Mr CF and I are back home and freezing our proverbial hind ends off, we love visiting our clients in sunny Florida! After checking the boards, adding to one post - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/459360, and discussing the dining scene with the staff at the Ritz, we decided on Derik's, The Table and Michael's on East. Hands down and running away with our hearts and taste buds was Derek's - we even went back for dessert on our last evening.
Here's the run down:
Derek's - Our waitress was Magida, she did a marvelous job, patient, informative, efficient and seemed to enjoy the fact that we were having a great time.
Nice wine list, we had the Cinnabar Cellars - Mercury Rising 2005.
I started with the sweetbreads. Pan seared and served on a smoked cauilflower puree with house cured bacon and an apple conserve. My notes say "wow wow", it was really good.
Mr CF had the campachace - shrimp, scallops tomato cilantro cucumber and chiles. Mr CF said the shrimp were great, he really liked them but they needed a pinch of salt - the popcorn cracker provided some.
We split the house salad caesareque - romaine, parmesan crackers with shaved pecorino. The dressing was a toasted garlic and caramelized anchovy vinegret. We liked this so much that when we went back on Saturday after dinner, Mr CF ordered it again.
Chef Derek came out and talked to us then. I told him that I had read about his place on Chowhound, I mentioned that some had thought it was noisy. He said that when they first opened it was, but since then they have made some improvements to aleviate that. The panels on the wall, pillows on shelves, cushioning under the tables and the rugs on the floor were all part of that effort. I personally think that some noise is fine, the main problem seems to be other diners who forget to use their 'indoor voices'. I also told him that someone had said Derek's was the best place in Sarasota and she used to live in NYC - that was the deciding factor for me, and I was definitely NOT dissappointed. :-)
I had the "Land & Sea". This is my kinda Land and Sea! Not the run of the mill steak and lobster tail but smoked pork in a mustard seed vinegret/sauce, wrapped in a green onion crepe and Grouper cheeks. A toasted peanut slaw and sweet corn rings were the sides. Sweet corn rings - the best kind of state fair food - a fried ring of, well, creamed corn, it was so good. The pork was shredded and chewy (I love brown edges), the sauce sweet and tangy. The whole thing was marvelous.
Mr CF had the Duck 2 Ways, a seared breast sliced with a drizzle of burnt honey jus, a pecan and cracklin crusted duck leg confit with creamed spaetzle and bacon braised greens with (I think) a bit more of the burnt honey jus on them for good measure, on the side. Also marvelous.
We couldn't decide on dessert so we ordered the banana cream custard - ricotta donut vanilla bean braised bananas, the chocolate & guajillo chili pate with passion fruit, black berry, and toasted pistachio, and the cheese plate. The banana cream custard with the ricotta donuts was silly good, oh man good and could I have another good. Holy cow! I didn't try the chocolate but it looked good and the cheese plate was a wonder, especially with the Campbell Tokay.
The best dinner of the trip!
Next was The Table. We got turned around on our way there (missed a street we were supposed to turn on) and then we found the area was like Naples 5th Ave, which isn't bad or anything, we just weren't prepared for the parking issue. So by the time Mr CF parked and made his way back to the restaurant, he was in a bit of a umm... mood. So we started off a bit rocky.
We had a bottle of the Hartford Court Pinot Noir, Lands Edge Vineyard, 2005. Very nice and I'm glad we have this available at home.
We started with the Spainish antipasto platter - Serrano ham, Cantimpalo chorizo, Loma ham slices, manchego, dirty martini olive spread, pineapple chutney and balsalmic glazed almonds. We also had the Spainish cheese platter - more manchego, drunken goat cheese, a blue of some variety (a bit scary looking - like a pressed terrine with un-identified bits, but it was very good), heirloom tomato jam and more balsalmic almonds. Both came with toasts as well. All of it was very good and I especially enjoyed the meats.
I had the Roman ceasar salad, Mr CF had the chopped salad. Both were fine, Mr CF's was a bit sweet.
The highlight of the meal was my pork shank Galiclan with a white bean stew. It was enormous - as in Fred Flintstone size - it was a wonder the table didn't tip, I told our waiter, David "You didn't tell me you were going to bring me a ham!". None the less, I ate almost all of it with some help from the Mr... it was fabulous. So tender, so flavorful, like your grandmother had spent the day stewing it, the perfect thing for a nasty, cold, winter day, with a marvelous, close to the bone, ham flavor. I'm still thinking about it.
Mr CF had another appetizer - shrimp - and they were very good. As you can tell, it was all about the ham!
Our last night was at Michael's on East. I hadn't originally intended to go there, but based on the recommendations we got at the hotel, we decided to try it. They also said to sit in the bar where there is live piano music. It's a neat space, there is also an outdoor area with a glass roof.
They have an extensive wine list, we ordered the Bouchard Findlayson, Hannibale, 2003. It was a very good bottle of wine and since it was my recommendation, I was very pleased. I read about the producer in "Hedonist in the Cellar".
I had American Sturgeon caviar - a very fine caviar - and a glass of Oudinot Champagne. Mr CF had a pate.
Next the East Avenue Ceasar salad, also good. Mr CF had a chopped salad.
For my entree I had the slow roasted duck. It wasn't what I expected based on our waitress's description. I thought it was going to be a tender, pull apart with your fork, crispy skinned joy. I still ate half of it - it was my fault, not theirs.
Mr CF had an aged New York strip, he said it was good.
We wished we had tried the truffled macaroni and cheese, that looked marvelous!
Michael's on East went above and beyond though when they found out I didn't care for my dinner. They apologized and offered to pick up dessert for us. We hadn't planned on dessert though... we just wanted to go. So they comped my duck. We told our waitress they really didn't need to do that, I did eat about 1/3 of it, and I feel badly that they comped it anyway.
I also feel badly that we probably won't go back next time we're in Sarasota. Maybe we shouldn't have sat in the bar... the piano music was getting on our nerves - the Liberace flourishes, the Neil Diamond songs, the women sitting at the piano - it just wasn't for us. The pianist, Joe, is talented though and he does have a nice voice. Our table was too small, the water, the wine and the accompaning glasses, the bread and our food didn't fit - our wine ended up being decanted and set on a plate on the bench beside me.
I want to like Michael's, but I wouldn't go back. They really did try, it's just not the kind of place I like. I had a N. Diamond song stuck in my head when we left, the first thing I did when we got the car was to turn on the radio. Found a station playing Beck's "Loser" and sang it at the top of my lungs on our way to Derek's - "'cause I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?"
but not before I have another banana cream custard with a glass of Tokay...
So that's what we did. We went back to Derek's, Mr CF had another fabulous ceasar, I had the cheese plate and we split the banana cream custard. This time I did share it with Mr CF! It was as good the second time as it was the first.
Sarasotians! And Everyone Else! Go to Dereks! Eat, drink, be Merry!
Thanks for reading my book! Thanks to everyone who posted regarding Sarasota - it was a big help!