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Weekend in Sarasota - a little long, again

Cookiefiend Feb 11, 2008 10:14 AM

Mr CF and I are back home and freezing our proverbial hind ends off, we love visiting our clients in sunny Florida! After checking the boards, adding to one post - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/459360, and discussing the dining scene with the staff at the Ritz, we decided on Derik's, The Table and Michael's on East. Hands down and running away with our hearts and taste buds was Derek's - we even went back for dessert on our last evening.

Here's the run down:
Derek's - Our waitress was Magida, she did a marvelous job, patient, informative, efficient and seemed to enjoy the fact that we were having a great time.

Nice wine list, we had the Cinnabar Cellars - Mercury Rising 2005.

I started with the sweetbreads. Pan seared and served on a smoked cauilflower puree with house cured bacon and an apple conserve. My notes say "wow wow", it was really good.

Mr CF had the campachace - shrimp, scallops tomato cilantro cucumber and chiles. Mr CF said the shrimp were great, he really liked them but they needed a pinch of salt - the popcorn cracker provided some.

We split the house salad caesareque - romaine, parmesan crackers with shaved pecorino. The dressing was a toasted garlic and caramelized anchovy vinegret. We liked this so much that when we went back on Saturday after dinner, Mr CF ordered it again.

Chef Derek came out and talked to us then. I told him that I had read about his place on Chowhound, I mentioned that some had thought it was noisy. He said that when they first opened it was, but since then they have made some improvements to aleviate that. The panels on the wall, pillows on shelves, cushioning under the tables and the rugs on the floor were all part of that effort. I personally think that some noise is fine, the main problem seems to be other diners who forget to use their 'indoor voices'. I also told him that someone had said Derek's was the best place in Sarasota and she used to live in NYC - that was the deciding factor for me, and I was definitely NOT dissappointed. :-

)

I had the "Land & Sea". This is my kinda Land and Sea! Not the run of the mill steak and lobster tail but smoked pork in a mustard seed vinegret/sauce, wrapped in a green onion crepe and Grouper cheeks. A toasted peanut slaw and sweet corn rings were the sides. Sweet corn rings - the best kind of state fair food - a fried ring of, well, creamed corn, it was so good. The pork was shredded and chewy (I love brown edges), the sauce sweet and tangy. The whole thing was marvelous.

Mr CF had the Duck 2 Ways, a seared breast sliced with a drizzle of burnt honey jus, a pecan and cracklin crusted duck leg confit with creamed spaetzle and bacon braised greens with (I think) a bit more of the burnt honey jus on them for good measure, on the side. Also marvelous.

We couldn't decide on dessert so we ordered the banana cream custard - ricotta donut vanilla bean braised bananas, the chocolate & guajillo chili pate with passion fruit, black berry, and toasted pistachio, and the cheese plate. The banana cream custard with the ricotta donuts was silly good, oh man good and could I have another good. Holy cow! I didn't try the chocolate but it looked good and the cheese plate was a wonder, especially with the Campbell Tokay.

The best dinner of the trip!

Next was The Table. We got turned around on our way there (missed a street we were supposed to turn on) and then we found the area was like Naples 5th Ave, which isn't bad or anything, we just weren't prepared for the parking issue. So by the time Mr CF parked and made his way back to the restaurant, he was in a bit of a umm... mood. So we started off a bit rocky.

We had a bottle of the Hartford Court Pinot Noir, Lands Edge Vineyard, 2005. Very nice and I'm glad we have this available at home.

We started with the Spainish antipasto platter - Serrano ham, Cantimpalo chorizo, Loma ham slices, manchego, dirty martini olive spread, pineapple chutney and balsalmic glazed almonds. We also had the Spainish cheese platter - more manchego, drunken goat cheese, a blue of some variety (a bit scary looking - like a pressed terrine with un-identified bits, but it was very good), heirloom tomato jam and more balsalmic almonds. Both came with toasts as well. All of it was very good and I especially enjoyed the meats.

I had the Roman ceasar salad, Mr CF had the chopped salad. Both were fine, Mr CF's was a bit sweet.

The highlight of the meal was my pork shank Galiclan with a white bean stew. It was enormous - as in Fred Flintstone size - it was a wonder the table didn't tip, I told our waiter, David "You didn't tell me you were going to bring me a ham!". None the less, I ate almost all of it with some help from the Mr... it was fabulous. So tender, so flavorful, like your grandmother had spent the day stewing it, the perfect thing for a nasty, cold, winter day, with a marvelous, close to the bone, ham flavor. I'm still thinking about it.

Mr CF had another appetizer - shrimp - and they were very good. As you can tell, it was all about the ham!

Our last night was at Michael's on East. I hadn't originally intended to go there, but based on the recommendations we got at the hotel, we decided to try it. They also said to sit in the bar where there is live piano music. It's a neat space, there is also an outdoor area with a glass roof.

They have an extensive wine list, we ordered the Bouchard Findlayson, Hannibale, 2003. It was a very good bottle of wine and since it was my recommendation, I was very pleased. I read about the producer in "Hedonist in the Cellar".

I had American Sturgeon caviar - a very fine caviar - and a glass of Oudinot Champagne. Mr CF had a pate.

