Thomas Harvey may be cooking in a small town, but the 33-year-old chef and owner of Galileo is definitely poking his fork into the wider world of culinary trends. For example, every weekend he welcomes a shipment of Georgetown Farm Piedmontese Silver beef so customers can try what foodies in New York and California are enthusiastically evaluating-steak from grass-fed cows, which are leaner and healthier than corn-fed cattle. Harvey's local reputation, though, rests on classic Italian recipes. The tiramisu he serves for dessert is his mother's recipe. She was born in Sicily.
Galileo is tucked into a shopping venue created to replicate a quaint and cozy New England fishing village. Parking spaces are so few that valets are a necessity. His restaurant seats 70 inside a narrow dining room and outside on a wrap-around porch that maximizes views of Little Sarasota Bay. White tablecloths and fresh flowers create a fine-dining ambience, and the Tuscan textured walls and Italian-inspired art enhance Harvey's Mediterranean theme. Mirrors help to visually expand the space but can't completely disguise the fact that Galileo is cramped. Tables, however, are generous in size, and once seated you've got enough personal real estate to enjoy a meal.
When you open the menu or listen to the nightly specials, you plunge into a paradise of Italian classics, always made with fresh ingredients and never overcooked. The menu is divided into antipasti, a seafood and meat page, and a section reserved for pasta. The nine appetizers range from such usual suspects as fried calamari, bruschetta, and ripe tomato slices with housemade fresh mozzarella, ($7 -$13) to the grilled portobello mushroom stuffed with fresh Maine lobster and mascarpone cheese.
Another nine selections compose the pasta portion. Harvey does a traditional Naples-style lasagna with sausage and veal in the cheese mix ($14). And the ravioli filled with roasted eggplant, sweet red peppers and smoked mozzarella would make a vegetarian happy ($15).
The pesce e carne part of the menu offers about a dozen hearty meals ranging from the most-requested dish, pan-seared Chilean sea bass with port butter sauce and crispy fried leeks ($22), to fresh Atlantic salmon roasted in parchment ($27) to chicken breast in lemon-mushroom-caper sauce ($15) to ossobuco ($20).
The menu is so expansive that there is something for everyone. And, of course, if you visit Galileo on the weekend just for the grass-fed beef, you can dine outside the Mediterranean menu entirely. Your tender and juicy steak is paired with mashed potato as the starch. I'd jettison this in favor of a pile of golden steak frites or a simple baked potato. But everything else on the plate, including the silky mushrooms, reduction sauce and the colorful al dente julienne vegetables is perfect ($30).
If you work for Tom Harvey, you'd better be young, , unflappable and in good physical condition, because these servers hustle. They also know their wines and can suggest lots of bottles from Harvey's mostly Cal-Italia list, ranging from $18 to $44 with a few higher. House wines and port are $5.50 by the glass, but the real bargains are in the upmarket labels.
On a good weekend night Harvey and his energetic sous chef Chris Menard can turn out 130 meals. Desserts are about $6.50 and usually seasonal. Fresh strawberries are paired with 100-year-old balsamic vinegar and mint for an offbeat treat in spring and summer. The molten chocolate with homemade hazelnut gelato is a favorite with regulars year-round, and figs with Gorgonzola make an appearance in the fall.
You've got to believe that Galileo is Thomas Harvey's launch pad, the kitchen where he's experimenting with menus, preparations and the challenge of owning a business. When financing and confidence encourage Harvey's transit to more comfortable quarters, he won't have to drop bread crumbs for us to find him. Food groupies all over town are keeping an eye on this chef and are willing to go wherever he does.
1538 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota
Dinner: Monday through Saturday 5-10 p.m. Closed Sunday
* * *
A Bit of Bay Leaf
If you want tasty proof that Sarasota is expanding its cultural cuisine horizons, order lunch or dinner at the Bay Leaf Café, inauspiciously situated in Sarasota's Coral Cove strip mall. Bay Leaf (so named because Sarasota is a bay city and bay leaf is a nice herb) seats about 30 in a neat but plain environment that's devoted to the concentrated celebration of taste. There are vegetable paintings on the wall-not framed art but oversized, vivid renditions of individual pieces of fruits and vegetables painted directly onto the walls-and a blackboard lists the daily specials in bistro style.
The owners, Jon and Iga Tyraka, are Polish. They met and married in Chicago, where they both worked in restaurants. Their restaurant here opened this past September. Sous chef Jerzy Turosienski is also Polish and a family friend. The two men cook; Iga is the hostess/server, and on busy weekends she brings in another server to help. The menu has Eastern European ethnic characteristics, so you'll be able to order a toothsome Hungarian goulash, chicken paprikash crepes and potato leek soup. Lamb shanks and the apple/duck confit salad are wildly popular with regulars, many of whom are Europeans.
But chef Tyraka is in love with oranges; and he uses orange juice and ginger to complement his cured salmon and his carrot soup, both quite appealing. His sea scallops (juicy and firm) are topped with a Cointreau compote. Actually, he places the tangy orange compote to the side of the plate so that you can join the bits of spiced citrus and seafood in the proportions you choose.
