Tapas, or “small bites,” originated in Spain, where they remain a wildly popular way to make a meal. There they can be as simple as a bite of cured ham wrapped around a cube of cheese or as complicated as a slice of cold omelette. The point is to have a nibble that accompanies an aperitif, usually sherry, but any wine or cocktail works.
Petrella Bros. Italian Tapas & Wine Bar capitalizes on today’s penchant for fusion in food by turning the Spanish concept into an Italian culinary adventure. The menu reads like a traditional Italian menu, but the standards get innovative twists. And the dishes appear in small, individual portions—they are truly tapas. The first time we dined there, we ordered as we usually do: a salad, appetizer, pasta to share and individual protein dishes. We left feeling very righteous that we had eaten so sparely on such delicious food; two hours later we were starving. The next trip found us expanding our choices and leaving with a hefty bill. That said, Petrella Bros. does employ a creative hand to produce outstanding results that are fun to sample and share.
We loved the “flights” of cheeses and salami, each $9. It’s a wonderful way to expand your appreciation of those Italian staples. I had no idea that salami could differ so subtly. And a cheese flight is a must-have, especially paired with one of the red wines offered in the wine bar. Petrella’s takes that one step beyond most wine-by-the-glass programs and offers three sizes of pours—a quarter liter, half liter or a full bottle. This pouring system is available on well over a dozen different wines, and the wines are all Italian. We sampled a Mauro Sebaste Roero Arneis, a white variety with an almond-like characteristic in the nose and taste, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
That wine paired beautifully with a fresh fennel and orange salad that lifted the licorice-flavored root vegetable and citrus fruit to new heights. The salad was sprinkled with grana Padano cheese. Grana means grain in Italian, and in this context means granulated cheeses aged for long periods of time, making them especially suitable for grating. I appreciated the use of the well-aged and slightly nutty and pungent cheese on the salad. The dressing was simple—lemon juice and olive oil—allowing the character of the salad to shine.
The next tapas followed the usually successful formula of “less is more”—broccolini, that suddenly chic vegetable, marinated in olive oil and garlic, grilled, then topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It sounded heavenly, but the broccolini was tough. An order of risotto, asparagus and morel mushroom made us forget that misstep. The risotto was creamy and firm, and the earthy flavors of morel and the crunch of asparagus summoned the essence of spring. The addition of a drizzle of truffle oil seemed almost overkill but was deliciously decadent.
Decadent, too, is the thyme-seared scallop. Thyme is the herb of the hour, attention that is past due this member of the mint family. While a standing member of the French bouquet garni, thyme is now being used more by chefs as a stand-alone, as in this preparation, where it lent its slightly lemony, pungent character to the dish. The scallop was the star, however, and the plump, perfectly cooked bivalve sat atop a pile of shitake mushrooms and onions. Again, a drizzle of truffle oil took the single scallop to a new level. I wanted more, even at $9 per scallop!
We got more—not scallops, but duck—and it may well be one of the best duck breasts I’ve ever devoured. The breast was small, the size of the palm of my hand, sliced and served almost rare. It was drizzled with a molasses made with pomegranates, adding a sweet-tart character. But the real scene-stealer was the pistachio butter that added a rich, nutty finish to the dish. There were raisins, too. As Rachael Ray would no doubt say, “Yum-o.”
There are also categories of pizza (wood-fired, of course) that range from quattro formaggi to an intriguing duo of prosciutto and arugula. Pizzas are $13 and work for two people. Bruschetta, which I am enamored with, is equally interesting, sporting the standard tomato, garlic and basil on bread but with roasted red peppers atop walnuts. Bruschetta is $8.
Larger plates are available for Petrella’s lasagna, a classic Bolognese and vegetarian, alla Contadina. Both are absolute comfort food.
Petrella’s has a martini lounge, separate from the dining room, where they feature some of Italy’s famous cocktails—a peach Bellini from Venice, for example, and specialty martinis like a rum tiramisu. Speaking of tiramisu, that’s the star of the dessert list, a fitting finale to this welcome addition to Sarasota’s dining scene.
6331 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
(941) 922-VINO (8466)
All credit cards
Parking on premises
Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 5–11 p.m.
It used to be that mall food was associated with fast food, not fine dining. That’s changed in a big way. Nowadays, you’ll find many chain and independent restaurants either incorporated into the array of retail at a mall or saddled up next to it as free-standing eateries. In Sarasota, we’ve been ahead of this trend. Cosimo’s has occupied a spot at Westfield Southgate for about 10 years, offering both top-quality fast food (check out the lines for the pizza-to-go window) as well as a jazzy little bar and trattoria-style dining in its intimate rooms and “outdoor” vine-covered space.
We dropped into the trattoria on a busy day, wading through the lines at the pizza window, to take a spot in the bar and enjoy a leisurely dinner far from the crowds of shoppers.
