Driving down the cluttered, charmless South Tamiami Trail, you'd never guess that once you turn off onto Vamo Way you'll find the pretty little oasis that's Roessler's restaurant. This longtime local establishment is a serene sanctuary of tender foliage, a pond, birds, even an arching bridge that leads to a romantic white gazebo that's the location for many a wedding ceremony.
Inside the long and narrow rambling building are a bar/lounge and a collection of eating areas. Some are more intimate and chatty than the main dining room, which is restrained but totally comfortable, with views of the pond to one side and a walled garden to the other. The tables are spaced far enough apart for the formally attired waitstaff to prepare flaming tableside desserts at one of those rolling carts.
This is a quiet, grown-up place where patrons order traditional rather than designer martinis and expect quality table linen, candlelight and fresh flowers-all the conventions that go hand in glove with the kind of Continental menu that's been offered by the Roessler family for a quarter of a century. The extensive and continually evolving wine list, which has won a Wine Spectator Award for the past three years, is also part of the package.
The restaurant, founded by chef Klaus Roessler and his wife, Linda, was originally located at the Venice Airport, where it was called Roessler's Flight Deck. Chef Roessler, formally trained in Europe, was a Hyatt Corporation chef when he came to America. Later, he was the executive chef at the esteemed Brennan's in New Orleans. Twenty years ago, Roessler's moved from the Venice Airport to its present location when the family bought four acres and a building there.
Today, 29-year-old Klaus Sean Roessler is the executive chef and the second generation to continue the family tradition. After graduating from the University of Florida with a business degree, he acquired his culinary skills by serving as Dad's apprentice. The senior Roessler is now a consultant to the business. Linda still manages the restaurant, and is likely to greet and seat guests, about 40 percent of them regulars.
Like the loyal customers, some items have remained on the menu since the senior Klaus opened the doors. Chateaubriand ($32) is one of them, and chicken Roessler is another. It's finished with a lemon white wine sauce that includes artichokes, mushrooms, capers and scallions. The crisp duckling New Orleans is roasted with black bing cherries, and the snapper Ponchatrain (named for a lake in New Orleans) gets the same treatment as the chicken but with tomatoes added. The Louisiana crab cakes are impressive and delectable. You get two with remoulade on the side. Made with jumbo lump blue crab, these cakes are more than generously packed with crab and just a suspicion of crumbs and egg to hold the cakes together in the pan. They're pan sautéed and then finished in a baking oven, ($24).
You won't be disappointed with the filet mignon (with either Bernaise or Bordelaise sauce), the filet au poivre, or the wiener schnitzel Holstein. Entrées average about $25 and are served with a spring green salad, hot French bread and appropriate potatoes, rice and vegetables du jour.
The appetizer menu at Roessler's is a gem unto itself, with the crab cake available for $9 as well as mussels, grilled sea scallops, smoked salmon, Beluga caviar ($65 for one ounce), even sweetbreads sautéed in a light sherry reduction ($9). The sweetbreads are offered as an entrée as well. But the star of the appetizer collection may be the escargot a la Bourguignonne. The tender snails are baked in a garlic herb butter that's so heady that you'll want extra bread to sop up every drop of the golden sauce. Our waiter, Nathan, told us that some regulars order this house specialty and advise the kitchen to skip the snails entirely and just bring the sauce for dipping. I could see ordering a double portion as a full meal with a salad, wine and a whole loaf of bread.
A big finish awaits with homemade ice creams and sorbets, aged English Stilton with Granny Smith apple slices ($8), a hot apple tart, créme caramel or a chocolate sponge cake with chocolate mousse and raspberry coulis. But the flaming preparations are the special dessert treats. They're done tableside with expertise and flourish for $9, and they serve two. You'll recognize bananas Foster (invented at Brennan's and named for the restaurant patron who invented Foster awnings), and crepes Suzette, but the crepes Swiss may be new to you. They were to me, so I tried them. Four crepes are floated, then drenched, in a molten puddle of melted chocolate, Kahlua and white crème de menthe, then filled with almond slivers, rolled and placed on a plate with coffee ice cream, which is then coated in the hot sauce. How good is that? Enjoy it with hot, well-brewed regular or specialty coffees, port or any number of dessert wines.
