Raising the Bar

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You know how it is. You’ve decided to eat after the movie or you worked late and then dragged yourself to the gym. Now it’s 9 p.m. and you’re hungry. You want something that’s not quite a meal, but somewhat substantial and worth the wait. Consider Zoria, a full-service restaurant justly popular for its eclectic […]


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You know how it is. You’ve decided to eat after the movie or you worked late and then dragged yourself to the gym. Now it’s 9 p.m. and you’re hungry. You want something that’s not quite a meal, but somewhat substantial and worth the wait. Consider Zoria, a full-service restaurant justly popular for its eclectic meals and desserts. But Zoria also excels in its bar menu. The food is fine, the ambiance upbeat and the drinks everything they should be. So don’t just stand there starving.

A Cosmopolitan maven was part of our threesome the night we wandered in, and she found Zoria’s version refreshingly on the tart side, maybe due to real lime juice instead of the bottled variety. Another of us had the piña colada, semi-frozen and sweetly slushy. It was like eating dessert first, the perfect alcoholic treat for someone not actually fond of hard liquor.

The male among us had an ordinary Bud but redeemed himself as an adventurer by selecting the foie gras, one of the most expensive items on the bar menu at $18. The portion is ideally suited for one, but we all tasted and exclaimed at the richness of silky, slippery duck liver bites contrasted with the grainy goodness of fig jam and the melting texture of a delicate poached pear with wisps of rosemary and balsamic. A big winner.

We had an equally happy experience with the Asian shrimp dumplings ($8), lightly steamed and bathed in ginger vinaigrette. Next came cornmeal-fried oysters ($8), firm and flavorful although paired with a remoulade dip that was much too mild. Both these small plates are perfect for table sharing, as is the flatbread.

We ordered the smoked salmon, chives and scallion cream ($11), a toothsome mélange that didn’t compromise the crispness of the supporting thin crust. Before dessert (fresh berry cobbler with vanilla ice cream at $7), we passed around the cheese platter ($7), certainly one of the best sharing plates on the menu and supreme with a glass of red wine.

Other options include calamari, cheese quesadilla, tortellini, Asian chicken wings, mussels, tuna sashimi, vegetarian spring rolls, and various salads. And, of course, you can order from the dining room menu, where the entrées average about $28, until 10:30 p.m.

The lounge feels like a European bistro, with black-and-white tiled floor, mirrored bar and dark wood everything else. The lighting is soft and glowy and the four tables are high tops, with about 16 additional seats at the bar. You could also enjoy your bar food at one of the three plush red leather sofas that occupy the real estate between the bar and the main dining area. It’s a little awkward to eat from the coffee table, but the sofas are indeed seductive. If the bar is crowded, you can even sit outside and enjoy the snacking menu. But no matter where you sit, this is late-night food worth staying up for.

Zoria

1991 Main St., Sarasota

(941) 955-4457

Credit cards

Bar menu: Monday-Friday, 11:30 p.m.-midnight; Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight; Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.

Street parking and valet

Wheelchair accessible

NICE AND NEIGHBORLY If you live south of Westfield Sarasota (formerly Sarasota Square Mall) in the Osprey-Nokomis area, you know there are limited options for a decent dinner once you’ve exhausted the excellent Roessler’s and Rosebud’s. The long stretch of South Tamiami Trail between the mall and the Isle of Venice is restaurant-starved, and that’s a good reason to welcome Café 1660-even though it’s situated in a Ramada Inn.

This bistro and bar that seats about 100 in a modern urban environment isn’t meant to attract travelers who check into the motel. Café 1660 wants to be your friendly neighborhood hangout, a convenient and dependable place for breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch in the ballroom. And it has its own entrance on the street.

The principal partner is John Ganley, who owns Cosimo’s Brick Oven at Westfield Southgate Plaza. Cosimo’s is a Mediterranean mall restaurant that Ganley has made a destination eatery for most of Sarasota. He thinks he can do the same for Café 1660 with a straightforward American menu, moderate prices and relaxed ambiance.

The chef at Café 1660 is Shane Dabney, a graduate of Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., and a veteran of hotels, country clubs, tony restaurants and even such fun places as Planet Hollywood and Bahama Breeze.

The dinner menu lists about 10 entrées with the average price around $17. For $2.95 extra you can add a cup of soup or a side salad. Expect American bistro fare, such as rack of lamb glazed with cabernet honey and served with wild mushrooms, a really flavorful buy at $20.95. Veal meat loaf, pan-roasted red snapper, grilled filet tips, roasted chicken, marinated pork chops and filet mignon round out the usual suspects. A Café 1660 recipe for salmon baked in a bath of champagne with roasted fennel, baby spinach and tomato and served with mushroom risotto is a definite winner at only $15.99.

Pasta favorites, sandwiches, various soups and a full range of pizzas are available at suppertime as well as lunch. Desserts are the ubiquitous crème brûlée, tiramisu and chocolate mousse. But Dabney gets creative with his cinnamon scone and marinated strawberries topped with vanilla ice cream. Desserts average $6.

The food at Café 1660 isn’t meant to stun you with artsy presentation or fusion-bizarre combinations of exotic ingredients. It’s meant to lure you back when you want a comfortable evening out without a lot of fuss. All it needs now are some neighbors to make it work.

