Another fresh new face has appeared on the lively downtown Sarasota dining scene, and this one speaks French beautifully.
Suzette, the name evoking the sweet and liquorous dessert pancake, says a lot about the new enterprise’s ambitions.
The operation is split into a café-style crêperie serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and beverages until 10 p.m. in the evening and a formal dining room open only for dinner. In the kitchen, the more casual side of things is the province of chef/owner Daniel Hulot. For dinner, chef Didien Guedras steps to the fore. Whether in its casual or formal persona, Suzette is all about traditional French cooking. Cutting-edge innovation is not on the menu, but the kitchen excels at turning out pitch-perfect renditions of the classics.
We visited for dinner not long after Suzette opened, and I returned a few days later at breakfast (see Good Deal). While a service misstep or two demonstrated a need for smoothing out performance in the formal dining room, the kitchen had already hit its stride, delivering accomplished versions of old favorites, from appetizers right through to the dessert soufflé. Yes, honest-to-goodness real, made- from-scratch, baked when you order it, 100 percent old school soufflé!
But I am getting ahead of myself. Like the civilized persons we strive to be, Colette and I each ordered a glass of Nicolas Feuillate Brut NV Champagne ($12 the glass) to lubricate our study of the menu and wake up our tastebuds. My eye was caught by the sweetbreads on the starters list. As constant readers know, this hazardous dish, done Grenobloise at Suzette ($11), is one of my touchstones. If a kitchen can do sweetbreads well, it earns my respect instantly. And so it was that Chef Guedras and I got off on the right foot. The lightly floured sweetbread medallions were quickly sautéed to a delicate golden brown in olive oil, their delicate taste beautifully set off by the rich flavors of butter and capers lightened by a dash of lemon juice and a bit of chopped parsley. Perfect. Colette started with the day’s soup, which on our visit was a cream of wild mushroom ($7.50) with morels in the lead, the base lightly perfumed by a hint of sherry.
The Dover sole and the bouillabaisse spoke to us, but we skipped the fish course. It was a cool evening, and red meat and red wine were on our minds. I chose the roasted rack of lamb ($27). The young and tender lamb was cooked to a rosy medium rare, as ordered, and sliced into chops tableside. A light coating of mustardy, garlicky bread crumbs gave the meat just the right crust.
Colette ordered a classic beef filet Bordelaise ($33), also perfectly medium rare and smothered in a beautiful reading of the complex red wine reduction that gives the dish its name. She purred over it as we watched our waiter set fire to the restaurant’s namesake dessert for a party of six French speakers at a corner table. We enjoyed the show, but we had our eyes fixed on the prize: soufflé!
In our completely prejudiced opinion, this wonder of a dessert is found on far too few menus these days. The light-as-air, puffy confection that results when a crème patissiere, a custard of cream, egg yolks, vanilla and sugar, is combined with egg whites beaten to a soft peak and baked in a straight-sided ceramic dish is a small culinary miracle. Rush this dream to table, carefully puncture it, spoon in a rich, warm sauce and you have the makings of a blissful finale. Suzette’s delicious rendering comes sauced in chocolate or, our choice, Grand Marnier ($12). Glorious!
Crêperie and Restaurant Suzette
23 N. Lemon Ave., Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 487-8393
Hours: crêperie 7 a.m.-10 p.m.; restaurant 5-10 p.m., both Tuesday-Sunday
Cards: VISA, MC, AmEx, Discover
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street or nearby city garage
The best of two Worlds at Chutney’s
Chutney’s, in the foodie’s mecca of Southside Village, is a “nabe.” At least that’s what we would have called it when I lived in Chicago, which abounds in small restaurants serving what once might quaintly have been thought of as “niche cuisine,” usually a style of cooking and foodstuffs associated with one particular patch of international turf.
Nabe was more than simple shorthand for a neighborhood favorite, a place where the locals were regulars and it seemed that everyone in the place knew everyone else. It was that, of course, but the primary qualification for attaining to that status was consistently good food at an everyday price. And sometimes a nabe’s rep spread well beyond the boundaries of its neighborhood, most often by word of mouth. And there you have Chutney’s in a nutshell.
Chutney’s is run by the husband-and-wife team of Ash Shukla and Denise May, who take turns cooking and tending to guests in the small dining room.
The dinner menu is split between classic Middle Eastern home cooking and that native to India. One page has a lengthy list of things like lamb or chicken kabobs, moussaka and pastichio, while the facing page offers an equally encyclopedic list of goodies like lamb vindaloo, gobi matar and the day’s veggie curry. Choose two dishes from either page, and the kitchen will send them piping hot to your table along with a Greek salad and warm pita wedges. The Middle Eastern combo goes for $12.95 and the Indian, which adds basmati rice to the plate, for $13.95 vegetarian or $14.95 for everything else. There are à la carte choices, too, and a lighter combo of snacks and appetizers for less hearty appetites. Chutney’s also serves lunch. To wash the satisfying chow down, there’s an international beer list that just won’t quit and a handful of wines.
Colette and I visited for dinner and immediately agreed to a division of labor. I took the Middle Eastern side of the menu and Colette stepped up to sample the Indian side. But first things first. From the big beer list she chose a favorite of long standing, Old Speckled Hen ale, and I was equally traditional with my choice of Newcastle Brown Ale, both brewed in the U.K.
For chow, Colette put together a combo starring roganjosh, a very lively lamb curry further pepped up by a hit of paprika and mellowed by a drop of yogurt, and saag aloo, a hearty stir fry of spinach and potatoes with garlic, ginger and coriander seeds. It proved to be a felicitous pairing.
I had equally good luck with a platter on which a chicken tarragon cutlet, a pounded breast coated in herbs and snappy bread crumbs and pan-fried to a satisfying crispness, was ably abetted by a terrific rendition of koo koo, a mile-high wedge of velvety spinach and egg pie under a light blanket of creamy yogurt chive sauce.
1944 Hillview St., Sarasota
Reservations (partiesof4 or more): (941) 954-4444
Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
Cards: VISA and MC $15 minimum purchase Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street