Chef Tyraka also has a fondness (and a talent) for crepes, but not the rolled kind like The Magic Pan of old days or the triangular pouches that are trendy. Chef Tyraka's crepes sit in the middle of a snowy plate as plump, square, golden surprise packages, light and scrumptious. His Grand Marnier crepe, filled with sweet cheese and puddled in the heady orange liquor, is offered as dessert, but I'd be just as glad to yummy it up at breakfast with a steaming mug of bitter black coffee.
The kitchen also does an herb crepe stuffed with chicken liver in port wine ($3.95) that will make you sit up and take notice. And Tyraka's spinach and ricotta crepe ($4) is elevated above the ordinary with pine nuts. The asparagus and ham crepe ($5.50) is enlivened with caramelized onion and tart tomato salsa Are you noticing how reasonable these prices are?
For a spicier crepe the shrimp and vegetable one ($6.25) should perk up the taste buds with hot chili sauce, roasted pepper, corn and green onion. There's even a crepe quiche made with the traditional bacon, cheddar and mushrooms and served with a tomato salsa ($4.95). Actually, whatever this little restaurant puts out is of culinary interest so long as you don't mind the underpowered wine list. You can always bring your own bottle. Bay Leaf Cafe creates food that piques cuisine curiosity and answers the question, what would taste really good and really different tonight?
Bay Leaf Cafe
7252 S. Tamiami Trail (Coral Cove Mall) Sarasota
Monday through Saturday: Lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner 5-10 p.m. Closed Sunday
Angled parking in strip mall
* * *
Catch The Wave
Mike and Daniela Larsen's Fish Tales, a seafood market/eatery that started out in minuscule quarters in the Gulf Gate area and enjoyed enthusiastic business from the day it opened in 1996, has made a smooth transition to much larger quarters on the South Trail, and is doing, well, swimmingly.
Inside there's plenty of room for the separate bar/smoking dining room (that will convert next month to non-smoking), a rambling main dining room of many booths, even several decorative aquariums. The frosty seafood market cases are lined up near the entrance and Fish Tales does a brisk business with folks coming in for fresh salmon, mussels, shrimp, local grouper and even catfish that they'll cook at home. The original Fish Tales was prized for its crab cakes, which you could enjoy on the premises or take to your own kitchen to fry in a little butter. You still can. One generous crab cake ready to cook is $5.95.
The crab cakes are sublime, full of lump blue crab and just the tiniest additions of egg, mayonnaise and panko to hold everything together. The cakes are slightly underseasoned, which is just what you want, since you can shake out the hot sauce or dip in tartar sauce as you choose. There's malt vinegar on the table, too. These cakes are made fresh twice daily and along with the Gulf of Mexico grouper are the most popular items on the menu.
Entrées average about $16 and include Chilean sea bass, North Atlantic scrod, shrimp scampi, American red snapper, baked stuffed shrimp, swordfish loin, blackened tuna and plenty more. A special feature of the kitchen is that you can select seafood from the cold cases and have Mike Larsen cook it to your specifications. There's a section of the menu devoted to pasta and seafood pairings and another for sandwiches (nearly 10) that are about $12 each. Steak, chicken and burgers are on the menu to mollify any landlubber who happens to wander in.
The wine list is mostly Californian with one or two from Italy and Australia. Bottles average $22 and there are 15 by-the-glass offerings at about $5. Additionally, there's a full bar.
Desserts come on a tray and include some routine pies and cakes, none made on the premises. The Larsens probably believe that seafood lovers will want to load up at the front end of the meal and will not be overly concerned with a big finish. I think they're right. With appetizers like Thai mussels, fried oysters, New England steamer clams, oyster stew, or snow crab legs preceding generous entrées, who needs dessert?
Since Fish Tales can hold 160 and is frequented by large parties, it can be noisy. The napkins are cloth,but you'll get paper place mats. Condiments come in plastic containers. If you want water you'll need to request it. The serving staff, however, is attentive, efficient and amiable. They know the inventory and can be relied upon for helpful suggestions. At Fish Tales, the focus is on what brought this place to prominence from its early days-fresh seafood, simply prepared and sold at fair prices.
Fish Tales Restaurant & Market
6331 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Monday through Saturday: Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dinner 4-8 p.m. Closed Sunday
* * *
Q. Got a new place in town to try a fun mixed drink?
A. You can relax and sip in Crate & Barrel-style hip contemporary comfort at the new Lido Grille on St. Armands Circle, where the tony wooden bar runs the length of the main dining room. The bistro offers lunch, dinner and nibbles, but what really impresses are the creative mixed drinks, most of them $7.50. Choose yours from a tent card on your table, which entices with the likes of Starry Starry Night, Burnt Banana Coffee, Rain Drop and Lido Tini. Good wine list, too, mostly California and Australian. Live music. 326 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota. 388-0155.