Café 1660

1660 S. Tamiami Trail, Osprey

(941) 918-2610

Credit cards

Reservations accepted

Hours: Daily breakfast, 7-11 a.m.; lunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner, 4-10 p.m. Sunday brunch, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Bar serves until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

Parking in Ramada Inn lot

Wheelchair accessible

CHEF CENTRAL

Lavender biscuits from Rita Tyler.

By the time she was eight, Rita Tyler was cooking for her five siblings. She catered her way through college and then opened a catering business, which led to four restaurants by the time she was 27. In 2000, Tyler’s husband died, and she spent two years cooking her way around Europe, a bittersweet adventure.

She came to Sarasota two years ago, working a year at Bijou Café and then helping Paul Mattison establish his new Siesta Key bistro. Now Tyler has settled into a place of her own in Towles Court, Café du Jardin, a converted cottage that seats about 40. This dessert recipe uses one of her favorite ingredients, lavender. "It provides lots of flavor without being sweet or sugary," she says. "And the fragrance takes me back to the South of France, to a time when I was traveling in my Subaru with my dog." Café du Jardin, 238 S. Links Ave., Sarasota. (941) 362-0595.

LAVENDER BISCUITS

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers (available at Williams-Sonoma or online at Rocky Mountain Botanicals)

1 teaspoon salt

1 stick cold, unsalted butter cut into small cubes

1 cup heavy cream, plus extra for glazing

2 cups fresh berries

2 cups whipped cream

2 cups lemon curd or custard (follow your own recipe for custard or lemon curd or purchase lemon curd in most well-stocked grocery stores)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a baking sheet. Sift together the flour, two tablespoons of the sugar, baking powder, lavender flowers and salt in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the dough resembles coarse meal. Add one cup of the heavy cream and mix to form a soft dough. It will be quite tacky.

Flour a work surface. Using fingertips, pat out the dough to three-quarter-inch thickness. Cut the dough into rounds with a floured three-inch biscuit cutter. Transfer biscuits to the buttered baking sheet. Gather the scraps of dough, pat out again and cut out the remaining biscuits. You should have enough dough for 12 biscuits. Brush tops lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Bake until biscuits are cooked through and just beginning to brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool for five minutes. Cut each biscuit in half. Place bottom halves on serving plates. Spoon berries, lemon curd or custard over the biscuits, top with whipped cream or crème fraîche. Crown with biscuit lids. Serves 6.

ASK MARSHA

Q. I’m a dedicated sandwich person at lunch. Where can I find a really special one?

One of my favorite places downtown is Pino’s 100 Central, where I usually order the mozzarella prosciutto e pomodoro sandwich. Not a panini (the hot pressed Italian version of a sandwich), this one is cold and composed of imported buffalo mozzarella, ribbons of thin, salty prosciutto and ripe tomato slices dressed with a light smear of pesto. The bread is a crusty French baguette from C’est La Vie on Main, and it’s served with mixed salad greens enlivened with slivers of carrot and sprinkles of yellow corn. When the balsamic vinaigrette runs onto the sandwich, the whole thing is even more delicious. Only $6.95. If you’re not facing a challenging afternoon, order a glass of the house red for an additional $6. Then do what the Italians do in the middle of the afternoon: Take a rest. Pino’s, 1301 Main St., Sarasota.

NIBBLES & SIPS

After nearly 30 years in the restaurant business, Steve and Maureen Horn, owners of Maureen’s Palm Grille, sold their Longboat Key restaurant and are contemplating the next phase of their lives, perhaps sans sauté pan and spatula. The property went to Richard Sawyer, most recently owner of Sawyer’s Bistro in Suffolk, England. The Longboat place has been rechristened Sawyer’s and the owner is also the chef.

I’m sure you’ve noticed when shopping at Westfield Southgate over the summer that the Sarasota Bread Company quietly shut off the ovens, stacked up the tables and slipped out of business. It was never the same once Paul Mattison ceased his active involvement in the project.

When you don’t want to be the bartender at your own party, hire Pat Krohmer, who runs Bartender on Call. The former New Yorker moved here three years ago, graduated from bartending school and decided to blend her new second career skill with her talent for event planning. Krohmer specializes in creative cocktail menus and can even invent an original drink for the guest of honor. Find Pat at (941) 794-0899.

It’s a Sarasota tradition 17 years strong, the Colony Beach & Tennis Stone Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival, and it unfolds this year Oct. 27 to 30 at the Longboat resort. Six hot new chefs and seven vintners will fly in for interactive culinary demonstrations and intimate wine tastings as well as a huge tasting on the beach. Part of the weekend is a seven-course dinner with appropriate wine pairings. To reserve your spot on the sand, call (941) 383-6464.

TRENDSPOTTING

Get ready for crudi, the Italian equivalent of Japanese sashimi, that succulent sliver of raw seafood artfully arranged on some greens.Also, we’re going to be seeing tender baby goat meat on menus. It’s increasingly available from farmers who used to just deal in goat cheese.Whole Foods market offers pint-sized shopping carts for little ones. Although it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth for moms in a hurry to help a toddler negotiate the rolling wire basket, the sight of the little tykes pushing mini-carts around the store is adorable.