After 16 successful years on Longboat Key at the Four Winds Resort, Ivo Scafa has moved his culinary talents to the mainland in a small Southgate restaurant in a strip mall on Siesta Drive. The plain exterior and the unlovely Budweiser neon sign in the front window may not entice casual strollers or shoppers. But Scafa has a long and respected history in our area, and legions of his supporters have followed him to this new location. With only 44 seats to fill, Ivo's enjoyed a triumphant summer and anticipates a similar tourist season.
The interior belies the Bud sign outside, with starched white tablecloths, fresh flowers and dark-green linen napkins. The fine-dining feeling is enhanced by square tables for two or four and one round table for six-no booths or banquettes. The serving staff is formally attired down to black bow ties. White semi-sheer curtains at the windows and door contribute to a sophisticated cafe atmosphere and screen a view of the sidewalk. The background music is both pleasant and Italian. But the major design investment is a whimsical wraparound mural depicting idealized life in a hill town in Italy.
The elaborate genre scene extends into the service bar area and even winds its way into the unisex powder room, with its big green, glass, wall-mounted basin. The mural is the work of artists Caroline Harnish and her daughter Sara, a recent graduate of Ringling School of Art and Design. The Harnishes (who have done paintings in 16 Sarasota and Venice restaurants) based the mural on their acquaintance with charming little towns in Umbria and Tuscany. The general theme was suggested by Ivo, who is from Bologna.
Ivo's menu is Mediterranean and Continental-preparations familiar but haute and time-consuming enough that you probably wouldn't cook them at home. Scafa spent many years cooking in Switzerland, England and other countries, honing an expertise in French cuisine. He settled in Sarasota in 1978, where he began to experiment with the possibilities of local seafood and cooked at the Surfrider before opening his own place at The Four Winds resort.
Ivo's menu is not extensive, but it is wide-ranging. We're talking expertly rendered beef Wellington, deboned duck stuffed with chestnuts, osso buco, Chilean sea bass, roasted rack of lamb with rosemary and garlic, or snapper sautéed in lemon, butter and capers. Veal Enrico bathes thin scaloppines in a mushroom demiglace made with dry vermouth-rich and delicious. On the simpler side (but no less elegant) a nightly special might be a thick veal chop puddled in a light cream sauce of mushrooms, rosemary and wine.
Shellfish such as mussels and clams take the spotlight on the appetizer side of the menu. You can also expect escargot and shrimp cooked in a garlic and oil sauce that's so tasty you'll dip bread into the warm emulsion once you've dispatched the shrimp. Appetizers are about $7. Additionally, there are four salads (about $6) and four pasta dishes-with meats or seafoods-for about $17. Entrées average $23 and come with a garden salad (enlivened with kidney beans), cheesy potatoes, and two vegetables that change with fresh availability.
For dessert, two of us shared a lemon curd tart with pine nuts and were completely satisfied with the choice-although the sweets are not house made. Three other desserts are offered, all about $6, including a traditional tiramisu if you want an Italian finish to your meal.
Ivo's wine list is entirely Italian and entirely of his choosing, making this an excellent place to sample something from an Italian vintner you might not know. We tried a 1999 bottle of Mionetto Emmeo raso scuro ($28), a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and a local trentino variety called teroldego. Aged only one year on oak, this wine is really an Italian version of a young Bordeaux. With high notes of berries, it had lovely color and good balance and stood up like a soldier to our veal chop and beef Wellington. Prices run from $21 to $85 a bottle, and several wines are offered by the glass for about $5-$7.
If you eat at Ivo's often enough you could exhaust the abbreviated menu and you'd have to rely on Ivo's imagination for nightly specials. Either way, you win. This place is a flawless gem of a pocket restaurant.
2085 Siesta Drive, Sarasota
Dinner: Monday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. (closed Sunday)
Parking in the strip mall is convenient and adequate
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SOUTHSIDE WINNER Swinging into its second season, Sam Snead's Tavern has established a comfortable niche in its neighborhood. The restaurant has an enviable location in Southside Village right on Osprey Avenue, making it a major player in one of Sarasota's trendy new centers for shopping and dining activity. Consequently, Sam Snead's is both a dining destination and discovery for curious walk-ins.
