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Mar 5, 2005 07:53 PM

Sarasota letdown

  • s

I was in Sarasota last weekend and went to Bijou Cafe for dinner based on the numerous recommendations on this site. Lets just say that "letdown" would be an understatement!!

The food was mediocre at best and they charged South Beach prices to boot!! Bijou Cafe would last a week in South Beach.

During the meal, I thought we were getting terrible service. As I reflect back on the experience, I actually think the waiter was just being honest.

Background: The Piri Piri Shrimp is one of their signature dishes.

Me: The Piri Piri Shrimp is good, right?

Waiter: Not really

Girlfriend: Are there any appetizers that you would recommend?

Waiter: No Not really

Girlfriend bewilderdly looks at me(I had the same look on my face)

I ordered the shrimp and it was shrimp dipped in Tabasco sauce. I could have had that at the Waffle House down the block!!!! for a tenth of the price

I had the "Bijou pepper steak" as my main dish and it was inedible. There was a mountain of bijou pepper sauce on the steak that tasted like wellllll I better refrain from saying that. let's just say I didn't taste any steak :)

My G who was unfortunately celebrating her b-day had the crab cakes or should I say dough ball with a pinch of imitation crab

The meal was soooo bad that we were scared to stay for b-day cake

They should change the name to Bijoudoody cafeteria and that is being kind

Anyone who likes that place needs to get in their car and head across the alley to South Beach and get a REAL MEAL!!!!!!!!!!!

We did have two great meals at Verona at the Ritz.
The service at the hotel was amazing.

We also had a great lunch at Cafe L'Europe

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  1. Very sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with Bijou.. We are going there tonight and hopefully its better then your experience.

    23 Replies
    1. re: Irwin

      Irwin, I hope you will post regarding your recent experience at the Bijou. We dine there several times a year and have never had an experience even close to Sobe. We have not eaten there since the new chef from the Broadmoor came on board. We have a reservations there in a couple of weeks with business associates. I am wondering if we should pick a different restuarant.

      1. re: Wallace

        Dinner At Bijou on 3/6/05.... Our dining experience last night was truly almost perfect. What a great restaurant. Can't imagine that Sobe was treated like that. The service, the food, the staff was truly excellent, and exactly the same like it has been each time we visit the "Bijou"... We started in the beautiful bar, and even the bar-maid was very friendly, and knows how to mix a drink. I still cannot believe Sobe's experience at Bijou, and if it happened to me, you can bet that the manager would of heard my story immediately unpon happening, or unpon leaving. They are one of the best in Sarasota. The restaurant was full on Sunday night, so this alone will tell you something.. Their cliental is upperclass, and they demand the best, and Bijou is one of the restaurants that you can always depend on.

        1. re: Irwin

          I guess we were just unlucky. Thanks for the update

          In response to the personal taste comment, I agree and am fully aware of that. If you review my prior posts on the board they are probably all positive. i normally don't bash restaurants but this experience really warranted it, obviously in my opinion. Additionally, you are correct, there are plenty overrated restaurants in south beach.

          regardless, I'm glad my post sparked a discussion on Bijou. That is the beauty of this site

          Thanks guys

          1. re: sobe

            Bijou is very much like virtually all the restaurants in this class in Sarasota, Longboat Key, Siesta Key etc. Food is always mediocre--not bad, just mediocre--service is rudimentary (amateurish?), wine list is mediocre (don't look for Italians) and generally everything is overpriced. Red wines are usually served too warm.

            Sarasota magazine lists Carrabas as the best Italian restaurant in Sarasota and environs. That really tells you as it is here.

            1. re: Arthur

              So Arthur--you keeping your favorites a secret?
              What restaurants do you enjoy in Sarasota Area Arthur?

              1. re: Irwin

                Irwin, first let me say that we eat out at least four night a week and I have lunch out a couple of times a week. Each night it gets more difficult to choose where to go because we know we will be spending close to $100 for dinner for the two of us. Tonight for instance we ate at Mediterraneo on Main St. We at a barely eatible salad dressed with olive oil and that fake balsalmic vinegar that it so common all over. My wife at risotto that was very good, and I had a veal chop Milanese that was ruined by the salad that was heaped on it. The salad was soaked with oil which caused the meat to be soggy. I don't expect to have a veal Milanese here to match the ones which I have had at Savini in Milan, but it is a simple dish that could be prepared well rather easily. We each had a glass of wine (my wife cannot drink red so I am stuck with having to buy a glass) and two cups of decent espresso. The bill was $94. And, this is a restaurant that has plastic menus, which also are more common than not. Imagine if we had a bottle of wine and a desert? Now we would be in the area of $150.

