Island-spirited but sophisticated, Pattigeorge's has a dream location, on the water right in the center of Longboat Key. The sun porch dining room offers a view of the bay, pleasure boats, mangrove islands and birds. No wonder it's a perennial favorite with seasonal visitors and locals who want a Florida-feeling eating experience.
Owner/chef Tommy Klauber has also made it a gathering place for the area's young and restless, with fun special events (including interactive dinners where the guests take a turn at tableside cooking) and a menu with plenty of small-plate foods for nibbling and sharing over fancy cocktails and gossip. They can even bring their children, since the kitchen will make pizzas and pasta dishes, and kids are encouraged to create their own artwork on the butcher paper that cloaks the white tablecloths.
Finicky gourmands generate no anxiety for Klauber, since he shares their love for exciting, exotic foods. Eight years ago this month, Klauber opened his restaurant; soon after, he married Jaymie Barrie, who's now restaurant manager and also runs Fête, the boutique catering division of Pattigeorge's.
From the outside, Pattigeorge's resembles a rambling mellow-yellow two-story summer cottage, promising comfort and coastal ambiance. The inside delivers with a pared-down modern Crate-&-Barrel kind of attitude and handsome bistro furniture.
Besides the sun porch area, you can eat in the main dining room, and there are a few high tables near the entrance. The floor plan is open and airy with plenty of natural light.
I like Pattigeorge's menu, which Klauber defines as coastal cuisine. This is a place to enjoy a genuine culinary thrill ride: things like wok-charred yellowfin tuna with an orange-tamarind glaze, or Thai green curry mussels.
On a recent visit I opted for a Mediterranean-Asian fusion concoction called Palermo pad Thai ($24.95). It consisted of fettuccine noodles, chicken shrimp and vegetables such as zucchini in a spicy tamarind-peanut sauce. Although some of the ingredients were from an Italian kitchen, the dish tasted decidedly Thai and was full of layered flavors, some of them quite sharp.
My dinner partner was grazing in another country. He selected the paella Valencia, the traditional recipe of saffron rice with seafood and meats with the addition of shiitake mushrooms. Totally toothsome at $27.95. Our appetizer was pork and prawn dim sum, and for dessert we shared a chocolate pear tart ($8). The pear slices had been poached in zinfandel and would have been delicious alone, although the chocolate added another dimension.
Other options from diverse cultures include Myakka Ranch beefsteak, New Zealand lamb, Bahamian lobster tails, Madras curry, Vietnamese rolls or five-spice calamari with orange blossom honey in the dipping sauce. The menu changes seasonally and mirrors Klauber's wide-ranging interests.
The appetizers, about eight in all, average $10 and can be shared. Then there are three stir-fry offerings, several pizzas, half a dozen salads, and almost a dozen large plates that average $27. Additionally, there are eight sides (chef calls them accessories), such as white truffle-Parmesan fries, grilled asparagus or coconut jasmine rice. All are about $6.75. There's also a stir-fry that's strictly vegetarian. Desserts are on a separate menu and tease with selections from simple banana bread pudding to fancy tarts and extra-rich chocolate ganache.
The bar offers an impressive range of beers and cocktails, and a separate wine list is brought to the table along with your menu and a basket of fresh, warm, chewy bread and a bowl of olive oil-based dipping sauce. With so many Asian-inspired dishes offered, I looked in vain for an Alsatian Riesling or even an un-oaked French Chablis. Instead, I chose a beer, and it worked just fine.
Dinner at Pattigeorge's is a satisfying experience from bread to bonbons. Chef Klauber knows how to run a quality restaurant, and how to compose a food experience for guests that will leave them talking about the meal and wanting to take the menu as a souvenir.
4120 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key
Dinner: nightly from 6 to 9:30 p.m.
GOOD VIBRATIONS AT DJ'S
When Rick Monroe closed his restaurant around the corner from the Sarasota Opera House last year, folks who depend on downtown as a walkabout destination for restaurants worried that the charming space would be wasted on offices or retail. Well, that hasn't happened. The space is now DJ's fine-dining lunch and dinner restaurant, owned and operated by chef Donato Sassano of New York and his sister, Donna Friend. Sassano is assisted in the kitchen by pastry chef Benjamin Wilkinson, most recently of Khrome, who's turning out some imaginative sweet dazzlers in this venue.
Everything from the thin-handled but heavy silverware and double-cloaked tables to the individual table lighting and classy white china bespeaks an elegant experience, nicely offset by the modern bistro atmosphere. Brick floor, stucco walls, big paintings and a handsome dark wood bar with an etched monogram in the mirror create a space both relaxed and sophisticated. The downstairs dining room with big windows onto the street seats 30. Upstairs in two intimate and darker rooms there's seating for up to 80, and outside the Tuscan Garden provides a picturesque setting for those who want an alfresco experience.
The food is modern continental with a Mediterranean accent. For appetizers, expect herb-encrusted diver scallops, a traditional shrimp cocktail, oysters Rockefeller and onion soup among other specials averaging about $12. The DJ's signature crab cake is outstanding, crammed with crab and mildly seasoned so that most of the flavor is just crab. In the salad category, the organic Anjou pear mélange tosses raw baby spinach leaves with candied pecans, pear slices and blue cheese, all lightly drizzled with a sweet onion dressing. For a vegetarian, this would be a fabulous lunch. As a dinner salad course, it couldn't be better.
