Update Zebra Lounge 217 Miami Ave. Venice May 23, 2020
Ari is up and running and the place was hopping. He was at the limit of customers inside, so we had to sit outside. Just as well since it was really warm in there. Heavy rain came through earlier, but now the table outside was very comfortable. Ari suggested a Gran Cermeno Rioja 2010. Lovely wine and great ambiance.
Update Cafe Venice 116 W. Venice Ave. Venice May 23, 2020
Enjoyed dinner with Ruth and friends. Place was probably one-third filled. We took a booth in back. Servers all wore masks and some wore gloves. The owner, Kay, had installed plexiglass shields between booths which allowed more seating. Our server, Katie, was quite efficient and after tasting, I ordered a Valpolicella from Zenaro which was fine. I ordered a veal chop and my guests all chose salmon but the wine seemed appropriate for all. The veal chop was excellent but overloaded with mushrooms, onions and what appeared to be feta cheese. The only downside to the entree’ was a scoop of mashed potatoes that appeared artificial. Took away from the presentation. Cafe Venice was offering a wine deal on the site “Venice Main Street”. One bottle of house wine for every two entree’s. The wine was Canyon Road so I gave mine to my guest. I have never been fond of this wine and it seems to be everywhere in Venice.
Crow’s Nest 1968 Tarpon Center Dr. Venice May 10, 2020
Restaurants had just opened up at 25% capacity inside, so Mark Montalbano and I took our wives to dinner for Mother’s Day. We arrived at 6:15 and found a receptionist outside at a podium. She was wearing a mask as were all servers, confirmed our reservation, and took our temperature with a remote thermometer.
Inside we were seated at a window table and and the atmosphere was obviously unusual. There seemed to be more staff than patrons. But since Crow’s Nest is usually crowded, it was a welcome change. Menus and wine lists are abbreviated and disposable but there were sufficient options. Mark asked for a better wine list which our server, Jonathon presented.
I usually choose something I don’t make at home and that was difficult. Most entree’s were burgers and the usual salmon and grouper selections. I chose the mahi-mahi-mahi tacos and found them excellent. My guests chose various salmon dishes and pan seared scallops which they found satisfying. A bottle of Dry Creek Fume Blanc paired well with the meal. Crisp and fruity with good depth, its a great staple. The $29.00 charge for a $12.00 wine can give you indigestion but then our purpose was to support the establishment.
Update Seven on Venice 317 B Venice Ave. March 13, 2020
Dinner with friends. The menu seems to be more pub-like with my guests ordering cocoanut shrimp and grouper chips (tempura). I had Magnificent 7 (chef’s favorite) with various seafood in a pasta bowl (spaghetti) with red sauce. The calamari, mussels, and shrimp were overdone and tough. The wine list hasn’t changed much and we enjoyed a bottle of Talbott chardonnay $11glass/$35 bottle. Ambiance is still pleasant but it was not as crowded as other restaurants nearby.
South Beach 777 Gulf Blvd. Boca Grande Feb. 27, 2020
It’s about an hour’s trek from Venice but worth the trip. You can literally dine with your feet in the sand, and the gulf is steps away. I know you can do that at Sharky’s, but this is so much better. The food is somewhat typical but the choices are many and the wine list is excellent. I was meeting family from Punta Gorda so this was a nice location. It’s a pleasure just driving through Boca Grande. For lunch I chose a pan seared mahi-mahi sandwich and cup of fish chowder, both excellent. Paired them with a glass of Dry Creek Fume Blanc at $9 and it was wonderful. My guests enjoyed burgers. Unfortunately it was cold so we sat inside. No reservations and parking is tight so get there early or between service (lunch and dinner). There is a $6 toll to access the island.
Grove 10670 Boardwalk Loop Lakewood Ranch February 19, 2020
Grove is the sister restaurant of Pier 22 on the Manatee river. I have dined there several time and enjoyed the experience. Grove is not the same. It occupies nearly a block in the LWR downtown and combines a restaurant with a spacious function facility. The restaurant is modern in design and the outdoor area is is inviting. Instead of the Manatee river, your view is Boardwalk Loop with BMW’s and Mercedes, and Main St. retail shops. However, the ambiance is friendly and welcoming. Grove has a very extensive wine list with sky high pricing. I believe they have a sommelier but our server did not know. My guest chose a 2014 Tempranillo from Torres which was quite dry and thin and overpriced at $45 (retails for $16). Since it was lunch, my guests ordered tuna fish sandwich, fish and chips, and crab parfait. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich and soup. Unfortunately, they put cole slaw on top of the open faced sandwich and it made the bread so soggy I could not lift it off the plate. My guests thought their meals were fine. So, good food with pricey wine, but then it is Lakewood Ranch.
