Sunset & S’mores

Photography by MATT MCCOURTNEY & J.B. MCCOURTNEY April 1, 2010

If anything says Sarasota, it’s a picnic on the beach. Most of us can still remember the first time we grilled out under the Australian pines on Siesta Beach and settled back to watch the sunset turn the Gulf to a shimmering sheet of pink, silver and blue. We’re still crazy about those Technicolor sunsets, but half-burned hot dogs and wine in Dixie cups weren’t what we had in mind when we began imagining the ultimate Sarasota beach party.

Instead, we envisioned a gathering with barefoot charm but grown-up style, and a menu that was modern, colorful and tropical. We started with a sensational spot—the Hyatt Siesta Key Beach, a vacation residence club with 300 feet of quartz-white sand, perfect for sunset gazing. Then we asked some creative local chefs—Aaron Chavarria, executive chef of the Hyatt Regency Sarasota; Derek Barnes, chef-owner of Derek’s Culinary Casual; and the caterers of Morton’s Market—to help us come up with a menu inspired by the Florida setting.

The dinner they created features tropical fruits and vegetables, island-style spices and accents, and fresh seafood as well as beef. They also insisted on one classic beach picnic element: s’mores, but the most sophisticated and decadent s’mores we’d ever seen. 

Then we put together a lively guest list and gathered for the sunset dinner party of our dreams.


Evan and Lauren Angeleri enjoy some water play

tropical blooms and fruit adorn the table 

mojitos in hand, our guests gather poolside at the Hyatt Siesta Key cabanas. 


Mango mojitos (from James Shea, wine manager at Fleming’s) 

Conch and octopus ceviche and beef tostadas

(Chef Aaron Chavarria, Hyatt Regency Sarasota) 

Mojo chicken with pomegranate slaw on tostones

 (Chef Aaron Chavarria, Hyatt Regency Sarasota) 

Braised boneless short ribs with potato gnocchi, herb-roasted vegetables, fig glaze and lemon vinaigrette (Chef Derek Barnes, Derek's Culinary Casual) 

S’mores bar with assorted chocolates and fruit (Morton’s Catering) 

Chef Chavarria’s award-winning octopus and conch ceviche and mojo chicken with pomegranate slaw. 

Suggested Pairings

James Shea, wine manager for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, suggests a Parducci Sustainable Mendocino County, 2007, a light wine with tropical fruit flavors, as the perfect complement to the ceviche appetizer.

For the braised short ribs, he’d go with Folie a Deux, Amador County Zinfandel, 2005; the ripe cherry and raspberry notes with moderate tannins finished with vanilla and brown sugar will enhance the robust beef dish.

Hyatt Regency chef Aaron Chavarria presents his mojo chicken hors d’oeuvres

fresh mango mojitos chill out in the cabana;

Lauren takes a swing at croquet in the garden.

Floral Design An Exceptional Florist, Lee Younger, owner; Deborah Poppe, floral artist.

Props and special assistance: Hyatt Sarasota.

Special thanks to CAP Brand Marketing and the Hyatt Siesta Key Beach. To learn more about the resort’s vacation residences, call (941) 953-8160.

Tableware and giftware, including silver and vases (on main dining table), and cabana pillows (on cabana shot), An Exceptional Florist, Westfield Southgate, (941) 957-1339

Abalone shell citrus bowls, ceramic pear vase trio (on main dining table), Pure Luxe, 513 Central Ave., (941) 364-5800

Vietri Italian dinnerware Wine bottle coaster (on bar trolley with mango mojitos), salt and pepper shakers (on main dining table) Ashley Avery’s Collectables, 1425 First St., (941) 955-9593 

Jason Miller raises a toast to Barnes.  

Guest list  

Rosemary, Jeffrey, Lauren and Evan Angeleri; Joseph and Deborah Angeleri; Jason Miller; Tara Greenbaum; Michelle, Grant and Elizabeth Lempriere


Evan Angeleri and his mother, Rosemary, return from a stroll on the beach;

Morton’s s’mores go upscale with a selection of gourmet chocolates 

chef Derek Barnes of Derek’s Culinary Casual presents short ribs with potato gnocchi and ratatouille.

