The owners of the newly refurbished (and quite glamorous) Radisson Lido Beach Resort certainly were smart when they situated Christopher's dining room and lounge on the eighth floor. The chic bar and the amiable two-tiered dining room take maximum advantage of a picturesque panorama.
From the bar and from most of the party room windows, you have Gulf vistas, including incomparable sunsets. From the tropical-theme dining room, you overlook Lido's village of homes and resorts, the Sarasota cityscape and the beautiful bay beyond. At night, with all of downtown lit up, diners nestle into roomy banquettes and point out familiar landmarks. Everything looks so lovely, so pristine, and so lush (you'll be amazed by the thickness of the trees) that it's easy to imagine you're dining in Eden. The Radisson is boasting that Christopher's (named for owner Chris Brown) has the best views in Sarasota; and it would be hard to challenge that contention, especially when you're actually experiencing such sights amid fine wine and food. Sarasota-based interior designer Lori Fountain masterminded the inside ambience, which is subdued and sophisticated tropical, with basketweave chairs, soft botanical prints, and bamboo trim on the half walls and cove molding. The coppery candle lamps on each table echo the colors in the elegant palm plateware. Table linens are a gentle ecru, and the walls are sheathed in a shade of sand. The entire east wall of the dining room is glass. Reinforcing the tropical theme is an aquarium in the entrance foyer of the dining room/lounge. Glass artist Virginia Hoffman designed and executed the etched glass creations in the lounge, and they enhance the tropical theme in a light and fanciful way.
Meals at Christopher's are prepared by executive chef Darrell Mizell in a straightforward fashion-nothing over the top or wildly dramatic. But the presentations are visually appealing, and the dishes tasty. Everything comes to the table with a bit of island flair, be it a small purple velvety orchid, a leafy herb or a fruit or citrus-based sauce.
Seafood chowder, crab cake, escargot, or a sushi trio are among the appetizers (about $8 each). The portions are single-sized, so if you're thinking of ordering two appetizers for three or four to share, it won't work. Everybody needs his or her own. Entrées average about $26 and include several popular cuts of steak, duck, rack of lamb, pan-seared veal chop, salmon (topped with pesto and wrapped in pastry), potato-crusted sea bass, tuna and jerked chicken breast, among others. Vegetarians will have to mix and match from the appetizer and salad sides of the menu. The cedar plank scallops ($28) are actually served on wood. Jumbo scallops are wrapped in bacon, blackened and paired with roasted red pepper and spinach coulis. It's a colorful and satisfying dish.
The wine list is composed of mostly French and American standards. Dessert options are brought to the table on a tray by your server. There's the ubiquitous crème brûlée, an excellent flourless chocolate cake puddled in a raspberry glacé, and several attractive fruit concoctions. The coffee is French press, strong and flavorful. Your server leaves the glass pot on the table for refills at your leisure. The youngish waitstaff, in black dress shirts with the bold Christopher's sun-and-palm-tree logo, is exceptionally well-trained, both efficient and courtly.
If you're vacationing at the Radisson Resort, by all means reserve at least one night for dinner on the eighth floor. Schedule your visit at dusk so you can enjoy the sunset from the bar (or the spacious lounge area near the elevators) before going into the main dining room for the twinkling light show that Sarasota puts on every night. If you're a year-round resident of this part of Florida, don't leave all the fun to tourists. You go to Christopher's, too, and appreciate your town from a glorious new perspective.
Radisson Lido Beach Resort
700 Benjamin Franklin Drive
Dinner, nightly from 5-10 p.m.
Covered parking in the Radisson garage
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Something Old Is New Again
Déjà vu is on the menu at The Oasis Café, a friendly bistro reincarnated from a much beloved eatery that operated in Sarasota from 1979-89. Larry Siegel was a 22-year-old waiter and jack-of-all-trades when he started at the original Oasis. Now, after years in the biz as a food consultant and franchise owner (eight Outback restaurants in the South), he's come home to revive The Oasis Café.
One of the founding partners sent Siegel the framed "first dollar" earned and gave him the original logo. And four of the original menu favorites enjoy top billing in the new periwinkle, purple and kiwi dining room that seats 78. The Oasis Snapper (which used to be made with grouper) is a standout at $15.95. Siegel and 35-year-old chef Dave Keyso (who remained in the kitchen when Augie's Front Burner moved on) have made the batter lighter as well as substituting snapper. The flavors are unexpected and magical-green onions, honey, and fat juicy raisins in a sauce that enhances the fish without overwhelming its nuances. Chef serves the fish with roasted red pepper-infused mashed potatoes, giving the potatoes a golden hue and a welcome kick of flavor. For the seared tuna, Keyso pairs the fish with a mound of julienne-sliced jicama in a light dressing. The crunchy jicama cleans the palate and sets you up perfectly for the punch of wasabi-ginger tuna.
