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Dinner in Sarasota?

Will be coming to Sarasota and am looking to go out one evening with friends. Food is most important standard for selecting a restaurant. Can you suggest the best options for getting a great dinner in an atmosphere where we can enjoy some time together. We are also willing to travel some distance if outside Sarasota might be better. What are the best 5 places to consider? Thanks.

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  1. I was just about to make the same post. My wife and I will be there this Thursday through Friday the 23rd, and hope to eat out often as my mother's cooking has deteriorated. However, if we have to eat at Barnicle Bills or the Lazy Lobster again I think my wife will divorce me. (I personally like the Lazy Lobster, but my wife had a bad experience there- not food or service related.)

    I can make some recommendations, however. While a chain, Bonefish Grill on University and 75 is very good, but if you have one in your area I would say try something that you can't get at home.

    There are two stops that we make with each visit, though not high end at all. First, the moment I feel tension between my wife and her mother in law, we declare we are making a grocery/liquor run and then head over to Salina's for a slice of Pizza and beer. They are inconsistent, however. The quatity depends upon if the owner is there making the pizza. We also make sure to stop at the Tommy Bahama cantina on St. Armands for coconut shrimp and crab bisque. I know it is touristy, but we love it.

    We had a nice meal at the Charthouse on Longboat Key a few years ago. Good single malt scotch selection at the lounge bar, but pricy food for what you get. Flemings Steakhouse was good, but is again a chain though high end. I heard there is now a resturant that is next door in the same building as Flemings. It is called Roy's- it is hawian fusion with japanese and sushi. My mother hated it, so it must be great. Each of the other good places we have been to seem to be closed the next time we try to go. One was an institution on Siesta Key, though I can't remember the name.

    I would love to find a "Lola's" from Cleveland, "Moto", or even "Lawrys" from Chicago in Saratota. Any good chef's tables in the area?

    5 Replies
    1. re: Pizzahound

      I really got a kick out of your post! Maybe I should start cooking some really bad meals when my kids come, then they will go out and hopefully invite us!! Hopefully you found some good restaurants, as we really do have quite a few, but in the future if you need more let me know. Also Alcook, it's a bit late for an answer but again, if you need some for another time, let me know. One that I do suggest that you stay away from is Zaks in downtown Sarasota. Just had a horrible experience with a very nasty owner!

      1. re: Mother of four

        I've actually had quite the opposite experience with Zaks and Zak himself. I find the food terrific, the quality of top steak restaurants anywhere. With regard to Zak, personally, he's been terrific with us. The first time I was in there we got to be talking about wine and he ended up selling me a not-on-the-wine-list pinot noir out of his personal cellar that had a "Do not sell" sticker on it -- and he gave me a terrific price on it, too. Now whenever we go in I ask him to pick out whatever bottle that he thinks we should have and he hasn't failed yet. He couldn't be nicer or more gracious. We've been there multiple times and love the place.

        1. re: Longboat


          1. re: Mother of four

            The restaurant is a tiny place and is not geared for a group of ten. I can imagine that you didn't have a very good time there with a group that large. That center table in the front room is probably where you were and that's good for maybe 6 people. I wouldn't take a group of ten to the Beach Bistro either.

            1. re: Longboat

              Trust me that was not the reason. The man is nasty, and aside from one other couple, we were the only one's there, and we were seated upstairs. Go to this website and read. http://forums.taunton.com/tp-cookstal...

    2. On "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives" last night, Guy was at the Alpine Steakhouse in Sarasota. It looks like a great place and their specialty, Turducken, would be the reason I'd pay them a visit.

      1. This Online WebGuide & their Online Magazine may help you.
        (and no need to leave Sarasota. there's 100's of places to eat)

        Website: http://callandeat.com/

        Magazine: http://callandeat.com/magazine/issue5/ (very cool!)

        1. I recommend the following (in no particular order):

          1. Michael's on East--I would call this "continental-ish" cuisine. This restaurant routinely is ranked in the top five outstanding Sarasota restaurants.

          2l Ophelia's on the Bay--This is located south of Sarasota and, again, is "continental-ish." I have not been to Ophelia's recently, due to its location far away from where I now live, but few people have anything but praise for this restaurant. The phone number is (941) 349-2212. The atmosphere overlooking the water is great too, but people go there for the food.

          3. The Columbia Restaurant--This is a Cuban restaurant located on St. Armand's Circle. The Cuban food is uniformly good, but I would particularly recommend the 1905 salad, the black beans with rice, the flan, and the sangria. A word about the sangria: there are two versions of it--a super sweet, cheap version and a drier, utterly delicious version that is much more expensive and is made with Spanish brandy (and wine). Go for the latter and avoid the former.

          4. Pacific Rim--This is a regional oriental restaurant with versions of foods from all over southeast Asia. It has good "word-of-mouth." It is located on Hillview Street, across the street (and weird parking lot) and opposite the south end of Sarasota Memorial Hospital. The phone number is (941) 330-8071.

