The average consumer spends more than $2,500 eating at restaurants each year, according to the US Department of Labor. That’s a lot of fast food, grouper sandwiches and special occasion meals. In the Sarasota area, thanks to a thriving restaurant scene that runs the gamut from cheap eats to award-winning bistros, it may be even more.
Here at the Herald-Tribune, we see it as our duty to help our readers make informed decisions about where they want to spend their dining dollars. That’s what a good portion of the Food & Wine section is about. It’s also why we review restaurants.
With so many excellent restaurants in the area, reviews act as one way to help people make decisions about where to eat. They can highlight owners, chefs and managers who strive to do more for their patrons, or provide a unique culinary experience. Reviews can also cast a spotlight on restaurants that food-fans are talking about, but might not be living up to the hype. At their core, they provide context, so that readers can see where a restaurant fits in to the larger dining scene.
For the past decade Herald-Tribune readers have been well served by Jack Winner, who reviewed over 500 restaurants in the area during his tenure, from greasy spoons to high-end affairs. His term as restaurant critic has ended, but that doesn’t mean we’re stopping our reviews.
I’ll be stepping into that role.
I have some qualifications – I’ve managed restaurants in the area, passed the advanced level of the Master Sommelier program (which tests knowledge of wine, spirits and restaurant service) and can cook for a dinner party – but my real experience comes from reviewing and writing about restaurants on the Gulf Coast for the past eight years. I know the area restaurant scene well and, as anyone who read my reviews for Creative Loafing here in Sarasota and in Tampa can tell you, I am free with both sharp criticism and ebullient praise, when called for.
Along with a new reviewer comes a job for the readers. My reviews will begin appearing in next week’s Food & Wine section (and here on ticketsarasota.com) and I encourage you to check them out and let me know what you think. We’ll take some of the comments about the reviews – whether they agree or disagree with my opinion – and feature them in print and online, so readers can have a wider view of the restaurants we review.
That’s your job. Eat and comment, please.
In the meantime, here are a few first looks at recently opened restaurants, downtown Sarasota’s Made and Southgate Mall’s Ziti.
FIRST LOOK: MADE
With a soft opening last week and a quiet opening weekend, Made (1990 Main St., Sarasota, 953-2900) entered the crowded downtown Sarasota dining scene. It’s in the former home of Brasserie Belge and looks largely the same, albeit with a few new design features on the walls, featuring corrugated metal panels cleverly painted to resemble the US flag, rich wood accents and a refurbished bar.
The food, however, is markedly different.
Made is the brainchild of Mark Woodruff and Michael Ripatranzone. Woodruff was a involved in Two Senoritas, then spent some time opening White Buffalo Saloon. Now, he spends his time in Made’s kitchen.
His menu is heavy on reimagined American comfort foods, elevated and elegant but with some serious spice. The corn dogs are wrapped in bacon and dipped in cornmeal batter, with ketchup made in-house. Wings are confit duck fried crisp and slathered in Made’s peach barbecue sauce. Chicken and waffles – which seem to be making a slight resurgence in the area – come with meat brined in buttermilk and Cholula hot sauce and a waffle seasoned with black pepper.
There are also more relaxed entrees, like rock fish seared until the skin is crisp, served with a tomato beurre blanc and a hefty grit cake; steak and eggs made with shaved ribeye and greens; and an airline breast of chicken stuffed with goat cheese and served with roasted potatoes.
Currently only open for dinner (lunch will come soon, apparently), Made serves until 1 a.m. every night it’s open, a boon for late-night eaters who might want an option other than the late-night menu at Melange.
FIRST LOOK: ZITI
Ziti (3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 706-1281, zitisarasota.com) recently took over the former Cosimo’s space in Westfield Southgate Mall, adding some ethnic diversity to the space. The restaurant bills itself as Italian, American and Asian, which shows more on the menu than in a redecorated interior that has a sort of generic modern elegance.
The food ranges between takes on pan-Asian standards like pot stickers, edamame and miso-crusted haddock to modern Italian pasta dishes and entrees like chicken Marsala. The two cultures do mix in a few fusion flourishes, like the use of parmesan and wasabil aioli with fried calamari, or pesto-crusted grouper sauced with a Thai chili beurre blanc.
If even that relaxed ethnic combination scares your taste buds, there’s also some standard American fare, like steak, burgers and a BLT, as well as some flatbreads graced with sausage, shrimp or tomato and avocado.
Perhaps the best part of Ziti is the comfortable bar tucked into the back, where you can kick back with a cocktail before, during or after foraging for goods in the mall proper.
Ziti is open for lunch and dinner all week.