Food & Wine - January 2012

By John Bancroft Photography by Chad Spencer January 1, 2012

The Table’s tortelloni Bolognese is both creatively presented and delicious.It’s a pleasure to have The Table back, this time in a sleek waterfront incarnation minus the Mesa Lounge, with which earlier versions in Sarasota and St. Petersburg were paired. Losing the big lounge is fine with us, as the food and the setting are more than enough reason to make a reservation, and soon.

From Tamiami Trail the place makes little impression. It’s a nondescript white building with blue canvas sails at the entrance. Inside, one is surprised at how spacious and how impeccably designed the dining rooms are and at how beautifully the many windows and a deck take advantage of the setting on the shore of Phillippi Creek. The bar (the way one enters) is smallish but comfy.

Tables are a mix of high ones adjacent to the lounge and along a windowed hall and low ones in the fresh, clean dining room, where a rear wall draped in white takes on a lovely blue shimmer as the sun goes down. Tables are set in agreeably spare form, sans linens, with stems for wine and water, napkins, cutlery and white bread plates. The tri-fold menus are nearly as big when unfolded as a high two-top, but it makes such mouthwatering reading you won’t mind a bit. The wine list is a single long page, offering a nice selection by the glass and the bottle, all well priced.

The Table Creekside, which is the restaurant’s full name, offers what chef Pedro Flores calls global cuisine. Indeed, the range of styles trots the globe, but in the service of seasonal and largely local ingredients, an approach we applaud. Expect the menu to change regularly. There already is a column devoted to specials, providing the chef the opportunity to run with whatever in the market may catch his eye.

Lots of appetizers and small plates are on offer. They include shrimp, chicken and chorizo yakatori skewers, flatbreads, little fondues, four raw bar selections, a couple of soups, three salads, a miscellany headed “global bites” and five sushi rolls including gator. The swamp meat also shows up in an appetizer dressed in Key lime aioli and banana pepper mignonette. How’s that for local flavor?

When it comes to entrées, let’s start by noting that the stuffed chicken is free range, the strip steak grass fed and the salmon wild caught. And the salad greens are organic. All good things.

What sets the Table apart is the chef’s consummate artistry.

Plates are a treat for the eye, while the imaginatively combined, composed and counter-balanced ingredients are savory—and often delightfully surprising—on the tongue.

Top Left, The Table serves up an inviting atmosphere; Top Right, the spicy tuna roll; below, a crispy alligator appetizer with Key lime aioli and banana pepper mignonette.To illustrate the point, consider my tortelloni Bolognese ($17.95), which deconstructed the standard dish and quite literally turned it upside down. On the bottom was a serpentine layer of perfectly braised and sauced beef short ribs (the classic topping features ground veal, pork and beef), and riding the dragon’s spine were fat little pasta purses stuffed with herbs and cheese and crowned in crispy orange confetti. Unexpected and quite marvelous.

Colette’s lamb porterhouse ($19.95) was every bit as savory and its presentation every bit as inventive. The lamb, served on a mint kumquat coulis, was grilled to medium-rare perfection, juicy and tender. The surprise came in the form of three inch-thick roulades of eggplant wrapped around lamb moussaka and crusted in Parmesan. Heavenly.

We had prefaced these wonders with a spicy tuna roll ($7.95) for her, which was as delectably fresh and pretty as that at any top-of-the-line sushi bar, and Charlie’s crab cake ($8.95) for him, a fine example of that Florida favorite jazzed up with a tasty splash of sumac remoulade.

Earlier, as we parsed the menu and admired the way the early evening sun played over the water and mangroves and a smidgen of island completely covered in resting gulls outside our window, we sipped glasses of Mohua sauvignon blanc from New Zealand ($7 each). To accompany dinner, we chose a bottle of a sunny little Willamette Valley pinot noir from Oregon, most charitably priced at $32. Had we been in the mood for cocktails rather than an aperitif, “bar chefs” were standing by.

The Table Creekside

5365 S. Tamiami Trail (at Phillippi Creek), Sarasota

Reservations recommended: (941) 921-9465

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Cards: all major

Handicapped accessible: yes

Parking: in lot or complimentary valet

The Verdict: The return of The Table to Sarasota in a sleek and chic waterfront setting is cause for celebration. Chef Pedro Flores turns out perfectly modulated works of edible art.

Pizza plus at the new Piatti

Pizza is still king at Main Street stalwart Il Panificio’s new and semi glitzy Piatti Bistro & Bar in the Gulf Gate entertainment district on the city’s south side, but an appetizer of truffle-scented French fries is mighty welcome, too.

Piatti shares a kitchen with Il Panificio South but ups the ante with a translucent bar centered on hanging art glass lamps and stylishly bare bistro tables and high tops. A glass-walled wine room announces that beverage’s central place in Piatti’s game plan.

We started a recent visit with well-priced wines by the glass and a mini bucket of those fries seasoned with truffled salt and served piping hot and golden ($9). Also of interest on the starters list are mussels in white or red sauce and a small plate of white beans with arugula, sliced calamari and shrimp tossed in lemon and olive oil.

Market fish and red meat selections change daily, but three familiar Italian chicken dishes and baked cod in two versions, as well as several pastas, are on the standing menu. I chose grilled chicken breast Saltimbocca (Italian for “jumps in the mouth,” $16) and was pleased to find the savor of sage was prominent, as it must be, under a toothsome topping of prosciutto, mozzarella and a sherry demi glace. The accompanying green beans seemed a limp afterthought, but the roasted potatoes were tasty.The evening’s stars, however, were Colette’s Piatti al fresco pizza ($11) and one of the creamiest and robustly full-flavored tiramisus we have tasted in a long time ($5).

The pizza starred the perfect crust beloved of Il Panificio customers for the past 20 years, that platform lightly painted with a bright tomato sauce and topped with arugula, crumbles of a very fine goat cheese and slices of roasted red peppers. It’s a beautiful combination of lively flavors. The pizzas are 12-inch pies, which makes them right for sharing if rather too much for one. We were happy to have our leftovers boxed to take home, where they were delicious cold at breakfast the next morning.

Desserts change daily. We had our choice of cannolis, Napoleons or tiramisu and were delighted that we chose the third option. The classic mélange of ladyfingers steeped in espresso, smothered in spiked mascarpone and sprinkled with cocoa was flawlessly executed, giving us just the lift we needed to slide back from the table and stroll out into a fine evening. 

Piatti Italian Bistro & Bar

6630 Gateway Ave., Sarasota

Reservations: (941) 923-5570

Hours: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; restaurant until 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; lounge until midnight Friday-Saturday

Cards: all major

Handicapped accessible: yes

Parking: in lot

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