The Maine Line Wherever February 2, 2020
Coming from New England, one of the things I miss most is lobster, affordable that is. I have mentioned Dockside Marker 4 as a good source, and Lotsa Lobster and Twin Lobsters are great if you want to cook them yourself. However, driving up Tamiami from Venice this morning, I saw a food trailer at Albee Rd. and had to stop. Kurt is the owner and was ready with samples of clam chowder for customers. Excellent!. His menu is short but I noticed lobster rolls at $16.50. Northern New England (mayo) and southern (hot butter). I purchased two northern ( he calls them Mom’s). Took them home and paired with a glass of wine, and they were excellent, nearly all large claw meat. In addition to the roll, he gives cole slaw, chips, and a whoopie pie. Fantastic. His location varies so call or check facebook. No plastic, only paper or wood utensils.
Anita’s Restaurant 441 S. Tamiami Trail Nokomis December 24, 2019
My wife and I decided on a late breakfast since we planned to attend an open house with friends in the evening. I was surprised by the cleanliness of the place and efficiency of the wait staff. We had a short wait to be seated at mid morning which I thought was unusual, but this is a very popular place. I normally don’t review breakfast- lunch establishments but Anita’s has a small wine list which I thought intriguing. Totally unexpected. It fits the funky auto themed restaurant perfectly. There’s even an actual ’57 Chevy hanging on the wall. (really only half). My wife enjoyed a bountiful omelet and I had waffle and eggs with bacon. Both were excellent. Next time I’ll try some wine.
Casey Key Fish House 801 Blackburn Rd. Osprey December 11,2019
This is one of my favorite restaurants because it’s dependable. Also you can literally dine on the water (Blackburn Bay). One of the more overused terms is “old Florida” but this is exactly that. Very downscale and friendly with tony Casey Key mansions nearby. What a contrast. Do not expect much except great food well prepared. The wine list is abhorantly short and lacking considering the neighborhood, but there are a few selections you will enjoy. The only problem is the plastic cups. Otherwise it’s a great time. My wife and I had lunch there today. I ordered the calamari salad and she had the crab stuffed portobello. Glasses of Willian Hill chardonnay complemented the meal. Both dishes were excellent. It was such a nice day that we rented a boat outside and cruised down Blackburn Bay. Unfortunately fog rolled in and our trip made an abrupt halt. Call ahead for deck seating, and the restaurant is dog friendly. Boat moorings are available as well.
Cafe Gala at the Dali Museum 1 Dali Blvd. St. Petesburg December 5, 2019
I have never reviewed a museum restaurant because most of them are inocuous. However this is different. The cuisine that is produced in this tiny kitchen is excellent. Gala was the wife of Salvadore Dali and the restaurant namesake. After a stimulating docent tour, my wife and I were ready for some Spanish cuisine. Great salads and sandwiches with true Spanish character are available in Gala as well as other selections. In addition, their wine list is short but excellent. I ordered two glases of albarino which were fine. Sitting at the bar, I engaged the server in conversation. She said I had to try the house white which was a rueda (photo below.) For a house wine, it was quite good but I still predfereed the albarino. Prices are quite reasonable. Seating is spacious and outdoor tables are right on the yacht basin. The Mahaffey Theater is next door.
Update January 4, 2020
Another great evening with friends at the Zebra Lounge. Ari now has over 200 wines available.
Zebra Lounge and Piano Bar 217 Miami Ave. W. Venice, FL November 8, 2019
If you would like a unique experience with wine and music, the Zebra Lounge is for you. An intimate setting with a variety of seating arrangements insures you will be a part of whatever experience transpires. Various piano players and other entertainers insure that every night is unique. The man behind this welcoming venue is Ari Aizenberg. He has been at this location for three years, and formerly ran the Burns Court Cafe in Sarasota for ten years. He loves wine and feels that music is a great accompaniment. His goal is to educate customers on wine. The wine list is modest but personally selected from regions around the world. You can check it out at his website. Feel free to discuss your preferences with him and he will find a wine you will like.
The atmosphere is very welcoming and everyone seems to have a good time. The lounge has its share of regulars so its a good idea to get there early. It opens at 6:30. There is light fare, pizza and salads, but the deserts are scrumptious.
Marina Jack 2 Marina Plaza Sarasota November 9, 2019
I find it hard to believe that I have not written about Marina Jack before. This was not my first visit. Even though it has a preeminent location, and probably the best view in Sarasota, the food and service are excellent. The wine list is exceptional as well. Today was lunch, and although not crowded in the dining room, service was prompt and courteous. Wine by the glass offerings were numerous but the only bargains were $10 a glass. Not unusual these days. Our server, Reggie, was most accommodating in allowing me samples of a white Bordeaux, Ch.La Freynelle and a California Chardonnay, Beckon. The Bordeaux won out and it was a most enjoyable wine. I ordered the Mahi Tacos which were delicious. My guests ordered a soup and salad, and a burger. They were well pleased with their choices. The solitude of the dining room was very pleasant for conversation, unlike the outdoor patio below. There it was cacophonous. In addition to the restaurants and numerous other dining rooms, Marina Jack also offers dining cruises.
