Tourists usually want the outdoor areas, as do smokers. Locals often select a table inside in one of the climate-controlled dining rooms to settle in for an intimate, unhurried meal while gazing at stars reflected as liquid silver on the surface of water.
The low-ceilinged burgundy and cream main dining room is cozy with its double-cloaked tables, comfortable armchairs and candle lamps of gold beading. The experienced serving staff in semi-formal attire is well versed in the menu and wine list. When you’re seated, a basket of dense, chewy, warm bread arrives with a ramekin of plain butter and one containing fragrant roasted garlic.
The menu, which underwent major changes when 44-year-old executive chef Mitch Rosenbaum arrived in 1999, is California-inspired (for example, almond, fig and goat cheese strudel) with a respectful nod to regional seafood favorites, fusion fantasies and a few classics such as duck and veal chops. Entrées average about $27, and your plate will include crunchy fresh vegetables and a starch-sometimes a delightfully unexpected one, such as jasmine rice, vanilla-whipped sweet potato, baked acorn squash topped with pear, or creamy tomato risotto studded with mushrooms. Soba noodles accompany one of the tuna dishes. Here’s a chef who can see beyond garlic mashed potatoes!
Other unusual items should excite even the most jaded foodie. Consider a black truffle, three-cheese ravioli, braised Swiss chard, maple-roasted duck with mulled cider, or medallions of antelope sirloin arranged on the plate with venison bratwurst and finished with a sun-dried cherry glaze and cognac. The Maine lobster is stuffed with acorn squash. A full Jamaican jerk treatment is bestowed on the pork tenderloin, for carnivores who want a little kick to their meat.
Rosenbaum has also introduced a game rotation, which includes antelope, pheasant, bison, venison and more. He searches for small farms cultivating free-range animals. With an affection for Asian and Indian cuisines, the chef is constantly experimenting with unexpected ways to serve game. But Rosenbaum also takes pride in his cornmeal-coated Key West yellow snapper served with refried beans, fried plantains and lump crabmeat guacamole. He calls this plate high-tech Mexican. And the sesame-crusted yellowfin tuna is a consistent winner. Rosenbaum has owned two restaurants in Cape Cod and has been cooking professionally for 26 years. He has special expertise with French Moroccan dishes and American seafood favorites.
The extensive wine menu ranks among the half-dozen best in Sarasota. It’s balanced primarily between American and French offerings with a fair number of other nations, including Italy, Spain, and Germany. The restaurant offers 17 wines by the glass ($7-$11). Our choice with our antelope and veal entrées was a ’98 Villa Mount Eden Grand Reserve Syrah ($49). The list also offers some lush, potent reds for all-game meals.
Happily, Ophelia’s is a restaurant that believes in a big finish. Pastry chef Christine Nordstrom creates lavish goodies and changes the lineup seasonally. Still, some favorites remain, like the chiffon key lime pie so many tourists love. Another crowd-pleaser is the hazelnut white chocolate mouse pillowed in a dark, chocolate-lined pastry cup that rests in a pond of fresh berries and coulis. It looks as brilliant as it tastes. Comfort-food lovers need look no further than the warm, walnut bread pudding.
Ophelia’s On The Bay was established in 1989 by Stanley Ferro. By local standards, this place is positively historic; a fine-dining restaurant that consistently satisfies whether you are scouting an unusual meal expertly prepared or celebrating a special occasion. Excellent food, wine, service, setting-Ophelia’s On The Bay continues to furnish it all.
Ophelia’s On The Bay
105 Midnight Pass Road
Sarasota, FL 34242