The menu at Servandos is self-described as “pan American,” but it’s really all over the place, with Asian, French, American bistro and other culinary concepts competing for attention in chef Joe DiMaggio’s lively open kitchen.
The focus is Latinish and the best part of the menu highlights hot and cold tapas with selections such as ceviche ($15). The foie gras and chicken liver mousse is light as whipped cream; it comes in a glass jar capped with a layer of jellied ginger kumquat and served with planks of grilled baguette. Topnotch and well worth having again at $16.
The same can be said for the mini lamb meat loaves, four to a plate. They were rich and moist and flavorful. And the octopus was a hit. A glistening huge tentacle was arched over a bed of greens and lemon-scented potatoes and garnished with puddles of refreshing pesto on the white plate. Completely delicious, and the potato was a nice surprise ($16).
Short ribs ($12), wild mushroom grits ($9), salt cod croquettes, empanadas with smoked brisket and foie gras, stuffed squid, salads, flatbreads, tuna tartare and a charcuterie plate are all on the hot and cold tapas portion of the menu, and this is where chef DiMaggio shines. The well-traveled chef has a spectacular resume in culinary arts and is a welcome addition to the Sarasota scene, but the menu here still needs refining.
The entrées are dull compared to the tapas, with items such as roasted lemon chicken with roasted potatoes (yawn, $22) or grilled salmon on top of more roasted potato ($26). Ribeye for two with assorted sauces at $65 might be excellent, but you could find it at a steakhouse. Sea bass with risotto at $36 seems a stretch in terms of pricing, although the risotto does have saffron and wild mushroom broth in the mix. My soft-shell crab paella was cold when I got it; the batter on the crab had gone limp and the paella had congealed. At $30, it was a disappointment.
Which brings me to the service. Our entrées arrived one at a time, with about five to 10 minutes in between trips to our table. We had to ask for our tapas dishes to be cleared. We ordered a bottle of red wine and got white. Silverware disappeared and wasn’t replaced. And twice during our dinner, staffers came by auctioning off plates of food. “Did you order the short ribs?” It all speaks to a lack of training.
The restaurant often features live music, and the musicians were talented, but the Servandos building (which formerly housed Darwin’s on Fourth) is acoustically unhelpful. A cavernous edifice of stone, metal and tile, the building makes conversation over dinner difficult, but conversation with music cranked up high is positively hurtful.
Here’s how to maximize your experience at Servandos. Order tapas. Sit at the bar if you want to dance or just listen to music. Pick a night without music if you want a leisurely meal and conversation with others. Enjoy a glass of wine, beer or a craft cocktail, because the bar is fine and so is life in Sarasota.
The Verdict: Servandos is a happy place to go as a group and order lots of tapas to pass around. Great bar. Loud (good) music, erratic service. Fun open kitchen where you can watch chef Joe DiMaggio get creative.
1525 Fourth St., Sarasota. (941) 954-7400
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Reservations accepted; full bar; live music on weekends
Credit cards: all major cards accepted