C’est La Vie 8527 Cooper Creek Blvd. Sarasota October 10, 2019
It’s nice to imagine you are in a French Bistro when you’re really in the Shoppes at UTC. However the reality is closer than you think. C’est La Vie is a charming pastry shop and bistro that my wife and I enjoyed today. They featured a $16 three course lunch which was quite bountiful. We ordered caesar salad, Basquaise crepes, Croissant au Jambon and strawberry crepes for desert. Everything was excellent.The wine list was very thorough, well made, and quite reasonable. The wine by the glass was French Chardonnay which was excellent and only $7.50. A photo is below. They open at 8:00 AM.
The Lazy Lobster Longboat Key September 25, 2019
This is a beautiful restaurant with a very cozy atmosphere and wonderful views of the Key. No water views, and it is in a mall, but still a great venue. My wife and I met with some friends that had recommended it and it was worth the trip. The server, Carrie, was attentive and knowlegeable. The wine list was well put together and offered numerous choices. We met with the proprietor, Michael Gary, who is in charge of the wine list as well. He is very experirnced in the restaurant business having run Cafe L’Europe for many years.
We each had different entree’s but all were well received. I love lobster but am hesitant to order lobster tail since the most succulent meat is in the claw or knuckle. I ordered the lobster in vodka sauce with mushroom ravioli which Carrie promised had no tail meat and it was excellent. We shared a 2018 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc which was crisp and fruity and matched the meal well. My guests had the swordfish and Bar Harbor special which were also excellent.
The ambience was understated elegance with conversation easily managed with no excessive music or crowd noise. This is the second location for The Lazy Lobster, the other being on Lockwood Ridge Rd.
Daiquiri Deck Venice August 22, 2019
I had been hesitant to visit Daiquiri Deck since it opened several years ago. The main reason being that you could hear it from anywhere in downtown. To me the music was not pleasant and really overbearing. It still is. However I was committed to attend a political rally there and rather than rely on the munchies provided, my wife and I decided to dine there. To describe the ambience is difficult since there isn’t any. A bluesy guitarist was playing outside so we decided to dine in. We were seated at a window table facing the performer so we moved. The outside music is piped in so you can’t escape. It made no difference where you sat; the music(?) was still loud. The room is cacafonus with hard surfaces everywhere. And the loud drunks at the bar added to the noise.
However, we tried to make the best of it so I ordered two glasses of St. Suprey sauvignon blanc which was ver pleasant but at $11 each it was nearly as much a the entree ($14.00). It was a dollar off because of happy hour. I have to say the meal was superior and unanticipated. I had blackend snapper over salad and my wife had salmon over salad. My snapper was fresh and done perfectly. The sauvignon blanc was a good match.The list is very small although the offerings are good. Pricing is high in my opinion.
This is definitely not a wine destination. If you want a high energy, loud venue, this is the place. Service was excellent.
Speaks Clam Bar Lakewood Ranch August 6, 2019
A friend of mine recommended Speak and so my wife and I joined him and his wife for lunch. I have learned to be hesitant about visiting a restaurant that does not show the wine list on its website. Our visit reinforced that premise. The setting is quite nice in a very accessible mall on Rt. 70, just off I75. Plenty of tables, booths, and outside dining. It’s a comfortable feel even though the music was louder than necessary. Getting back to the wine offerings, they were limited to perhaps ten to fifteen whites and twenty reds. They were presented in a metal covered book with the word “Hooch” embossed on the cover. The two page wine list was followed by at least eight pages of cocktails in color photos. Which goes to show the importance of wine here.
My friend, a former wine salesman, suggested the Pascal Jolivet Sancerre and so we ordered it. At $45, my guest thought it reasonable. Very clean and crisp with good mouth feel and body. Far colder than necessary, but still enjoyable. Wines by the glass were also offered from $6 to $10.
We were told that lobster rolls were their specialty, so we ordered them. They offer Maine style, cold with celery and mayo, or warm with melted butter. They claim the warm is Connecticut style but I recall it as being “Rhode Island” since I have had them in “little Rhody” many times. At $19 it was quite nice with a great deal of claw and knuckle meat. Fries were above average.
Speaks’ website claims to emulate a turn of the century (twentieth I believe) New York clam bar. Since I have no knowledge of such a thing, I can’t comment. To me it’s a gimmick like many other restaurants practice, and their success will be found in the food, which was enjoyable.
Service was excellent and they have another location on St. Armand’s Circle.
