When I noticed a new French restaurant had "Sylvie" in its name, I wondered if the proprietor knew that the French name (and its owner) had a long and respected culinary history in this town. But when I visited the eatery, I discovered that the new Sylvie is the original Sylvie, this time joined by her son, Richard Millet, who's been in Germany for the past 15 years running a nightclub. Sylvie Routier, whose last restaurant closed in 1998 (it was on Main Street and was preceded by places in Gulf Gate and Osprey Avenue) has come out of retirement to help establish Chez Sylvie et Fils in a tiny storefront in a strip shopping mall.
The menu is French bistro, with many of the recipes that were the stock and trade of the other Sylvie restaurants. The snapper bound in parchment paper and cut open tableside has been on Sylvie's menus for 25 years and is still prepared to perfection, the tender fish gently enlivened with leeks, carrots, rosemary, white wine, spinach and fresh fennel. A whole roasted chicken with herbs and garlic will feed four, and there's a satisfying grilled beef with herbes de Provence and fresh thyme that is first rate. The average entrée price is about $20.
Mother and son are dedicated to organic fruits, vegetables and dairy products, organic small-production French wines, wild fish, and meats from free-ranging steer and chickens. And either by instinct or by considered strategy, they seem to have adopted the table rules of the world's oldest gastronomic society, La Chaine des Rotisseurs: no salt and pepper on the table, no water, no bread, no butter. Of course, you can request these accessories, and bread does comes with the pâté, but I'd advise going with the spirit of Sylvie and resisting what's not offered. Without salt and bread you tend to concentrate more fully on the taste of the food you're served.
The pâtés are exemplary, the crowd pleaser being the Forestier with the pungent taste of wild mushrooms and the sweet tang of Madeira ($9.99). Other starters include a large artichoke with homemade vinaigrette, salmon caviar or poached leeks served with eggs mimosa. Sylvie likes soup, too, so as an appetizer you might want to select a velvety leek and potato mélange, watercress soup, fish soup with saffron or a hearty all-vegetable soup. The kitchen also has several all-vegetable dishes it can prepare.
The breakfast menu features several omelettes and crêpe presentations as well as Belgian waffles. For lunch there are sandwiches and salads. For desserts, look for crème brûlée and sorbets. More exciting is the cheese board or the crêpe flambé. And the chocolate mousse, a house specialty, is made without cream. It's so airy it's like foam, cloud-light but full of deep chocolate flavor ($8.95).
Sylvie and Richard use their extensive sources to maintain a spirits menu that is adventurous, full of obscure organic boutique French wines and a surprising array of imported craft beers. Guests wanting to experiment can have a grand time with the wine and beer list while staying in the $30 range for wines and about $5 for a big glass of beer. The wine menu is educational, too, full of maps, descriptions of grape regions and explanations about certain vintages
While the restaurant is intimate right now, Richard plans to expand into the area next door. He envisions an art gallery, wine bar and live jazz hangout. Chez Sylvie et Fils intends to be more than a bistro with delicious food and friendly service. It's off to a successful start because the heart of the enterprise is already a gastronomic winner.
Chez Sylvie et Fils
2881 Clark Road (Merchants Pointe Plaza), Sarasota
Lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Breakfast and lunch Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Closed Monday.
Parking in mall lot
Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti worked with a paintbrush and chisel. The cooks at his namesake eatery in Bradenton use dough and macaroni. The result is food artistry.
Michelangelo is a bustling storefront pocket eatery that seats about 40 guests in a new strip mall. On one long wall is a cheerful mural of the Italian countryside, and on the wall to the left of the entrance is a fresco-like detail of the Creation of Adam portion of the Sistine Chapel. The restaurant's owner/chef/baker, Alfonso Formica, brought an artist down from Long Island to do the work.
The menu (and pizza box) let us know that this family-owned pizzeria has been doing business since 1980 in Long Island. Well-positioned on the fringe of Lakewood Ranch, Michelangelo has quickly become a neighborhood destination for whole meals or pizzas, and it's conveniently open seven days a week.
People are coming and going constantly-moms trailing kids in school uniforms who are picking up dinner, construction workers or men in business suits needing a pizza, whole families looking for a dinner booth. This is a little restaurant, but it caters to all kinds of eaters and packs huge flavors in its wide-ranging menu.
You can have pizza, thin or thick crust, in nearly any combination you can think of for between $11 and $22. Many versions are available by the slice for about $3. You'll find hero sandwiches, soups, appetizers (such as fried calamari, stuffed mushroom, hot antipasto), salads, pastas (12 preparations), baked pasta dishes (stuffed shells, lasagna) as well as specialty veal, chicken, eggplant, seafood and vegetarian dishes.
