Friday, December 8, 2017

Beach Bistro: A Culinary Gem on Anna Maria Island

Relaxed and sophisticated, Beach Bistro’s relentless pursuit of culinary and service excellence has earned owner Sean Murphy regional and national acclaim. One of Zagat’s “Top Restaurants in America”, Beach Bistro has been the island’s most romantic, fine-dining destination for more than 30 years, and its spectacular waterfront location makes it the perfect place to catch a spectacular sunset and enjoy some of the best cuisine in South Florida. And the cuisine is always consistently excellent, from their Nova Scotia Smoked Salmon on Parade with capers, caviar and key lime crème fraiche, outstanding Bouillabaise with lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, shellfish and calamari with garlic toasts and aioli, Herb Rubbed Pan Seared Rack of Lamb finished with a port rosemary demi-glace to the over-the-top 'Food Heaven' — Beach Bistro's rich marriage of Colorado lamb, butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster and Hudson Valley foie gras, all on a brioche bread pudding and served with a port, demi-glace and a sip of Essensia, which Sean christened — "a Dionysian vision from the end of a pier in Maine." 

With it's spectacular setting overlooking Holmes Beach on beautiful Anna Maria Island, Beach Bistro is like a painting, complimented by the finest food in the area, an extraordinary wine list and dedicated professional staff that have been with owner Sean Murphy for years. White tablecloths, a rose on each table and romantic sunset view sets the scene for an outstanding menu that celebrates coastal cuisine at the highest level. Sean’s ambition has been the same throughout Beach Bistro’s history — to provide his guests with one of the best dining experiences they've ever had, and he's definitely succeeding, reflected in all of the glowing accolades that Beach Bistro consistently receives, and his dedicated following that return over and over again. Our family has been making regular culinary pilgrimages to Beach Bistro since it opened in 1985, and it's definitely one of our favourite gastronomic traditions. Sean’s ambition has been the same throughout the Bistro’s 30 year history — to provide patrons with one of the best dining experiences that they've have ever had. Mission accomplished.

The cozy, sophisticated and colourful interior of Beach Bistro

Complimentary Vodka Cocktail with pomegranate, blueberry and St Germain on ice

Amuse-Bouche of toasted rosemary focaccia topped with tapenade and roasted tomato

Amuse-Bouche of Beach Bistro 'One Helluva' Tomato Soup made with seasoned Parrish plum tomatoes with sweet cream and Maytag blue cheese

Desiderio 'Jeio' Prosecco from Veneto

Seared Hudson Valley foie gras on savoury brioche bread pudding, garnished with a vanilla bean and Sauternes reduction, nutmeg anglaise and aged balsamic

Essensia Muscat served with the foie gras

Bistro Burrata Caprese  with local heirloom tomatoes, creamy burrata cheese, micro basil and an espresso balsamic reduction

Braised Short Ribs finished with tomato ragout, Parmesan Reggiano, 
with chef's vegetable and mashed potatoes

Seared scallops in Beach Bistro famous Bouillabaisse broth, 
finished with sweet cream and a soupçon of curry

Blanc de Blanc Champagne

The Famous Beach Bistro Bouillabaisse
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Sean Murphy, Beach Bistro

"First, you hire a bunch of pros to build a killer broth, poach to order Nova Scotia lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, premium market fish, shellfish and calamari"

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 leek, white parts only, finely chopped
2 tbsp shrimp or crab base
1 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp fennel seed
2 cups white wine
1/4 cup pernod
1 quart seafood stock or clam juice
2 cups tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 dash Tabasco
3 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 pinch of saffron
3 pounds firm-fleshed fish
14-18 jumbo shrimp
2 lobster tails
2 dozen mussels, bearded and cleaned
2 dozen littleneck or sweet clams, well cleaned
8 oz cleaned, sliced calamari tubes and tentacles

Heat a heavy bottom stockpot over high heat. Add the oil and garlic. Sauté the garlic for 5 minutes and then add the onion, leek, and celery. Stir the vegetables well to prevent burning and allow to cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until translucent. Next add the shrimp or crab base, dried herbs, white wine, and Pernod, bring to a simmer and allow to reduce for 5 minutes. Add seafood stock (can substitute clam juice), tomato juice, tomato puree, Tabasco, tomatoes, and saffron and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add all the seafood and cook for 6 minutes, or until the shells have opened. Discard any shells that do not open. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with a dollop of aioli and toasted French bread and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Blu Kouzina: A Greek Taverna Gem on St Armands

One of my favourite restaurants on St Armands Circle is Blu Kouzina, a lovely Greek taverna run by owners Chef Effie and Denise Tsakris, that was born out of the founders' love of sharing a hearty meal with friends, spiced with quality olive oil and accompanied with good wine. The Tskarises are of Greek descent, but were born and grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and then moved to Singapore where the couple ran a very successful restaurant also called Blu Kouzina. The couple wasn’t looking to own a restaurant in Florida, but one day, when Effie and her mother saw an empty space on St. Armands Circle, she thought it would be nice to open a place here, so in March 2015, Effie and Dennis opened Blu Kouzina, bringing their signature, wholesome Greek cooking to the Sunshine State. 

