Restaurants

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.

http://pelican-alley.com

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.

https://bestfood.com

http://michaelswinecellar.com

 

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.

https://www.finsatsharkys.com

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

http://www.beachroadbistro.com

Seven on Venice  2/19

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 the 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.

317 B Venice Ave.

https://sevenonvenice.com

 

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?