                One of the great problems with the restaurants is that they try to hard to be like the restaurants from the big cities yet management does not have the energy to fullfil that goal nor is there enough talent in the kitchen to pull it off. If they would just keep it simple and didn't overly rely on their shipment from Sysco, then that place would become a favorite. I keep trying.

                The other problem is that the restaurant reviewers never find a place or a meal that they didn't "love".

                A good fried grouper sandwich can be had at the Cortez kitchen, a pretty good pulled pork sandwich can be had at the bbq joint on Lockwook Ridge Road across the street from the Elks club, on the west side of 301 just south of MLKing Blvd. there is a decent Mexican place in a strip center and that's about it. Patrick's on Main St has very good cheesburgers usually cooked as requested. The one restaurant we do like is the restaurant at the Longboat Key Club. I am not a member but will be seeking a social membership.

                Don't you love it when the "catch of the day" is farmed raised salmon or Patagonian Toothfish (Chilean seabass)? HiYo Sysco!!!

                No less a personage than Longboat Key resident, Marcella Hazan, recently stated that this area is a culinary wasteland.

                1. re: Arthur

                  Brutally honest stuff, but it's consistent with what I thought I knew about Sarasota dining. Given the demographics, it seems that there is more polarization, food-wise, in Sarasota than most places. Lots of jaded faux-fancy places aimed at tourist/part time resident money on one hand and early bird pensioner places on the other. As a Tampan-turned-Chicagoan I'm struck when I go home by the relatively limited use of local produce (seafood especially) at higher-end restaurants. St. Armand's is something else, entirely, one of the most unfulfilling places I could imagine. That doesn't diminish the value of what I think, after significant travel, are the best beaches in the world.

                  Where did Hazan say this? I wonder if she (or you) find anything worthwhile on the other side of the Skyway?

                  1. re: JeffB

                    Hazan's comment was in the Herald Tribune here. It was just a short piece, but I couldn't dig up the article. It was not written by a restaurant reviewer rather it was more of a society reporter's snipped in a report on a local affair. I understand she is a real curmudgeon, but I have never met her. I saw her sitting outside at Epicure on Main and Palm a week or so ago. She was drinking wine and chain smoking.

                    Much of the quality issue with the restaurants down here has to rest in large part to the rhapsodic restaurant reviewers whose editors must continually remind them that they are writing about advertisers and to keep it "upbeat".

                  2. re: Arthur

                    Now this gets interesting. You've hit upon a point which not only can be said about Sarasota, but possibly the bulk of Florida. It just seems like people don't care about quality dining (regardless of price). We supply the bulk of the winter produce in the country yet our farmers markets stink (at least my local ones in South Florida). It boggles me that we're among the 5 most populous states but can't claim one real destination restaurant (think French Laundry in CA, Per Se in NYC, Mansion on Turtle Creek in TX, etc.). We've got such a long way to go on this front.

                    1. re: lax2mia

                      There is a farmers' market every Sat AM in downtown Sarasota. Only thing is that there are only a couple of farmers selling while most of the sellers are those that have bought the same produce that is sold in the supermarkets. It would be great if the market wouldn't allow any seller who has not grown or made their products themselves. Those are the rules generally for the farmers' market in Union Square NYC.

                      There is a pretty good produce market about a mile east of I75 on the right side of Fruitville.

                      1. re: Arthur

                        Not true, the majority of the produce vendors in the Farmers' Market in Sarasota grow their own and are organic. Most of the produce was in the ground the day before. I don't know when you attended the market, but that's how it is now.

                      2. re: lax2mia

                        plenty of great food in Florida! The idea that we must have some destination for rich folks is absurd. I eat great on a tighter budget.

                        we also must ask ourselves what part we play in this mess. Managers can get by with their shoddy ways because people who should know better spend $100 a night anyway. It is a win-win for them and whine-whine for the customer. But they still line up for it. Do they deserve bad food? of course not.

                        restaurant are businesses. as long as the money keeps rolling in, there is no problem as far as they are concerned. The problem down in sarasota is there is too much money. I can eat 5-6 great meals in west Tampa for $100 at the places where no one speaks any english. money can't buy culture, in fact money chases it away.

                        it is also possible to actually cook food for yourself, and $100 can buy a good deal of non-sysco products. try the stove in the kitchen. it still works, yes?

