Street Talk - January 2006

By staff January 1, 2006


Lighting Her Fire

The many sides of plastic surgeon Marguerite Barnett.

Be careful before you generalize; that slim, flowing-skirted fire dancer at the Siesta Key drum circle (or greeting guests at the UnGala) is also a doctor. In fact, Marguerite Barnett is a Harvard-trained plastic surgeon who also operates a Balinese-themed luxury spa. "You can't separate your body from your mind from your soul," Barnett says. Besides, "I don't see a big disconnect. The same skills that make me a good surgeon let me balance flaming things on my head without dropping them."

How do you reconcile your professional training with nontraditional therapies? The hallmark of a good scientist is to have an open mind. I don't see a contradiction.

What's your fascination with Asia? My birth mother was Japanese and my birth dad was American. I was adopted by a military family and lived all over the world. To pay for my education, I ended up going into the military myself for 11 years.

And the spa? When Medicare started cutting reimbursements, I [started] to concentrate on cosmetic plastic surgery. I found that if my patients were stressed, they wouldn't get long-lasting results. So I started providing access to acupuncture, relaxation techniques, yoga etc.

Why fire dancing? Science and technology only take you so far; emotion and mysticism only take you so far. You have to have the two to complement each other. Besides, dance keeps me in good shape. It was my calling-I tracked down my natural parents and discovered my father was a doctor and my mother was a dancer.-Ilene Denton


Florida West Coast Symphony executive director Joseph McKenna plays the trombone, which requires agility and an excellent ear. Those skills may help guide the symphony through a political minefield as Sarasota develops its Cultural District Master Plan.

Q. The City of Sarasota is refining its thinking about the Bayfront Cultural District between Sixth and 10th streets. Where does the symphony fit in?

It's a vital cornerstone. As a community organization, we serve everyone who has interest in music. We employ more than 125 people and have more than 500 volunteers.

Q. You draw from a base of more than a half-million people, but Sarasota itself is a city of 50,000. Some think the city bears an unfair burden in hosting so many cultural venues.

The arts are a significant industry and brand for Sarasota. It would seem logical that we as a community would take the collective steps necessary to ensure [it] continues to prosper.

Q. You were recently criticized by a city commissioner for being "opaque" about your future plans. What are they?

For the cultural district plan to move forward, the city has to determine the future of the Van Wezel. What is the feasibility of a replacement 2,600-seat hall? And how will the new facility be built-is it a city-only effort, a city-county partnership, a regional facility? Only when those questions are answered can we look at whether the symphony should take over the existing Van Wezel.

Q. Some citizens suggest the [proposed symphony] site would better serve as waterfront green space. How important is it for the symphony to remain adjacent to the bay?

The plan the consultants presented gives two options for the symphony: along U.S. 41, and northwest of the Van Wezel on the bayfront. The entire plan is subject to the city commission's review and adoption. Nobody here at the symphony will argue with either location. Certainly the bayfront is the pre-eminent place to be. The fact that we're penciled in on the bayfront, we're delighted. The northwest corner is a viable site, too. We understand we are one component of a complex project.

Q. Nelson Rockefeller once said he learned everything he knew about politics as the chairman of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Have you learned anything about politics as director of the Florida West Coast Symphony?

I think I'll just answer yes. -Stan Zimmerman


Dining off the beaten track with Bob Ardren.

It's a new year-time for affordable new flavors to put a smile on your face and your budget. And some great new flavors have arrived in town.

With the very unlikely name (but then the whole place is perhaps unlikely) of Fly, real Ethiopian cuisine has come to Sarasota. Not only is it good, it's affordable, and on top of that, it's fun. That's because you get to eat with your fingers. Honestly, I don't think there's a fork in the place, an old saloon at 2831 N. Tamiami Trail that, despite its makeover, still caters to New College and Ringling students late at night.

Your plate arrives-and it's a big plate-covered with what looks like a huge flour tortilla on which mounds of food are piled. But that base is a lot better than a flour tortilla. In fact, it's a delicious sourdough flatbread called ingera.

You simply tear off a piece and use it to scoop up dabs of what amount to delicious stews made with fish, beef or chicken. Lots of butter, herbs and vegetables. Entrées start at $7.75 and peak at $11.95 for a combination plate that's a great way to sample lots of dishes. With flatbreads as good as this, wraps are a natural. You'll find them combining everything from honey-baked ham with seasoned butter, parsley and cheese to others with turkey, roast beef (all $5.95) or chicken or tuna ($6.95).