Fresh quality ingredients, mostly grown organically, and sourced from well established, local producers are used in dishes that are both traditional and creatively contemporary with uniquely Greek flavours with ingredients like dried oregano, seafood and wine that are especially flown from Greece, including the family's own olive oil, which comes from their own trees that are more than 500 years old. The interior, drawn from the traditional blue and white palette of a beach taverna, is detailed with whitewashed furniture, nautical accents and beautiful honey-coloured stone tile flooring. Blu Kouzina serves traditional and modern Greek recipes with the freshest of ingredients, such as Moussaka, homemade Baklava and lighter tapas-style dishes like the roasted red peppers stuffed with tangy, melty, spicy feta cheese to fresh grilled Greek sardines and octopus. By marrying their passion for the food of their native Greece, their warm welcoming hospitality and personalized service, Blu Kouzina is like a bold breeze off the Aegean Sea — a little gem on Sarasotas's culinary scene.

Our server Goga showing us Blu Kouzinia's selection of fresh fish for the evening 

2012 Ktima Brintziki Augoustiatis, an organic Greek wine from the augoustiatis grape, a varietal found only in the Western region of the Peloponnese

A gorgeous, supple wine with a deep, garnet red colour, with aromas of black plums, raspberrries, blackberries, dried oregano and tree nuts

Blu Kouzina homemade tzatziki

Lovely warm pita with rosemary and Greek salt 

Paidakia Stin Shara: Grilled Lamb Chops served with vegetables and roast potatoes

Grilled whole fresh local Drum Fish, a wild fish from waters off the Florida Gulf Coast

Spinach Horta 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Lila: Celebrating Organic Vegetable-Based Cuisine

Purely inspired cuisine, Lila is a spontaneous, playful, organic, healthy, mostly vegetable-based restaurant from Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes who were the chef proprietors behind the delectable Pomona Bistro, and who are now performing their culinary magic once again by offering an innovative and exciting vegetarian adventure on Main Street in the heart of Sarasota. Located in a recently renovated former retail storefront, Lila offers a fresh take on healthy, casually styled dining. An urban chic setting with high, open industrial exposed ceilings, open kitchen and a beautifully restored terrazzo floor, the ambiance is casual and hip, and the menu sensational. Opened just over a year ago in spring 2016, the restaurant concept and its name is based of the Sanskrit word Lila, meaning "creative play." Having owned and operated Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar for five years, the talented chefs decided its time to be creative and start a completely different concept from the traditional and meat-based Pomona. Local farms and business such as Aloe Organics, Geraldson Farms, Grove Ladder and Global Organics will be the driving force in providing Lila with its stock of fresh vegetables and ingredients. Vegetables, pulses and grains are the stars, with two thirds of the menu either vegetarian or vegan layered with rich lush flavours. 

Glass of chilled Tiamo Organic Italian Prosecco from the village of Valdobbiadene

Fresh young budding flowers

Two oversized chalkboards highlight daily special features

Lila's menu celebrates vegetables, pulses and grains, with two thirds of the menu 
either vegetarian or vegan 

Curried Yellow Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup drizzled with yogurt,
was Lila's daily featured soup and absolutely outstanding

Black Bean Burrito with whole wheat wrap, with rice, avocado, pickled onions, tofu sour cream and chipotle purée — vegan, vegetarian and extraordinarily delicious

Tofu and Asian Vegetable Stir-Fry with rice and red curry sauce

Busy in the kitchen, pastry chef extraordinaire Arthur Lopes kindly obliged my impromptu request for a quick chat and photograph

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Viento at Zota Beach Resort: Floribbean Cuisine