Entrées average $26 and include selections such as duck with potato gnocchi, mustard chicken, New Zealand lamb dry rubbed with cumin and coriander, sea bass (a house specialty), vegetable Napoleon and pan-roasted veal porterhouse. I had veal, presented with the chop standing on end bearing a flag of rosemary. It looked like a sailboat floating to the table and was sitting atop fingerling potatoes and porcini mushrooms in a sweet, dark vermouth sauce. This is a rich, filling preparation and wholly satisfying. Florida lobster tail, oven-roasted filet mignon and grilled New York strip steak with onion rings are other selections worth trying.
The accompanying wine list is designed to be food-friendly and is a work in progress. Currently, it leans heavily toward California offerings and boasts many chardonnays. Desserts are rich, complex and definitely meant to impress. Chef Benjamin is clearly having a good time with concoctions such as barrel of drunken monkeys, which has rum-soaked banana bread as its base. A heavy, bittersweet flourless chocolate cake coated in milk chocolate offers an embarrassment of riches, and the dark chocolate mousse pyramid comes with a shot glass of cold milk. All desserts are $9. And the kitchen hasn't abandoned the art of making good coffee (so many restaurants don't care). Our brew arrived strong, hot and flavorful, a satisfying finish to an A-plus dining experience.
1296 First St., Sarasota
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m. Closed Sunday
ASK MARSHA For the appetizer, chef Cliff Whatmore of Southgate Gourmet recommends Gran Canaria ($22 a pound) from Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin. It's a blend of goat, sheep and cow milks. "For the close of the meal," he says, "you'll want a classy choice and something a bit strong." His pick: Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk, about $25 a pound. "This organic cow's-milk cheese is a triple-cream variety, with a washed rind that has a lovely sunset red-orange color and comes from Point Reyes, Calif.," he says. He also likes a contemporary Oregon take on a Gorgonzola-style cheese called Oregonzola ($22 a pound). This sweet-savory, cave-aged cheese is especially nice with slices of fresh pear.
Q. I'm invited to a Thanksgiving dinner, where I want to bring some cheeses for the cocktail hour and dessert course. Any suggestions?
Remember to set these cheeses out an hour before serving. Warmth brings out their flavors. Southgate Gourmet, 2157 Siesta Drive, Sarasota. (941) 954-2280.
Apple galette from Adam and Vesna Straatman
Born into the food business in Seattle, 27-year-old chef Adam Straatman was apprenticing in some of Seattle's finest by the age of 16. His most recent job there was as chef at Madison Park Café. But wife Vesna is a Florida girl who missed the sunshine, so they moved to Sarasota, where Adam quickly found a job as sous chef at 5 One 6 Burns. This past summer he assumed the top job there and now runs the kitchen.
This old family recipe for apple galette is a favorite when the couple entertains at home. "It's simple to make but looks elegant," says Vesna. "We like to serve the galette at room temperature, but it's just as good warm or cold. It would be fine for a brunch and great for dessert. We never, ever have any left over." 5 One 6 Burns Court, Sarasota. (941) 906-1884
Vesna's Apple Galette
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
5 1/2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
4 to 5 ounces ice water
2 Fuji apples
1/4 cup Riesling or Gewurztraminer
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup Riesling or Gewurztraminer
2/3 cup apple jelly
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, plus a few more for garnish
1 ounce goat cheese
For the crust, combine flour, butter, sugar and salt in a food processor. Empty mixture into a bowl thoroughly combined. Add ice water a little at a time until dough is formed. Cover with plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. For the apples, cut four sides of the apples off the core and into slices one-eighth inch thick. Toss apple slices with wine and sugar. For the glaze, combine wine, apple jelly and thyme and bring to a simmer on the stove. Cook at a slow simmer for 10 minutes until slightly syrupy.
To assemble the galette, roll out dough on a floured cutting board until one-eighth inch thick. Place a dinner plate on dough and cut around the edge to make a perfect circle. Transfer dough to a baking sheet. Arrange apple slices in a circle covering all the dough except a half-inch rim. Brush with glaze and bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and glaze galette one more time. Place on serving platter and garnish with dots of soft goat cheese and fresh thyme.
NIBBLES & SIPS
Chef Derek Barnes is opening a new restaurant at 514 Central Ave., Derek's Culinary Casual, which will focus on comfort food and progressive dishes. A must is confit, especially crispy pork-butt confit served with monk fish. Expect the imaginative as well as the familiar. Lunch and dinner, closed Sunday and Monday. (941) 730-4269.
I recently couldn't find shallots at Whole Foods and risked a pricey substitute-$8.04 for a box of cippolini. They're small Italian yellow onions with a slightly squished shape, a little like a flying saucer. They're somewhat sweet and petite, nice for cooking, especially for caramelizing. They're hell to peel and to slice because of the awkward shape, but quite tasty.
Is beer the new wine? Start noticing the amount of menu space devoted to domestic and imported craft beers, and you realize that beer and food pairings are serious business. Recently, I attended a beer dinner hosted by Red Hook brewery and Fred's. The event featured five courses prepared by chef Gary Schwab and five accompanying specialty beers.
With the fourth course-hickory-smoked short ribs with roasted apples and red cabbage with caramelized onions-we sipped a rich, assertive porter, while earlier with hors d'oeuvres we were served a light ale. And so it went, each course of food matched with a specific brew. It was as delightful and as instructive as most wine dinners I've attended, with one glaring exception-the glasses.
Somebody please design a beer glass that does not hold an entire bottle in one pour, because that's too much brew for a long dinner of many courses and many beers. The glass could be similar to a champagne flute or a variation of a white wine glass.