Frankly, Fly isn't fancy, but it's certainly clean. And the Ethiopian operators, Betel Tafesfe and family, couldn't be nicer. Dinner is served Monday to Friday 4 p.m. to midnight and on Saturdays from 6 p.m.

To top it all off, the full bar offers the finest assortment of world-class draft beers I've seen since Paris. Especially note the Belgium ales, including Chimay, and British ciders such as Strong Bow on draft-all at very fair prices, too.

Once you get used to eating with your fingers, it's time to press on to other opportunities. The new Taste of Asia at 1535 Main offers Laotian items on its menu. A childhood favorite of Selina Lum, who, with her husband, Lam Lum, opened Taste of Asia last October, is a marinated beef jerky appetizer. Cut into thick sticks and fried, this jerky is miles better than any you normally find; it's tasty, tender and served with a beautiful straw container of sticky rice.

Take a pinch of sticky rice with one hand and a bite of beef with the other and wow-we're eating with our fingers again. This is turning into good fun.

Lots of Laotian recipes are similar to those of their neighbors the Thai, but spicing is different. For example, everybody's favorite Thai soup, the cream of coconut-based combination of chicken, mushroom and lemon grass, takes on some subtle heat and lemon leaves in the Laotian version.

Taste of Asia also features phos, the beef-based noodle soups (most $5.75), and chicken stock-based soups, including everything from assorted seafood and pork to fish balls ($5.75 to $6.50).

In fact, downtown now has a virtual Pacific Rim of restaurants, and the competition only seems to make them all better. There's no better Thai in town than Tropical Thai at 1420 Main; there's fine sushi at Kiyoshi's Japanese Restaurant at 1537 Main; and Pho Cali at 1578 Main is a first-class and affordable introduction to Vietnamese cuisine.

But let's face it, sometimes you just need to get out of town. Cold beer and a good bar sandwich beckon down the road. For that there's the new incarnation of the 45-year-old Hoosier Bar & Grill at 1635 S. Tamiami Trail in Osprey.

It's new, and now on the other side of U.S. 41, because they built a Wal-Mart atop the old Hoosier location. But a first-class Hoosier Black Angus burger is still $4.75, and if you order it "Atkins style," without the bun, they'll feel sorry for you and throw in a Mich Ultra.

Kitchen is open noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 6 p.m. Sunday. Cold Bud drafts are $1 from noon to 6 p.m. There are pool tables, a dance floor and a DJ on Friday and Saturday nights, plus live music 3 to 9 p.m. Sundays. The Harleys out front are nearly all owned by stockbrokers from Casey Key, and, as far as I'm concerned, that's the new Hoosier's only real drawback-assuming you like old-fashioned roadhouses.


Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond.

Gov. Lawton Chiles' widow, Rhea, their son, Ed, and the Lawton Chiles Foundation are renovating the old Bistro at Island's End restaurant on Anna Maria to offer classes and other opportunities to both residents and visitors. Artist Anne Abgott will teach a workshop there Jan. 16-18. Abgott has a contract with Northlight Publications in Cincinnati for a book on color to be published in 2007 (tentatively titled Mingling, Not Mixing). She's also president of the Florida Watercolor Society, the largest watercolor organization in the country, which will have a show at Art Center Sarasota this fall.

During a meeting between Ringling School president Larry Thompson and Gary Sligar, one of the developers of the Ringling Square complex on Ringling Boulevard and Orange, they discussed the possibility of a Ringling student designing a sculpture for the entrance. Soon a competition was held, and the project awarded to 2005 graduate Matt Mattox, who worked with Bronze Art Foundry in Sarasota to realize the metal sculpture of two figures. Mattox says he saw this as his "opportunity to get kicked into the actual scene, to put my landmark in Sarasota." Sligar, who financed the $40,000 project, says, "This is a win-win-win situation, for the project, the school and the artist, and the city of Sarasota and its residents. We're confident this approach will be duplicated at other future developments."

The past few years have seen a succession of painters and sculptors filling the vacancies left by New College fine art professors Gail Mead and Jack Cartlidge. Now painter Kim Anderson and sculptor Barry Freedland seem secure on tenure tracks. Freedland, who studied at Arizona State University and Tufts, had a one-man exhibition at Manatee Community College Gallery in September. He's a performance artist as well as a sculptor and photographer, and says his commentaries on culture "are a mixture of humor and his audience's self-awareness of the world around them."

