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Savoring Sarasota: The Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week begins

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Popcorn Bisque will be served during Savor Sarasota at Vernona at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.

On your mark. Get set. Eat. Savor Sarasota starts on June 1.

The annual celebration of eating out at terrific prices is celebrating its 6th year.

The concept is simple. Restaurants in the Sarasota area sign up with the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB), which promotes the event. These restaurants agree to provide three-course dinners — note: there is no lunch component this year — for the price of $25. This is a stunning bargain. Here's a comparison: Last week-end I dined out locally and my entrée alone was $38 — no salad, no dessert. If only I had waited a week.

Strategizing on how to best take advantage of Savor Sarasota has already begun in some camps. The week before last, Chris Cremer enlisted several members of her book club to create a Savor Sarasota Saturday night out. Her first tactic was to share previous experiences at Savor Sarasota restaurants with the book club following the evening's more erudite discussion.

Her passionate rendition of the benefits got members salivating and a group was formed. They have combed through the menus listed on the website www.savorsarasota.com. Two contenders emerged. Vernona at the Ritz-Carlton and Derek's Culinary Casual. The winner was just announced. Drum roll please. Derek's. "Some of us wanted a bit more casual atmosphere than the Ritz," says Cremer.

Cremer says it was easy to plan. Start with the website where there is a list of participating restaurants under, "Who's Cooking," or see the list with this story. This year there are 33, ranging in style from the aforementioned more formal Vernona to the casual Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar.

Geographically, the restaurants are from all corners of the county — Lakewood Ranch, Longboat Key, Venice, Osprey, Siesta Key — there is a restaurant in practically any direction you wish to point your vehicle.

Next step is to peruse the menus on the website under "What's Cooking." Doing that, I just discovered that Caragiulio's has raised the bar on Savor and is offering a four-course meal for $25. Nice value-added. I also checked out Derek's; he has added a wine by the glass suggestion for each of his courses. Nice touch, and, by the way, there is a dark chocolate and pecan bread pudding in that book club's future that sounds sumptuous.

Don't forget to make reservations. All of the contact information needed is on the website, including directions.

SARASOTA EXCELS AT RESTAURANT WEEK

Savor Sarasota used to be called Restaurant Week, which is a fairly common event used in many cities statewide and even nationally. Here in our fair city, the natives took to it like out-of-state license plates to Siesta Key parking lots.

The timing has much to do with the popularity. Coming the first week in June, the natives are ready to get out and take back their town. And our area has some mighty fine restaurants. The SCVB is fond of quoting the fact that there are more Florida Trend Dining Award, Zagat Guide and DiRoNa (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) restaurants within a 25 mile radius of Sarasota than any other area in Florida, including the Mickey Mouse mega-metropolis and Miami's South Beach strip.

Michael Klauber, co-owner of Michael's on East, says, "There's a history of fine independent restaurants in our area. When you have a community that is dedicated to the arts, you tend to get people that are passionate about food and wine, too."

OH WHAT FABULOUS FOOD YOU'LL FIND

The SCVB hosted a small preview of menu items from five of the more than 30 restaurants participating in Savor Sarasota. To whet your appetite, here's what we tasted.

Vernona at The Ritz Carlton served a Mackerel in Saor, prepared with Agrodolce Onions, Sultana Raisins and Toasted Pinenuts.

This dish is not only for Savor Sarasota, but will be served on the new menu in the Ca d'Zan lounge and Vernona Restaurant. This dish was conceived by Reylon Agustin, Vernona's new chef de cuisine. The dish is based on local history.

According to Agustin, "Mackerel in Saor is a very classic dish born in Venice and the Ringlings were infatuated with all things Venetian. Mackerel is fished locally, but I rarely see it on any menus, so I decided to add this to the Savor menu and the regular menu." The dish is delicious, incorporating what Agustin believes is essential in a successful dish: salt, acidity, usually a vinegar, and interesting texture.

Selva Grill: Maya Shrimp Ceviche. Selva Grill presented a dish that goes back to the roots of this Peruvian eatery. The ceviche incorporates shrimp "cooked" in the lime juice of the marinade, along with crunchy vegetables and hints of sweet tropical fruits.

Mattison's served Jumbo Boston Sea Scallops over Pancetta and Sweet Pea Risotto with Smoked Tomato Coulis. This dish is on the Savor menu at Mattison's Forty-One, part of a huge menu that is available for the Savor promotion: 10 different appetizers and salads; 8 different entrees and 4 different desserts. Even though there are 7 other choices, this scallop dish gets a shout out. It's succulent and the pancetta adds a lovely degree of fat and smoky flavor to the dish which is picked up in the coulis. Yummy stuff.