Roesslers Sarasota 6/4/19
Roesslers (pronounced Russ-lers) is a unique restaurant. Located on Vamo way, just off Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, it is surrounded by beautiful gardens and grounds. It is large property with several small rooms, as you pass to a large dining room, and even a wine room. Each room is well appointed and all feature white table cloths. I chose Roesslers because of recommendations from friends and its participation in Savor Sarasota restaurant week.
Viewing its website, it’s evident that wine is a very important part of their offerings. The wine selections are extensive and most are moderately priced. This created an even greater desire to dine here. My wife and I arrived at 6 PM and were promptly seated in the Dining Room. With carpeting, soundproof wall panels, and gorgeous garden and grounds views, it was like a step back in time. We ordered the Savor Sarasota selections, three courses for $32.00. My wife had the meatloaf entree’, I paid $3 extra for veal scallopine. I figured Pinot Noir would be a good choice to accompany the meal and the waiter obliged with a taste of the two by the glass offerings. One was from California , Block 9, and the other from Oregon. I felt neither were well made and perused the wine list for another choice. The waiter could not help so the sister of the owner/chef Klaus arrived. We decided on a Marsanny from Louis Latour which was pleasant but light ($48.00).
I would prefer not to review the dining experience because this is a popular restaurant and diners apparently know what to expect. As noted above, it’s a trip back in time where meatloaf and reconstituted mashed potatoes were popular. Be prepared to spend some time over dinner.
Carrabbas Wine Dinner Venice 5/28/19
This event was a better experience than I expected. I have participated in many of these over the years and some were great but most were average. I attended with my wife and friends from the wine trade. I previously discussed the benefit of hosting wine dinners with a client and this was an opportunity for his manager to find out for himself. Carrabbas is a national chain focusing on Italian style meals. They schedule these dinners on a regular basis, usually one or two per month. The Venice location is unique in that it has an in-house wine manager, Rocky DeLuca, a former distributor salesperson from New York. He was very gracious and helpful going from table to table to answer questions.
The first course was Bruschette Paolo. This was a caprino cheese spread with marinated roasted peppers and tomatoes, served with ciabatta bread. Very tasty and a nice beginning. The wine for this course was Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. No vintages were given for any of the wines. It was less acidic than I remember but clean and crisp. I think a rose’ or dolcetto would have been better choices.
Spaghetti Puttanesca was next. Spaghetti with tomato sauce, kalamata olives, and capers. The wine was Renato Ratti Barbera. This was a full bodied, complex wine with great flavor. A little too much for the lighter, spicy sauce.
Chicken Bruschetta followed. Wood grilled chicken with balsamic glaze, fresh tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. Served with sauteed broccoli. Very nice entree’ but sufficient for a more hearty appetite. The staff then anticipated the guests’ need for take home boxes which were quite popular. The matching wine was an Aruma Malbec from Argentina. Lighter than the Barbera, it would have been better served with the previous course. Malbec is a blending grape and does not have the complexity of the Barbera.
The final course was strawberry cheesecake which was very well received. It was paired with Saint M Riesling, a pleasant, light, sweet wine. The cheesecake overpowered it. An alternative choice could have been a sauterne or auslese riesling, either of which would be richer and create a better balance with the cheesecake. But, I am sure cost was a concern.
All in all, an enjoyable evening and eye opening for my client. The Carrabbas staff were extremely efficient, personable, and professional. For forty dollars, it was a good buy.
The Lighthouse Grill at Stump Pass Englewood 5/22/19
Best crab cakes around. I watched Chef Bob from the Lighthouse Grill at Stump Pass make crab cakes on the noon newscast of ABC 7. I had to try these, so my wife and I had lunch there yesterday. The location is at the end of a very narrow neighborhood road. The restaurant is expansive and open air under a giant tiki canopy. Yes, its right on Lemon Bay. Even though the temperature was 90 degrees, the breeze kept us comfortable. The wine list is very short but I ordered two glasses of Estancia Chardonnay which were fine except for the plastic stem ware. I asked our server why the short list. He wasn’t sure but thought the tiki hut atmosphere contributed toward rum drinks.
The crab cakes arrived and were sumptuous. All crab with minimal mayo and filler and Chef’s special remoulade sauce with sriracha. My wife had the Mahi Mahi sandwich which also was excellent. These were appetizer portions but quite substantial. The menu is extensive with numerous selections from land and sea.
According to the very well done website, the marina next door and the restaurant were purchased recently and major renovations ensued.
Dockside Waterfrom Grill Venice 5/19/19
Update 8/23 Price for two lobster roles + extra side now $24.95. Roll is smaller and fries are fewer.
One of the best lobster rolls in town. Whenever we get the urge to splurge on lobster rolls, this is the place. Right on the water at Fisherman’s Wharf, the setting is great and food quite good. We always opt for the high top tables across from the bar. You are outside on the wharf and can gaze out to Roberts and Dona Bay. There are plenty of high end boats moored nearby to create the perfect Suncoast scene.