          5. The Colony Dining Room--This continental restaurant is located on Long Boat Key and, like Michaels-on-East, is almost always listed in the top five of Sarasota restaurants. Interestingly, President Bush ate there the night before September 11, 2001. Al Gore has also eaten there, so I guess it appeals to both sides of the political spectrum. The food is excellent, especially the very fresh fish, which come with great sauces.

          12 Replies
          1. re: gfr1111

            Sorry gfr1111, but I disagree on some of the above....
            Michaels on East is highly expensive and very overrated.
            The Columbia is good only for the 1911 salad, all the rest is terrible including their attitude.
            Pacific Rim is excellent.
            Ophelia's is also very good.
            The Colony (father of Michaels on East) is not consistant, and could be hit or miss.
            I will list what I like and you can go from there:
            The Bijou is one of the best in town.
            Beach Bistro is one of the best inFlorida. Expensive but atmosphere to blow you away together with wonderful food and view. Its on the beach !!!!!
            Euphemia Hays on Longboat has the best duck we have ever eaten.....
            One of our favorite's who just got a award is Deja Vu. Small but excellent food.
            Ivo's also is chef owned as well as Deja Vu, with wonderful food. Chart House has gone down hill and Roy's Hawaiian is terrible. We love Flemings and for italian you must go to Divino on Main St.
            For breakfast or lunch you have to try YODER'S...on Bahia Vista and save room for the strawberry pie or any of their pies.... They sell over 3000 pies for Thanksgiving.
            Hope this helps, and again its our family's opinion, but we do eat out every night.

            1. re: irwin

              I agree with Irwin about the Bijou, Beach Bistro, and Euphemia Haye. These are all excellent restaurants, all equal to the ones I mentioned in my November 11 entry. Alas, I was limited to five by the request! Beach Bistro is probably the most well-known of the three restaurants mentioned. It also generally makes the top ten restaurants list for the Sarasota area and has received rave national reviews, as well. I have not tried Deja Vue. Thanks for the tip, Irwin.

              1. re: gfr1111

                Bijou is AWFUL and that's being kind. AVOID

                1. re: The Chowfather AKA sobe

                  Which Bijou have you been going to....certainly not the one in downtown Sarasota? On what basis would you define it as awful? Unless they've recently changed ownership (which I haven't heard but hey, anything's possible), the food is really excellent...particularly the crabcakes and lobster bisque. I've been there numerous times taking clients to lunch and have never had a bad meal...and everyone I know holds the place in very high regard as well. I guess it's possible anyone can have a bad meal anywhere, but I've not heard anyone before apply the word awful to the Bijou.

                  1. re: hibeta

                    I hate to tell you, but I would not go back to the Bijou either. The food is just so-so, and the prices are far from so-so! We have so many other wonderful restaurants that do so many new and innovative things with food. The Bijou is dull, dull, dull!! Sorry, but it's just my opinion.

                    1. re: Mother of four

                      No problem...after all, varied opinions are to be expected. I've found that many restaurants do certain things particularly well and others maybe not quite as well. I've become a fan of crab cakes over the years and find that those from Bijou, along with those from Barnacle Bill's and Zoriah's among others, are excellent. While perhaps crabcakes are "dull", they are certainly done well at these establishments. I do agree that Michael's is way overrated and overpriced...and I don't care for Columbia at all.

                      1. re: hibeta

                        worst crab cake I ever had was at Bijou. The whole meal was inedible. In all fairness, I was there 2+ years ago and only ate there 1 time (thank god) but I think it's the same ownership/chef.

                        1. re: hibeta

                          I would never call Crab Cakes dull, I just feel that the whole menu is stale and old. You know, each to their own! If we all enjoyed the same restaurants, there would be very few around. We went to try the Divino on Main St. last night, and really didn't have a wonderful experience. Two of us ordered the Veal Piccata and it was very thin and very overcooked. On of the men asked the price of one of their specials, the waiter said that he wasn't sure, but would find out....never ever heard the answer! OK, maybe they were having a bad night, maybe the chef was sick, but never the less, we most likely won't be back!! Someone else thought it was the best Italian restaurant in Sarasota (I must say we really don't have a lot of restaurants in that category that I would even call good).

                2. re: irwin

                  Agree about Michaels. The salad at Columbia ia 1905, and I love it, plus their black bean soup is great. Love Pacific Rim, but boy has it gotten busy. Ophelia"s good, but very pricy. I guess I am one of the few that is not a fan of The Bijou, food is dull, only word to describe it. Have not been to Beach Bistro, but have heard only wonderful things about it, just a very long trip. Love Deja Vu. Never heard of Divino's, but will look it up. Love The Rustic Grill and also The Selva Grill. Casey Key Fish House, good food, very casual ,on the water. Mattison's new 41 Grill, is wonderful and also Dereks, which is downtown. Always have had a good meal at Tommy Bahama's, and The Cork, that opened last year on St. Armands is excellent. OK, I'm done!!!

