By lindamakowsky March 18, 2011

My wife Colette and I briefly entertained the notion of buying the apartment above Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar in Citrus Square, imagining ourselves lowering a basket, as Colette’s French namesake did when she lived above Le Grand Vefour in Paris, and pulling up dinner—or at least a soufflé for dessert—whenever the craving seized us.

That’s how much we both like this scaled-back and better focused descendant of Zoria.

Pomona opened with great confidence and style over the holidays, managing to offer flawless service and impeccable cooking just two weeks after opening, a time when many restaurants are still finding their legs.

The room itself, lit by tall windows on two sides, is a charming and welcoming mix of traditional and modern. Its well-spaced tables are dressed in white cloths and black napkins and set unfussily with wine stems and flatware. At the back, a wine bar with black stools overlooks a picture window through which chef and his minions may be observed at work, minus the clashing sounds of pots and pans. Another picture window shows off a bit of the wine cellar.

Of course, it is the cooking—here a felicitous blend of French and Italian cuisines, two of the world’s best—that will make or break the enterprise. On that score, Pomona need have no worries at all.

Also commendable is the practice of offering half portions of many main courses, which allows the diner to more perfectly tailor a meal to his or her appetite. We, for example, don’t like to waddle out of a restaurant feeling overfed or, in the alternative, to exit ungracefully schlepping containers of leftovers.

Let’s first take two dishes from the seasonally changing menu that epitomize the special genius of the kitchen at Pomona.

One is an Italian starter, buttermilk gnocchi ($8), which arranges five perfect lozenges of the cheese-rich dumplings on a prim skim of sage brown butter in which delicately browned mushrooms disport. The flavors play in divine counterpoint, each one striking just the right note. Although rich, the dish’s restraint marks it as a savory appetizer rather than as a main course in disguise.

The second exemplar is succulent roast chicken accented with rosemary and lemon and plated with seasonal veggies ($20). But this is not just any chicken. It is a heritage breed bird, a poulet Rouge Fermier du Piedmont, which hails from France but is now bred and raised on a collection of small North Carolina farms in accord with French Label Rouge standards. The rustic breed produces a small chicken, but one in which everything has gone absolutely right: The meat is moist and so full-flavored it astonishes the palate, and the unusually thin skin browns to a delicate snap. The meat from one diminutive whole bird is served here and is just right for one. If I were really hungry, I think I just might be able to dispatch two without doing myself an injury.

Also on our plates that evening were a delightful fresh salad of walnuts, thinly sliced fragrant pear and arugula ($6) and a half-portion main dish of seared sea scallops ($13/$24), which posed two gorgeous and done-to-a-turn scallops aboard two big pillowy ravioli stuffed with rich butternut squash, the whole set off sublimely by more of the sage brown butter that graced the gnocchi. Yum.

Earlier in the evening, as we studied the menu and shared a quartino (amounting to about a glass and a half) of a delightfully flinty white Bordeaux, we overheard our waiter checking with the table next to us on the timing of the chocolate soufflé ($11) they had ordered for dessert. Oh, my! With that, at least one decision had been made for us. (If you ever hear me turn down a soufflé, please dial 911 immediately.) We shared one of the puffy darlings and swooned over its powerfully rich dark chocolate punch wrapped in a sugary cloud. Pure heaven, I tell you, pure heaven.

Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar

481 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota

Reservations: (941) 706-1677

Wine: well designed international list by the glass or bottle

Hours: 5-9:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday

Cards: all major

Handicapped accessible: yes

Parking: on street

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