitress had recommended them as a favorite. We were still a bit hungry after finishing those 2 plates and decided to order one final one. We settled on the chickpea fries with tomato jam (YUM) and curry aioli. I have to say this was a big hit for me. What a cool concept to have crispy, crunchy fried outside with a creamy, melty, hot, inside of chickpea puree. I really loved the sweet and tangy tomato jam that it came with and the adorable Jenga-like stack it was presented in. I polished off more than my fair share of this plate.

Overall, this was a fun experience with better-than-average food. It’s a great option when you want a meal later than most places are open. We have yet to try the wine pairings and the desserts, but intend to soon. The atmosphere is also very cool and hip- especially for Florida. (sorry Florida) The one thing we struggled a bit with was what to tip. The waitstaff definitely have it pretty easy here and tipping the full 18% that we usually do didn’t feel right. We went with 15% instead and hope that was ok. Fun place for a date or a meal with a big group- these are definitely sharing plates and that’s one of the main reasons I really enjoyed it.

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.