Smartly designed by architect Mark Sultana, Sam Snead's is dressed out as an upmarket sports bar and grill. Inside, fishing and golfing paraphernalia, painting and prints hang on the walls. The place seats about 180 inside and out but feels more intimate because the space is effectively configured with half walls and alcoves. Seating is in banquettes and at bare wood tables laid with silverware wrapped in paper napkins.
The Heinz ketchup bottle is front and center on the table, but so is an attractive oil lantern for some mood lighting at night. High ceilings and exposed beams and duct work establish an industrial attitude, which makes the Belle-Époque-suspended light fixtures seem incongruous. Servers look snappy in white with bistro aprons. When the restaurant is full there's a cheerful buzz which some might call noise, but it's nothing like the conversation-killing din over at Fred's across the street.
The Sam Snead menu is American bistro-hungry man, which means, of course, steaks (four different cuts and sizes from $19.75-$24.50), pork chops, short ribs, burgers, grilled salmon, fresh catch of the day, hearty salads and sandwiches. Additionally, the Tee Off section of the menu lists an agreeable selection of snack foods, some of them unusual. Buffalo shrimp (fried and tossed in hot sauce) are served with carrots and bleu cheese dressing for $8.95. Chili (meat, no beans) shares space on the menu with hot cheese and spinach dip ($6.25), tuna sashimi ($17.50), nachos, chicken quesadillas, even a jumbo lump Maryland-style crab cake with remoulade sauce for $9.95. The tavern kitchen offers two thin-crust pizzas as well as soup and sandwich or soup and salad combinations for about $7.
The apple almond chicken plate salad ($7.95) is huge and delicious, with a tangy citrus vinaigrette. The ground chuck burger is no threat to Patrick's on Main Street. It's good, not great. But the blackbird pasta ($13.95) is tasty and probably more than you can eat. Made with blackened chicken breast, mushrooms, onions and sun-dried tomatoes in a Parmesan cream sauce, it's accompanied by a house salad at night and is available at lunch for less money but no greens. The legendary golfer Samuel Jackson "Sam" Snead (1912-2002) actually played in Sarasota; were he alive today, he'd probably be happy to drop into this comfortable tavern for lunch or a relaxed dinner. He'd certainly be complimented by the flattering golf decor and the name of the place.
Sam Snead's Tavern
1830 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota
Parking on street or in lot at rear of building
Lunch, dinner, late night: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday noon-9 p.m.
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Q. My husband is a sensational cook. I want to buy him a pair of hot-looking chef pants and an official-looking jacket for when we entertain.
A. Keep the flame burning with a trip to The Uniform Center, where there are more chef's clothes than you can shake a wooden spoon at. You want to ask for the "chef's baggy," which are cotton loose-fitting trousers with an elastic waist. Price range from $25-$55. The most popular patterns are the chalk stripe (for a bistro attitude), solid white or black, and the hot chili pepper pattern against a black background. This store also stocks the chef's jacket in white or black with various styles of buttons and fancy trims for $25-$90. The Eqyptian cotton jackets are the most expensive and luxurious. You can gather up a variety of caps and aprons, too, for your honey's cuisine closet. The Uniform Center, 1922 Bay Road, Sarasota. 373-0029.
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Bar none A half-dozen square, low stools hug the curving wooden bar in what Sean Murphy, owner of the award-winning Beach Bistro, is calling "the best little bar in Florida." The area was actually part of the kitchen when Murphy opened his Anna Maria restaurant 18 years ago. He compressed the kitchen to give guests more dining options, and the space became a room for intimate eating. Wine bottles wrap around the ceiling in Murphy's space-saving racking system and both mirrors and artwork help to expand the room, which can hold about 16.
This past summer, Murphy decided this special room should be a bar-part neighborhood hangout, part spot where tourists and off-the-island regulars might solve the world's problems over a glass of rare and expensive single malt scotch or the house drink, called "The Alert But Stupid Redneck." It's an espresso martini made with bourbon. See, the caffeine in the coffee keeps you alert while the liquor makes you...well, you get it.
Food is served in martini glasses, some of them up to 48 ounces in size, for those who want a hungry-man bar meal. Mostly, look for tapas delicacies such as two batter-fried grouper cheeks artlessly perched upon a cloud of velvety citrus grits. You'll find live music in the bar occasionally and a cheery atmosphere there all the time.
6600 Gulf Drive