“Aloha. Welcome to Roy’s.” The hostesses, servers, bartenders—you name it—everyone utters Roy’s Restaurant’s signature greeting about a zillion times a night. Extending hospitality is one big part of the carefully crafted Roy’s experience. Hawaiian fusion cuisine is the other. And since Roy’s may well be the only Hawaiian-fusion eatery outside of the 50th state, the restaurant has plenty of latitude to define itself.
And the definition of Roy’s? Fabulously fresh and inventively prepared seafood, plus a smattering of non-seafood items. Roy’s was initially a hit restaurant in Honolulu. It’s since grown into a chain of 33, fueled by the celebrity of Roy Yamaguchi. His six seasons of Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi on PBS provided the perfect platform for growing a restaurant chain.
This is not your usual chain, however. Let me explain: On our last visit to the Roy’s in Naples, we were absolutely giddy over the steak tartare—first, because it’s a dish most restaurants have become gun-shy about, and second, because it was nothing short of splendid. Imagine my dismay on first perusing the Sarasota menu—no steak tartare. I learned that each Roy’s menu is a combination of signature corporate items and creations whipped up by the local restaurant’s chef. In other words, no two menus are alike.
No two décors are alike, either. The interior in Sarasota pops with citrus colors and bold artwork. The open kitchen provides a flurry of activity to observe, and the bar hops with a bright-eyed crowd sipping Hawaiian martinis, which employ fresh pineapple juice, vodka, rum and a modicum of vanilla. Roy’s is definitely the hot place to hang.
Keeping the split personality of the menu in mind, we worked our way through Roy’s signature items along with items Sarasota chef Ryan Kelly has concocted. The wood-grilled Szechuan baby back pork ribs, a signature appetizer, are not to be denied. The ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and the flavor is a juxtaposition of sweet barbecue with searing Chinese spices. A coating of sesame seeds adds another layer of interest. My only recommendation is that Roy’s should serve these as an entrée. Five ribs are simply not enough.
Lobster pot stickers, served with butter sauce flavored with miso and togarashi, wilted in comparison to the ribs. Don’t eat them together. The pot stickers are delicate and employ subtle flavors; try them instead with the Maine lobster Sarasota roll, another subtle appetizer that relies on texture and freshness. We also ordered the Lakanilau roll, which layers a thin slice of Kobe beef over dynamite crab, asparagus and avocado and delivers a kick of salt and spice. This is another must-have appetizer. The starters range from $6 to $16.
If salad appeals, order the Maui Wowie. This signature dish combines a refreshing medley of tastes—sweet avocado, salty feta cheese and capers, crisp greens and firm shrimp.
The wealth of seafood is almost overwhelming. I had never heard of monchong, a firm white fish that’s prepared “chimichurri.” This is a killer entrée, the fish stacked on a bed of bok choy and lemongrass for a cool yet spicy taste. The starch is a fried vegetable ravioli that oozes cream cheese, while the sauce dotting the plate delivers lemon and garlic.
One of Roy’s classic dishes is macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi. The sweetness of the nut and fish in tandem is a beautiful thing, and the perfectly crisp asparagus is an unexpected bonus. An elegantly rich butter sauce incorporates brandy and lobster—totally decadent.
The melt-in-your-mouth Misoyaki butterfish fish is served as one of a set in Roy’s classic trio. The counterpoints are a small slab of blackened ahi and a restrained grilled salmon. Three different sauces complement the trio, and the presentation is captivating.
A handful of entrées are not seafood. Chef Ryan plates a split rack of ribs and complements them with a Chinese black dragon sauce. It’s a bit of a shock, but well worth the surprise. Nearly all the entrées fall into the mid-$20s, certainly within the range of most of Sarasota’s fine dining establishments.
Desserts are decadent, too. My favorite is the macadamia nut torte with its layer of caramel frosting and nut filling. I suspect most will opt for the chocolate soufflé, though, which requires some kitchen time to prepare. It’s a dream dessert for all of you chocoholics.
A final note about Roy’s: The wine list is fun. It doesn’t slight red wine drinkers as some seafood restaurants have a tendency to do; it has a nice complement of dessert and sparkling wines; and it offers white wines from across the globe. Roy’s also has a reasonable number of wines by the glass, too—so if you’re not inclined to stay with the Hawaiian martini all night, alternatives await. Aloha.
2001 Siesta Drive, Sarasota
Monday-Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday 5:30-9 p.m.
VISA, MC, AMEX, Diners, Discover
CASEY KEY’S NEW JOINT
Just when residents in Osprey finally accepted the demise of their beloved Flying Bridge, a newcomer entered the neighborhood. Welcome, La Tosca: upscale Italian—in the corner of a boathouse! From all indications, it’s on its way to becoming Casey Key’s jumping neighborhood joint.