                  1. re: irwin

                    Thanks so much for the Yoder's suggestion - AWESOME. I was just there this morning for breakfast. I had the biscuits with sausage gravy and homefries which was a ridiculously huge plate of food for about $6. Big, fresh biscuits covered in plenty of sausage gravy with a mound of thinly sliced homefries. DC had pancakes which were fluffy but with a nice tooth. Got a big piece of wet-bottom shoofly pie to go, which had a nice molasses filling with lots of crumb-y topping.

                    Lots of Amish decoration, very friendly service, worth the trip (don't have places like Yoder's up here in Boston).

                    1. re: irwin

                      Irwin - I am another Irwin in the process of movijng to Sarasota area, Would like to share info with you. How can we interact?

                  2. Run don't walk to Derek's Eclectic Cuisine in the Rosemary District...the best restaurant I've found outside of NYC and SF (and that's saying something for a relocated SF girl).

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: laboheme

                      Had a meal at Derek's - very good - location is a little odd though

                      If you don't mind dives, Captain Curt's on Siesta is always a good bet during stone crab season (now) - go late enough and you'll also catch the Elvis karoke

                      1. re: laboheme

                        food is decent, but its the noisiest restaurant in Sarasota...................

                      2. Have been going to Sarasota forever.. Great dining scene

                        We enjoy some of the less "Discovered ' places

                        Bay Leaf Cafe : Charming Bistro with outstanding Lamb Shanks ( if they're not sold out), Pan fried grouper with an olive relish. House salad beautifully prepared with pears , pecans and blue cheese. Located in South Sarasota 7252 S Tamiami

                        Blase Cafe: Located in Siesta Key Village. A Great find. Their Creamy Pasta Cynthia is to die for, Penne with artichoke, sundried tomato, mushrooms, Shrimp.The rack of lamb is delicious and a generous serving. 5263 Ocean Blvd

                        French Affair: Quaint French Bistro in the heart of Gulf Gate. Can't miss with almost anything on the menu. Small place with only about 10 tables. Reservations are a must on weekends. Grilled salmon bernaise and their clam chowder are both hits 2637 Mall Drive

                        DeMarcos Italian Grill: A family run establishment, immensely popular. Known for their numerous veal dishes. Soup and salad is included with your meal, plus a basket of gooey cinnamon buns(Odd but traditonal here) Just about everyone leaves with a take home container. 3131 Clarke Road

                        Rico's Pizza: Really casual place , but great pizza Thin crust. 2 Locations Gulf Gate and one on Siesta Drive.

                        All of the above restaurants are handy if you are staying on or near Siesta Key. ( Best beach in the world)

                        1 Reply
                        1. Barnacle Bill's downtown Sarasota has great ambiance and excellent crabcakes. For the best view of the water it's hard to beat Marina Jack's...a beautiful place with good crabcakes as well. Second the recommendation on Bijou Cafe...awesome lobster bisque and crabcakes. For a truly unique food experience try Chutney's on Hillview near downtown....amazing curry dishes and blend of Indian/Greek/mediterranean food.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: hibeta

                            One of our group got caught up in the hype for Linger Lodge. Not bad for a RV Park. Food was plentiful. Blackened redfish tasty. Mashed potatoes good and the single serving of fudge ice cream pie more than 3 of us could handle. Not sure if I'd bill it as weird but definitely a SW Florida experience. Lot's of rattlesnakes and animals on the walls and displays. But no live critters like the rattler greeting us at the front door of Dale's in Ft. Pierce 2 nights ago.

                            1. re: crewsweeper

                              Thanks for letting me know to stay the hell away !

                              1. re: crewsweeper

                                Doesn't Linger Lodge have a "zoo" out front?

                                My mother loves that place... the blackened grouper sandwich was fine, but all the stuffed animals creeped me out.

                              2. re: hibeta

                                ugh to both barnacle bill's and marina jack's

                                1. re: goodwordtoday

                                  Salmon provencal at Barnacle Bill's downtown is one of the better salmon dishes in town...ambiance is great too. Crabcakes at Marina Jack's are quite good...and the ambiance and views from the main dining room cannot be beat. "Ugh", while descriptive, would hardly be a suitable adjective. Perhaps every dish at every restaurant is not up to your expectations, but both of these places offer some very good choices.

                              3. I'm another out-of-towner who just started planning a return visit to the area!

                                I read the recent New York Times article about "36 Hours in Sarasota" and see that they went to Selva Grill and the Table. I saw the former mentioned in a previous post; anyone have anything to say about the Table?

