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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.

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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.

 

Duval’s New World Cafe: 1435 Main St. Sarasota, FL

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Gabriel and I had tickets to see a show at the Florida Studio Theater last night so we asked my father for a recommendation of a restaurant nearby to have dinner first. As a newbie in the area, I’m excited about so many options to choose from, many with great reviews online. My father suggested that we make a reservation at Duval’s for good food, reasonable prices and close proximity to the theater.

I made a reservation on Open Table for 6:30 for the 2 of us, and we lucked out in getting a parking spot directly across the street. When we went in, it was clear that we really didn’t need the reservation after all. There were about 8 people total inside the large space. Oh yeah, it’s Easter! I guessed most people were with their families.

I loved that there was a flat screen tv behind the bar upon which you can watch the chef preparing meals. Talk about transparency in a kitchen! It was spotless in there and very entertaining to see the 2 chefs working together on their preparations.

The waiter came out right away to take drink orders and bring our menus to us. Soon after, he returned with ice water with lemon (which I love and it seems that all of the restaurants do that around here) and a basket of bread and butter.  The bread was doughy and fresh, but it was served cold and we would have preferred it to be warmed. He also went over the specials, all of which sounded very appealing.

I started with the Harvest Salad, a small starter of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion and great, chunky blue cheese dressing. The salad was on the small side, but as an accompaniment to my entree, and priced at only $2.50, it was the perfect size for me. For my entree I had the Trout Almandine, one of my favorites. When I see it on a menu, I almost always go for it. It was served with butternut squash and lemon/dill mashed potatoes. I asked for the chef to go light on the butter and was very pleased that he took my request to heart. The fish was cooked perfectly. Rather than being served with the slivers of almonds on top like most restaurants do it, this filet was crusted in a coating of ground almonds which made for a crisp and flavorful layer. The mashed potatoes were awesome, with a bright lemony flavor but I could hardly taste the dill- even though I could see it clearly. The squash was al dente, cooked with onions, mushrooms and balsamic and it was a lovely side to my fish, but being that the potatoes were already a carb-laden side, I would have preferred a green, less starchy vegetable.

I don’t usually write about what Gabriel orders if I’m not sharing with him, but this time it’s worth a quick mention. He had the crab and shrimp stuffed salmon which I had a taste of and I thought it was excellent. His side of risotto with mushrooms was also awesome.

We both completely cleaned our plates which really didn’t leave room for dessert. We looked over the offerings anyway, but nothing really jumped out at me as a ‘please make a little more room for me’ necessity. The waiter described the bread pudding and it did sound delicious, but we were really both too full to manage it this time.

Given the great service, appealing menu, easy location and reasonable prices, I think we’ll definitely be back!

The Waterfront Restaurant: 111 S Bay Blvd, Anna Maria, FL

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My dad and I went for lunch at The Waterfront Restaurant today and had a great time. On a gorgeous day, sitting outside looking at the water, the blue sky and the Tampa bridge, it’s not difficult to feel completely at peace. Our waitress was friendly and helpful and took our orders right away.

I was trying to decide between the stuffed tomato and the fish tacos, so I asked the waitress if the shrimp salad that came inside of the tomato was very mayo-y. She told me that yes, it was, and I really appreciated her honesty about that. I decided to go for the tacos.

My father started with the lobster bisque, which I tasted and thought was excellent. Very creamy and with decent sized pieces of lobster, it was the kind of soup I’d like to eat on a chilly day. My grouper tacos for  came with a side of Texas caviar (black-eyed peas, lima beans, corn, onions etc) and fresh salsa. They were excellent. Filled with fresh blacked fish, cheddar and jack cheese, jicama and the salsa that came on the side, they were summery, flavorful, and just filling enough without being heavy. I REALLY enjoyed the Texas caviar- something I’d never heard of before, and think I’ll try to make it for myself soon.

I will definitely come back again to try some of the other options on the menu. The prices were reasonable, the service was fast, and the scenery can’t be beat.