The courtly servers at Roessler's make orchestrating a leisurely meal look easy. Lovely meal, gracious service, serene surroundings-sounds a little old-fashioned and too good to be true. But at Roessler's, it's just dinner as usual.
2033 Vamo Way, Sarasota
Dinner nightly from 5 p.m.
Private parties and banquet facilities for day and evenings
Self parking in restaurant lot
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Le Parigot looks like the ideal movie-set pocket French bistro, so cute and genuine in its style that you might expect Gene Kelly, wearing a black beret and striped jersey, to come dancing through the place à la An American in Paris. From the familiar background music to the crisp black-and- white decor and the multitude of plates and pictures on the walls depicting Parisian life, the restaurant sets the stage for a meal experience that should be transporting. And it is. The menu is authentically French (traditional city and country fare), and owners Didier Guedras and Patrick Ravanello are both from Paris. Guedras is the chef and Ravanello is the manager
The restaurant draws a mature crowd at night and considerably younger patrons at the lunch hour. A big attraction to many dinnertime regulars is Parigot's fixed price menu for $21.95. This abbreviated section allows a diner to enjoy three courses. The portions are slightly smaller than the regular entrées, and the management objects to sharing or substitutions. Still, it's an excellent value if you don't mind limiting your choices.
The longer menu, with entrées averaging $19, includes lovely presentations of cassoulet, sautéed sweetbreads, grouper or frog legs Provençale, bouillabaisse and filet mignon with a Bordelaise sauce served on the side. Gratin dauphinois potatoes are a usual accompaniment, with a vegetable du jour. Additionally, you can savor soups (of course, French onion) and hot and cold appetizers (including snails from Burgundy and a reliable house paté) as well as salads and a rewarding selection of sandwiches at lunch. You can have your sandwich on a baguette, but at night the breadbasket that comes to the table instead contains round, soft rolls. It wouldn't be my choice. But both bread selections, which come from the nearby Bavarian Bakery, are tasty.
Expect an excellent assortment of wine by the glass (nearly 20) in addition to bottles from California and France. Wine bottles are actually part of the decor and racked at the back of the rectangular room in tall cases.
Desserts at Le Parigot are a must. For between $5 and $7 you can indulge in an excellent créme brûlée, a profiterole, chocolate mousse, warm apple tart with Calvados and vanilla ice cream (outstanding) or a special of the day. Our pear Helene was superb. In fact, desserts are so good at Le Parigot, it's worth considering this small and congenial place as a tea room every once in a while. Go late into the lunch hour and just order dessert and hot coffee, tea or a glass of wine. This is maximum indulgence at a bargain, considering the quality of the sweets and the comfort of the restaurant. Then, of course, come back later for a full dinner.
6551 Gateway Ave., Sarasota
Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m.
Reservations suggested at night
Strip mall parking
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Q. I appreciate new and unusual taste sensations. Got a combination that's not too drastic but will perk up the taste buds?
A. How about crabmeat brûlée? It's made with cinnamon, sweet chili, cilantro, lime, egg yolks, heavy cream and a touch of cumin; and it's served at Sarasota's Peruvian-flavored Selva Grill. Chef Darwin Santa Maria says the recipe actually began as a mistake. "I was making créme brûlée and a crabmeat salsa, and some of the crab fell into the créme brûlée," he admits. "From there I began to experiment with both sets of ingredients and came up with this recipe." He serves his new creation both as an appetizer and in a little ramekin on the plate with steak. One of Darwin's servers describes the chef's food as a "party in your mouth." Party on, Darwin. Selva Grill, 2881 Clark Road, Sarasota. 927-3500.