The seafood chowder (mild and creamy) is from the old menu, as are the Gorgonzola-stuffed filet mignon ($18.95) and the potato- encrusted grouper ($17.95). The Oasis always had a reputation for imaginative dishes and staffers who helped dream up eclectic turns on the familiar. Everybody is currently refining a black bean hummus. So far, they say, it tastes great but the color is a dud. Siegel loves input, which he surely gets from waitresses Pam, his former wife; Deb, his girlfriend; and Brownie, who used to work the floor in the original Oasis.
When you go to the new Oasis Café, expect a big friendly greeting, a comfortable, cheerful ambience and fine service that includes a thin slice of cucumber in your ice water. The work-in-progress wine list is ample and the food will bring you back again. Don't you love it when something you admired long ago lives up to all your fondest memories?
The Oasis Café
3542 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday through Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.
Angle parking in the strip mall
Oasis Snapper (serves four to six)
1/2 c. honey
1/3 c. vinegar
1/2 stick butter
1/3 c. raisins
1/4 c. chopped green onions
2 lbs. skinned and boned snapper or grouper
1/2 stick butter and 1/2 c. olive oil
Combine honey, vinegar and 1/2 stick butter in saucepan and heat until butter melts and all ingredients are blended. Set aside. Dust fish fillets in flour. Sauté, using the combination of 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 cup olive oil. Remove fish; drain butter and oil from pan. Set fish aside. Add honey sauce to pan and reduce by half. Add raisins and green onions and sauté one minute. Place fish on plate and pour sauce over fish. Serve with rice or potatoes.
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Do Great Minds Really Think Alike?
Star chefs operate like couture designers. In both professions the genius experiments in secret and yet produces strikingly similar creations to what his or her fellow stars are doing. Is it some weird global couture coincidence that peasant blouses were everywhere-I mean everywhere-this past season, or that polenta is suddenly the sexy starch on menus from California to Miami? Does inspiration strike the creative elite in the same way at the same time? Or is there a marketing muse inside the SubZero walk-in fridge? If you need to look trendy, check W. If you want to eat with the style setters, order up some of the top 15 trendsetting dishes this fall.
* Polenta: basically Northern Italian corn meal mush.
* Tarte tatin: apple upside down pastry.
* Pumpkin: in ravioli, dumplings, curry, etc.
* Coconut milk: It's no longer just for tropical cuisines.
* Yucca fries
* Panko: Japanese bread crumbs.
* Green tea ice cream
* Molten chocolate or volcano cake
* Chipotle peppers
* Small farm or artisan cheeses.
* Kaffir lime
* Apple-smoked bacon
* Sticky rice
* Crispy leeks
* Panini: hot pressed Italian sandwich. Panini bars are the latest start-ups in big cities.
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Ask Marsha: Where can I get a really great steakhouse steak? The answer may surprise you. It's Michael's On East. Owners Michael Klauber and Phil Mancini have invested in a Garland broiler that sears prime, 25-day aged Colorado grain-fed beef to 1600 degrees. Perfection. No pat of butter required. A 24-ounce porterhouse served with vegetable du jour and horseradish mashed potato comes in at $33. Also look for bone-in ribeye, New York strip and filet mignons in several different serving sizes. A seven-ounce filet with accompaniments is just $21. Their timing couldn't be better. The Atkins diet is trendy again, and nutrition experts are suggesting that the path to a healthy lifestyle may be slashing carbs and beefing up protein.
Pilgrim's Progress: It's been a long and vining road since wild regional fare supplied early settlers with the first Thanksgiving meal. Whatever meager wine selection (if any) was served by those Calvinists, you can do better this year. My perfect pour for this Thanksgiving is a Laurent Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru, 1997. This red burgundy looks party-pretty in the glass, has great bouquet and holds its own against the richness of turkey, duck, even beef. $84. Available at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and better wine stores.
Café Culture: Theatergoers should applaud the town's newest culinary productions, the Van Wezel Café and the Opera Café. The Van Wezel's café serves food by Mara Routh's Celebrations by Cafe L'Europe, including an intermission dessert buffet ($7); a bistro-box supper for $12 (starting at 6 p.m.) and a pre-performance lunch on Sunday matinees for $25, as well as champagne receptions after 16 Broadway show openings where you can mingle with the stars ($25). The Opera House Café will be open weekends and before and during opera shows and events. On the menu: Italian coffee, sandwiches from Café Epicure and pastries from C'est La Vie.