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Restaurant Review: Ziti

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When I was a young kid with a first job inside Sarasota Square, the connection between malls and food started to solidify. That’s when the food court phenomenon took off with a vengeance, giving shoppers a myriad of dining options to go along with the cornucopia of retail stores. No need to leave the building – all your needs are provided for.

For some reason, though, Southgate Mall never really adopted the food court model. There have been restaurants – Toojays and Cosimo’s for most of recent memory – but other dining options failed to thrive. Maybe it was intentional, since Southgate has always attempted to maintain an aura of luxury that fast food Chinese and cardboard pizza from Sbarro’s can’t match. Sak’s and snacks? Maybe not.

Earlier this year, Ziti opened in the former Cosimo’s space, with a design and culinary aesthetic that matches the upscale mall philosophy.

Despite the name, Ziti is only partially Italian. The menu is a mishmash of pan-Asian dishes, Italian classics, American standards and the occasional crossover fusion creation. That means you can have seared tuna with wasabi, ginger and sriracha sauce alongside mussels and clams in saffron broth, or gorgonzola penne with Vietnamese scallops.

fwZITI27On the whole, Ziti’s kitchen executes this international culinary tour with precision and skill. Those wasabi scallops are huge and perfectly seared – outside crusty, inside tender and sweet. The accompanying sauce is too creamy for the scallops, with very little wasabi bite to cut through the richness, but the core of the dish is superb.

Same with the restaurant’s soups, including asparagus-shiitake bisque and tomato bisque, both a touch too heavy on the cream but with enough flavor for the ingredients to shine through.

Ziti also makes flatbread, most of which are a welcome departure from the normal pizza tropes. One is scattered with slices of smooth, ripe avocado, thinly sliced tomatoes and plenty of roughly chopped basil while another is a riot of color from shredded carrots, snap peas, bean sprouts, chicken and Thai peanut sauce. The flatbread itself is crisp and has some chew, easily standing up to the thoughtful amount of toppings on each.

Ziti’s bone-in ribeye is striped with grill marks, but the interior is not reliably medium rare and the surface is underseasoned. Still, the accompanying mashed potatoes are creamy and seasoned just right, and the side of asparagus is perfect. Haddock is roasted with a kalbi and miso glaze, giving the tender white fish sweet and smoky overtones that extend to a pile of hearty buckwheat soba noodles underneath. The whole plate comes across as almost, but not quite, too sweet.

That sweetness and the too-rich aspects of some of the other dishes may be a calculated effect thanks to Ziti’s location, an appeal to the lowest common denominator considering the wide swathe of potential diners who walk in for a bite after shopping at Pottery Barn or Chico’s. What makes Ziti so effective is that the dishes are more toned down than dumbed down.

That also explains the redesigned interior, which is pleasant enough but a bit generic and innocuous. Ziti’s best feature is the full bar hidden in the back. It has a plush, clubby atmosphere that makes it seem miles away from the commercial hustle and bustle outside. The beer selection isn’t bad and there’s a daily happy hour with $4 well drinks, $3 house wine and $5 small plates. I suspect a lot of grumpy shopping companions will slip their companions and find their way there.

Ziti’s food is high-end and interesting, but still accessible. The atmosphere and decor are blandly beautiful. And the service is easily more polished and professional than you'd expect from a typical mall restaurant. Basically, Ziti has nailed its location and given Southgate a restaurant that seems to match the mall’s target clientele.

Now, if only the mall’s owners can find a store to fill the coming Sak's Fifth Avenue departure, they'll be on a roll.

Ziti
3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
706-1281, zitisarasota.com
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Brian Ries

Brian Ries is the editor of ticketsarasota.com.
Last modified: September 13, 2013
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