Andrea’s is one of those perfect little gems I almost hate to write about. On the one hand, I owe it to you, the reader, to disclose that a sublime evening at table in elegant and convivial surroundings awaits you behind the frosted glass door in a strip center opposite Westfield Southgate. On the other hand, if even more people know the secret, will I ever again be able to get a table myself on short notice? You see my dilemma.
On the evening of our review visit, Colette and I were seated promptly at a well-placed table for two in a spare white-walled dining room filled with regulars being treated like old friends by the wait staff and the chef himself. When our waiter greeted us warmly as new friends and made a spot-on recommendation for a lightly oaked Italian chardonnay as an aperitif, we knew we were in good hands and tackled the menu with great expectations.
As we sipped and pondered our options, excellent warm bread accompanied by dabs of savory tapenade, hummus with basil and eminently spreadable chive butter arrived at the perfect moment, always a good sign both of the wait staff’s timing and the kitchen’s attention to detail. Oh, and even before the wine arrived we were treated to delightful little squares of veggie frittata as an amuse bouche. That, too, was just right.
Our contributing food and wine editor, chef Judi Gallagher, is mad for Andrea’s and advised me that under no circumstances was I to fail to order the pork belly appetizer ($9). I now owe chef Judi a big favor. You might want to think of the pork belly itself, a thick but mindfully portioned slab of belly meat with a yummy fat layer running through it, as pancetta, which, in essence, it is. In this dish it is grilled until perfectly tender and served over red borlotti beans, an Italian variety of cranberry bean, fragrant with the celestial tang of aged balsamic vinegar. Although the menu changes with the season at Andrea’s, this divine starter has survived two iterations, and we can only hope it will never disappear.
Across the table Colette tucked into a pretty salad ($11) of organic spinach crowned with pears poached in Amarone, a rich and intense Italian red wine blended from corvina, rondinella and molinara grapes picked ripe and allowed to dry before vinification. The pears absorb the wine readily and are almost black as a result, delighting the eye atop the hand-picked greens before enchanting the palate.
Because veal is prominent on the menu, Colette kindly consented to sample the scallopine done saltimbocca, Italian for “jumps in the mouth” ($23). Chef Andrea’s version, which does not roll the thin veal medallions but does accent them with prosciutto and sauce them ambrosially in a sage-scented Marsala, deserves the epithet. This dish fairly leapt from the plate as Colette inhaled its irresistible aroma.
One of my favorite pastas—and I am a fiend for fresh housemade pastas—is gnocchi, the light little dumplings made most often these days not from wheat but potatoes. And my favorite way to dress them is in a sinfully rich Gorgonzola sauce accented with walnuts, which is exactly how they are served here ($17). I swooned at first bite, and subsequent bites only reinforced my good opinion.
In touring the dining room, as we always do on a first visit to a restaurant, we happened upon the cheese trolley. When it came time for dessert, we didn’t have to think a nanosecond before ordering. We chose the small tray ($14) and found it just right for sharing.
The cheeses were served, not with a disquisition on their origins but with a cheerful buon appetito! As a result I can’t recite the five varieties we sampled, but I don’t care. The happy truth is that each one was a delicious revelation, and the bite of quince that accompanied them was exactly the understated foil they deserved.
Before we go, a word about the wine list is in order, since Chef Andrea quite rightly offers his intimate restaurant as the embodiment of “the art of food and wine.” After a double handful of well-chosen wines offered by the glass as well as the bottle, Andrea’s list kicks into maximum overdrive, roaming the wine regions of the world, especially Italy, France and the United States, and sampling excellent wines at nearly every price point, from our handsome Siema chardonnay from Italy at $30 to fabled French bottles as high as $2,000. If you can’t find a wine to suit your taste and purse here, you’re not likely to be satisfied anywhere.
2085 Siesta Drive, Sarasota
Reservations (strongly recommended): (941) 951-9200
Hours: 5-10 p.m. every day
Cards: Visa and MasterCard
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: ample in lot Inseason
Chef Judi Gallagher serves up the flavors of spring with cilantro.Spring and fall are the perfect times to grow herbs. One of my favorites, though considered a love-it or-hate-it plant, is cilantro. If you like cilantro, you taste the flavor of sweet grass, similar to a blend of parsley and basil. If you do not like cilantro, it just plain tastes like soap. Used most commonly in Mexican, Indian and Vietnamese cooking, cilantro has become extremely popular as a kitchen windowsill substitute in soups, salsas and even pasta dishes.
Seeds from the cilantro plant are called coriander, a most distinct taste that can enhance barbecue. However, used in abundance it will overpower a dish. Although harvesting these seeds is difficult for the home grower, planting cilantro in March will produce a nice full-flavored batch within eight weeks. Once harvested, you will need to plant more; cilantro does not extract flavor when dried and does not extend its growth like rosemary.
Try blending cilantro, fresh lime juice and sour cream to make a smooth and flavorful sauce for fish tacos and chopped cabbage salad. One of my favorite ways to use it is in this crisp and flavorful jicama salad.JICAMA SALAD
2-3 cups peeled, cubed jicama
4 oranges, chopped, peeled
4 green onions, chopped
Splash rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sour cream or plain yogurt
Mix jicama, oranges, onions, cilantro and chill 4 to 6 hours. Drain off juice and toss with lime juice, oil and sour cream just before serving. Salt to taste.
Try grilling salmon with a little mandarin orange juice or pineapple juice to serve as a perfect protein balance. Of course, you can always just add chilled jumbo shrimp as well. Up to the Challenge
Galileo meets a critic’s test.
