First up: Urban Reef (formerly Esca). Since they won the best taste award at the Sarasota Food and Wine Festival for their tuna tower appetizer, I thought it fair to give them a good look, and it was a delicious experience indeed. On the chef’s suggestion, we tried the pan seared grouper with fresh sautéed spinach and lump crab stir fry with a beautifully executed beurre blanc, clearly their best dish and worth more visits.
Now, believe it or not, although the other seafood selections looked beyond tempting, we ventured over to the slow braised short ribs and coffee rubbed pork tenderloin with goombay smash yucca sweet potatoes (not sure what goombay means but it sounds islandy and cool). The pork tenderloin was moist, somewhat subtle with its coffee overtone and incredibly moist—a comfort dish extreme in this unusual El Nino winter.
The space at Urban Reef is comfortable; love the open kitchen.
I love the open kitchen and chef Ash Tucker’s clean respect for ingredients. Do not even think about the calories when you dive into the Lobster Mac— creamiest and most lobster I have experienced in this town—just dive in and beg the scale for forgiveness the next day!
The ceviche was a little weak, the wine list very minimal; but the prices more than fair. The owners are young in the restaurant biz but can succeed if they keep on track with this fresh, clean urban feel.
Whitefish salad worthy of a New York deli.
Now over in Gulf Gate, you just have to check out Veg—a welcome addition to the area, taking over the former Déjà Vu space. We wandered in just looking for a take-out menu but found ourselves nibbling on white fish salad worthy of a Zabar’s deli case. There is Danish herring—OMG—which claims to be a South African favorite, but I petition to rename a Chef Judi favorite. And locals are already raving about the matzoh ball soup that is a vegetarian version but tastes just like Nana’s. Veg is going to be on the healthy but tasty scene, so stay tuned. (They claim the latkes are just like Grandma’s; we’ll see.)
Danish herring–I am going back for more.