Synopsis of review: Not ready for prime time -- a few gems, disappointing service – approach with caution.
We’re year-round Sarasota residents, and serious foodies, eating out 3-4 times a week. Reports on the State Street Eating House were good, so we went, taking out of town visitors with us.
They don’t take res for less than 6 people, but they do offer to let you “call ahead” for preferred seating—simply call and let them know you are coming. Which we did, but no one answered the phone; we went to voicemail at 6:30 on a Tuesday night. And when we mentioned it to the hostess on arrival, no, she hadn’t received the message and was simply puzzled that she hadn’t heard the phone. It was the first of many puzzled looks we would receive during our lengthy dinner time.
The menu, on line and in person, was enticing. Nice website, nice descriptions—many things we wanted to try!
Wine: decent list, pricing is OK. Cocktails. Good, but frustrating to watch people behind the bar wash dishes and dish with customers there while we waited 20+ minutes for a simple martini. Which was a less than full martini glass for $11 – a bit expensive for the size—obviously, using shots to measure their pours.
Staffing was odd and disorganized. We had at least 4 different people that took drink and food orders, delivered food, stopped by the table, took requests – and it seems that none of them talked to each other. The term “disjointed and random” is a kind description of the “group” service that the owner/chef explained with pride.
But on to the food. Some good, some disconcerting.
They had large plates, starters, “snacks”, sides, etc. Being an adventurous group, we put together things that appealed from various categories.
The chopped butter lettuce salad was attractively presented, though primarily crisp romaine with lots of ribs; not one discernable leaf of tender butter lettuce. Did they think we wouldn’t know the difference? It was fresh and enjoyable, though the dressing was nondescript.
Fried okra with white truffle oil. Great concept. Delivered as whole fried okra, in a brown paper bag on a wooden slab It was saturated with grease to the point that you held the bag up and it literally dripped. And not with truffle oil. It lacked even the much-anticipated heavenly scent of truffle oil.
House cured wild salmon gravlax. Sounded great. Arrived and was a deep red color. Texture was more mushy than firm. 2 people tasted it; we discussed the possible issue of food poisoning, and decided not to continue. We expressed concern and were informed that it was cured with beet juice (could that have been mentioned on the menu or by the server? It would definitely have affected our selection.) The server was sorry that it was “not a preparation you preferred,” and removed it. Though a rejected dish, it was not removed from the bill.
Roasted sweet potato with goat butter was a hit—both people who ordered it liked it, a simple ½ sweet potato served in the skin. American green beans, served still delicately crisp, also well received.
Then, the “house pickles”. Served attractively in a 3-compartment dish. Can I just say that when I read “pickles” I do think of cucumbers being pickled? Of course, there are “pickled” many things, but the term by itself usually connotes cucumber pickles. Not a one in sight. There were pickled beets, some kind of bean, onions, and whole okra. Very strong vinegar taste, not unpleasant. But not a cuke in sight. So many options—lime pickles, butter pickles, dill, gherkins, etc etc. Again, the menu descriptions were misleading at best, delivering disappointment in more than one selection. A simple “pickled offerings” or some broader term would have sufficed to set different expectations—and have elicited a question. Caveat emptor.
Onion rings – crisp, tender, indeed exceptional, some of the best we’ve had here in Sarasota.
Grilled fresh sardines—greatly enjoyed by our guest, who rarely sees them on a menu.
Hamburger. Server said it was a 6oz burger. It cooked down to what looked like a burger about ½ inch thick, served on a flat bun, three times the size of the burger (the bun,1/2 of which had a burned bottom) The chef said it was Kobe beef (again, not on the menu; don’t know where that came from.) But topped with strongly flavored, overpowering American cheese. Not a good pairing. And for the price ($13.50), it came with only condiments and pickled onions and cucumber strips on the burger, nothing else. Fortunately, our guest had ordered the onion rings as a side, or the disappointing burger would have been alone on that plate.
Wild salmon. Ordered medium, came well done and a bit dry, but it was OK and well seasoned. The “baby arugula” served under the salmon looked like spinach The “hashed gold potatoes” were like mini French fries—again, brown with retained oil, mushy, soaked through and not really edible. When queried, the server said “they usually don’t look like that.” So maybe sometimes they are firm, crisp, and delightful.
And finding “our” server, ANY server, often a challenge, though one person, Jess, who was also a cook (baseball cap gave it away) was engaging, knowledgeable and responsive when she was in the dining room. Our first server, a man with a jaunty bow tie, became increasingly distant and non communicative as the night progressed. Fortunately, others stepped into the breach. After we were finally able to flag him for the check, he did deliver it, but without so much as a grunt or a thank you, which would have been a nice touch. With all the people involved, the room felt oddly understaffed.
We did decide to go elsewhere for dessert.
Overall, the place is busy (it is new) and has a very active bar. It is attractive in an industrial chic way (though a bit of noise-dampening insulation, sound baffles, or whatnot to absorb the din would have made conversation less difficult. If a few things are tweaked and addressed, it could be a restaurant worth recommending--
1. If the frustrating and disorganized service is better managed (or managed at all--no one seemed to be in charge or directing the “big” service picture, and the chef endorsing the “group service” concept only validates the skit-skat, haphazard approach to service delivery.)
2. If the menu were better written to actually describe the “innovative” elements so diners know what is actually in the dishes, and can receive what they think they are ordering. Failing that, if the servers explained unusual preparations.
3. If the fryolator for okra and potatoes was at the proper temp to fry without delivering oil-soaked items.
Sarasota needs interesting new restaurants, and this one has a lot of potential; we hope to hear that it addresses some of its issues. If you go – take a leisurely approach, and do ask for descriptions as you order.