Next the East Avenue Ceasar salad, also good. Mr CF had a chopped salad.

For my entree I had the slow roasted duck. It wasn't what I expected based on our waitress's description. I thought it was going to be a tender, pull apart with your fork, crispy skinned joy. I still ate half of it - it was my fault, not theirs.

Mr CF had an aged New York strip, he said it was good.

We wished we had tried the truffled macaroni and cheese, that looked marvelous!

Michael's on East went above and beyond though when they found out I didn't care for my dinner. They apologized and offered to pick up dessert for us. We hadn't planned on dessert though... we just wanted to go. So they comped my duck. We told our waitress they really didn't need to do that, I did eat about 1/3 of it, and I feel badly that they comped it anyway.

I also feel badly that we probably won't go back next time we're in Sarasota. Maybe we shouldn't have sat in the bar... the piano music was getting on our nerves - the Liberace flourishes, the Neil Diamond songs, the women sitting at the piano - it just wasn't for us. The pianist, Joe, is talented though and he does have a nice voice. Our table was too small, the water, the wine and the accompaning glasses, the bread and our food didn't fit - our wine ended up being decanted and set on a plate on the bench beside me.

I want to like Michael's, but I wouldn't go back. They really did try, it's just not the kind of place I like. I had a N. Diamond song stuck in my head when we left, the first thing I did when we got the car was to turn on the radio. Found a station playing Beck's "Loser" and sang it at the top of my lungs on our way to Derek's - "'cause I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?"
but not before I have another banana cream custard with a glass of Tokay...

So that's what we did. We went back to Derek's, Mr CF had another fabulous ceasar, I had the cheese plate and we split the banana cream custard. This time I did share it with Mr CF! It was as good the second time as it was the first.

Sarasotians! And Everyone Else! Go to Dereks! Eat, drink, be Merry!

Thanks for reading my book! Thanks to everyone who posted regarding Sarasota - it was a big help!

Dawn

  1. nsxtasy Mar 17, 2008 04:05 PM

    I just posted a detailed report on the meals on my just-concluded trip to Sarasota in the topic at www.chowhound.com/topics/459360 In summary, I had outstanding meals at three "casual fine dining" gems - The Table, Derek's, and Rustic Grill - and a very good meal at Country Pancake House as well. See the other topic for all the "gory" details! ;)

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

    1. g
      gfr1111 Feb 12, 2008 01:08 PM

      Tbanks, Cookiefiend, for the review. We don't get enough carefully put together reviews of local restaurants, especially not Sarasota-area ones, despite the fact that Sarasota has a bumper crop of good-to-great restaurants. I keep hearing raves about Derek's. I'll be trying it. (And, as someone else said on this board, The Table sounds pretty good, too.) I am sorry that you did not care for Michael's on East, which I also love. Anyway, thanks for the advice.

      1 Reply
      1. re: gfr1111
        Cookiefiend Feb 12, 2008 02:54 PM

        youbetcha!

        Sarasota has a ton of great restaurants to choose from and they're not chains. I'm totally jealous and when we come back (client meetings) we'll have plenty to choose from!

      2. m
        Mother of four Feb 11, 2008 03:01 PM

        I have never been big on Michaels, but next time, do try Selva Grill. A big yes on Derek's!!! Come back soon!!!

        16 Replies
        1. re: Mother of four
          Cookiefiend Feb 11, 2008 03:14 PM

          I will!

          Thanks for your help!

          1. re: Cookiefiend
            i
            irwin Feb 12, 2008 11:12 AM

            Mrs. CF: I assume you are the Mrs CF. If not, I am sorry....
            Anyway, thanks a million for your wonderful letter to us all about your experiences in Sarasota.......
            I personally do not care for Derek's. Way too noisy, even with all the improvements, and small variety of what I like to eat....
            I hate Michaels.......
            Don't think they ever got my meal right the 4 times we ate there..... So, as far as I am concerned, they are off my list !
            The Table, Selva Grill, Bijou, Beach Bistro, and D'ej' a Vu are all top shelf restaurants in Sarasota, but we also love others for special food..
            Euphemia Hays for duck, Flemings for their port chop, Divino for Italian, The new Freds, and Ivo's. None of these are nearly as noisy as Derek's.
            We also have several wonderful lunch restaurants.
            Thank you again for your nice letter.

            1. re: irwin
              Cookiefiend Feb 12, 2008 12:43 PM

              It's my pleasure irwin ~

              Next time we're in Sarasota we'll try Selva Grill and some of others you mention too. We ran out of days too fast, as always!

              and - I'm the Mrs :-)

              1. re: Cookiefiend
                nsxtasy Feb 12, 2008 02:23 PM

                My visit will be in mid-March. I made my reservation at Derek's today (Derek himself answered the phone and took it) so I'm looking forward to reporting on what I find. I've eaten at Michael's on East several times over the years, most recently just a few years ago, and I agree with what's been said here - the food has always been very good, the style is quite conventional and "old school". I've eaten at Euphemia Haye on Longboat numerous times and it's been very good too. I also had a very good dinner a few years ago at Vernona, in the Ritz. I think very best dinner I've had in the area was at Beach Bistro, the winter before last. Just sublime. I have high hopes that Derek's will be as good. I'm also going to be having dinner at Tommy Bahama's on St. Armand's as part of a large group function which I didn't arrange (the menu actually sounds rather good). I'll report back after my visit...