As my gal pals and I ordered a very reasonably priced bottle of Sonoma chardonnay, owner John Ganley wandered over to the table to greet us—always a welcome touch—and recommend a pizza to begin our meal. All of Cosimo’s pizzas are hand-tossed, and the crust is ultra-thin and crispy. We went for the grilled chicken, which features grilled onion, chunks of chicken, artichoke hearts and briny kalamata olives under the cloak of fontina and mozzarella cheese. Not a drop of tomato sauce in sight. Delicious and satisfying, and just $12 for a 12-inch.
My friends moved on to salads, but I had been obsessing about pasta for what seemed like weeks and had committed myself to ordering the ultimate carb. Cosimo’s salads are entrée-sized and have all the elements of a well-balanced meal. The insalata moderna combines a mix of lettuces—romaine, radicchio, baby greens—with olives, grilled chicken and a sprinkling of chunks of fresh mozzarella. The dressing is definitely Caesar-esque and works well with the ingredients.
Tuscan Cobb salad tops a cacophony of greens with turkey, ham, Gorgonzola cheese, olives, artichoke hearts and bacon, of course. It’s presented as a classic Cobb, and the variations—the artichoke hearts and Gorgonzola—are enough out of the ordinary to give the salad real appeal. Dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette. Salads are available in two sizes, prices running around $9 for the small and $13 for the large.
Back to the pasta. I settled on the seafood brodetto, a choice that seemed low-calorie—shrimp and calamari, after all—tossed in fettucine bathed in a tomato saffron sauce. The fettucine was perfectly al dente, and the calamari tender, although the shrimp suffered in that department. I paired that with an order of grilled asparagus—perfectly done, crisp and flavorful, with a sprinkling of asiago cheese on top. It was an inspired choice. Pastas run from $10-$18.
Ganley returned as we stacked up our “doggie” boxes and insisted we share his very favorite dessert, zabaglione with fresh berries. Zabaglione is one of Italy’s gifts to the world, and nothing can top freshly made whipped egg yolks with Marsala and sugar. This is an excellent version, sweet, of course, but so light and ethereal, it was like a kiss on the berries.
COSIMO'S BRICK OVEN
Westfield Southgate, Suite 201, Sarasota
Visa, MC, AMEX, Diner’s, Discover
Q: Sometimes only a burger will satisfy my hunger. Where’s the best burger in town?
A: When burger mania strikes, I head for Patrick’s, a longtime bastion of downtown dining. Patrick’s is located right on Five Points with a panoramic view of the park and passing pedestrians, so snag a window seat if possible. The restaurant has a New York brasserie feel, perfect for chowing down on a great burger. There are about 10 different ones, and you can tailor them any way you want. My favorite is the Bronx Bomber, named after you-know-who. I don’t know if Babe Ruth liked barbecue sauce and grilled onions under Swiss cheese, but I certainly do. I can also recommend the blue cheese burger. The blue cheese sits on top of the burger in a very orderly and delicious way, melting when it gets in your mouth. You can also get a South Beach burger, no bun or fries, which kind of defeats the purpose of a burger binge, in my opinion. The bun is what holds it all together, and the fries are what you do with your other hand once enough of the burger is consumed to be manageable with one hand. These fries are good, too. Enjoy!
1400 Main St., Sarasota
All credit cards
Lunch menu served 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Dinner menu served 4 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Sunday brunch served 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
What I’m Drinking
CAP Creative PR guru Fred Malone has that easygoing demeanor that says “draft beer,” but below the surface is a savvy wine drinker who knows what he likes.
“Because I’m willing to try new things, I like to rely on either a good retailer or a wine that has a good rating from a reliable authority like Robert Parker or the Wine Spectator,” says Malone. “One of my new favorites is Robert Parker-rated at 91 points—Pillar Box Red, from Australia. It's a luscious blend of shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and merlot from young vines. My wine merchant sells it for $10.99 to 11.99, which is the range I like to be in for everyday wines. I also love the ‘05 Garnacha de Fuego, an old-vines red from Spain that I found on sale for $6.99. Delicious, and a Wine Advocate 89-pointer. It’s a matter of honor with me that my spending limit be $15 or less, unless I'm purchasing a gift or for a special dinner, but I've found a lot of great reds in the $7.99 to 14.99 range.”
What about whites? “I'm not a huge fan of whites,” he says, “but one of the best I've tasted this year is from Spain, Las Brisas 2005, a blend of grapes: verdejo, sauvignon blanc and viura. It's water-straw colored with an intense, youthful nose of grapefruit, lemon and pepper. Nice label, too.
“I think it's important to find a wine shop with an enthusiastic staff,” Malone continues. “Sure, you can find a nice wine in a grocery store, but get to know a passionate wine seller and you’ll be rewarded with flavors, intensities and values you'll never get with hit-or-miss purchases at the supermarket.”
Chef Judi Gallagher picks the wines of summer.
