We don’t, as a rule, pay a review visit to a new restaurant during its first couple of weeks. It’s unfair to judge the place before management has had a little time to fine tune and troubleshoot its operation. But when we have reason to believe a restaurant will come roaring out of the gate ready to take on the fickle universe of foodies from day one, we make an exception.
That is what we did in the case of Indigenous, Chef Steve Phelps’ newest venture, and we were not disappointed. In fact, the restaurant’s opening at the southwest corner of the Towles Court arts district is cause for celebration.
The gorgeously reimagined and renovated cottage that once housed Canvas Cafe, where Phelps also shone as chef, is a subtropical dream at twilight, with inviting outdoor seating, a cozy bar in a former guest house out back and simply chic dining rooms in the main house. The setting promises a lot, and the kitchen and wait staff deliver.
Like the furnishings and fixtures, the name Indigenous was carefully chosen to reflect the chef/owner’s goal of providing superior and sophisticated cuisine, sourced from local farms and fisheries whenever possible, but with constant emphasis on sustainably grown or wild harvested seasonal ingredients, wherever they might come from. This philosophy yields dividends not only for discriminating diners but also for the planet.
OK, so what did we actually eat and how did it taste?
Colette, a beet fanatic, began with a starter playfully called beet tartare ($8), which skillfully combined little cubes of the root vegetable with apple and breakfast radish, spiked those eminently fresh ingredients with a creamy and understated horseradish, and garnished the pretty plate with pea shoots. She was as happy as a little girl.
I was equally delighted with my starter of Parmesan beignets ($9), a sort of French doughnut and a favorite of mine whether sweet, as at New Orleans’ famous Cafe du Monde, or savory, as was the case with these charmers: perfectly crisp little balls of expertly fried dough hot and greaseless from the oil, flavored internally with Parmesan, plated on tiny dollops of orange blossom honey and scented with thyme. Mmm.
Colette next tucked into medium-rare seared skirt steak ($25), sliced and served on a bed of pungent smoked tomatillos and mellow home fries, generously flavored with roasted shallots and accented with a sprinkling of small, sliced yellow heirloom tomatoes—which actually tasted like tomatoes rather than cardboard. The dish is a masterful and inspired combination.
I chose my main dish from the menu’s “plentiful and abundant” section, referencing the daily selection’s origin in sustainable fisheries rather than from the unfortunately large pool of overfished species. Mine was wild-caught salmon from Alaskan waters ($28), broiled to a rosy medium rare and served with toothsome haricots verts, a classic accompaniment to fresh fish, and grilled crimini mushrooms, which I would not have predicted. But then, that’s why Phelps is the chef and I am but a grateful consumer of his creations.
Skip dessert after two such delightful courses? Not a chance.
I chose a Key lime curd (both of our desserts were $8), which proved to be a frothy swoosh of vivid Key lime custard, surmounted by a small scoop of coconut ice cream drizzled with dark chocolate and plated with a comet tail of crumbled ginger basil shortbread bits.
That was excellent, indeed, but Colette scored the Big Wally of sweet finishers with her choice: a soft, sweet and savory cream biscuit over which were draped slices of ripe vanilla-roasted peaches, which would have been dreamy had the chef stopped right there. But he didn’t, choosing instead to scent this glorious combo with lavender creme, honeycomb and caramel. Wow!
And so we finished our first evening at Indigenous, to be followed by as many repeats as we can manage, in high style.
239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 706-4740
Dinner: 5:30 p.m.-closing Monday-Saturday (Lunch service was scheduled to begin by this month, but do call ahead.)
Cards: all major
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street
Chef Steve Phelps shows off his prodigious culinary chops in a comfy and chic setting at the southwest corner of Towles Court downtown. Polished service and a fine wine list match his skill in the kitchen.
Eastern Appeal at Taste of Asia
Taste of Asia, an intimate restaurant that recently relocated from Main Street to Siesta Key, is a family affair serving a mix of Lao, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, including a vegan-friendly section. The small but attractive dining room, teeming with carved and brocaded elephants, offers several tables, and there are several more outside.
The Lums are the family in question, so it came as no surprise that the first item on the starters list is called Lum-plings ($5.99), a superior take on the dumplings familiar to diners in Asian restaurants everywhere. We ordered the pork variety, but chicken is another option. The little steamed purses of meat, cabbage and chives were wonderfully savory under a judicious sprinkling of garlic and soy.
We sampled an order of cool fresh rolls ($4.50), too, which provided a refreshing counterpoint to the steaming dumplings. Lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, rice vermicelli and shrimp were wrapped in thin rice paper and came with peanut sauce.
Colette chose her entrée from a list of dishes simmered in coconut milk and served with jasmine rice. Hers bore the ominous name Evil ($13.99 with chicken; price varies with main ingredient) but proved to be more delightful than scary. To her chicken were added sautéed mixed veggies, onion, kaffir lime leaves and basil, yielding a full-flavored and satisfying main course.
I fared slightly less well with my choice of Koor Mee Lao ($11.99 with tofu; price varies as above), but that probably was just me. There was nothing wrong with the fried bean curd sautéed with rice noodles, onion, scallions, bean sprouts and cilantro; it’s just that I was hoping for a bit more snap than the dish delivered. I should have followed my nose and gone with the green curry.
The dessert course was simply lovely. We shared an order of Thai doughnuts, lovely little lozenges of fried dough with chocolate sauce, and something called banana coins (both $5.95), the tropical fruit accented with honey.
Taste of Asia
5110 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key
Reservations: (941) 349-2742
Hours: 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, until 9 p.m. Sunday
Cards: all major
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: ample in lot