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Restaurant Reviews: New spots for Valentino and Tandoor

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fdfood11bExpanding or moving an established restaurant can be a risky business, even when there’s a devoted base of fans willing to seek out the new place. That hasn’t stopped two Sarasota restaurants from taking the risk, however, both opening in the very same plaza.

Valentino has served pizza, pasta and other Italian favorites on Clark Road for almost a decade, combining a lively and bright interior with cuisine that attracts families who want a step up from the usual red sauce and slices. A few months back, the restaurant opened a second location in University Park, just on the other side of I-75 from Lakewood Ranch.

If you’re familiar with the original Valentino, you’ll recognize the look the instant you step into the place. It’s a big, airy room with high ceilings and a combination of industrial and classic design. There’s an open kitchen along the back wall, a long counter on the right side and – different than the original – a sizable bar area facing the parking lot.

The food will also ring the same bells for fans of Valentino. If you haven’t tried it before, you should, as long as you know what to expect going in. Call Valentino’s cuisine robust and you’ll have the right idea, each dish rich, salty, often loaded with garlic and featuring a little more of everything than is absolutely necessary.

That results in sandwich concoctions like Mimmo’s Steak ($10), which is piled high with beef, Italian hot peppers and sauteed mushrooms, plus a bountiful layer of deep-fried potato slices. To cap it off, the fillings are served on bread that holds enough butter and garlic to almost serve as a meal in itself. Tasty, but it’s a lot of sandwich.

That exuberance works wonders on an often tired staple like pasta fagioli ($5.90). Here, the soup is rich, deeply flavored and meaty, thanks in large part to the many whole cloves of sweet roasted garlic you’ll find hidden among the beans and pasta.

Like the soup, the pasta here also often benefits from the kitchen’s heavy hand with herbs, seasonings and garlic, and like the sandwiches, the servings are big enough to feed multiple people.

Valentino’s pizza has always been a winner thanks to crust that has a little snap and a little chew and a more subdued hand with the toppings than you’ll find on the rest of the menu, as long as you stay away from the restaurant’s more imaginative pies. Any entree involving eggplant is a good bet, as is the Chicken Murphy ($16.50), which features the same hot peppers and fried potatoes as Mimmo’s Steak.

Tandoor special biryani, with basmati rice, chicken, lamb, shrimp, eggs, saffron, nuts and raisins is served at Tandoor restaurant in Sarasota. (H-T Archives)

Tandoor special biryani, with basmati rice, chicken, lamb, shrimp, eggs, saffron, nuts and raisins is served at Tandoor restaurant in Sarasota. (H-T Archives)

Instead of opening a second location, Tandoor – the area’s longest-running Indian restaurant – picked up stakes and moved away from its dark and dreary former home to University Parkway. The new place is brighter and bigger – with a pretty curtained and cushioned alcove in the middle and a long bar – and the food has remained exactly the same.

That means biryani ($14-$21) – essentially Indian fried rice – that’s a little bland and light on the raisins and cashews that add depth; Tandoori chicken ($14) that manages to be rich and dry at the same time; and standard but tasty dishes like saag paneer ($14) and chicken tikka ($17).

What Tandoor does best are the breads, like naan ($2.95) that’s blistered perfectly from the walls of the Tandoor oven, or domes of puffy, crisp poori ($5). The restaurant’s vindaloo ($15-$20) packs a serious punch and the dal ($11) – stewed lentils – has more flavor than you’ll often find in this simple dish.

The best part of both Tandoor’s move and Valentino’s second location is that nothing has changed except an address. In the words of Buckaroo Banzai, “wherever you go, there you are.”

VALENTINO
8203 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Parkway
359-6400, valentinopizzeria.com


TANDOOR
8453 Cooper Creek Blvd., University Parkway
926-3077, tandoorsarasota.net

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Brian Ries

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