The word red has many connotations, one of them being “red hot,” as in incredibly spicy. So our anticipation of dining at Red Peruvian Seafood.
We discovered Red does serve a condiment called Red that could cause smoke to roll, but it’s the restaurant’s color that really sparked its name. Red is red outside, inside and pretty much everywhere in between.
Many ethnic restaurants are casual and homegrown. While Red has some of those aspects, it has an air of sophistication, too. A waiting area inside the front door sports overstuffed sofas that beg for a cocktail and good conversation. The wait staff is crisp in black and white, and the red interior has a lacquered look with uptown implications.
Red is, by my count, Sarasota’s third Peruvian restaurant. There’s the much admired Selva Grill downtown, the long loved Javier’s on Siesta Key and now this newcomer. Each offers a slightly different interpretation of Peruvian cuisine.
Red’s appealing menu brims with taste and texture surprises that are quite satisfying. Our first surprise was a bowl of roasted corn kernels brought to the table with that incendiary hot sauce. Corn, of course, is a cornerstone of most South and Central American cuisines—no surprise there. But this looks like white feed corn, toasty brown at the edges, and it tastes like popcorn. When dipped in the hot sauce, it’s an irresistible explosion of flavors.
Most people first taste yucca at the Cuban table, and usually they’re not impressed. Yet this root vegetable, which can seem bland in many preparations, is an important staple in South America—Africa, too, where it’s more likely to be called cassava. The root is peeled, and the crisp, white flesh resembles hearts of palm and can be served in myriad ways. Red puts a new spin on the old starch with yucca à la Huancaina, an appetizer of yucca strips served with a creamy cheese perfect for dipping. I loved it.
Ceviche is another Pan-American staple, in which lime juice with additional spices thrown in is used as a cooking agent, usually for seafood. Ceviche firms the flesh of fish, turning the color opaque; and well-prepared ceviche is a treat. Red does ceviche with shrimp, scallops, and fish in various combinations, some with lettuce or Peruvian corn, all delicious. And the restaurant even features the ceviche marinade as a drink, leche de tigre.
Limes continue to turn up, notably in the seco de corvino, with fresh, sweet peas and a subtly flavored cilantro sauce. This sea bass preparation was like a Caribbean garden, with bright color and fresh aromas. A similar attitude is achieved with pollo saltado, a stir-fried chicken entrée with bright red tomatoes and long strips of yellow onions. Again, tenderness and bright flavors reign.
There are many other discoveries to be made, including parihuela, the Peruvian version of seafood soup and its spicy cousin, picante de mariscos (mariscos are shellfish). Arroz, or rice, is available steamed or fried con mariscos. Next visit I’ve earmarked the Cau-Cau, yellow pepper casserole, con mariscos. The best part is that most of the entrées hover in the $20 or less range, making multiple choices an affordable option.
The wine list is limited, leaning heavily on Argentinean and Chilean offerings. The whites are natural choices for these fresh, slightly acidic foods. You’ll also find a full bar and a good selection of beers.
RED PERUVIAN SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
1960 Hillview St.
(941) 954-6956 or 400-5885
Parking on street and limited off-street
MOREL MEMORIES Memories of a first date can linger forever in our hearts, especially if that first date led to wedded bliss. In our case it did.
It was a splendid first date, too. I brought a bottle of exceptional Bordeaux—to impress him with my worldly knowledge—and suggested a delightfully romantic bistro where bringing your own special wine was an acceptable practice. The dinner was beyond delicious. The lighting cast a soft glow over our perfectly prepared entrées. I even remember what they were: I had pork prepared in an Alsatian manner with red cabbage, and Jack had sea bass with exotic Asian accents of ginger and lemon grass. The restaurant was Morel, that thimble-sized eatery practically hidden away in a strip mall on Tuttle Avenue. In 1996 it was a relative newcomer on the Sarasota dining scene.
Fast forward 10 years. A lot of restaurants have come and gone in that time frame, but Morel remains. After our first date, Jack and I were regulars for a while, but I have to admit that we soon were so busy making other restaurant memories that for a while Morel faded from our radar. I had heard that the original owner sold Morel to Fredy Mayer, formerly of the Longboat Key Club; and recently, several foodie friends started mentioning Morel again. So with a 10-year anniversary of that first date approaching, we decided to take a stroll down memory lane.
Not a lot has changed. The décor still creates a cozy cocoon that encourages diners to settle in for a relaxed evening. While the dozen or so tables are fairly close together, noise is never a negative factor. Marty the waiter remains, still with a brusque manner that seems more New York than Sarasota. And many of my favorite dishes are still on the menu.
A wild mushroom ragout was familiar, and the mix of wild mushrooms—I can’t say that I actually pinpointed the namesake morel—offers an assortment of textures and subtle taste differences and comes with a sauce with the deep, rich flavors of the forest. Served on toast points, this appetizer is a welcome change from the same few choices on most appetizer menus. Ditto for potato and leek latkes; they’re a robust way to begin a meal, but the pure ethnicity—no fusion here—is refreshing.