We are pleased to report that Galileo, a traditional Northern Italian restaurant in the Burns Court space that once hosted Uva Rara, passed our calamari test with its colors flying. The baby squid ($9.25) were flash fried to a crunchy, tender toothsomeness that required nothing but a light spritz of fresh lemon to achieve full savor, although the ramekin of warm tomato basil sauce served with them will delight those addicted to dipping.
Constant readers know that if we spy fried calamari on a menu at a restaurant that wishes to stake a claim to fine dining, tasting it will be our first order of business. This is a simple dish that is easy to ruin, either by cheaping out on the squid or by overcooking or oversaucing. Galileo handled the challenge with ease.
A second starter was just as successful. Plump Prince Edward Island mussels ($9.50) arrived fragrant and warm in a broth of white wine, garlic and herbs. Luckily, good bread was at hand to mop up the nectar left in the bottom of the bowl.
The restaurant serves a fair amount of fish and shellfish, including three different classic combos sauced and served over linguine, but one of the biggest hits among regulars is pesce San Pietro in cartocchio ($23.95): filet of John Dory roasted in parchment with shrimp and spinach. Having tasted it, we see why it’s a favorite. John Dory is a gorgeous white fish, mild and a little sweet, and cooking it in a parchment bag topped with orange slices and a bit of shaved fennel brings its savor brilliantly to life. A touch of Sambuca doesn’t hurt, either.
Colette went to the pasta list for her main course, choosing a signature dish of which Galileo is justly proud. Fiocchi ala Parma ($21.95) stuffs little pasta purses with Bosc pears and an Italian cream cheese called Robiolla. The list of ingredients could have stopped right there with the beaming couple at center stage. Galileo, however, tosses the filled purses with grilled chicken and Parma ham in a rich and creamy sauce, thus raising the bar. Plan on taking about half of it home for the next day’s lunch.
We wrestled long and hard with a diverse and tempting menu before locking in these four choices that seemed to fairly represent the variety on offer. Next time, though, it’s the pan-roasted dayboat scallops and potato gnocchi in a sundried tomato and mushroom butter sauce ($23.95) for me, while Colette has preselected the hanger steak with Gorgonzola and a garlic herb crust ($22.95), the dish she almost fell for this time.
We considered the cannoli for dessert but ended up polishing off a creamy tiramisu ($7.50), reveling in the cool flavors of mascarpone and espresso-soaked ladyfingers, before heading out the door well satisfied. The only quibble I have is with the otherwise agreeable wine list: There is not a bubble to be had. Surely, for sparkling wine fans like us, a token prosecco wouldn’t be too much to ask.Galileo
443 Burns Court, Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 330-2811 or (941) 237-8530
Dinner: from 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Cards: Visa, MasterCard, AmEx
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street What I’m DrinkingThis past year I came to know better and appreciate more the wines of Chile and Argentina. Judging by their proliferation on local retail shelves and restaurant wine lists, I wasn’t alone.
Along the Andean Cordillera is strung a bead of semiarid high-elevation vineyards that produce superb grapes, especially of the malbec and carménère varieties. I’ve sampled a number of the wines made from these grapes and been impressed first with their consistent high quality and second with their low price. Following are half a dozen notes that should give you a good idea of the range available.
Gascon Malbec 2007 ($13): The malbec grape was transplanted from its native France in the mid-19th century. The Don Miguel Gascon winery has been producing wines from the grape since 1884, and the finesse it has achieved over the years shows clearly in the 2007. It is a full and sleek red wine, with well-rounded, mouth-filling tastes of dark berries, black cherry and even a little coffee up front and a long complex finish that lingers agreeably on the back of the tongue.
Alamos Malbec 2008 ($11): This malbec is more austere than the Gascon, nearly brooding in its intensity. The nose is dark fruit with a sharp spice edge. On the tongue those dark fruits, especially raisin and both ripe plum and prune, intensify and take on the savor of wood smoke. Well-developed tannins lend it admirable structure and carry through a long, dry finish underlined by a note of black tea.
Castillero del Diablo Carménère 2007 ($9): The carménère grape, considered one of the six original red grapes of Bordeaux, is rare in France these days but is thriving in Chile. The 2007 from Concha y Toro is an extraordinary wine for the price, showing notes of bell pepper, currant and tobacco with a satisfyingly medium-long finish and a structure that should repay cellaring for a couple of years.
Santa Alicia Reserva Carménère 2006 ($8): The first clue to this wine’s intensity is its deep violet color, a suggestion quickly confirmed by its deep aromas of dark fruit, rich earth and a hint of smoke. It quickly opens up to reveal a beguiling complexity compounded of black plum, dark chocolate, ripe cherry, burnished leather and concentrated spice.
Gracia de Chile Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($9): Unlike those in its superb cousins from New Zealand, the dominant aromas in this crisply acidic Chilean wine are herbal, especially grass and mint. The same sort of difference characterizes the opening notes on the palate: Instead of the expected snap of grapefruit, we get the tang of gooseberry. There is plenty of fruit in the middle, notably pear, melon and apple with citrus overtones, leading to a medium long, medium dry but fresh finish.
Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2008 ($10): This is a delightfully flirty wine, all blushes and giggles and so pretty in pink. She hails from the Mendoza region of Argentina, from the presses of Dominio del Plata. Her bouquet is lightly floral and fresh, but it’s the first sip that will light up your brainstem with an irresistible rush of ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries tempered by just a hint of astringent gooseberry. She finishes cleanly, too, no mean feat with all that richness rushing at you upfront.
An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, Web sites and newspapers, most recently for the St. Petersburg Times.