Steamy summer days mean many of us will be looking for lighter, refreshing wines to pair with warm-weather suppers, so I asked local wine consultant Michael Green to pick some of his favorite summer wines and suggest dishes to complement them. He promises these pairings will help you stay cool and refreshed on even the sultriest evenings.
• Benton Lane Estate pinot noir, Oregon 2005 ($24). The velvety structure of this wine complements the ample body. Pair it with grilled tuna steak with charred leeks and grilled red potatoes.
• Layer Cake shiraz, Barossa 2005 ($12). This shiraz layers seductively rich flavors, just like a good layer cake. Pair it with chili-rubbed steaks with stuffed poblano peppers.
• Turnbull sauvignon blanc, Oakville 2005 ($16). Primarily sauvignon blanc with a small amount of Viognier and semillon, this is a great white with just a tiny hint of oak. Pair it with panzanella salad (see recipe below).
• Onix, Priorat 2005 ($15). A blend of old-vine Garnacha and Carinena, this wine has a lovely nose of mineral and ripe cherries. Pair it with marinated grilled rack of venison with portobello mushroom fries.
• Verget Chablis Terroirs de Chablis 2004 ($20). Ripe and nuanced, this classically dry wine pairs well with a New England clambake and a side of grilled peaches.
• Crios de Susana Balbo, malbec rosé, Mendoza ($12). This wine, with its beautiful rose color, has a surprising amount of body and aromas of strawberries. Pair it with grilled shrimp and an arugula pizza with zucchini.
• Ballentine Old Vine chenin blanc, Napa ($15). From 40-year-old vines, this fruit-driven white is crisp, clean, and refreshing. Pair it with crab and lobster salad with watermelon gazpacho.
4 large red heirloom tomatoes
1 yellow heirloom tomato
6 cups day-old, country-style Italian bread
1 cup sliced red onions
3 teaspoons fresh minced garlic
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil (you may use a high-quality basil olive oil)
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, stems removed, chopped
4 cups baby arugula
Wedge of aged Parmesan cheese
In a large bowl whisk the vinegar, garlic and olive oil. Cut tomatoes into wedges, season with salt and pepper. Add bread and sliced onions. Whisk dressing and pour over tomatoes, bread and onions. Toss. Let stand for 20-30 minutes. Adjust seasoning and toss in chopped basil and serve. Top with shaved Parmesan and baby arugula.
THE PLANE TRUTH
Yes, you can find decent airport food. Sort of.
I am penning this thought while in-flight to Orange County, Calif., where I’m going to give a lecture on customer service and grassroots marketing. Hospitality consulting is what I like to call my day job, as if eating up to eight meals a day and then writing about them for this magazine could be considered anything less than full-time employment.
This morning I face the same problem as any corporate traveler who has 40 minutes between flights in which to find a pseudo-healthy lunch before boarding a four-hour flight. Breakfast was a good part of an eight-ounce pack of Nutter Butters and a bottle of water—not ideal, but clearly a better option than Burger King’s croissant breakfast sandwich. While my Nutter Butters, if portioned correctly, can sustain me until the plane lands for my layover in Atlanta, I’m not quite sure if I will have the time or be in the right terminal to snag what I hope will be lunch: a tuna salad at Au Bon Pain. Certain airports have impressive dining options—for example, Logan Airport in Boston has a Legal Seafood that opens at 7 a.m., perfect for a lobster roll or a clam chowder. But, once again, being at the right place at the right time is everything. What if you are on Concourse E and the clam chowder is only on concourse A? What if a take-out bowl of clam chowder is considered over the two-ounce liquid quota for boarding? (Hey, they just confiscated my hand lotion back at SRQ.) And let’s face it—the fare at most airports is unappealing and unhealthy to boot.
My brother, an Italian coffee company executive, travels four to five days a week and tells me the tomato soup at the Atlanta Bread Company or Au Bon Pain is usually a safe bet (flavorful and not too heavy, but not as salty as beef vegetable). Add a croissant or hard roll and butter with a slice of cheese and a large bottle of water.
You can find low-fat frozen yogurt at almost every airport—pair it with a fruit cup, also widely available, and try to find a small box of Cheerios at a breakfast counter to fill you up a bit more. I travel with a box of Kashi Crunch just in case.
Avoid pre-made salads at Chili’s and Wolfgang Puck, as they often are limp and filled with cabbage. Believe it or not, the airport sports bars usually have decent quesadillas and salads. Double check to make sure the salad is made to order, though. Quizno’s makes a pretty turkey sub with bacon and cheese and all the fixings, but pass on the onions for the sake of other passengers seated nearby.
If you’re flying overseas, do try and pack a full meal. I pack sliced sirloin, wedges of cheese and baby carrots and celery with some type of healthy crackers and a container of pasta to fill me up midway. If all else fails, devour everything before you go through security and hope that you’re so full that you sleep the whole way!
For more from Judi Gallagher about Sarasota food and dining, go to her blog, FOODIE’S NOTEBOOK, on our Web site: sarasotamagazine.com