                                When I was there two years ago, I went to Beach Bistro and I thought it was excellent indeed - this was a great recommendation. The other posts don't mention its location, so just to note, it's in Holmes Beach, at the north end of Anna Maria Island. (Sorry if this is something that everyone already knows - this is my first time looking at this forum, although I'm a frequent poster in the forum for my home town.)

                                Website links:
                                NYTimes "36 Hours in Sarasota" - http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/12/30/...
                                Selva Grill - www.selvagrill.com
                                The Table - www.thetablesarasota.com
                                Beach Bistro - www.beachbistro.com

                                P.S. I'm salivating looking at the menu at Derek's - it sounds like the cuisine there is similar to Beach Bistro.

                                20 Replies
                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  Thanks nsxtasy!

                                  We're heading to Sarasota in February and like you, I'm salivating looking at Dereks's menu!

                                  1. re: Cookiefiend

                                    Welcome to Sarasota! Many of the restaurants here are excellent, but please stay away from Zaks in downtown Sarasota. A very nasty man owns it, and I would hate for anyone to judge us by him! I am not alone in having problems with him. One of the online restaurant reviewers was going to be sued by him because of a review they posted. They now refer to the restaurant as "Not Existing"!!!

                                      1. re: Cookiefiend

                                        Derek's is very very noisy and just ok......
                                        A new restaurant just opened across the street from Bijou named AROSA FINE DINING. It was very good.....
                                        Fred's reopened under new ownership on Osprey, and its excellent also. The top rated restaurants in Sarasota are:
                                        Beach Bistro
                                        The Table
                                        Selva Grill

                                        1. re: irwin

                                          Thanks, irwin!

                                          Arosa has a website where you can view their menu, at:

                                          Now I'm really confused. I've got it narrowed down to Arosa, The Table, and Derek's. (Beach Bistro is great, but I've been there, and the person I'm visiting recently went to Selva Grill.) Sounds like they're all reasonably good. I guess it's a good thing I've got a couple of months to decide!

                                        2. re: Cookiefiend

                                          Just went to Selva Grill Tuesday night, and I must say that it was fabulous!! It started out as a very small restaurant in a strip mall and ended up downtown on main Street about four or five years ago. One of the couples ordered the Salmon, and it was to die for. I never order salmon out, as I make it a lot at home, but this was really fantastic! Make sure that this is on your list, as I promise that you won't be disappointed!

                                          1. re: Mother of four

                                            Thanks Mother of Four and Irwin!

                                            I think I've sort of narrowed it down to:
                                            The Table
                                            Derek's Eclectic Cuisine (even though it's noisy...)
                                            Deja Vu
                                            And either Arosa or Selva Grill.

                                            Although I just counted how many nights we'll be there (only 4), and I may have more dinners than nights - any of these open for lunch?

                                            Thanks for everyone's help!

                                            1. re: Cookiefiend

                                              Have a great time, and do let us know your experience!

                                              1. re: Cookiefiend

                                                Hi Cookiefiend,

                                                If you haven't been to Beach Bistro, don't overlook it. It's wonderful. Only open for dinner. www.beachbistro.com

                                                >> any of these open for lunch?

                                                According to their websites...

                                                Derek's is open for lunch Tue-Fri.
                                                The Table is open for lunch Mon-Fri.
                                                Arosa is open for lunch Mon-Sat.

                                                Selva Grill doesn't show hours on their website (grrr...) but their listing on opentable.com says they're only open for dinner.

                                                I can't find a website for Deja Vu.

                                                I'll be there in mid-March. After looking at the menus on their websites, I've narrowed the choice down to Derek's or the Table.

                                                Please report back to us and tell us what you thought!

                                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                                  Thanks nsxtasy!

                                                  After I posted that I thought "jeez! do it yourself!" and checked, but like you I ran into the same issue with Selva Grill - I think they must only be open for dinner.

                                                  I'll report back... and I hope you report back too!

                                                  1. re: Cookiefiend

                                                    I'll report, too... and you've given me the idea to try another one for lunch - thanks!!!

                                                    Incidentally, all three of the places I mentioned as open for lunch show their lunch menu on their website.

                                                  2. re: nsxtasy

                                                    Sorry - Deja Vu doesn't have a website - they are open for lunch Mondays through Saturday until Summer where they are closed on Mondays - they are open for dinner from Monday through Saturday - closed Sundays - this restaurant is owned by the chef & hs wife who works the front- he is a very good cook & a very hard worker - owing a restaurant has been his dream for a very long time - I am very proud of him - obviously I am his mother

                                                    1. re: Janicewd


                                                      1. re: Janicewd

                                                        You should also be proud of CC--your sons wife....
                                                        After all, she is the front person who is making it happen. Again, a extremely hard working girl, who knows the business very well, and is trying very hard to make it work, which so far, is working well. But, its very hard to make a buck in the restaurant business with only 8 or 9 tables. We are going there tonight, and go about once a week. We love it there, and he is an amazing chef.....
                                                        I wish them both lots of luck. Irwin

                                                    2. re: Cookiefiend

                                                      I am pretty sure that Deja Vu is open for lunch, or at least it used to be. Selva Grill opened another restaurant that is only open for lunch, but I can't find it. It was advertised somewhere. A few of us were out for the day and wanted to try it, but no luck. I thought it was somewhere around the Burns Court Area, but again, not sure. I keep meaning to call Selva and ask, but keep forgetting. Maybe some of our Sarasota people know!!!

