Sarasota Notes (Part Two)
Lunch with a friend at the bleak branch of First Watch on South Tamiami. There’s another First Watch downtown. This is a rapidly-expanding chain, with an all-day breakfast-type menu, such as eggs and waffles. We had alleged frittatas. Expect mediocrity and you won’t be disappointed.
Drove over to Boca Raton for a celebratory dinner with family at the local outpost of the Capital Grille. Busy and noisy the night before Valentine’s Day (except we had a sheltered booth), faux-clubby atmosphere. Not imaginative cooking, but excellent ingredients simply prepared. We had a halibut special with crab-infused couscous, a slab of grilled ahi on gingered rice, and sides of frites and green beans sautéed with onions and tomatoes. The service was attentive without being obsequious. Not inexpensive (of course), but rather good value.
We did some cooking in our rented condo. We enjoyed the previously-frozen wild white shrimp from Whole Foods, which we pan-fried in olive oil. Another day, seeking perfection, we bought fresh, never-frozen pink shrimp. They were nowhere near fresh (strong smell and iodine taste) and many were broken. On a later visit, the manager of the fish section was unapologetic. He said that the best way to determine freshness is to smell the shrimp, which was not exactly news, but it never occurred to us to ask Whole Foods for a sniff before buying. Now we know. The manager said they get them fresh on Tuesday and Friday, so we tried again on a Tuesday but they hadn’t received a delivery. The cheeses at WF are excellent; our single favorite is cave-aged Emmenthal. We eschewed the overpriced vegetables there, some of which are in poor condition anyway.
We’re very impressed with Publix supermarkets. They had excellent cold cuts in the deli section, superb USDA choice filets at $11.99 a pound (!), fresh vegetables and salad greens (top marks for arugula), and mouth watering nectarines from Chile. Their rotisserie chicken is delicious – we bought it twice - and a bargain at about $7.50 for a whole bird. The Oaks barbecue is rubbish in comparison, and rubbish in any event.
Bread. At home we bake our own. In Sarasota, we had problems. Whole Foods has an uninspired selection, some of it sourced from Bavarian Bakery. At the Bavarian Bakery store on South Tamiami the best of the lot was a nearly tasteless whole wheat loaf. Publix has its line of unwrapped so-called artisan breads; a multigrain and “harvest bread” were better than the Bavarian breads. Almost all the bread at Panera is crap – what they call a miche is a disgrace – but they have a remarkable whole- grain baguette with a crisp, dense crust and rich, chewy crumb. Of course, the texture was nothing like a white-flour baguette, but it was by far the most satisfying loaf that we found.
A fascinating aspect of review boards is the inconsistency of opinions. In two reviews dated within a few days of each other, one will say that the meal and service were fit for an emperor, and another will say that that the food was swill and the place was a cesspool. The reviews of Selva Grill were consistently positive, almost all five-star. So we went there.
Selva Grill is undoubtedly a good restaurant, with an unusual and interesting Peruvian fusion menu. We had the tuna-watermelon ceviche, a green salad, the acclaimed skirt steak, and the swordfish. The flavors and colors are intense. They lose points for the steak, which had some large lumps of unchewable gristle. And the swordfish was certainly edible, but, dare I say, seemed not fresh or perhaps not well maintained, with a strange, slightly gamy taste.
The reviews of Ceviche Tapas are examples of inconsistency. We really liked the energetic room and the food. The atmosphere is casual of course, so this isn’t fine dining. The service was friendly and a bit sloppy, but that’s OK in context. We had the excellent house ceviche, a sparkling house salad, grilled snapper sautéed with onions, the delicious grilled shrimp with romesco sauce, a side of grilled vegetables (don’t bother), and the totally satisfying bread pudding. The dessert was big enough for two or three to share, with caramelly bread, two scoops of ice cream and some fresh berries. Highly recommended.
Ophelia was an upscale choice. It was too cold to eat outside, but we had a perfect table for two in the corner at the window. The full moon shone down on the bay. The room was busy and energetic (Saturday night). The service was well-informed and attentive. We had lobster posole soup; a delicious variant of a caprese salad, made with fried green tomatoes and first-rate mozzarella; grilled shrimp with a tangle of vegetables, served over so-so linguini; and the duck. The menu lists it as duck three ways: grilled breast, barley risotto with confit (top marks for this), and foie gras toasts. Your correspondent does not eat foie gras, so they obligingly left it off and doubled the grilled breast. They serve a small loaf of warm crusty bread baked with roasted garlic within. The bad news is that the bread is sourced from Country Hearth, and not sold at retail. Ophelia deserves its commendations.
During our month in Sarasota we did not eat at any Chinese, Japanese, Thai. Mexican, pizza or steak places. Maybe next time.