If you enjoy the everyday foods of southern Italy, you can't possibly go away hungry or unhappy here. And even if you eat in or take food home from Michelangelo twice a week, it would be a long time before you could eat your way through all the menu items. But I think you should have a go at it just the same.
Michelangelo of Long Island Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant
Corner Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and S.R. 70, Bradenton
Credit cards if order is more than $10
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Eat in or take out
Catering and gift certificates available
Parking in mall lot
Tasty tomato soup from Yves Vacheresse
Born in Lyon and raised in Beaujolais, Yves Vacheresse learned to cook by helping his dad prepare Sunday lunches. A graduate of the Hotel and Restaurant School of Grenoble, France, the chef worked in luxury hotels until he came to America to be the chef and steward aboard Fabergé's corporate jet, where he entertained the likes of Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra. Other culinary assignments: the Algonquin Hotel, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Hyatt Regency in Adelaide, Australia. Now Vacheresse is the new chef in charge of the Vernona at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, where he's subtly modifying the menu to reflect a commitment to organic ingredients. The following recipe is one that Vacheresse serves as an amuse bouche at the Vernona-perfect for a summer lunch or as the first course for a light dinner.
Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with Basil-Parmesan Crisp
4 to 6 ripe heirloom tomatoes, preferably organic
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
With the tip of a sharp knife, remove stems from tomatoes. Cut tomatoes in half, squeeze seeds out and cut into small dices. Reserve. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion dices. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until soft. Add tomatoes and garlic. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until tomatoes have become very soft and half of cooking juices have evaporated. Add cream and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer soup into blender. Process until totally smooth and creamy. Adjust seasoning and chill in refrigerator for a minimum of two hours.
6 ounces Parmegiano Reggiano cheese, grated
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves only, chopped fine
1 ounce unsalted butter, very soft
Combine grated Parmesan and chopped basil in a mixing bowl. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Brush abundantly with butter. Spoon basil-parmesan mix onto parchment paper in thin strips of three inches in length. Bake at 375 degrees for eight to 10 minutes until cheese "bubbles" and turns golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool completely and remove from cookie sheet with a metal spatula.
To serve: Ladle soup into martini glasses or soup bowls. Garnish with a pinch of basil chiffonade (leaves cut into thin strips). Top with a crisp.
Q. Where can I get a great quesadilla that's not in a Mexican restaurant?
A. Actually, there are plenty of places, since the quesadilla has successfully made the transition from Hispanic specialty to a common feature on bistro, café and casual dining chain eatery menus. But I like these tortilla turnovers at the Oasis Cafe best. Jim and Melissa Palermo (original owners of The Broken Egg and the Serving Spoon) bought Oasis several months ago and have totally revamped the menu. You can have quesadillas with just cheese, vegetarian, grilled shrimp or with blackened or grilled chicken for prices ranging from $7.95 to $9.95. With your four triangular pieces of stuffed tortilla come guacamole, salsa and black bean salad, all attractively arranged on fresh greens and colorfully composed on a white plate. The Oasis Café, 3542 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota. (941) 957-1214.
Nibbles 'n' Sips
Café of the Arts, the country French restaurant on the North Trail, has been sold, and whether or not it remains a restaurant is in question. Former owner Alain Taulere, wife Bonnie and their sons, Jean-Luc and Alex, are now living in Costa Rica, where they own and operate a restaurant at Mary E Sol. The buyer of Café of the Arts and Old Hickory, too (as well as a vacant lot between the two), is developer James Heyward of Bird Key, originally from England. He'll eventually develop the property into office and retail space but says a British-style pub might be part of the mix. Look for something to rise in about a year.
Gone, too, from the local restaurant scene is the old North Trail landmark Mel-O-Dee, the place that once served 24 hours a day. Nobody ever claimed the food was wonderful, but the place was convenient and it became an institution.
Of all things, the Bahi Hut on North Trail was highlighted in a recent issue of Coastal Living magazine in a feature on cross-country tiki bars. Writer Steve Millburg praised the Hut's 1960s vintage décor, but cautioned guests about the "fearsome" signature mai tai, saying, "There's a two mai tai limit, for good reason."
Want sushi in a grand Mediterranean setting? Head to The Ritz-Carlton and the cozy Lobby Lounge for an authentic taste of Japan every Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. No reservations required. Prices vary according to selection.
The newest thing in cocktails is flavored gin. In general, gin is making a comeback, and what better time than summer to investigate new gin refreshers? Hendricks has entered the flavored market with gin infused with cucumber and a hint of rose petals. Try it in your next gin and tonic or in a classic martini. Garnish with a cucumber slice.
Pacific Rim on Hillview is now bigger (a fire encouraged owners to renovate by expanding into a neighboring space), and the restaurant has a liquor license. Cheers!