                                                      1. re: Mother of four

                                                        Here is information on Malabar (Salva Grills other restaurant open for lunch) http://sarasota.creativeloafing.com/g...

                                                        1. re: Mother of four

                                                          Deja Vu is outer Tamiami and on Gulf Gate Drive, in a strip mall on the right side of the street on Gulf Gate Drive.

                                              2. re: nsxtasy

                                                Hey nsxtasy--don't salivate too long, because your ear drums will burn out when you leave Derek's. I have been there a few times, and not anxious to go back, and don't really see the big deal about the joint. Extremely noisy, limited menu, very cramped, poor depressed area, and there are so many better restaurants in the area......................

                                              3. Ofelia's on Siesta Key is a MUST for your list!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Have lived in Sarasota for the past four years after 10 in the NYC restaurant scene...here are my two cents for dinner places downtown:

                                                  Selva Grill
                                                  Zoria (one of the few places which serves past 10)
                                                  Yume Sushi (amazing rolls, less of a "scene" than Pacific Rim)

                                                  The food at the Table is quite good, but the Mesa Lounge next door can get quite crazy on Friday and Saturday nights so dine early.

                                                  For lunch:
                                                  Cafe Epicure
                                                  C'est La Vie
                                                  Malabar (delicious salads and sandwiches from Chef Darwin of Selva Grill)
                                                  5 One 6 Burnes (Burns Court area)
                                                  Citrus (Burns Court)
                                                  Simon's Coffee House (South Tamiami Trail near Gulf Gate.)

                                                  A great hangout spot in Sarasota is Sarasota News and Books (corner of Palm and Main.) Coffee bar, international magazines and newspapers and they have just started carrying grab and go food by Morton's Market...perfect for a picnic at the park by the water.

                                                  Let me know how you do...hope you love Sarasota as much as I do!

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: srqbeachgirl

                                                    Thanks for letting us know about Malabar - since Selva Grill isn't open for lunch, if I don't make it there for dinner I can at the least try Malabar!

                                                    When you say to dine early at Table because Mesa Lounge is crazy, are they next to each other? Parking bad? Extra noisy?

                                                    Thanks for the information!
                                                    ps - I wonder where the OP ended up going...

                                                    1. re: Cookiefiend

                                                      Mesa Lounge appears to be *part of* The Table; it's part of their website at www.thetablesarasota.com

                                                      Zoria is a new mention. Their website is at www.zoria.net

                                                      Still watching with interest (and still deciding between Derek's and the Table)...

                                                      1. re: nsxtasy

                                                        Zoria opened a number of years ago, on Hillview, in the same space that The Table is now. When there, the food was wonderful, although it was very noisy. They then moved downtown to a larger and nicer place, unfortunately as with many restaurants that do that, the quality of the food went down, and the prices went up. Again this is my opinion, and also many of our friends. The same thing happened to Pino's, which I suppose, for the same reason isn't mentioned in any of these posts. We also had a wonderful restaurant called Fishtails that was very small, in Gulfgate. They too decided to go for the big space, and they are gone...too bad, as we along with many others loved that restaurant.

                                                        1. re: Mother of four

                                                          Pino's started off very good, and recently went all to hell. Food is terrible.

                                                          1. re: irwin

                                                            I couldn't agree more. They start out as a small wonderful restaurant, decide that they should upgrade and go down fast. Look at Fishtails, perfect example along with Pinos and Zorina's, although I know some would disagree with me concerning Zorina's.

                                                        2. re: nsxtasy


                                                          have long looked to your posts for guidance in chicago. may i recommend the table. i've had the short ribs there and they are really excellent. but for me the main attraction is the yucca bread. it is just amazing. i wish i could find a decent home recipe or baker in milwaukee....

                                                          1. re: colforbin

                                                            Thanks. I would love to hit both Derek's and the Table on this trip; I may be able to work in a lunch to accomplish it. Taking all the comments into account, these are my top two picks for this trip (keeping in mind that I've already been to the wonderful Beach Bistro and my dining companion has recently dined at Selva Grill so that was not under consideration).