We paid $22 for two lobster rolls, fries,and cole slaw. Not bad. The lobster was fresh with just enough mayo, and the fries were excellent. Dockside is now part of the Geckos Hospitality Group since last year and improvements have been noticeable. The menus have expanded and a real wine list is now available. (Not online). Previously the wine selections were haphazard and often out of stock. Dockside has committed to keg wine which has its benefits and faults. On my last visit, the Hahn Chardonnay glass ($9) was room temp. So I ordered the Chalk Hill ($12). Today the Hahn was cool but not cold. (I tried a sample). This is the major pitfall of kegs. Wine can sit in the line and lose temperature and freshness. It’s easy to purge the line for a draught beer but costly to do that for wine. The server was receptive to my complaint, and purged the line and dispensed the wine in chilled glasses. The Hahn was excellent. Because of the variability problem, a number of local restaurants have ceased using the kegs. The benefits of kegs are the ease of use and the ability to give samples.
Shake Shack Sarasota 5/16/19
Don’t waste your time. I have always been impressed by Danny Meyer’s ability to create great restaurants, mostly in New York. A few years ago he started Shake Shack which purportedly made the greatest burgers. There was even an episode of “60 Minutes” where Anderson Cooper interviewed Danny as they stood in line at a Shake Shack. There are lines alright, but why I am not sure. The burger was small, flat, well done, and somewhat tasty but not extraordinary. The bun was no different than at a national chain. At $4.30 I felt it was overpriced and I have had better at Burger King.
Vino Loco Englewood 5/9/19
This is a gem of a restaurant particularly if you enjoy Spanish tapas. Joyce Colmer has created a wonderful destination for wine and food afficianados. My objective was to meet a local wine consultant, Barbara Vaughn, who creates local wine events. Facebook.com/BarbaraS.Vaughn,Consultant. She suggested Vino Loco and it was a nice discovery. While waiting, my wife enjoyed a panini and I had a a jumbalaya espandilla. My go to white wine in Spanish restaurants is Albarino and the Columna (by-the-glass) was exceptional. Clean and crisp with great flavor and complexity, it was one of the best in memory. I then tried a Tempranillo from Pasa that was also excellent. Full and rich with a fine finish, it was another standout. At $8 and $7 respectively, they were great values. Both tapas were excellent as well.
Inside Vino Loco (wine crazy) Joyce has created a an enticing retail operation. An intimate room showcases wines from all over the globe and are available for purchase. These can also be bought and then brought to the table for a small corkage fee. Joyce is a highly educated wine consultant and it shows in her selections.
Vino Loco has a very though website and creates numerous wine events. Give them a try.
Cafe Evergreen Nokomis 5/3/19
I heartily believe in the benefits of organic food. Plant based meals have shown to be extremely beneficial to our health. Vegetarianism is another story. However, Cafe Evergreen focuses on both. If you desire such a restaurant, then Cafe Evergreen is for you. Unfortunately it’s not for me. On my third visit there, I found the offerings too vegan oriented for me and settled for a combo salad and turkey sandwich. The wines were less interesting so I chose a Flensburger Pilsner which was satisfactory. My wife chose a Frey Sauvignon Blanc which was bland at best. I have never found an organic wine that was rich and complex with character.
The restaurant is very attractive and has a nice dining area outside. Unfortunately the healthy theme did not reach two servers who passed by us to smoke.
Their website is very thorough.
Pelican Alley Nokomis 4/4/19
My wife, son, and I dined here last night. We have always enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere, the great food, and of course the Intracoastal Waterway next to our table. Unfortunately the restaurant was damaged extensively during Hurricane Irma. It has taken a year and a half to refurbish it and what a good job they did. It is still as charming as ever but with a fresh, newer look.
We secured a waterway table outside and enjoyed the dolphins and birds. The outside dining area abuts the bridge to Casey Key, but it’s not difficult to adjust to the traffic. Later we were going to the Drum Circle and sunset at Nokomis Beach, but our table would have been great for viewing the sunset.
Our server was a competent young lady who had spent time in Sonoma County, California, and understood wine service. However, there was no wine list and she had to read the offerings. She was aware of the difference between the house wine (Copper Ridge) and premium wine. Of the premium wines, I chose the William Hill Chardonnay as I have done in numerous area restaurants because it is palatable and reasonably priced. When the wine arrived, she tried with difficulty to open it with a winged opener. I haven’t seen one of those used in twenty years. She was successful, but I gave her a waiter’s corkscrew, which works more easily, for her efforts. Much appreciated.
The dinners were excellent. All ingredients seemed very fresh. The seafood chowder (their specialty) was rich and thick and the seafood tacos (snapper) were delicious. Crab Cakes and seafood tempura received great reviews. Prices were quite reasonable. The presentations were on the bare side and could have benefitted from some garnish or pea puree to meld the excellent food together.