                        1. re: andy huse

                          Get real! When the state's biggest destination restaurant is Mickey's Character Breakfast at the Contemporary then something is up. Looking at it from a culinary p-o-v, this state is desolate. Bern's is about as close as I can think of to a destination restaurant, but it's not the French Laundry. I agree, there are those that throw money around with horrible taste and establishments that cater to them. Case in point, my local Whole Foods carries a wider range of cheeses in the winter than summer because of the influx of Quebequios (sp). In the summer, most people (the year-round residents) just ask for gorgonzola, pre-crumbled. Its a lack of culinary sophistication that runs rampant around the state. How many times has the fish of the day at a restaurant been farmed salmon? How many times have I asked the fishmonger at Publix why they don't carry rock shrimp only to receive the reply "What is rock shrimp." The state is backwards when it comes to exploiting and elevating what it has going for it and I think the main fault of that is a apathetic and uneducated citizenry. But things are evolving quickly. We just got a branch of a kick-ss french bakery with baguettes the types of which I haven't had since I got to Florida.

                          1. re: lax2mia

                            i just don't equate culinary quality with these high-falutin so-called "destination" restaurants. I've lived in Tampa a long time and never gone to Bern's. steakhouses bore me. I don't care what rich people like to eat. I certainly don't go to publix or any supermarket when searching out seafood--- they are part of the problem for local fisheries--- they get most of their stuff from asia. Part of what chowhound is about is looking for the sublime in humble places, avoiding the obvious "destinations". i belive this approach is valid wherever one goes.

                            i hear a lot of people complaining and lining up at the same places week after week. a lot of people that equate good with ridiculously expensive. most of the best foods have peasant origins, and much of the best food I've found is prepared in humble immigrant businesses with no prentention---- and low prices. I avoid seafood restaurants when seeking great seafood. Instead I go to my favorite Vietnamese or Columbian holes. "Progre$$" has chased away most of the Cracker-style seafood shacks of old.

                            I learned when living in Pinellas that to get better than blah food, one should avoid beaches (at least then the rule applied) or anywhere where tourists and affluent people lived. there are exceptions, of course. the same rule worked well for me in chicago as well. there are a few expensive places that are worth it, but most are not. it is the law of diminishing returns: the more money you spend, the less the quality increases correspondingly.

                            to characterize Florida as some kind of culinary wasteland is one sweeping and bold statement, especially considering the state's diversity and geographic size. if the food is darm bad, what the heck are we writing about here week after week?

                            1. re: andy huse

                              Andy, I agree with everything you say about ethnic food in Florida, the Bay area, especially (unless you include Sarasota in Bay Area). I do think that "high-end" places in FL largely fail for the reasons noted by everyone, with St. Armands being an especially cynical example. I only disagree with you about Bern's. I honestly believe that it is a very democratic restaurant and a great deal. Hey, I treated my prom date to dinner there 15 years ago and believe me, I wasn't rich. Go Leto.

                              As I see it, you don't go there for the steak, you go there for the wine cellar with its probably-less-than-wholesale-but-it's-academic-because-you-can't-buy-it-anywhere-else old and obscure bottles. The caviar program is great and relatively speaking very reasonable. And the silly dining rooms and tour and dessert.

                            2. re: lax2mia

                              where is that kick ass bakery?

                              1. re: vino d'feet

                                It's in N. Miami Beach. On Biscayne Blvd. and around 150th St. Went there on Sunday and the place was mobbed. It's getting to the point where it's better to take your food to go.

                            3. re: andy huse

                              I like your attitude Andy, you are right. If any of these people had to pay NY prices for NY quality here they would poop there depends under garments. Money also tends to chase away responsibility, Critics are like Unics in a harem, they see it done, they wish they could do it, but they lack the tools so they knock those who can.

                              1. re: andy huse

                                I wholeheartedly agree! The problem is despite the good comments posted on this chain there aren’t enough people who really care about what they eat. If you (we) continue to patronize these mediocre restaurants they will continue to serve exactly the same sub par food and service. When we find a place that is doing quality food and service we need to shout it out in big way… and keep on patronizing them and bring our friends and family to ensure that they stay in business. Too often a decent place opens up but can’t maintain because they don’t get the business. Let’s not let it happen again ! Where is the next quality place (someplace that doesn’t use Syco)!!! ???

                          2. re: Arthur

                            Carrabbas?? Seems fitting, Bonefish Grill is probably the best seafood restaurant in Sarasota. Sad, indeed. I'm lol that Sarasota Magazine would dare utter it...was that "the best of" that the readers choose?

                            1. re: nj

                              Yes, that was the "Best of" article. I have tried to get into Bone Fish Grill to see what all the fuss was about, but wouldn't wait in line for 30-60 minutes to try it. And, I think 4:30 in the afternoon is a bit early to have dinner.

                              Way down in Placida, next to the commercial fishing dock, there is a pretty good a seafood shack kind of place. It is a bit too long a ride but every once in awhile it is a nice ride for lunch.

                              1. re: Arthur

                                Bone Fish does take reservations, and they do honor them. For the price their food is good, but certainly not the best seafood in Sarasota!

