That was mostly due to the pedigree of the owners. Before they and their families moved to Sarasota from Washington, D.C., general manager Bruce Pike ran an event production company that put on events at places like the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, and chef Drew Adams had worked at Michelin-starred D.C. restaurants like The Dabney, Plume and Rose’s Luxury. When I first met them, I came away impressed by how serious they were about making Meliora great.
And guess what? It is.
For proof, just order the raw scallops ($19). Sliced wafer-thin and placed in the bottom of a wide-mouthed glass bowl, the bivalves are smothered in a smooth, creamy sauce fortified with discarded bits of more scallop, and then dolloped with basil oil and sprinkled with herbs and flower petals snipped from a bouquet set up near Adams’ chef station. A spoonful delivers a powerful dose of pure scallop. It’s astonishing.
The menu at Meliora is divided into two simple halves—“cold” (where you’ll find those scallops) and “hot”—and the dishes run on the smaller side. The idea is to order a handful of items, share them (or not) and then order more rounds until you’re full.
On the cold side of things, you’ll find mussels ($13) turned plump and meaty in a smoker and sweetened with honey, garlic and olive oil, as well as ground pork ($17) paired with fermented kohlrabi and intended to be placed in lettuce cups and eaten by hand. Colored a deep black, with an ultra-soft, squishy texture, a small loaf of Japanese milk bread ($8) represents a vast improvement over the typical bread basket that hits the table at most restaurants.
If you’re lucky, grab a seat at the chef’s table in the rear. There, you can watch Adams and his team as they meticulously finish each dish with tools like tweezers and small spray bottles that deliver mists of flavor. For an example of the restaurant’s attention to detail, order the fried potatoes ($15). Think you’ll get a pile of French fries? Nope. The staff cuts thin square slices of spuds, stacks them into perfect cubes, then deep-fries them, plating them in a schmear of a slightly sweet Marsala-kissed sauce, with paper-thin mushrooms and dots of a velouté sauce on top. Maitake mushrooms ($16), meanwhile, are sautéed until a bit crispy around the edges and dunked in a cauliflower-inflected mousseline sauce.
For a more substantial entrée, try the duck ($48), which comes with a leg and a breast prepared in two different ways and served with soft buns and an array of condiments and toppings you can mix and match to make small sandwiches. Higher up on the menu, a fried soft-shell crab ($18) receives a similar preparation.
I’ve been to Meliora twice now, and I’m already itching to go back. I haven’t touched the dry-aged fish hanging in the cooler in the rear of the restaurant, the ribeye or the restaurant’s pastas, but all of them are on my to-do list. They should be on yours, too.