La Tosca’s chef/owner is Gianluca Di Costanzo. The first floor here, a lounge with dueling flat-screen TVs, is actually the entrance to the restaurant, but until you figure that out it can be daunting to face a room full of the cocktail crowd. The elevator is to your right, and you’re on your way to the dining room.
The interior works to achieve that Italian villa ambiance—walls with the patina of instant age, stone floors, gauzy drapes. Views are of that quickly disappearing but highly desirable element—water. It’s the marina and Casey Key beyond.
The food is absolutely delicious. Carpaccio is fresh and rich-tasting, with a layer of olive oil and Parmigiano cheese topping the thinly sliced rare beef. Arugula adds the peppery tartness that makes this dish so enjoyable. A second version employs endive, cherry tomatoes and an incredible hard ricotta cheese. Both are almost a meal in themselves. Fried calamari, sautéed mussels, and eggplant parm are other appetizers. Prices are a bit steep, ranging from $7.95 to $12.95.
Salads are a mixed bag. The misticanza—mixed greens with kernels of corn and sliced hearts of palm—was inventive and charming with its bright, sweet pops of corn peeping out through the green. The tomatoes were so ripe and flavorful that I suspect someone is raising them in his back yard. But on another night, we selected the Caesar. That was a disaster. Nothing spoils a salad more quickly than over-the-hill Romaine.
However, I recovered from that disappointment when I dove into the pappardelle alla Tosca. I love wide egg noodles—they remind me of the fat German noodles my grandmother strung all over her house to dry on Saturday mornings. My grandmother, however, didn’t have a clue about porcini mushrooms or the effects of truffle oil on a cream sauce. I rejoiced at discovering a new and totally satisfying comfort food that’s (great for me) within walking distance of my home.
I also managed to work my way through a respectable amount of delicious agnello alla Abruzzi, braised lamb shank over a bed of heavenly Parmesan risotto dotted with green peas and mushrooms. This is comfort food, too.
Who knew Italians do duck? The duck breast entrée proves they can indeed. We found the balsamic reduction sauce and caramelized shallots perfect for setting off the duck’s best flavors.
On a subsequent visit, hubby Jack spotted the pollo alla Milanese, a pounded, pan-fried chicken breast topped with a huge pile of splendidly spicy arugula and tomatoes. It just shouted health and vitality. I, of course, ate more pappardelle—and the salmone alla griglia. This was prepared medium, preserving the moist, mineral-tasting aquatic flavors of the fish. The accompanying crisp vegetables—tomatoes and leeks—added a new dimension to the salmon, making it seem healthful as well.
Not so with the desserts, however: All of the classic, calorie-laden Italian goodies are here—tiramisu, cannoli, gelato—and they are sumptuous. La Tosca sports a well-developed wine list that is reasonably priced, just like the entrees, which range from $16 to $24.
576 Blackburn Point Road, Osprey
11 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
AMEX, VISA, MC, Discover
Q: We’re tired of doughnuts and bagels. Anywhere fast to get something fancier?
A: Gabby’s Patisserie has just opened in Osprey, and it’s been attracting the café crowd since. With a drive-through for a quick cup of espresso and a croissant, it delivers instant Continental dining. I love the almond croissant, with a thick paste of sticky, sweet almond. Second on my list is the fruit-filled Danish; the filling tastes more like a fresh fruit reduction than an unctuous jam. Cheese Danish is pretty darn good, too. Gabby’s offers delectable morsels for lunch, like a profiterole pastry stuffed with deviled ham. Gabby’s Patisserie, 106 N Tamiami Trail, Osprey,(941) 966-CAKE
What I’m Drinking
Sarasota’s home-grown food and wine tycoon, Michael Klauber, recently returned from hosting his Connoisseur Club trip to South America. “Argentina and Chile are impressive,” he reports. “They offer incredible food and beautiful, sophisticated cities like Mendoza, Buenos Aires and Santiago.”
He was also intrigued by the wine regions. “In Argentina, the area is a bit of a desert, and it’s perfect for growing malbec,” Klauber explains. “It’s amazing because malbec and carmenere are two red grapes grown in Bordeaux and used for blending, but in South America you get an entirely different result. The grapes produce red wines of great elegance. The industry there is still fledgling, but it’s all about the malbec and the steak, which is unbelievable.”
Klauber points to producers Acheval Ferrer, Catena, and Susanna Balbo and her husband, Pedro Marchevsky, as the names to watch in Argentina. “While as a rule I don’t like a lot of chardonnay, I liked the Argentinians’. They don’t over-oak their whites, and the products are getting here in much better shape,” he says.
In Chile, he says, “the innovative guys at Montes are making great wines at super values. Montes’ Folly is made from syrah—he calls it that because everyone says you can’t grow syrah in Chile. This is award-winning. And Casa LaPostelle’s crisp whites—sauvignon blanc and chardonnay—are fantastic values.” Also worth trying: the cabernets and the carmenere. “But watch,” he predicts. “The up-and-coming wine will be syrah.”