                  3. Unfortunately, I hear this happening all too often in Sarasota restaurants. My dh had a similar experience there with a business dinner. Will be interested to hear Irwin's experience.

                    1. Wow! Tell us how you really feel! :)

                      Sorry it was so bad, we ate there a year ago and the meal was great. Of course, alot can change in a year, maybe they've had some turnover.

                      But be careful bashing other people's taste when critiquing a restaurant, you never know if the experience you received was the same as theirs. Trust me, I've had some terrible meals in your beloved SoBe at restaurants that came highly recommended. Didn't make me think that all Miami restaurants were bad or that those who recommended had no taste.

                      Again, sorry you were disappointed.

                      1. I see this thread is many years old but I haven't had this fascinating a read on Chowhound for quite some time! I'm curious to see if any of you guys feel that the dining scene has changed over the past 5 years or so.

                        Since I got here, I've met some local farmers who are very passionate about getting their products onto menus. Some of the larger restaurants like Mattison's are even hosting local foods meals (I know they did one recently featuring local quail eggs). From the way these posts sounds, it appears that these developments are more recent no?

                        Speaking of local foods, I just had an AMAZING lunch at Walt's. It helps that it's stone crab season but everything was delicious.


                        7275 S Tamiami Trl, Sarasota, FL 34231

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: JeremyEG

                          I am quite selective on where I dine/eat/buy food Briefly without any elaboration my list includes Derek's lunch/dinner good use of florida/local ingredients.
                          Andrea's dinner, Good, more imaginative, Piemonte style cooking. Well thought out wine list.
                          Bologna Cafe,lunch and dinner true bolognese cooking plus an unparalleled assortment of imported Affettati, cheese and olives from all over Italy. Also, freshly made on site, mozzerella and burrata. Some unheard of cheeses and wines are available here.
                          Pho Cali lunch/dinner. Quick service of excellent Pho and other Viet dishes, served piping hot. very reasonable for quality food.
                          La Sabrosita Tortilleria Y Taqueria. 3070 17th St, Sarasota, breakfast/lunch a sleeper, order food, and dine in this Hispanic grocery, butcher shop, small restaurant, and tortilla bakery. All dishes served with a stack of freshly made tortillas.
                          Oriental food and gift Gulf Gate Sarasota, Saturdays only "Homemade Korean Style" Sushi.
                          Excellent grocery, fresh noodles, quail eggs, etc.
                          Gold Dynasty 4195 N.Tamiami good fresh h.k. style cooking. ask for the "other menu" for real cantonese dishes.
                          Well, that 's it for the now, will return to a few others the "Winter people" leave, including Starfish and Captain Brian's!

                          Pho Cali
                          1578 Main St, Sarasota, FL 34236

                          La Sabrosita
                          3070 17th St, Sarasota, FL 34234

                            1. re: ospreycove

                              Yes thank you. Very helpful!

                            2. re: JeremyEG

                              I am a winter resident, so I know that my knowlege to all of this is going to be limited, but after eating regularly in the Chicago area and have done a fair share of being in the food industry, I consider myself a foodie. So here goes my thoughts--I'm going to suggest the Gulf Gate area--there are some of very decent mom and pop restaurants that are working hard to bring good meals at fairly respectable prices. Veg, Mama Mia, Dolce Italia, French Affair come to mind immediately. I've heard that Vizen is one of the best Sushi restaurants, not only in Sarasota, but in Florida. Heck, for a decent hamburger and fries (hubby likes the Aihi Tuna appetizer) Sarasota Brewing is good, and we also like Chicago hot dog, and Ponzilla's pizza. Broccolini's is perhaps what would be considered your standard Italian-American restaurant, but it is lovely inside and has early bird specials that can't be beat--salad or soup for a $1 (and they are good sized portions), great baked bread, and the eggplant parmigianna is one of my favorites. There are always "new" little restaurants opening in the Gulf Gate area every year-some make it, some don't, but it's always fun to try them out.

                              1. re: Tomlyn

                                Tomlyn, Yes, there are some very good restaurants in the GG area. It is almost like it is an "incubator" for the independent restaurant business. I would add Il Panificio, (for pizza) Oriental foods and gifts,(serves Korean style sushi on Saturdays only), and Pierogi Inn, (Handmade Pierogi and other Polish imports).

                                Il Panificio
                                1703 Main St, Sarasota, FL 34236

                            3. At one time Bijou Cafe was a good restaurant, but it is certainly resting on it's laurels now, and has been for a very long time. It amazes me that people still go there. A group of us were there for lunch in the fall, and had a very good experience,good food and good prices. We decided to return for a dinner. The service was HORRIBLE and so was the food!! Bad move, very bad move!!