Art Center Sarasota has a new director: Jody Huebert-Hamm, who resigned as executive director of the Manatee Players a year ago after raising more than $1 million for a new building and convincing Manatee County Commissioners to pledge $150,000 to their capital campaign. If she can accomplish something similar with the city and county here, it would be a first. Huebert-Hamm says she hopes to "grow community involvement, increasing the funds needed to move the Art Center forward and expand the promotion of local artists." Art Center president Alan Sloan says he's looking forward to her skills with fund raising. "During my term, my greatest disappointment has been the lack of financial support by the general membership," he says.

Correction: The house pictured in November's Art Buzz was incorrectly identified as belonging to Boots Culbertson. It is actually the house of Ann Darling.

Ready to Fly

New rules will liberate city commissioners from many land-use decisions-and give more power to staff.

Pity the poor combat soldier. A steel pot on his head, rations and socks and shelter in his rucksack, ammo and water on the belt, weapon in hand-it all weighs seven tons. Bill Mauldin captured it perfectly in one of his "Willie and Joe" cartoon panels during World War II. In a calm moment, Willie strips off his combat baggage and floats above the mud: "I can FLY!" he says.

Sarasota city commissioners are about to take wing, too, thanks to a change in procedure lifting their "baggage." No longer will commissioners indulge in burdensome deliberations over land use downtown. It's a staff job now.

For decades the huge bulk of commission time was spent on rezonings, variances, special exceptions-the land-use decisions were endless. It should be no surprise that commissioners Lou Ann Palmer and Ken Shelin are veterans of the planning board. Power, in Sarasota and throughout the state, is the ability to influence land use.

So far this liberation of city commissioners from their land-use baggage is only partial. Staff will take over only the downtown, in a zone called the "Community Redevelopment" area, otherwise known as the TIF district.

TIF stands for Tax-Increment Financing, which gives the city huge chunks of county taxes to revive a specific "blighted area." While it might strain the imagination to call downtown "blighted" today, there was a time when the city and county worried about its future. So together they established the TIF, and over time, as downtown surged in taxable value, TIF became a bottomless checking account for the city.

Development in the TIF district has resulted in several heated issues recently-how much money was given to Whole Foods and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, how density was increased from 50 units to as many as 200 units per acre, the fate of the black olive trees, and more. So running the land-use show in the TIF district puts staff in a big driver's seat-and takes commissioners off the firing line.

Here's a fictional example of how it works. The Zog International Korporation (ZIK) wants to build a retail-and-residential tower downtown. ZIK reps go to the planning department at City Hall and receive a checklist and a booklet called the Smart Code. As long as ZIK follows the code and checks all the boxes, it's not required to suffer through public hearings. The approval is automatic, by staff.

"Why should developers have to go through all these hoops?" asks one city staffer who spoke on background. "This frees up the city commission's time for policy issues."

The new downtown Smart Code is highly detailed, with many regulations, and was a product of Andres Duany's remake of downtown zoning. If ZIK wants to deviate from the Smart Code, the planning department can grant "adjustments" of up to about 25 percent from specific requirements. Anything greater would require a trip to the planning board, and its decision could be appealed to the full city commission.

Not all land-use decisions occur in the downtown TIF district, of course. We'll still have the standard neighborhood rezonings and all the rest. But if this new procedure works well, staff power could expand outside the TIF. "We'll see how it works for a year or two," says the staffer. "If it goes well, it may expand."

It's an experiment with potential, but also danger. It enhances the role and power of staff-and of their leader, the city manager. It makes it easier and cheaper for developers like ZIK to fill up downtown with huge buildings that meet all the specs. As usual, the devil is in the details.

With this change, those tiresome public hearings, threats of legal action and political hazards disappear: "I can FLY!" But to where? Suddenly the city commission will have time on its hands while floating above the mud. A cynic might fear "micromanagement. An optimist would hope for "critical wisdom." A realist would think "shorter meetings."

There's a growing debate about the future of the city's form of government. But regardless of what form emerges, this shift of power over important land-use decisions strips commissioners of their historical-if sometimes raucous and time-consuming-role. No longer will elected officials be the hands-on arbiters of downtown land use. And that, by itself, is a major change in our form of government.-Stan Zimmerman

Filed under
Show Comments