Entertaining Tips

Use local fruit to decorate the table. Lemons, limes, oranges and mangoes set a beautiful tropical tablescape. Invite guests to take the fruit home when they leave as a tasteful reminder.

A tropical beach dinner requires extra ice. Keep bottled water in ice buckets next to the chilled white wine for a quick and easy wine spritzer. Decorate the wine bucket with wildflowers.

Morton’s Catering suggests a creative s’mores bar for an interactive dessert course. Use high-quality, specialty chocolate bars such as Lindt extra-creamy milk chocolate, raspberries in dark chocolate or hazelnut milk chocolate. Add Rice Krispy treats and fresh local strawberries with traditional graham crackers.

Create a moveable feast. Pass appetizers and cocktails while your guests play lawn bowling or croquet. Invite your guests to sit for the entrée, break for a sunset toast and create a warming afterglow by having dessert at an outdoor table by a fire.

Mojo Chicken with Pomegranate Slaw on Tostones

Mojo Chicken

1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic

Juice from 2 sour oranges

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon achiote spice

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Then marinate two pounds pulled, cooked chicken overnight. 

Pomegranate Slaw

2 cups shredded cabbage

¼ cup julienned onions

¼ cup julienned carrots

2 teaspoons minced cilantro

Juice from one fresh lime

2 teaspoons sour cream

4 cups pomegranate juice

Mix lime juice with sour cream. In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and mix well with the lime sour cream. In a saucepan, slowly simmer the pomegranate juice until reduced to syrup consistency.  


Peel 2 plantains and cut into ¼-inch medallions. Lightly fry in vegetable oil until soft, then remove and press the plantain so it is flat like a chip. Put back into the frying oil and fry until golden brown. Cool at room temperature. To serve, place pulled chicken on tostones. Top with slaw, then drizzle with pomegranate glaze. 


Braised Short Ribs

12 short ribs, cut into thirds

2 quarts chicken stock

2 quarts Pepsi

10 sprigs thyme

2 lb. mirepoix (carrots, onions

and celery, finely diced)

1/2 cup tomato paste

1/2 cup garlic, chopped

Oil for cooking In a large braising pan, brown ribs in oil and set aside. In the same oil, brown the mirepoix, then add the garlic, thyme and tomato paste and cook until browned.

Add Pepsi and chicken stock to vegetable mixture, then add ribs. Cover and braise for 90 minutes at 375 degrees. Test for doneness, then cool ribs in their liquid. Serve with ratatouille. Six large portions. 


4 yellow squash, seeded and diced

4 zucchini, seeded and diced

1 ½ large eggplants, diced

2 large red onions, diced

2 cups Kalamata olives, halved

2 cups Roma tomatoes,

seeded and diced

2 cups roasted diced red peppers

3 oz. capers 

In a large bowl, toss together the squash, zucchini, eggplant and onion. Spread the mix onto two sheet pans and roast in a 300-degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove, mix well, and roast for 10 more minutes. Cool. Mix tomatoes, red peppers and capers with the cooled ingredients and serve.

Mango mojitos

1 ½ oz. mango rum

4-6 pieces fresh mint

3 oz. soda

Place 4-6 mint leaves in a tall glass. Add ½ oz. mango rum and muddle to lightly crush. Add ice and 1 more oz. of rum, top with soda and garnish.



After the sunset melted into the Gulf and the temperature cooled, guests retreated from the dinner table to a cozy fire pit and enjoyed Morton’s s’mores bar, a sophisticated twist on the traditional picnic dessert, featuring local strawberries, raspberries, a variety of fine chocolates and Rice Krispy treats along with the time-honored graham crackers and marshmallows. 

styling by sharron fisher

produced by judi gallagher 

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