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Restaurant Review: Indigenous

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A reclaimed cypress table on Indigenous' patio. (Aug. 29, 2011) (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

(See also a photo gallery of Indigenous.)

The first sensory experience diners at Indigenous will have is not one of taste but of smell. As they approach the restaurant -- an old bungalow in downtown Sarasota's Towles Court arts district -- the fragrant odor of old wood will drift toward them, perhaps stirring up pleasant memories of places in their past. It’s a most agreeable way to begin an evening out, and a strong indication of good things to come.

The smell of old wood comes from the reclaimed cypress installed in various spots around the restaurant, where it has been given new life as fences, tables and decoration. This repurposing fits the larger pattern of Indigenous’ aspirations, which embraces both environmentalism and the locavore movement, emphasizing locally sourced ingredients -- as well as materials -- whenever possible.

Indigenous co-owner and chef Stephen Phelps. (Aug. 29, 2011) (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

If that sounds like a sermon is hanging in the air, don’t worry; Indigenous is a most genial place. Formerly, Dawaat, and before that Canvas Café, co-owner and chef Stephen Phelps (who was also the chef at Canvas) has put his own stamp on the building. The reclaimed cypress contributes to a charming atmosphere, with lots of bare wood around to brighten the formerly cramped dining room and extensive outdoor patio area. Service is genial and efficient, allowing the setting and the food to speak for the virtues of locavore food and environmental consciousness.

A quick glance at the menu also shows that Indigenous is taking off on a new and adventurous flight. Unlike the many—too many for some—restaurants around town who stick to the same old formulas, Indigenous takes risks.

Indigenous' interior dining room. (Aug. 29, 2011) (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

Among the appetizers, there’s no calamari, no ahi tuna, no crab cakes. Instead diners will find promising choices like Green Gazpacho ($5) with “frozen” grapes and almonds, a mélange of Mango, Cucumber, Mint ($7), Parmesan Beignets ($8) and Braised Crispy Pork Belly ($8) that is served with Hoppin’ John and okra.

Beet Tartar ($8) uses golden beets combined with apples, radishes and pea shoots, all flavored with creamy horseradish. While not a breathtaking dish, the beet tartar is a notably refreshing one, with the sharp, sweet apple playing well off the earthy beet, both giving an agreeable crunch to each forkful.

Braised Beef Short Ribs, with black pepper, red wine, molasses, with "kimmy chi". Indigenous is located in Towles Court at 239 South Links Ave. in Sarasota. (Sept. 21, 2011; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Thomas Bender)

Crispy Pressed Roast Duck ($9) raises the bar several notches. The succulent duck is concentrated by the pressing, intensifying the flavor, which a coulis of port and raisin—it tasted more like prune, but that’s fine by me—complemented, while the accompanying whipped goat cheese opened a new taste dimension, its chalky dryness a counterpoint to the juicy duck.

Main course selections are not abundant. There are some meat dishes like Seared Skirt Steak ($25) served with smoked tomatillos—an intriguing combination—and Braised Beef Short Ribs ($26). A relatively local touch comes in the form of Key West Pink Shrimp ($26).

Other seafood dishes include Hook to Fork, based on locally available fish with the market determining price. That evening the choice was Red Snapper ($28), which was perfectly prepared, nicely crusted, moist and flaky with tangy citrus accents.

Key Lime Curd, Basil-Ginger Short Bread Crumbles, Coconut Milk Ice Cream and a dash of Sea Salt. Indigenous is located in Towles Court at 239 South Links Ave. in Sarasota. (Sept. 21, 2011; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Thomas Bender)

Butter Poached Alaskan King Crab ($28) sounded like a delicious possibility to my companion—and might be. But what arrived was a soft shell crab, with no explanation for the change. This was the one misstep of the evening, although the sautéed crab wasn't bad.

Desserts revived us. A Chocolate Brownie ($8) was dense and satisfying, while a Roasted Peach Cobbler ($8) had a wonderful crust, one that made the perfect foil for the sweet, juicy peaches.

Indigenous
239 South Links Ave., Sarasota
706-4740, indigenoussarasota.com
Open from 5:30 p.m., Mon. - Sat.


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Last modified: September 13, 2013
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