                1. re: nsxtasy
                  Cookiefiend Feb 12, 2008 02:51 PM

                  I think that Derek's will be a very different experience than Beach Bistro - I hope you won't be disappointed!

                  My caviar, champagne and salad at Michael's on East were very good, please don't think otherwise... I can't completely explain what it was... I've been sitting here trying to think of how to put it and I haven't succeeded. I think we shouldn't have sat in the bar.

                  If this Tommy Bahama has the S'mores Martini - you should try it - the toasted marshmellow garnish and the graham cracker rim was fun.

                  Have a good time!

                  1. re: Cookiefiend
                    nsxtasy Feb 13, 2008 06:37 AM

                    I'm guessing that appropriate attire at all of the places mentioned here (with the exception of Vernona) is "business casual", i.e. jacket NOT required for gentlemen, but something a bit nicer than say blue jeans - is that correct?

                    1. re: nsxtasy
                      Cookiefiend Feb 13, 2008 06:59 AM

                      IMHO... yes.

                      But people were wearing jeans at all the places - including Michael's on East - so it's pretty casual everywhere.

                    2. re: Cookiefiend
                      nsxtasy Mar 4, 2008 04:36 PM

                      No more Tommy Bahama's; I guess they had trouble accommodating our group on a weekend night. So our group is going to the Country Pancake House in Lakewood Ranch instead. I hear their menu is just as enormous as the one for their sister restaurant in New Jersey - WOW!!! www.allmenus.com/menus/27117/Country_...

                      1. re: nsxtasy
                        Cookiefiend Mar 5, 2008 08:20 AM

                        Based on that menu - I don't think you will be dissappointed!

                        That's huge!

                        1. re: nsxtasy
                          i
                          irwin Mar 5, 2008 05:02 PM

                          I don't want to dissappint you but Country Pancake House has NOT gotten very good ratings. It was suggested in last weeks writeup to get only the pancakes, french toast, or waffles. Nothing else because it was terrible including all the egg dishes.

                          1. re: irwin
                            nsxtasy Mar 5, 2008 06:28 PM

                            Thanks for the warning. Was the write-up in a newspaper or other source that might have a website where I could read it?

                            This restaurant was selected largely on their ability to accommodate our large group (of difficult-to-predict size) on a weekend evening, which is a difficult criterion to meet. We're mostly looking forward to our group spending time together, not with any high expectations for the food. I'll let you know how it turns out though.

                            1. re: nsxtasy
                              i
                              irwin Mar 5, 2008 06:56 PM

                              I believe it was in the Herald Tribune Newspaper in the restaurant section insert. They gave them a terrible rating.

                              1. re: irwin
                                i
                                irwin Mar 6, 2008 02:57 PM

                                here is the article:
                                http://sarasota.creativeloafing.com/g...

                                1. re: irwin
                                  nsxtasy Mar 6, 2008 03:17 PM

                                  Thanks for the reference. I must say, it's one of the more amusing restaurant reviews I've read.

                                  There's one point in the review I don't agree with, and that's to avoid any egg dishes because they are undersalted. Salt can be detrimental to egg dishes when used in cooking, and some people are on salt-restrictive diets. I think it makes sense to omit salt from egg dishes, and let the diner add it when they are served.

                                  Anyway, as I mentioned, this is a group meal that has been arranged and planned, and I'm pretty sure most folks are going for the company, not the food.

                              2. re: nsxtasy
                                l
                                Longboat Mar 5, 2008 07:00 PM

                                I can't speak to the quality of the food but I can tell you that if you're staying in central Sarasota or any of the barrier islands that you'll have a bit of a hike out to Lakewood Ranch, particularly in season. 40 minutes is a reasonable estimate. Are there no closer alternatives? Right across the street from Tommy Bahamas, as an example, is Hemmingways. Not as popular but still very serviceable/reasonably good. They sort of compete with Tommy's but are not as crowded. Perhaps you can cut a deal with them? And then you have the advantage of being on St. Armands before and after dinner rather that out at Lakewood Ranch, particularly if your group has had a few pops from the bar....

                                Just as an example.

                                1. re: Longboat
                                  nsxtasy Mar 5, 2008 07:46 PM

                                  At least half of the group is staying at a hotel right near the Country Pancake House. Which is the other reason it was chosen.

                                  Also, this is coming up VERY soon, and all the plans are already made and instructions distributed to the group members.

                                  Often there are reasons of convenience and necessity that trump considerations of food.

              2. nsxtasy Feb 11, 2008 02:35 PM

                Thanks for the report, Dawn! Now I know where I'll make a reservation for my trip next month - Derek's. (Although, in all fairness, the Table sounds pretty darn good too!)

                1 Reply
                1. re: nsxtasy
                  Cookiefiend Feb 11, 2008 03:14 PM

                  I don't think you will go wrong with either choice!

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