Morel’s original signature salad, the Michigan, is as agreeable today as it was when adding dried fruit and toasted nuts was avant-garde. The dried Michigan cherries and pine nuts are a pleasurable foil for the salty creaminess of blue cheese from the famous Maytag farms, one of America’s first artisan cheese makers. The special salad of the evening was the now ubiquitous fresh mozzarella and tomato salad, called caprese in Italian. Permit me to rant. This is such a wonderful juxtaposition of texture and flavor when the ingredients are absolutely fresh. Unfortunately, too many chefs and consumers put up with rubbery mozzarella and dreadful tomatoes. Don’t do it! Demand your due. As for Morel’s version, the cheese was fine, but the tomatoes were on the mealy side.
Morel’s Patagonia toothfish, better known as Chilean sea bass, is seared to seal in its moisture and flavored with a distinctive blend of Oriental condiments. From China comes a hoisin reduction, the thick reddish-brown sauce hinting of garlic and chilies. There’s a dab of wasabi, which is increasingly making its way to entrées. The fish is accompanied by vegetables and rice.
Other entrées, ranging from $16 for pasta to $29 for filet mignon, include our first-date pork. But in the end, I opted for a veal chop, offered as a special. The meat was tender and sweet, and the plate emitted a wonderfully lush fragrance of pan juices, spiked with chives and the sweet spiciness of red peppercorns.
On the dessert list, my attention went straight to the peach Melba. I love Melba sauce, originally created by master chef Escoffier for opera singer Nellie Melba. The sauce should be sweet, but with a trace of the piquant. It’s based on strained red raspberries, currant jelly and sugar and thickened with cornstarch. That makes it the perfect sauce for summer when peaches and raspberries are fresh. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is the ultimate accompaniment. I’m not sure Escoffier would give Morel’s Melba an enthusiastic thumbs up, but it is delicious, especially accompanied with the restaurant’s full flavored coffee—decaf, too—and espresso-based drinks.
The wine list offers plenty of options to augment the eclectic nature of the menu. We settled on a South African sauvignon blanc to move us through most of the meal, and then selected a serviceable Chilean cabernet sauvignon by the glass to enhance the veal.
Evening over, we found our first-date memory enhanced by the anniversary dinner. And it’s equally heartening to see good restaurants survive and even thrive in Sarasota’s competitive fine dining environment.
3809 S. Tuttle Ave.
Credit cards, no American Express
Parking available off-street
Amateur cooks everywhere are clutching their colanders, waiting for the 75th -anniversary edition of The Joy of Cooking to be released this month. It’s one of the best-selling cookbooks of all time (with about 15.5 million copies in print), but the last edition, released in 1997, had some wondering where the joy went. Instead of the trademark sensible instructions for classic home favorites, the book took a turn towards haute cuisine. There were three recipes for tomato soup, for example, and each began with cooking your own fresh tomatoes.
The anniversary edition will be more of the back-to-basics approach, encouraging commonsense steps such as using canned tomatoes, says editor Beth Wareham. I can hardly wait for the $30 hardcover edition to hit the stores. My 1975 edition is so stained and dog-eared it’s barely readable. Sources say that publisher Scribner is so confident Joy will be a huge hit that 700,000 copies will be printed in the initial run, a number almost unheard of for a cookbook.
WHAT I’M DRINKING
“I pretty much stick to white wines, unless I’m having something hearty for dinner; then I enjoy Burgundies or pinot noirs from California or Oregon,” says the proprietor of one of Sarasota’s most respected restaurants, the Bijou Café. He’s recently enjoyed a Kosta Browne pinot from California’s Russian River with “nice raspberry, cherry flavors and a long finish.” At $$$ a bottle, “it’s exceptionally good,” he says. Knaggs also recommends Mueller’s Emily’s cuvee as a “great wine with food.”
A South African native, Knaggs has a soft spot for that country’s sauvignon blancs. “Sincerely sauvignon blanc from Neil Ellis is not as grassy as so many sauvignons are. It has nice, rich fruit,” he says. What about South Africa’s famous red, the Pinotage? “Unless you’re really familiar with South African wines, it’s hard to convince anyone that a Pinotage is really good,” he says. “Kanonkop Pinotage is one of the better and Dewaal Pinotage is also good.
For Knaggs it comes down to climate and weather. “In our climate, it’s easier to drink wines that are lighter, both white and red. I also like the various viogniers. And Bonny Doon just came out with a chenin blanc under the Pacific Rim label that’s a good food wine, really refreshing.”
To sample some of the Oregonian pinot noirs that Knaggs favors, consider attending his Northern Exposure Wine Dinner on Oct. 26, which will feature Washington and Oregonian wines matched to a “Cascadian Cuisine.” For information, call 366-8111.