What will Klauber be popping on Valentine’s Day? “That’s easy,” he replies. “Laurent Perrier rose cuvee rose brut. We all want more flavor in our wines, and that’s what roses deliver.”
UNHAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY
Why didn’t I get the chocolate-loving gene?
Every year at this time of love, Valentine’s and the almighty Whitman Sampler, I worry about (as do my friends) my dislike for chocolate. Certain that I somehow am missing the specific genetic coding that makes me a guaranteed lover of Ghirardelli products, I have come to question the authenticity of my “human beinghood”—not to mention of being a card-carrying female.
It started subtly. Not one family member seemed to notice that I preferred Sugar Smacks to Cocoa Crispies at breakfast, or that on our ice-cream runs to Shady Glenn I always ordered coffee or strawberry. Sure, at Halloween I did some damage, but mostly to the mini boxes of Sweet Tarts and Bit O’ Honey. My mother, a lifelong Chunky bar fan, received every Chunky bar in my pillowcase and dubbed me a loving daughter for so unselfishly giving up such prized booty.
At a sleepover, a friend or two might have noticed that I didn’t finish my chocolate milk (Bosco in those days). In truth, I was in culture shock, not only because of the chocolate in my milk, but even more because of the bologna and Miracle Whip sandwich that accompanied the drink. (I come from a Hellman’s house.)
The seriousness of my deficiency grew clearer during the holidays. I loathed having to make fudge, or even worse, taste it. An unfrosted Christmas sugar cookie might entice me, but a chocolate Santa left me cold.
It’s difficult living in a chocolate-lover’s world. Everyone just assumes that you desire, crave, dream of longingly and cannot live without warm chocolate molten cake or a hot fudge sundae. As an adult, I learned to use the excuse that I was just cutting down, assuring my friends that one peanut M&M would suffice. Of course, I was praying they wouldn’t notice that I had just consumed French onion soup, a two-pound porterhouse steak and a stuffed baked potato.
At first I thought I had found a kindred spirit in my husband, a self-proclaimed “no-sweets eater.” But I soon learned he hides his Nestle Crunch bar wrappers under his car seat. And he doesn’t come up for air on Christmas morning until he’s totally consumed his annual box of chocolate caramel truffles. Maybe when we met he noticed my missing cocoa gene and offered to act as my comrade in non-chocolatehood, thinking I might not notice the Raisinettes stuck in his teeth after our first movie.
Still, I have made peace with my condition—although friends assure me that as I approach the age of hot flashes and memory loss (I pretend I have no idea what they are talking about) I will form a bond with that popular mixture of cocoa, sugar and cream. They say that I will soon learn to travel with Scharffen Berger chocolates in my change purse, to leap tall buildings in a single bound for a box of Godiva, and to heavily invest in futures with Lindt chocolate. Maybe. In the meantime, dear friends and family, please forgo the chocolate this February and wrap me up a nice bottle of balsamic vinegar instead.
For more from Judi Gallagher about food and dining, go to her blog, Foodie’s Notebook, on our Web site, sarasotamagazine.com.
Chef Judi Gallagher’s strawberries Romanoff features local Charlie berries.
It’s the height of strawberry season, which for many of us brings back memories of picking these luscious berries as children up North, the corners of our mouths and T-shirts stained with red. You can find some “u-pick” farms nearby, but a sweet local variety, the Charlie, is also available at Overholt’s produce on Bahia Vista .
You should refrigerate strawberries right away, but fresh-picked berries are best when consumed within 24 hours. Store them on a dry paper towel in the refrigerator overnight, unwashed. When you’re ready to eat them, gently wash the berries and remove the cap after they’ve been drained and placed on a dry paper towel. To freeze strawberries, place them into a plastic bag and freeze unwashed with the green caps in place.
Strawberries Romanoff (serves six to eight)
I serve this 1960s classic with a sliced shortcake biscuit or scone to ensure that every delicious drop is consumed.
2 pints strawberries, washed and stemmed
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau
1 pint vanilla ice cream (I prefer Haagen-Dazs for the rich fat content)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons zest of orange
6-8 whole berries
Slice the strawberries. In a large bowl, toss three-quarters of them with the sugar and orange liqueur. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to macerate.
Put the ice cream in the refrigerator to soften. Put the cream and half the macerated strawberries in a cold mixing bowl. With an electric mixer, whip to soft peaks, about 12 minutes. Fold in the ice cream.
Distribute the cream among 6 tall martini glasses. Mix the plain sliced berries with the remaining macerated berries and place on top of the cream. Garnish with a whole berry (stem on) and grated orange zest.