Nestled on the powder white sands and tranquil shores of Longboat Key and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Zota is one of the Keys newest luxury beach resorts. Opened in May 2017 on the site of the former Hilton Beachfront Resort at a price tag of $24-million, Zota was inspired by the indigenous name for the area of Sarasota — Zara Zota. Historians believe that early Spanish explorers spotted the white sands on the barrier island from a distance and were reminded of the Sahara Desert. The native origin of the word Zota is blue waters, thus the area became known as Zara Zota, the Sahara by the blue waters. Over time the name evolved to become what is known today as Sarasota. With two restaurants including the hotel's Cascades Bar, Zota's signature restaurant Viento is led by Executive Chef Jason Pellett, and features "Floribbean" cuisine influenced by Florida, Caribbean, and Mediterranean cooking techniques and flavours, with a lunch menu featuring dishes such as Zota Crab Cakes with pickled fennel, mango, arugula salad and creamy horseradish sauce, Lobster Salad with tri-color lettuce, mango, house marinated fennel, hass avocado, crisp wonton strips and citrus vinaigrette, and Luau Grouper served grilled or blackened, with caramelized onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and key lime remoulade served on griddled piña colada bread. Beginning with a glass of prosecco on the modern outdoor terrace of Viento, we followed with a light lunch while admiring the resort's beachfront pool with swaying palm trees and gorgeous gulf views. Quiet and sophisticated with complimentary valet parking, Viento was a lovely destination for a delicious lunch on a hot sunny afternoon on Longboat Key.

Zota Lobby reflecting pool with palm trees

Suspended wave sculpture hangs in main stairway from lobby to Viento Restaurant

Viento's wine wall and cocktail area

A glass of prosecco from the outdoor terrace dining area of Viento overlooking the pool and beach

Viento's menu of 'Floribbean' dishes influenced by Florida, Caribbean and Mediterranean flavours

View from our table overlooking the pool and white sandy beaches of the Gulf of Mexico

Caesar Salad with grilled chicken breast

Zota delicious Crab Cakes with pickled fennel, mango, arugula salad and creamy horseradish sauce

The seaside-themed Christmas Tree at Zota

Grilled Grouper with Risotto
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of chef Jason Pellett

12 oz grouper
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the grilled risotto:
2 tsp finely chopped shallots
2 tsp minced garlic
8 oz Arborio rice
16 oz vegetable stock
2 tbsp butter
Pinch salt and pepper
2 oz white wine
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 oz grilled artichokes
Saffron butter sauce

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the butter with the Arborio rice. Deglaze with white wine and add the vegetable stock in three parts, stirring often. Finish with butter and cheese. Top with grilled grouper, artichokes and saffron butter sauce.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Lazy Lobster of Longboat Key

Nestled away in the Centre Shops on Longboat Key, The Lazy Lobster has been a popular favourite for Sarasotans since 2009, when co-owners Michael Garey, former manager of Café L’Europe, and Bob Fracalossy, former chef at Café L’Europe and Café on the Bay, took over the space and launched their new restaurant. Decorated with nautical accents and tropical Floridean flair, the outdoor garden terrace is a special treat on warms days, surrounded with beautiful towering palm tress which were still standing after Hurricane Irma, but with one great casualty — the stately palm in the outdoor courtyard came crashing down. With great tenacity and a commitment to bring the garden mack to its former glory, the Lazy Lobster was back up and looking fabulous within weeks. With a great menu, there's a lobster dish for everyone, including retro favourites such as Lobster Thermadore, with mushrooms and sherry in a cream sauce, Lobster Newberg in a rich lobster brandy sauce and crowned with hot, golden puff pastry, and Lobster Mac & Cheese with fresh steamed lobster meat, macaroni, white cheese sauce topped with toasted crumbs and truffle oil. Other sensational seafood dishes include Lobster Tacos, 
Lobster Pasta a la Vodka with Maine lobster, asparagus, peas, fresh basil with vodka sauce over mushroom ravioli, or my favourite Maine Roll with fresh steamed Boothbay Harbour Maine lobster, in a light lemony dressing and crisp romaine on a grilled split buttered roll and served with warm freshly made potato chips, which are delicious but completely addictive.

The outdoor garden patio is a real treat on a lovely warm afternoon surrounded with a great stand of palm trees and flowering shrubs, which look great even after Hurricane Irma

Photograph taken of the devastation after Hurricane Irma

Surrounded with ferns and natural plantings, the fountain adds a tranquil quality to the patio,
that looks fabulous after being restored after the hurricane

Yuengling Lager from America's oldest brewery

Unsweetened Iced Tea with lemon and lots of ice - perfect!

Hot rolls fresh from the oven

Lazy Lobster's Lobster Bisque

Lobster Mac & Cheese with fresh steamed lobster meat, macaroni, white cheese sauce topped with toasted crumbs and truffle oil

Maine Roll with fresh steamed Boothbay Harbour Maine lobster in a light lemony dressing and crisp shredded romaine on a grilled split buttered roll and served with warm freshly made potato chips

Full to bursting with large pieces of fresh lobster, the Lazy Lobster Maine Roll is hard to resist