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Restaurant Review: Cafe L'Europe

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Photo courtesy Cafe L'Europe

For close to forty years Café L’Europe has plied its way on St. Armands, making it something like an institution in Sarasota, with all the plusses and minuses that the term suggests.

It certainly has an attractive location, fronting, as it does, on the circle, with plenty of outside seating as well ample room within. The interior evokes the past, with walls, pillars and arches of faded brick and thick, dark wooden beams above and Mexican tile on the floor. In the back room plants and flowers—both real and in paintings—dominate the design scheme. It’s a handsome and comfortable setting with the only jarring note coming from some faux tree branches festooned with small white lines that extend into the room.

As it name suggests, Café L’Europe specializes in what used to be called continental cuisine. Like the décor, the menu evokes the past. Among appetizers, diners will find old chestnuts like Escargot Bourguignon ($15.25) and Shrimp Cocktail ($15.25), while main courses include echoes from the past like Chateaubriand for Two ($47 per person), prepared tableside.

A nostalgic pull from my own past drew me to the Tableside Shrimp Pernod ($19.25), which we used to serve in a restaurant where I worked during the eighties. We didn’t do ours tableside, so I enjoyed the drama of this preparation, the sautéing of the two large shrimp, the de rigueur flambéing with flames shooting upward, the final touch of quickly wilted lettuce. It’s fun to enjoy a show put on for you, and our waiter handled it all with panache.

Although the culinary dramatics pleased, the results didn’t quite match. It was an acceptable dish, but large shrimp such as these are usually not as tasty as their smaller brethren, and seasoning lacked. It will leave people feeling the way they do about that nice fellow they work with whose name and face they can never recall.

Photo courtesy Cafe L'Europe

Much more successful was an order of Crab-Stuffed Pequillo Peppers ($19.25), perhaps the best dish of the night. The medium-sized Spanish red peppers tasted smoky and sweet, which combined well with the crab by not overwhelming its delicate flavors. At the same time, the peppers exuded a gentle warmth that hovered in the background and added complexity to the dish.

Brandied Duckling L’Europe ($34.25) stands as a signature dish at the restaurant. It plays a variation on the old standard by introducing Bing cherries and substituting brandy for the sweeter Grand Marnier. It’s a perfectly decent preparation—the skin crisp, the meat sweet and juicy—with no noticeable faults, rather like the restaurant itself—refined and respectable.

An order of Grilled Salmon ($29.25) presented a good-sized slab of the fish cooked just right, slightly medium rare. The blood orange glaze fended off sweetness and along with the kumquat pepper jelly piqued renewed interest in this very familiar fish.

Like the rest of the menu, the dessert choices stayed with the tried and true, with selections like Tiramisu ($8.50) and Chocolate Lava Cake ($8.50). A Chocolate Truffle Torte ($8.50) had a deep, intense flavoring that made it very enjoyable, while an Apple Tart ($8.50) brimmed with slices of apple.

It’s worth noting that Café L’Europe has a good wine list and commendably includes some at the lower end of he price range.

Speaking of prices, Café L’Europe’s are steep, no doubt about it. Diners will need to balance them with the location—it’s prime real estate—and food that is generally well-prepared if not cutting edge.

 

Café L’Europe
431 S. Armands Circle, Sarasota, 388-4415
Open 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m., Mon. – Sat.; 11:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., Sun.

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Last modified: September 13, 2013
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