Monday, December 11, 2017

Café L'Europe: Continental Cuisine on St Armands





A Sarasota institution for almost 45 years, Café L'Europe has groomed some of the area’s most successful chefs and restaurateurs. Founded by Titus Letschert and Norbert Goldner in 1973, those that went on to become some of Sarasota’s top culinary stars include Michael Garey and Bob Fracalossy, of the Lazy Lobster, Harry Christensen, of Harry’s Continental Kitchens, Ray Arpke, of Euphemia Haye, and J.P. Knaggs, of Bijou Café. With a solid reputation for elegant European cuisine, award-winning wines, and professional service, Café L'Europe is a dining treasure and one of the most popular dining destinations on St. Armands Circle. Elegantly designed with old world charm, the restaurant was originally the real estate office of one of Sarasota’s most famous residents of the past — John Ringling. Under new ownership since August 2016, proprietors Ron Milton and Joe Balzano proudly continue Cafe L’Europe’s excellence, honouring the restaurant’s old world traditions, while adding their own special touches. 

One of my favourite places to enjoy an elegant lunch on St Armands Circle is the leafy outdoor patio of Café L'Europe. Starting with a lovely glass of prosecco and some fresh warm baguette and little rolled balls of butter, we decided on the Lobster & Shrimp Salad with crème fraîche, poached asparagus and hearts of palm with a citrus mayonnaise served on Bibb lettuce as well as the Salade Niçoise with fresh ahi tuna, baby field greens, haricot vert, red potatoes, grape tomatoes, chopped egg and Kalamata olives with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and wasabi. The calibre of cuisine being put out by the kitchen, and the polite, professional and attentive wait staff, proves why this restaurant has been around for more than three decades, and promises to be around for many more years. For dog-lovers, Café L'Europe even has a special 'Doggie Dining Menu' for pampered pooches, with canine culinary treats such as Gustav's Steak Tartare for $5, Cruiser's Filet Mignon of Beef for $18, and Biscuits de Jour baked daily for the little princesses for a modest $2.50 for a package of 4, and for doggie dolce there's Dogsters Ice Cream Treats in Nutty Peanut Butter or Minté Fresh. Fresh water is provided gratis, however Acqua Panna bottled water is also available, served by Café L'Europe's smartly attired black-vested waiters — Mon Dieu!




Two glasses of chilled 'Cielo' Prosecco were a refreshing bubbly start to our outdoor lunch on St Armands 

The lunch menu of Café L'Europe features a lovely selection of fresh seafood salads and light entrées

Faux but festive poinsettia 

Fresh warm baguette

Perfect little rounds of butter

2012 Trimbach Riesling from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Salade Niçoise with fresh ahi tuna, baby field greens, haricot vert, red potatoes, grape tomatoes, chopped egg and Kalamata olives with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and wasabi

Maine Lobster and Gulf Shrimp Salad with asparagus, hearts of palm, citrus aioli, fresh berries, orange, grapefruit and crème fraîche















Bananas Foster
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of Café L'Europe

2 tbsp butter
2 bananas, cut in bite sized pieces
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 oz banana liqueur
2 oz dark rum
2 oz Bacardi rum
Dash of cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream


Heat a pan over high heat. Add butter to melt and coat pan. Add brown sugar and remove pan from heat. Add rum and banana liqueur and flambé. Add bananas and stir being careful not to overcook. Remove pan from heat and add Bacardi rum. Flambé again. Add cinnamon and stir. Remove from heat. Serve over vanilla ice cream.









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.