Chef Judi Gallagher’s tropical twist on stone crabs.
October reminds us of another reason why we live in Sarasota, bringing the start of stone crab season and the famous Stone Crab Festival at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort (Oct. 26-29). Indigenous to the warm waters of Florida and the Bahamas, stone crabs are in season from October to May and are to Florida’s dining scene what Maine lobsters are to New Englanders.
But hold the drawn butter. Since stone crab claws are cooked immediately after harvesting (to prevent the meat from sticking to the shell), they are best served chilled, usually with mustard sauce. (Try blending Coleman’s dry mustard with Hellmann’s mayonnaise with a splash of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of kosher salt and a few tablespoons of heavy cream for a simple version of this popular stone crab sauce.)
Here’s a recipe that combines the flavors of the tropics with this gift from the sea. Serve this appetizer in a chilled martini glass or, for a smaller portion, in chilled shot glasses.
Stone Crab and Citrus Shrimp Ceviche
2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and diced
1 can mandarin oranges
1 avocado, peeled and chopped
¼ cup mango nectar
Juice from 6 regular oranges
Juice of 2 Key limes
Zest of one lime
3 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
½ red pepper, julienne
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, cooked and chilled
1 ½ pounds stone crabs, meat removed
1 teaspoon wasabi powder
Pinch sea salt
Fresh ground white pepper
Slice shrimp lengthwise. Set aside.
In a large glass bowl, combine all ingredients, other than shrimp and stone crab meat, and blend well. Taste to adjust seasoning.
Add shrimp and leave at room temperature for 30-40 minutes. Mix gently twice before serving.
Place a small amount of stone crab on the bottom of a shot glass. Top with shrimp mixture. Garnish with stone crab meat in the center. Serve with chilled cocktail fork.
CONFESSIONS OF A COFFEE SNOB
Next to stopping by my house for a hit of the real thing, here’s where to find great java in Sarasota.
By Judi Gallagher
I am of the pre-Starbucks generation. While my son has grown up on mocha latte caramel grandes, I come from a time when everyone knew that drinking coffee before the age of 18 would stunt your growth. But even as a youth, I was obsessed with coffee. Sneaking sips of my mother’s iced coffee during summertime picnics is one of my earliest recollections. I can still remember a popular New England ice cream flavor of the 1960s: coffee laced with orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream. I often swapped the orange sherbet for my sister’s share of coffee.
Finally, Mom decided that my 14-year-old before-school persona might be a touch more delightful if she allowed me to drink coffee. It didn’t stunt my growth: I grew to be six feet two inches without heels. And I didn’t just grow tall—I grew into a coffee snob, as my employees and shunned coffee company salesmen kept telling me when I was a restaurateur.
I received my formal training at the Johnson and Wales University for Culinary Arts in Providence, R.I.—a great career move, but disappointment loomed on the coffee front. There was lots of fruit juice and instant coffee on campus, but finding real coffee was all but impossible. Then I discovered that the unofficial state drink of Rhode Island was coffee milk, which came in cartons or gallon plastic jugs at restaurants, convenience stores, and vending machines everywhere. We unsuccessfully petitioned our campus cafeterias to carry this caffeine-booster, arguing it was essential to keep us alert in early-morning classes.
When my son went to college, his dorm room was equipped with a panini maker, George Foreman grill, crepe maker and a cappuccino machine. But in my day, we were thrilled to finally get a Mr. Coffee machine in the second floor lounge with a rusted can of Maxwell House nearby. Despite such obstacles, I somehow became known as the coffee queen of my housing area. Dunkin Donuts was the ground coffee of choice. Light cream, I insisted, was the only way to lighten your coffee; any substitute would be grounds (pun intended) for dismissal from the Gallagher coffee forum. Each term the coffee that I was brewing seemed to get stronger, either a good sign for a coffee connoisseur or a warning signal that the caffeine racing through my bloodstream could not keep up.
Over the years since then, I have perfected my java making skills so much that my friends frequently stop by for what they call a “Judi fix.” (It’s not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for an extended burst of energy that sometimes last up to three days.) And now that the power lunch has been replaced with Internet access-coffee spots, I’ve compiled an essential Sarasota list for the true coffee snob.
The baristas making the cappuccino at the Starbucks downtown have perfected the skill of extra-extra dry. Even the foam is extremely dry, and the coffee is kissed with just a small amount of milk, which does not lighten the load of the actual caffeine boost.
The French press coffee offerings at both Euphemia Haye’s Haye Loft and Beach Bistro (with a side of grated chocolate) are benchmarks of a superb java experience. The iced coffee with an extra shot at Metro Coffee cools you down without watering the hit, and the wonderful dense Greek “espresso” style coffee at Ilia’s Mediterranean Grill in Nokomis is even more delightful with an order of baklava.