                                                    2. My husband and I are vacationing in late May. Would also like to know some places to eat. All these posts can be a bit overwhelming. So if you only had 5 days left to live and you were able to dine out for each meal where would you eat?? Remember what you may think is boring in Florida may not be boring to someone in the Midwest. Please include all price ranges with your last "dying" requests. We are staying on Siesta Key.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: stranger


                                                        1. re: stranger

                                                          Galileo, just off the key is excellent

                                                          1. re: Caden555

                                                            Galilio is moving to Burns Court

                                                        2. "5 One 6 Burns" is the most amazing food in Sarasota. Outstanding location. If you are having a special dinner, make reservations to eat "under the banyon"! In summer they often have prix fix menu. They are next door to the indie movie theater and the area (Burns Court) is full of neat stuff.

                                                          Also in Burns Court, a hole in the wall place called Habenero's, great Cuban food.

                                                          For the ambiance, you can't beat Mar Vista on Longboat Key, but the food is only okay.

                                                          And for a true, old-time Florida coast experience (before the condos), head over to Cortez, north of Sarasota, and eat at the Starfish (cash and lunch only) or the Cortex Kitchens. These are two amazing seafood dives. At Starfish, get the Mahi sandwich and fries.

                                                          Finally, Epicure, downtown. Good, reasonably priced Italian dishes, and great strolling in downtown Sarasota, or the waterfront, afterwards.

                                                          1. Agree that Derek's, The Table and Pacific Rim are wonderful. Ate last night for the second time at a fabulous new restaurant on Main street called Lan. Would definitely try it.

                                                            1. Although I can't remember the names, there are 2 good restaurants I can recommend. For excellent Thai food - travel to downtown Sarasota. There is only 1 Thai restaurant and that is all you need. Columbia, at St. Armands square is not to be missed for local color and some fantastic fresh made Mango Martini's

                                                              1. Well, I must say, I had some wonderful food on my just-concluded trip to Sarasota! Here's my report.

                                                                RUSTIC GRILL - www.rusticgrillsarasota

                                                                Thursday night, I had dinner at Rustic Grill. Like Derek's (see below), it's located a few blocks north of Fruitville (3rd St.) just north of downtown Sarasota.

                                                                The entrance leads you into a room with a large bar, also a few dining tables. There was a private party in the room to the right, and we sat in the dining room to the left from the bar (behind the hostess stand). In the video on their website, this is the last room shown. The décor is medieval, with several paintings that looked like they were from the Middle Ages, wrought iron light fixtures, rough-hewn wood beams, a few small stained glass accents, and a large open kitchen surrounded by a semi-circular bar dominating the room. Business casual (a.k.a. dressy casual, resort casual) attire predominated. No one was sitting at the bar, but it looked like a fun place to eat, particularly for solo diners.

                                                                It was mostly empty when we arrived at 6:30 - gotta love those 1000-point opportunities on opentable.com! - but was full when we finished around 8:00. When full, the room was somewhat noisy but not obtrusively so.

                                                                To the table, they brought tiny mini-muffins in a paper bag (nice idea!). I believe the muffins were cheese-tomato-blueberry. They were accompanied by some kind of butter which I'm pretty sure contained olives, and which I was not fond of, but the muffins really didn't need a spread anyway.

                                                                I had the seared Hudson Valley foie gras with molasses spaetzle, apple puree, pomegranate seeds, and candied pumpkin seeds. It was excellent. The tiniest part of the very center was slightly cold, but not enough to be a problem.

                                                                For a main, I had the seared halibut over corn meal "mush", topped with lobster hollandaise, with crab-stuffed fried okra. It, too, was excellent. There were a LOT of big chunks of lobster on top, which is always a welcome touch.

                                                                Both savory dishes shared one aspect - multiple components, each interesting in its own right, placed together in the dish but not mixed so you had the option of taking a bite with all or of each separately.

                                                                For dessert, I had the dried cherry white chocolate bread pudding, served with homemade cherry vanilla ice cream and cherry drizzle. This too was very good; the only qualification is that there was virtually no white chocolate taste to the dish.

                                                                When we were first seated, service was very slow; although a few servers came by sporadically, we sat with our menus for a somewhat long time, and it appeared that no one was "taking charge" of the service at our table. Once our server came by and introduced himself, from that point forward he was attentive and there were no service issues.

                                                                This was an excellent dinner, and the Rustic Grill is worth considering if you're looking for higher-end contemporary American dining.

                                                                THE TABLE - www.thetablesarasota.com

                                                                Because of the favorable reports here on Chowhound, I really didn't want to miss The Table, so I went there for lunch on Friday. As it turns out, I was glad I did.

                                                                The Table is across the street from the hospital parking garage just south of downtown Sarasota. The dining room had elegant décor - not overly contemporary or old-fashioned, just a nice layout. There are thin curtains in several places around the dining room, offering a nice element of privacy without taking up space. It was bright and airy and not particularly noisy (despite a couple of larger tables in the front windown tables), although since this was at lunch, this may or may not be typical of dinner. Perhaps half a dozen parties were there at the time. Business casual (a.k.a. dressy casual, resort casual) attire predominated.

