Sarasota's 10 Best Great Beginnings

By staff April 1, 2006

Beach Bistro's Death by Fois Gras will send you straight to heaven, and what a way to go. Seared Hudson Valley foie gras tops a savory brioche bread pudding and is garnished with a vanilla-bean and sauterne reduction, nutmeg Anglaise and aged balsamic vinegar, artfully reduced. Brace yourself with some chilled Pineau des Charentes (fruity and fortified with cognac), and prepare to see the Pearly Gates. 6600 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. (941) 778-6444.

When's the last time you enjoyed the subtle flavors of roasted quail? Proprietor Jean-Pierre Knaggs of the Bijou Café jokes that this new addition to his menu is a "United Nations of appetizers." Sharing the plate with Spanish chorizo, Swiss chard, American corn, curried spinach spaetzle from Germany and a sublime sauce Soubise, the English quail is a delectable treat to savor. 1287 First St., Sarasota. (941) 366-8111.

Foodies know that "W" stands for wasabi, the pungent Japanese condiment used in dressings, sauces and marinades. Chef Shane Dabney at Café 1660 dresses his lightly battered shrimp tempura with a creamy but piquant wasabi aioli and serves it up in a stylish martini glass. Perfect with a crisp chardonnay, this spicy delight will leave your sinuses clear and your palate satisfied. (Inside the Ramada Inn), 1660 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. (941) 918-2610.

Cervantes' Don Quixote waxes poetic over Manchego cheese, a tangy sheep's milk cheese from Spain's La Mancha region. You might spout poesy, too, when you sample Cru Bistro and Wine Bar's Artisan Cheese Sampler, a creative mix of cheeses from around the world. The cheeses are accompanied with Marcona almonds and membrillo-a paste made from quince jelly that will make your palate quiver with bliss. 1377 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 951-6272.

Called the queen of cheeses, the rich and fruity brie is perfect as an appetizer or dessert. Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar makes its breaded brie appetizer fresh daily, marrying the creamy lusciousness of this French farmhouse cheese with the distinctive flavors of almonds, cilantro and jalapeño jelly, all in a delicate crust. Accompany this with a sweet Riesling or saucy pinot noir and you might just decide to proceed straight to dessert. 2001 Siesta Drive, Sarasota. (941) 358-9463.

Only hardcore fans know to ask for the brie and duck quesadillas at Greer's Grille because, oddly, it isn't on the menu. The ubiquitous quesadilla rises to a new level of elegance when lightly toasted tortillas are filled with tender pieces of crispy, grilled duck and luscious, creamy brie. Definitely something to crow-make that quack-about. 6566 Gateway Ave., Sarasota. (941) 926-0606.

What happens when you marinate fresh corvina in lemon and lime juices, aji peppers, red onions, fresh garlic and cilantro? You get Javier's timeless Peruvian classic, corvina ceviche, below. The mild flavor of corvine-a Latin-American white sea bass-makes it perfect for the tangy citrus kick of ceviche. Don't be shy about tilting the plate to capture every bit of juice; it's said to be a remedy for hangovers. 6621 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. (941) 349-1792.

The folks at Pho Cali Vietnamese Noodle House are out to prove that pancakes aren't just for breakfast with their banh xeo tom thjt-or pork and shrimp pancake, Vietnamese style. This crispy mixture of shrimp, pork, mushrooms and bean sprouts is folded into a rice-flour batter and fried-and then softly bathed with a sweet and sour garlic sauce. Wrapped in an outer shell of lettuce and mint leaves, it's a little messy to eat-but worth every finger-licking bite. 1578 Main St., Sarasota; (941) 955-2683.

Legend has it that the tradition of tapas began when the small piece of bread placed over the wine glass to keep away flies evolved into a bite-sized treat. Sangria brings this hearty tradition to Sarasota with its tantalizing tapas menu and well-stocked Spanish wines and sherries. The almejas rellenas (clams stuffed with breadcrumbs) will melt in your mouth, leaving haunting memories of fresh herbs, white wine and lemon butter. 1532 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 955-8272.

You may have trouble pronouncing them, but you'll love biting into the anticuchos at Selva Grill. These spicy kebabs of beef, chicken or pork are drizzled with a chimichuri marinade (a mix of herbs, olive oil, vinegar and garlic) and served over fried mashed plantains. Enjoy this popular Latin-American treat with a glass of hearty Argentinean malbec for a savory multicultural experience. 1345 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 362-4427.

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