Currents @ The Hyatt Regency will be serving Key West Pink Shrimp, Smoked Cheddar Logan Turnpike Stone Ground Grits, Peppadew Relish, Micro Cilantro.

The Hyatt Regency has revamped their dining operations of late and this dish is a fresh example of the kinds of foods now available. The cheddar cheese grits were a perfect foundation for the shrimp, and the huge bursts of flavor from the relish. Very well done.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar: Seared Bistro Steak. If thinly sliced, perfectly aged beef shows up in your culinary dreams, you must put this venue on your Savor agenda. This is steakhouse at its finest and a super bargain.

RECIPE:

Vernona Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota. Chef Greg Howe, formerly of the Sarasota Ritz-Carlton, has a style that is uncomplicated, approachable and most importantly fresh; emphasizing creative yet elegant preparation of quality ingredients, with the reliance upon local and seasonal organically-grown product. He created this dish for 2010 Savor Sarasota and it was so popular, the restaurant is offering it again as a first course. Smart hostesses will incorporate this into their own repertoire of soups, both for the unique flavor and the show-stopping presentation.

Popcorn Bisque
with Crabmeat, Coconut and Togarashi
(serves 4)
1 quart lobster stock
4 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon red curry paste
1/2 cup Mae ploi sweet chili sauce (available at Oriental market)
Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
1 bag microwavable popcorn, popped
Togarashi spice, to taste
12 ounces stone crab knuckle meat, warm (can substitute Jonah or Peeky Toe crab)
Mango Salsa (see recipe below)
Mint leaves for garnish, julienned

Method:
Combine all ingredients in saucepan except popcorn over medium heat. Simmer for 1 hour. Put soup in blender with most of popcorn (reserve some for garnish) and blend until smooth. Strain soup through sieve and reserve warm to serve. Add crab meat, mango salsa and mint as garnish.

In the restaurant, we transfer the broth to small individual pitchers. For service, the plate is placed in front of the guest and the broth is slowly poured over the mango, crab and popcorn. It is important to mix the broth with the popcorn at the last moment so that popcorn does not lose its integrity. Garnish with additional mint.

For Mango Salsa
1 mango, peeled, finely diced
2 tablespoons fresh mint, julienned
1 teaspoon olive oil
To serve:
Divide mango salsa evenly between four soup plates. Top each with spoonful of stone crab meat. Garnish with reserve popcorn.

hotelindigo.com

SAVOR SARASOTA PARTICIPATING RESTAURANTS:


Aria — 870-0665


Bijou Cafe — 366-8111, bijoucafe.net


Cafe Baci — 921-4848, cafebaci.net


Cafe L'Europe — 388-4415, cafeleurope.net


Cafe Venice — 484-1855, cafeveniceontheisland.com


Caragiulos — 951-0866, caragiulos.com


Chart House — 383-5593, chart-house.com


Crow's Nest — 484-9551, crowsnest-venice.com


Currents Restaurant at The Hyatt Regency — 953-1234, sarasota.hyatt.com


Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar — 349-8697, daiquiridecksiestakey.com


Derek's Culinary Casual — 366-6565, dereks-sarasota.com


Dry Dock Waterfront Grill — 383-0102, drydockwaterfrontgrill.com


Euphemia Haye — 383-3633, euphemiahaye.com


Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar — 358-9463, flemingssteakhouse.com


H20 Bistro — 487-3815, hotelindigo.com


Harry's Continental Kitchen — 383-0777, harryskitchen.com


Libby's Cafe + Bar — 487-7300, libbyscafebar.com


MacAllisters Grill & Tavern — 359-2424, macallisters.com


Mad Crow Brewery & Grill — 954-2337, Facebook


Mattison's City Grille — 330-0440, mattisons.com


Mattison's Forty One — 921-3400, mattisons.com


Michael's on East — 366-0007, bestfood.com


Morgan's Restaurant — 966-2125, morganssarasota.com


Mozaic Restaurant — 951-6272, mozaicsarasota.com


Pattigeorge's — 383-5111, pattigeorges.com


Polo Grill & Bar — 782-0899, pologrillandbar.com


Roessler's Restaurant — 966-5688, roesslersrestaurant.com


Salute! Restaurant — 365-1020, salutesarasota.com


Sam Snead's Oak Grill & Tavern — 906-7771, samsneadssarasota.com


Selva Grill — 362-4427, selvagrill.com


Siesta Key Oyster Bar — 346-5443, skob.com


Sporting News Grille — 355-9000


Vernona at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota 309-2266, ritzcarlton.com

Last modified: May 31, 2011
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