Café on the Bayside, which has moved from its old home in the Bay Isles section of the Longboat Key Club to the Centre Shops, further north on Gulf of Mexico Drive, is a thoroughly traditional restaurant with a menu as familiar as the pages of your favorite nightstand reader. And much like that faithful volume, it delivers just what it promises: comfort and satisfaction.
That the restaurant does traditional so well will come as no surprise to those who value the same constancy in its sister restaurant, Café L’Europe on St. Armands Circle. Both are overseen by executive chef Keith Daum, a stickler for quality ingredients and careful cooking. In the dining room and bar, the black-clad wait staff takes the same care with service.
The space Café on the Bayside now occupies once sheltered Maureen’s Palm Grille, a favorite of ours until it closed a couple of years ago. The interior has been transformed from the spare modernism of Maureen’s to a room with a tastefully nautical, mildly nostalgic feel, right down to the soothing saltwater aquarium, the model sailboats and the mural of a Sarasota Bay scene on the back wall.
The patio, with its well-spaced umbrella tables and big trees, is as inviting as ever, absolutely perfect for Sunday brunch.
At dinner on the patio one delightfully cool evening not long ago, as we dipped warm foccacia squares in a zingy red chile marmalade, Colette and I considered the merits of a straight-ahead shrimp cocktail vs. an appetizer intriguingly called open-face escargot ravioli. We opted instead to share a blue crab and artichoke casserole ($11), a dippable hot starter accompanied by thin slices of toasted foccacia. It proved to be both a perfect portion for two and nicely balanced, with the artichoke hearts in greater abundance than the crab, which saved it from being too rich for an overture.
We sipped a crisp and clean Sonoma Vineyards unoaked chardonnay ($9 by the glass) with the starter and decided we’d stick with it for the main course. The entrée portion of the menu is about evenly divided between seafood and land-based fare. We sampled one dish from each section, basing our selections on the wine we had discovered to be so agreeable.
Colette chose an old favorite from a list of landside standards that includes steak au poivre, sautéed pork tenderloin medallions in a sage-scented Marsala sauce and penne a la vodka with prosciutto. All good possibilities, but given the wine in our glasses she chose the chicken Française ($19) and was happy with her choice. Because this is a simple dish, it relies for its success on the choicest, tenderest chicken
breast and impeccable execution, which is exactly the treatment it gets here. The lean white meat Colette ate was floured with a light hand, dipped in egg batter and gently sautéed in sherry, lemon and butter. Just right.
From the seafood portion of the list, which offers the contemporary standard wasabi-crusted yellowfin tuna as well as good old grilled salmon perked up with a tomato mushroom cream sauce and a by-the-book scampi, I chose a dish that surprised me. Behind the blandly labeled potato-crusted grouper ($31) hid a fresh approach to Florida fish. Given the menu description, I had expected a nice piece of fish lightly cloaked in a moderately crispy riced potato jacket. What I got was one of the best potato pancakes I’ve ever tasted with a bonus inside: a nice piece of fresh, perfectly cooked fish! It was a welcome twist on a standby and one I’ll order again. Both main dishes came with spears of al dente asparagus, and the chicken was kept company, too, by an excellent dab of au gratin potato.
For dessert, the kitchen graciously divided one portion of fresh berries Romanoff ($7), with whipped cream on top and cool zabaglione underneath, into two little stemmed glasses. A nice touch and a fitting close to a pitch-perfect evening of traditional dining under the stars.
Café on the Bayside
5350 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key
Reservations: (941) 383-0440
Hours: dinner from 5-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday
Cards: AmEx, V, MC
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: ample in Centre Shops lot
An easy flow at Currents
It once was called Scalini’s and before that Pompano Cay. Now the restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota is called Currents, but much more than the name has changed. Both the restaurant’s decor and the menu have been thoughtfully up-dated and streamlined.
The dining room’s design is now ultra-clean, relying for its punch on the contrast between white, white walls and dark wood accents, as well as on the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the boat basin and hotel pool. The effect is breezy and tropical with an Asian accent, and the freshness carries through to the lobby bar.
The menu, intended to change with the seasons, now fits on one uncrowded page, plus a smaller sheet with Currents’ pre-theater dining package, designed for those attending events at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall across the street. The wine list is similarly compact, but desserts get their own photo-illustrated brochure.
The dinner menu begins with half a dozen or so small plates, a couple of soups and a handful of salads. Entrées usually number six to eight, with a heavy emphasis on Florida seafood, which the kitchen does very well. My first impression was that I wasn’t being offered much choice, but a closer reading revealed an admirable economy at work and plenty of variety. The proof of the success of this approach, which lets the kitchen concentrate its talents on preparation of just a few stellar dishes, was in the eating.
I began with a trio of gorgeous sea scallops black-ened with a very light hand and served over a bed of refreshing cucumber and mango on a plate painted with swooshes of roasted red pepper sauce ($13). Our server had pointed me in this direction while I was trying to decide between the scallops and a Florida spring roll featuring crab, avocado, grapefruit and a habañero spiked dipping sauce, advice for which I thanked her profusely.
Colette began with a tortilla soup chunky with chicken ($8) that wasn’t quite as outstanding as the scallops but was still very good. It came to table in two parts: a bowl heaped with breast meat and crisp tortilla strips and an ewer holding the tomato-y, peppery liquid portion of the concoction, which our server poured with aplomb. Showmanship, perhaps, but the result was savory and built a nice slow heat, very welcome on a cool evening.
Entrée options include filet mignon, pasta and Florida spiny lobster, but we decided to stick with the theme we’d established with our starters. Colette chose the grilled mojo chicken ($22), while I opted for salmon caponata ($17).
The boned, marinated, perfectly grilled airplane chicken breast (one wing attached) was as zingy as its name implies. It came on a plate prettily painted with a sheen of black bean coulis swirled with cilantro créme fraiche and co-starred a stack of scrumptious, thin-sliced, fried sweet potato sticks unadulterated with either cinnamon or sugar. Yum!
The salmon prep was one I hadn’t seen before. A done-to-a-turn filet was served atop a caponata of halved green olives and chunks of eggplant with sweetened vinegar and capers. It worked very well, as did a side of warm, unwilted spinach leaves in a light sweet and sour dressing. All that tang was just right with the mild, slightly sweet fish.
Dessert at Currents is an ice-cream lover’s dream. Colette chose a very generous scoop of chocolate served “tiramisu style” ($9), underlaid with a ladyfinger soaked in an espresso flavored syrup. She couldn’t quite finish it, but she made a valiant effort. I chose something called a Mediterranean coupe ($8), which proved to be the evening’s Big Wally. More pistachio ice cream than I ever could eat at one sitting came with a toothsome olive oil cake and some forgettable dried apricots. But wait! There’s more! On the side came a short parfait glass filled with Greek yogurt sprinkled with whole pistachios. The ice cream was good, but the plain yogurt was heaven.
Currents in the Hyatt Regency Sarasota
1000 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 363-2615
Hours: breakfast 6:30-11 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; dinner 5 p.m.-midnight, all daily
Cards: AmEx, V, MC, DISC
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: valet or on street