We wish them well as they grow to reclaim their devoted customers and create new devotees. By the way they claim there are ghosts on the property and have been examined by paranormal experts. We saw no evidence of that.
Michael’s on East Sarasota 3/19
I have dined at Michael’s on many occasions and have found the cuisine, atmosphere, and service to be the finest in Sarasota. Recently, my wife and I joined friends for lunch there. True to fashion, the lunch was excellent but we thought chef Jamil may be concentrating more on display than flavor balance. Since my friend was a wine salesman in the Boston area, I asked him to choose a wine. He was handed an iPad and quickly became confused. The server aided him and he eventually chose a Sancerre which was very pleasant but a little pricy ($66). Michael Klauber, the owner, spoke to us on his usual rounds and I asked who was in charge of the wine program. He directed me to Sean King in the Wine Cellar next door.
Later, I met Sean and asked if we could discuss his wine program. That day was not good so we connected today. Sean is a most amiable and knowledgeable individual. He has the unusual credentials of actually making high quality wine in California. Good enough to sell to Thomas Keller at the French Laundry. In 2004 he decided to leave California during the rainy season and landed in Sarasota. He talked his way into Michael’s, began working in the wine cellar part-time and was sommelier two nights a week, and now runs the wine program in the restaurant and store. Sean continued to make wine in California until 2011. He was a part-time resident here until 2018 when he became full-time and now lives close to the restaurant. His idea was to make the store a reflection of the wine list but with more options. In the restaurant, he thought a printed list of two to three hundred items would be cumbersome so he decided on the iPad format. There remain bugs to be worked out in order to make it more user-friendly.
Wine is the dominant beverage at Michael’s with sales being around 50% with spirits second and beer a far third. Sean is the go to wine person, but trains the servers on a regular basis. We both agree it takes a certain interest and impetus to sell wine on the floor.
We found we had a lot in common especially our distaste for sommeliers. I may elaborate in a future column. Michael’s Wine Cellar is next door to the restaurant and tastings are held the first Saturday of the month.
Fins at Sharky’s Venice 3/19
I have dined at Fins on many occasions and brought numerous guests to enjoy the unparalleled view and experience haute cuisine in Venice. In my experience, the meals have been excellent and the service top-notch. However, choosing a wine has been a challenging exercise. Prices are usually high and bargains are few. I often relegated my choice to Cannonball Sauvignon Blanc because it was the most affordable and recognizable selection. Recently I had lunch at Fins with my wife and found the wine list had changed again. It was located on the back of the menu which was convenient if not enticing. Now it is in a more familiar wine book format. Still expensive, with few recognizable choices, I decided on the Benziger Organic Chardonnay 2014 at $12 glass/ $36 bottle. This is a fairly common tact I have found where it makes more sense to buy the bottle and the server often encourages you to do just that. I was remiss in noticing the vintage and two glasses of amber-colored wine arrived. Both showed evidence of volatile acidity, a sign the wine has past its peak. Most California Chardonnays do not show well after four years and this was evidence of that. I was further remiss in not asking for a taste which is a common practice in Venice. The server was agreeable to exchange the wine and recommended the Jam Cellars Butter 2017 at $23/39. This was at least drinkable but was lacking in complexity. The meals were fine and the server most accommodating.
I thought it important to get the owner’s take on this experience and later met with Justin Pachota to discuss his wine program and the status of the Benziger Chardonnay. He was most accommodating on a very busy day. He told me the Benziger was gone and would be replaced. He oversees the wine program and also shares responsibility with General Manager Scott. He believes he has the best wine selections in Venice especially now that the Crow’s Nest has changed hands. He tastes all samples before adding to the list. This list will be effective through the season and revised during the summer. At that time he will also institute staff training.
It was a difficult Summer and Fall with Red Tide causing a huge loss of business. Employees’ hours were cut and maintaing the staff was difficult.
Justin is aware that Fins is a destination and admitted it was a gamble which has paid off. He would like to see more regional and national recognition through magazines such as the Wine Spectator. Check out their list on their website.
Beach Road Wine Bar and Bistro Englewood 3/19
I have dined here several times and never been disappointed. Yesterday, my wife and friends enjoyed lunch here. It doesn’t appear like much from the outside, but the deck seating is substantial and right on the water. Yesterday was cold so we decided to eat inside. The decor is a wine lovers paradise. Wine bottles cover the walls and tables are few so it is very intimate.
Their website is good but explains nothing about the owners or the wines. Unusual for a wine bar. There is a photo of the wine list at the end of this post . I found out that Jill and Scott Hemmes own the restaurant and it’s been in business about six years. An intriguing aspect of Beach Road Bistro is that the kitchen is in a trailer outside the building. Very convenient for outside dining. It’s hard to believe the quality of food that comes out of that kitchen.