                                                                I had been salivating over some of the items on the dinner menu on the website - particularly the foie gras and the short ribs - so I asked my server if I might be able to have those rather than items on the lunch menu. I wasn't insistent (didn't mention Chowhound) and I would have been perfectly happy with the lunch menu (they had a Chilean sea bass cake - like a crab cake, but with Csb - that sounded great) but I figured I'd ask. He checked with the chef, and at first they were hesitant because the sauces weren't made, but then came back and said they could do it. Hooray! Very accommodating on their part.

                                                                The foie gras was excellent. The plantain mash that it is normally served with was not prepared, so they served it with poached pear, which was fine. As a main, I had the braised boneless short ribs with boniato gnocchi and ginger root-beer barbecue sauce, and it too was wonderful, very flavorful without an overabundance of fat as is sometimes the case with short ribs.

                                                                Along with the meal, they brought rolls. These were HEAVENLY. I would kill for more of these. Now, I've eaten at a lot of restaurants, and been served a lot of different kinds of bread and rolls, and I don't recall ever having rolls like these. I don't know what they're called; they were small (smaller diameter than a tennis ball) and flat, with a crispy outer layer and a soft inside. I want more. RIGHT NOW. Gosh, these were SOOOOO good.

                                                                Service was excellent and the food was just wonderful. I'm so glad I didn't miss The Table on my trip. The Table is a wonderful restaurant, excellent in every way.

                                                                COUNTRY PANCAKE HOUSE (no website)

                                                                Our group of 20 ate at Country Pancake House on Friday night. My expectations weren't all that high because, well, it's a relatively inexpensive pancake house, and not a place where you expect to find high-end food. As it turns out, I was very pleasantly surprised and enjoyed my meal there.

                                                                One note on Country Pancake House - it's not straightforward to find. The street address is 8205 Natures Way, and it's in Sea Marco Plaza. If you take University from I-75 going eastbound (away from Sarasota), turn left at the first light, which is Market Street; you will see stores on both sides of the street. Mapquest directions tell you to go straight and Market Street becomes Natures Way, but that's WRONG. There's a big island that you have to drive around, so you must turn left or right. If you turn right to drive around the island you can find what would otherwise be the continuation of Market Street, and THAT is Natures Way. Sea Marco Plaza is then on your right, and Country Pancake House is on the small circle you reach when you turn in there. Don't worry if you don't find a parking space on that short stretch when you turn in and drive to the restaurant; there's a lot more parking behind the restaurant.

                                                                I had read the article for which Irwin had posted a link. Frankly, I didn't think much of that article as a basis for evaluation. Their principal criticism of the restaurant is that the egg dishes had insufficient salt. I think that's a silly criticism, for two reasons. First, when I cook eggs, I leave the salt out during cooking, and salt them to taste on the plate, as I find that not only is it easier to be precise in taste, but the eggs come out better that way too. Second, many people have dietary restrictions on salt. For both these reasons, I think it makes a lot of sense for restaurants to serve eggs with little to no salt, and let the diner add it at the table. So I did not lower my advance expectations based on a review I considered faulty.

                                                                The décor was exactly what you would expect in a pancake house. The servers and staff were efficient and friendly, and graceful throughout. They brought a decent corn bread to our table, some of it with chocolate chips, some without.

                                                                The menu was virtually identical to the one posted on the website link for their sister restaurant in New Jersey, so I was familiar with what to expect. Still, I had not decided on anything in advance, and was considering some of their varied items, perhaps one of their salads. As it turns out, I decided to get their "jalapeno cheeseburger deluxe". They asked me how I wanted it done (medium-well), and what kind of cheese I preferred (cheddar). It is a half-pound burger (they also have a 3/4 pound burger on the menu) and comes with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, cole slaw, and fries. And as it turns out, the burger was excellent! One thing that I thought really made it excellent was that they used sauteed fresh jalapenos rather than canned.

                                                                I also ordered one of their "oven baked pancakes" (the "Orlando Blossom", containing orange liqueur and orange juice) to have for dessert. There is a caveat on the menu that it takes 30 minutes to bake, so I ordered it at the same time as I ordered the burger, and the timing worked out fine. This pancake was okay, not exactly great, just okay; the orange flavoring was quite mild and there wasn't a whole lot of sweetness to it, so the dish came across as a bit bland. The size was enormous, protruding from the edges of a huge dinner plate and about two inches thick throughout most of it. I had expected to take most of it with me (doggie bag) and that was indeed the case. The portions on most of the items were indeed large, as I had previously been alerted by the several articles on the restaurant.

                                                                Country Pancake House accepts cash only, no credit cards.

                                                                All in all, I liked Country Pancake House. I don't know that I would make a special trip there from northern Longboat Key (forty minutes), and maybe not even the twenty minutes from the junk cars sculpture near downtown Sarasota. But if you happen to live in the vicinity, or have easy access to I-75, it's worth a trip, either for their breakfast items or for an inexpensive dinner. I would certainly be happy to go back if I had the chance.

