A bartender whips up a cocktail with artful flair.

I had admired the lobby at Art Ovation Hotel—downtown's new arts-focused hotel, which also boasts a beautiful rooftop bar—but I must stand and applaud their efforts in the culinary arts, as well. 

While some hotels think of their restaurants simply as another amenity—and, quite frankly, serve a lackluster, country club-style menu, Jack Dusty at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, proved hotel restaurants can stand alone thanks to its beautifully renovated space and a seasonal menu that actually delivers.  Unfortunately, other new hotels have not found their way (aside from taking advantage of a beautiful view).

But Overture, the restaurant at Art Ovation, is becoming another hotel dining destination that's worth a visit—even if you're not a guest at the hotel.

The dining room is coastal-inspired in its decor.

On our first visit we stopped for a cocktail in the lounge, listening to a jazz trio play and watching the bartender create cocktails that were balanced and refreshing. While the lounge space is open and comfortable, the chairs are low, making the reach for your cocktail a bit of a stretch.

Meanwhile, the dining room is coastal-inspired, with lovely flatware and serving dishes. The menu follows the hotel's theme—courses are listed as preludes, interludes and compositions. And it's beautifully directed by its executive chef—aka “conductor”—Dominic Vaccaro.

Warm pull-apart bread is served on skewers.

The domestic charcuterie plate is filled with offerings from American producers.

You get a hint of what's to come when the bread service arrives. The basket is filled with warm, pillowy, pull-apart skewers of the most delicious spiral bread, brushed with sea salt and rosemary. They're just the right start, and totally unique.

Since charcuterie is trending, we started with Overture's domestic version, and what arrived at the table was a painter's palette of flavors—cured meats, cheeses and olives from American artisan producers. I could have stopped there, and no doubt will return just for bread and charcuterie, but there is so much more to enjoy—and we did. 

Overture's "triple grind" burger.

Our server recommended the crispy fried Brussels sprouts with bacon powder and a spicy-sweet Sriracha agave. We ordered them, plus a "triple grind" burger, with house-made beer cheese, caramelized onion, and bacon mayo on a buttery brioche bun, served with some darn good hand-cut fries. We then moved on to the whole fried Snapper, easily enough for two.  Kissed with a soy-ginger glaze, and served with pea shoots and vegetable pad Thai, this dish is packed with flavor; crispy on the outside and moist and delicate on the inside. If you're not into fish on the bone (head and all!), consider the cast-iron-seared jumbo scallops with sweet corn cream and snap pea succotash. And if you're in the mood for something a little lighter, the restaurant offers fresh salads, and you can add on grilled steak, shrimp, grouper and chicken. 

As you can probably guess, we could barely remove ourselves from the comfortable banquette, but opted for one last cocktail on Perspective, the hotel's rooftop bar. The view is lovely and the service is very attentive. More to come on the food there in a few weeks—but until then, Overture is definitely a winner.

Overture at Art Ovation Hotel |1255 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941) 316-0808. Note that there is a $10 valet parking charge; I suggest self-parking in the Palm Avenue parking garage for up to three hours at no charge.

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