After perusing the wine list, I chose a Pascal Jolivet Sancerre 2017. It was $11 /glass or $40/bottle. Beach Road is unique in offering sixty-four wines by the glass so it was easy to try the Sancerre before buying. It was an excellent choice, clean, fresh, with a good mouth feel and crisp acidity. It balanced our meals well. I enjoyed a Cuban Panini, my wife ordered Clam Chowder and Small Beet Salad, and my friends ordered Duck Confit Panini, and Small berry Kale Salad. All were exceptional and bountiful.
I spoke with the General Manager, Tracy Warren, who is in charge of the wine buying. She said the website developer left but agreed it would be good to have the wines online. She changes wines on the list quarterly based on sales and availabiliy. She works with a number of distributors to offer a large variety. Server wine training is offered periodically.
1350 Beach Road, Englewood
Seven on Venice 317 B Venice Ave. February 2019
Seven on Venice is a new dining option on restaurant row in down town Venice. I visited with my wife and friends last week. The entrance is unobtrusive but the ambience after entering is superior. It has a modern decor of metal, wood and pleasant wall designs. It’s comfortable. We were the first to arrive for lunch and the server appeared immediately. The menu is varied and features continental cuisine. Since they don’t split sandwiches,we all opted for the soup/salad combo. The soup was seafood bisque with lobster, shrimp, and crab and was excellent. A nice balance of flavors and substance. The salad du jour combined fish, shellfish and vegetables on a bed of mesclun greens providing an excellent balance of textures and taste.. Very attractive presentation and delicious.
The wine list was limited but workable with selections from Canyon Road to Talbott. The number of white wine selections was fewer than the reds so my choices were limited. I decided on a William Hill Chardonnay. This is always a dependable selection and everyone was pleased. It had nice balance, flavor and good body and went well with both the bisque and salad. William Hill is a real person but sold his name and winery to Gallo some time ago. It seems many restaurants serve this wine in the Venice area. Perhaps I am mistaken, but I remember the actual wine list to have fewer selections than the website showed.
The restaurant filled quickly but the noise was manageable and we all enjoyed our conversation. Service was well timed and excellent.
The owners are Joe and Michelle Kahn. They have operated a number of restaurants in Illinois, and aim to make Seven on Venice upscale but not uptight. I believe they are succeeding.
Walt’s Fish Market Tamiami Trail, Sarasota 2/19
Drove by this place many times and it was was packed with cars. It’s been written up a few times in the Herald-Tribune as having the freshest fish and now being run by the third generation of Walt. It appears not much has changed since the first generation. For a restaurant of this size and popularity, I was amazed by the lack of wine offerings. For whites there were two mezza-corona choices and two New Zealand, Oyster Bay and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The only recognizable California wine was Seaglass Chardonnay. The pricing ($10 glass /$30 dollars per bottle) was high but did entice us to buy the bottle and brought a third of it home.The reds were about the same in number and also lacking quality names.
I ordered a mahi-mahi sandwich and my wife ordered their crab cakes. Both were excellent and my selection, pan blackened, was as good as any I have had. The service was superior. Be prepared for high quality food in a very rustic setting with a limited wine selection.
The Ritz Carlton Sarasota 2/19
I am not in the habit of giving poor reviews. The RitzCarlton was a client of mine and I always enjoyed dining there. However four us dined here for lunch and all felt the food and wine were not worth the prices. The lobster roll was simply a hot dog roll with a few pieces of warmed, buttered lobster. The chips were good but made up three quarters of the plate. The restaurant (Jack Dusty) certainly did not lose money on this selection. A better deal is Dockside Marker 4 in Venice. Two rolls for the same price ($21).
The wine list has great selections but is outrageously priced. The format is cumbersome and difficult to read. Twenty-six dollars for a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay? Really?
Pilot Grille Venice Beach 2/19
This has nothing to do with wine but I feel it’s important to mention the best hot dog place in Venice. My wife and I always enjoyed a spontaneous lunch break and over time we have gravitated to hot dog locations, mostly food trucks up north. We have tried all of the hot dog locations in Venice and find the Pilot Grille is the best for the price. The dog is large and sumptuous, chile or condiments are substantial, and it easily makes a meal, (Mad Dogs is our second choice and Jetty Jacks is third). This is a family operation with a brother operating the concession at Nokomis Beach.
Le Petit Jardin Cafe 1500 E. Venice Ave., Venice, FL 1/19
Stopped here for lunch the other day. Weather was rainy and cool and my wife and I needed some sustenance. This cozy little cafe is noted for quiches and crepes and they are wonderful. I enjoyed a petit crepe (smaller version) of Jambon (ham) with sautéed mushrooms and cheese. It was combined with a small crock of french onion soup for $11. My wife had a Crepe Parisienne with chicken, peas, carrots, and celery, and soup, for the same price. I would have ordered wine but the brand was Canyon Ranch which I feel is substandard.
