The main idea behind the menu at Bridges Restaurant, which sits on the eighth floor of Sarasota’s Embassy Suites hotel, is to take dishes with French or Italian origins and incorporate flavors and ingredients that you see more frequently in Latin America and the Caribbean. One delicious example: the lime risotto that sits underneath a handful of sweet, plump seared scallops in one dinner entrée ($33). Good risotto is thick and sticky, but the unusual acid and sharpness of the lime cuts through the richness like a sharp blade. An ideal example of what can happen by mashing together cuisines, it will give you a new perspective on risotto, something I hadn’t thought possible.
The restaurant’s chicken Milanese ($24) offers another twist on Italian comfort food. The plate features a wedge of thin fried chicken with a crackling crust set beneath a heap of peppery arugula. The dish traditionally comes with sliced tomatoes and lemon wedges on the side, but Bridges instead serves those tomatoes chopped and tossed with shallots, with a lemon vinaigrette sprinkled around. The result is more like chicken Milanese topped with pico de gallo—Milan meets Mexico City.
Such remixes are the product of having a kitchen staffed by cooks from places like Colombia, Peru and (in the case of executive chef Ricardo Rojas) Argentina. The menu has already been overhauled twice since the hotel opened last December, with another changeover in the works.
The restaurant's team spirit extends to the bar selection, a list of specialty cocktails devised by Rojas, manager Catherine McCurdy and the restaurant’s bartenders. The martinis ($12) are icy and wonderful, while the more inventive specialty drinks ($10-$12) provide a playful blend of smoky and sweet.
All of them taste better while admiring the stunning views of downtown Sarasota, so be sure to ask for a table by a window. You can gaze out toward the barrier islands or observe boats puttering around behind Unconditional Surrender. Less romantic, but perhaps more interesting, is the overhead view of the construction of The Ritz-Carlton Residences happening just across U.S. 41. Watching cranes rotate back and forth, lifting pipes, while workers pour concrete and push dirt around is like seeing a Richard Scarry Busytown panorama come to life.
Bridges is liveliest in the evenings, when hotel guests gather in the bar after a day in the sun or stuck in a conference room before sitting down for dinner or heading out on the town. But it also makes for a wonderful getaway in the middle of a workday. On one summer Thursday, my wife’s burger ($18) was slightly overcooked and my mahi-mahi sandwich ($19) had too much salt, but lunch in the quiet bar area, with seats facing the restaurant’s towering windows, felt like an escape, however brief, from the pressures of the workweek. Call it a mini-staycation.