Warning: this article may contain drooling and enthusiastic expressions of culinary love.
Servandos has opened in the unique space that was Darwin’s last stand in this town. Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr. (second cousins once removed from the baseball legend) is a renowned chef who has cooked around the world feeding A-listers and running a multi-million dollar restaurant concept company.
"So why settle here in Sarasota?" I asked.
“It was time to relax and get away from all the travel and hype of the big cities," DiMaggio explained. “Sarasota already feels like home.”
Having recently dined at The Mill in St. Pete--after which my husband and I longed for a local place to eat sophisticated tapas and creative flatbreads--I'm happy to report that Servandos has granted our wish and then some. The menu reads like a culinary novel--think items like green apple and chives with Prima Donna cheese and Meyer lemon juice ($9), or foie gras and chicken liver mousse with jellied ginger kumquat ($16). There's also Korean short ribs with soy-brown sugar rice wine, miso and scallion ($12); shawarma with mint yogurt, chimichurri flatbread and charcuterie ($18); and options for larger entrees, like miso and raw sugar-crusted sea bass, saffron risotto and wild mushroom consomme ($36).
Every one of these dishes not only worked, but took the flavors and cooking techniques to a new height. Nobu would be proud of Servandos' Chilean sea bass, a spinoff of his classic miso-glazed cod. I never thought I could match the tenderness and delicate flavor of Nobu's dish. Now I have.
And while the plates look like a painter's palette, so does the restaurant itself, which hosts local painters creating art on a stage as you dine. They still need to do a little design work in the space, but no doubt there will be new art work to hang on the walls soon.
To be honest, however, the cuisine is so masterfully on point--and Chef Joe so gregarious and proud of dishes like his grandmother’s stuffed squid with crab and shrimp ($14) and eggs in purgatory (not on the menu but give him a wink and a nod and you may be so lucky to score an order!)--that having a few barren walls is nothing to worry about.
It's very early, but I think this is the one to beat for restaurant of the Year.
Servandos | 1525 Fourth St., Sarasota, FL 34236 | (941) 954-7400