This is one of the few restaurants in Venice I would have no problem returning to. Someday I will talk to them about their wine selections.
Grill Room 1635 US 41 Bypass, Venice 34291 1/19
Dined here yesterday. This a part of Norma Jeans Bar & Grill but has a separate entrance behind Norma Jeans. It’s extremely busy and I had to reserve for 4:30 PM to beat a group of forty at 6 PM. Not my favorite time to dine, but since ny wife and I were the only patrons at this time, we received a great deal of attention. Alberto, the manager, was most gracious to as was our server. The room is paneled in dark wood like a traditional steakhouse. This is a smaller and more rustic version of Capitol Grille. Howerver, there is a very relaxed feeling about the place. It shares a kitchen with Norma Jeans, but has its own dedicated line.
We had a nice discussion with our server, Sylvia about the entree’s. The choices of steak are many and seafood is also an option. She recommended Prime Rib ($19) or Filet Mignon ($24) so we obliged. After dining at a steakhouse at the Westfield Mall, I came to believe there was no quality Prime Rib on the suncoast. My attitude changed with this selection. The Prime Rib was juicy and flavorful, obviously slow cooked. Some restaurants microwave a piece and call it Prime Rib. The gray color gives it away. My wife was very pleased with her Filet Mignon, again done medium rare as requested. Sides were creamed spinach and steak fries. Both were quite good.
Regarding wine, this is another story. There was no wine list offered, only a blackboard. There are eight selections, one each of the major varietals. Like many restaurants in Florida, spirits get the attention and the menu lists numerous cocktails. The blackboard list was created by Mark Montalbano from ABC Wines in Venice. He has been working with the Grille owner Barry to start a wine program. Barry happened to be there so we discussed the future of his wine program. He admitted a limited knowledge of wine and is wants to increase wine exposure by using Mark to make selections and slowly introduce them to his staff and customers.
Since there was little choice, I dedided on the the only Cabernet Sauvignon, a McGuigan 2016 from Australia. ($8/$27) Rich and fruity, it showed nice cherry and cocoa overtones but good Cabernet flavor and accompanied the steaks well. Australian wines are noted for their early drinkability and this was no exception. The dining experience was excellent and I would recommend this restaurant.
Asaros, Laurel Rd. Venice 11/6/18
Asaros originated on Long Island, NY. and has been at this location for over two years. Venice has been a bastion of Italian restaurants and most of them have a history going back decades. Nothing wrong with tradition, but one can get tired of heavy sauces and lots of pasta. Asaros brings a fresh, classy, and expensive decor to the area. A lot of shiny metal and suburban chic. The entre’s are creative, atttractive and delicious. Somewhat on the pricey side, they are worth it. Last night I had a special of Vitello Asaro. It was breaded veal cutlet with prosciutto in a light wine sauce with chopped tomatoes and parley. Veal is expensive and so was this dish (23.95) but the meat was delicate and tasty. My guests had eggplant and seafood combo both of which had nice presentations and were also enjoyable.
The ambiance was busy but not overly noisy. The server was attentive but not intrusive. All in all a nice experience but the wine list leaves a lot to be desired. The selections are minimal and I find it hard to understand why so many selections are from South America. There are so many good Italian wines to offer that it seems the list was concentrated by price alone. The nice thing about Florida is that restaurants will offer you a taste of wine before ordering and in some cases allow you to compare two wines (by-the-glass only). In this case, I had good ecperience with the Supertuscan, Taneto, tasted it and ordered a bottle. Supertuscan is supposed to indicate Sangioves grapes with other varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. I found out that it’s mostly Syrah with some Sangiovese. The wine had good body and character it’s a stretch to call it a Supertuscan.
Sharky’s on the Pier , Venice 10/11/18
Not one of my favorite restaurants, but my wife thought we should try it for Sarasota Restaurant Week. I personally prefer Fins at Sharkys but found it to be closed for lunch. So we tried Sharky’s. Unfortunately it was not participating in restaurant week. The main reason I didn’t like it was the noise and the unkempt condition. Those are now only worse. It may be “right on the water” but I like a clean restaurant. Having spent many years visiting countless restaurants, I can sense a dirty place. That’s why I would not eat inside.
Anyway, I ordered Mahi Mahi Tacos which were small but enjoyable. I also ordered two glasses of Sterling Sauvignon Blanc which is usually dependable but seemed to have more citrus character than usual, When I received the check I noticed 2 glasses of “The Seeker”. I asked the waitress about it and she explained they were out of the Sterling so they substituted The Seeker. I asked why and she said “they’re very close”. Really?