                                                                DEREK'S - www.dereks-sarasota.com

                                                                Saturday night, I ate at Derek's. This was yet another excellent meal.

                                                                Derek's is located on Central a couple blocks north of Fruitville (3rd) just north of downtown Sarasota. There are half a dozen parking spaces behind the restaurant; the lot is unpaved and is easier to negotiate by entering from Fifth Street than Sixth (Fifth is paved; Sixth is not). There is also plenty of street parking in the vicinity, and a large lot nearby.

                                                                Derek's consists of two rooms. The room at the entrance has a handful of tables along with an open kitchen; the second room to the left is the main dining room. The ceilings in both rooms are high, and the décor is minimalist contemporary, with the curtains and fabric art that Cookiefiend mentioned had been placed there to help the acoustics. Business casual (a.k.a. dressy casual, resort casual) attire predominated.

                                                                They brought some excellent gougères to start. I had not had these before. These are cheese puffs, with the appearance and texture of pate a choux (like a cream puff shell) but with a cheese taste. Very nice.

                                                                I started with the sweetbreads, served with smoked cauliflower, house cured bacon, and apple conserve. This was excellent. The sweetbreads were sliced, so it was in the shape of a flat "patty", and appeared to be floured and sauteed. Nice. The house cured bacon was noteworthy, as it was nicely chewy without even a hint of fat.

                                                                For a main, I had the duck two ways, with a seared duck breast, pecan and cracklin crusted leg confit, creamed spaetzle, bacon braised greens, and burnt honey jus. This too was excellent, with the breast prepared the way I specified (medium). I particularly enjoyed the confit preparation, as the pecan and cracklin crusting was a dimension typically missing from leg confit.

                                                                For dessert, I had the banana cream custard, which consisted of three ricotta doughnut holes, vanilla bean braised bananas, and a custard sauce over the top. Excellent. Even better, one of my dining companions ordered the frozen trio, which consists of ice cream, sorbet, and granita. I tried the ice cream, which was "buttered popcorn" flavor, and that was spectacular.

                                                                Service was friendly and efficient. Derek Barnes was in the restaurant and came by several times to chat and to check on everything, which was a nice touch.

                                                                I would like to address Irwin's objection to the noise level at Derek's. I just do NOT consider it objectionable at all. I would consider my dinner's circumstances absolutely worst case, with a 7:00 pm seating on a Saturday night, and a party of 20 young people seated at one long table in the main dining room. I deliberately checked the noise level in both rooms, and while it was somewhat loud (and perhaps slightly louder than Rustic Grill), it was not so loud that you couldn't hear your dining companions, and there was no need to shout. Sorry, Irwin, but we'll just have to agree to disagree on that count; I think that Derek's is not disturbingly noisy, and it's one of the very best restaurants in town.

                                                                I am glad that I chose Derek's for the Saturday dinner during my trip. It, too, is a wonderful restaurant, excellent in every way.

                                                                As you can see, I had four excellent meals. It was nice to see how far Sarasota has developed in its "casual fine dining" culinary scene. (And of course, there are more such restaurants, in town as well as on the keys.) Kudos to the restaurateurs; local residents should be proud.

                                                                Thanks to all who provided advice here, which was helpful in planning my trip.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: nsxtasy


                                                                  I'm so glad you enjoyed both The Table and Derek's! I'll have to try Rustic Grill next time we're down.

                                                                  Those rolls at The Table are addictive - I think there's cheese in the middle or maybe crack, I dunno, I could have eaten a basket of those.

                                                                  I'm really pleased you liked Derek's, we thought it was excellent too. I think your 'menu' was similar to ours - weren't those little donuts with your dessert just silly good? Regarding the noise level, it just wasn't that bad.

                                                                  Thank you so much for letting us know how your trip was!

                                                                  1. re: Cookiefiend

                                                                    I just called The Table to ask them about those sinfully delicious rolls. They call them "yucca bread" and they are indeed made with cheese (mozzarella).

                                                                    It's interesting that all three of the upscale restaurants I ate at offered some sort of cheese-based bread...

                                                                    1. re: nsxtasy

                                                                      Maybe that old proverb "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou" should be changed to:

                                                                      "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and cheese!"

                                                                  2. re: nsxtasy

                                                                    everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I think Derek's Restaurant is very good food, but one of the noisest in Sarasota..........

                                                                  3. Has anybody been to Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch? If so, what's your opinion? Also, what happened to Fred's on Osprey? Is there a replacement restaurant?

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: goodwordtoday

                                                                      Freds on Osprey is now Libby's and it is very good.
                                                                      Have never been to Polo Grill, but have been to his other restaurant called Pattygeorges on Longboat, and I am not excited. View is beautiful, prices are very high, and certain dishes are great and others are just ok