I ADMIT THAT ONE REASON I booked a table at the new downtown Sarasota restaurant called Element was to see if a bowl of rice could possibly be worth $64. The short answer is no. Not even half that much, which is what the accommodating manager charged me when I made my observations about the dish to the server, who was probably sorry she asked, “Is everything all right?”
Of course, the pricey element in the Element wild mushroom risotto is truffles, in this case black truffles, those dusky balls of gourmet gold that some chefs keep under lock and key.
The truffle nuggets in Element’s wild mushroom risotto were, in fact, shaved and thinly peeled onto the arborio rice and mushroom blend in a way that was generous enough for me to pick up and savor. But the rice mixture was gummy rather than creamy, and there was only one kind of wild mushroom, in two colors. The pieces of leek in the mixture were big enough to disturb the texture, and there was no discernible cheese or salt in the broth. Two tiny orange edible flowers added color, and the bowls and plates that Element uses (in dark, earthy, swirling patterns) upped the interest of an otherwise bland and unsatisfying rendition of risotto. Given its price, maybe this dish needs to be retired until it can be perfected.
Element, headed by co-owner and executive chef Nik Tarantik, who’s also executive chef and co-owner at Duval's, one of my favorite seafood haunts and half a block away on Main Street, defines itself as a modern Mediterranean grill. It features dishes from sun-kissed lands such as Italy, southern France and islands such as Ischia. Look for familiar whole roasted branzino (market price), grouper (also market price), lemon-thyme chicken, arancini (this version of Sicilian street food is made with Gorgonzola and pea tendrils for $14), caprese, braised pork with cannellini beans or antipasto.
Two entrées on the menu that my guest and I considered were not available when we visited, nor was our first wine selection. But the bison osso bucco was ideal in every way, and if we had been provided with a little fork or spoon to scoop out the bone marrow it would have been even better. Two kinds of butter (citrus and peppercorn) came with a nice loaf of chewy Tuscan bread.
The menu includes a hefty steak and chops section. Priced from $30 to $99, the selection includes filet, strip, a 38-ounce Tomahawk ribeye, wild boar chop, lamb chop and a 12-ounce bone-in center cut veal chop. Options for steak and chop toppings are intriguing. I’d go for the bone marrow and Calvados blend or maybe the Barolo demi.
Another meat option, one that serves four to six people, is a roast suckling pig with apples, figs and shallots for $238. The photo of this one would be worth sharing on social media. Sides at Element are ordered separately, with choices such as rabe, charred radicchio, potato purée, or linguini with oil just a few. Price range is $8-$16.
Traditional pasta recipes (Bolognese, pumpkin ravioli, shrimp fettuccine), and a section of appetizers/small plates are especially appealing. We tried the swordfish and crab cakes made with potato and served with fig jam and a tiny mound of Osetra caviar ($20). It was mild and had more potato-forward flavor than either the fish or shellfish. But it was tasty, with nice textural contrast. Other possibilities from this part of the menu are grilled octopus with chilies ($18), steak tartare ($16), or roast bone marrow.
Desserts are house-made and include a deconstructed tiramisu, a lovely Tuscan apple cake with a puddle of creme fraiche to the side, panna cotta or a selection of gelato flavors.
The ambiance at Element is supper-club glamorous, with plenty of modern crystal chandeliers, a candle wall and a comfortable arrangement of booths and tables. It’s white-cloth dining here, with background music. A handsome bar divides the two dining spaces. The serving staff is knowledgeable and anticipates your needs and wants. And because this is a new and evolving restaurant, Element staff and management want your observations, so if you dine there by all means provide feedback. Element aims to become a prized fixture of the downtown fine dining scene.
ELEMENT | 1413 Main St., Sarasota | (941) 724-8585) Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4:30-11 p.m.; handicapped accessible; reservations; valet parking