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Valentine’s Day lives up to its promise.
By Hannah Wallace
When CCB suggested a staycation Valentines Saturday, complete with a room at Hotel Indigo, I immediately began dreaming up downtown activities to fill the day. What I didn’t expect was that those daydreamed plans would be so darn successful.
Saturday morning, we threw tennis rackets, balls, sweatshirts and eveningwear into our backpacks, loaded the bikes into the Waddle Wagon, and headed out. Once settled in Indigo’s parking lot, the car wouldn’t move for 24 hours.
We hopped on our bikes and set off to the Breakfast House. I’d wanted to try the pancakes, but by the time we got there, I was so hungry that I couldn’t resist the eggs Benedict again. (More Hollandaise this time, and even better potatoes, too—they’re headed in the right direction.)
Even though it was after noon, the farmers market was still going strong when we arrived. We locked our bikes around a Main Street traffic sign and strolled. Strolling is a fantastic activity, by the way. Visually distracting and fidget-soothing, it encourages both quiet meditation and in-depth conversation alike. Plus, it was a gorgeous day—chilly, true, but with sunshine to spare.
After coffee at Pastry Art, we hopped back on the bikes and went to Gillespie Park for tennis. Quiet park and the courts all to ourselves.
We then rode to the Short Stop for root beers, then shopped a bit at Women’s Exchange before a quiet ride through Towles Court.
Next? Stairway to Belgium. We’d planned on having lunch there, but with the late breakfast still satisfying, we settled for late-afternoon beers and appetizers: grilled marinated scallops spears and the featured menu item, pommes frites, with spicy beer cheese dip for CCB and the standard bourbon mayo for myself. The scallops were great—perfectly cooked with a subtle roasted garlic oil.
The pommes frites have declared themselves the best in town. I wouldn’t know from that, but they are quite good. Owner Jim Keaveney, friendly and ever-present beer expert behind the bar, asked if the fries were good and crispy. “Great,” I told him, “but not crispy.” He asked permission and tried a fry out of our basket, then immediately darted back to the kitchen to educate the cooks of his crispy requirements. “Well, at least if he’s going to call them the best in town,” observed CCB, “he’s anal enough to back it up.”
When we left, the sun was going down and it was getting chillier by the minute. We swung by Whole Foods to grab champagne, strawberries, chocolate and cheese for the room, then went back to the hotel to shower and change. Next up: 8:30 reservations at Lan.
Of our many downtown choices for Valentines dinner, Lan won out by way of its online menu and CCB’s Beach Bistro-born fondness for foie gras. (Plus, Sarasota Magazine food editor John Bancroft reviewed Lan for our April issue, and I can tell you that he unequivocally loved it.) We arrived by cab ($6, very worth it), settled in for sake cocktails and found ourselves unable to decide from a menu filled with delicious concoctions and exotic new experiences. Considering our inexperienced palates, we thought the $40 apiece chef’s tour might be a risk—what’s delectable to a gourmet might, frankly, frighten us, and we didn’t want to offend. In the end, though, we went for it. And dear god in heaven, are we glad we did.
The amuse bouche, a fig and prosciutto mini-quesadilla with sundried tomato somethingerother on top, astounded us. Not sure I’ve ever eaten something that was so distinct and off-the-charts delicious all at once. The first course, a three-onion “alphabet soup” with little fried gorgonzola wontons assured us we were in for nine courses of ecstasy, and that’s exactly what we got: Course after course we greeted with wide eyes and jaws dropped, raving about them in between—tender octopus salad, fried frogs legs, foie gras custard (which I’d like packaged in yogurt cups so I can eat it for breakfast), buffalo tenderloin sashimi, warm shrimp and spinach salad, beef short rib, mahi-mahi, duck, sorbet and passion fruit cheesecake (topped with Oreos). I’m really not trying to sound like a restaurant critic here. Seriously, layman’s opinion: We were blown away.
Frogs legs and buffalo with mango salad.
And what a way to end a day of eclectic Sarasota sampling, with a similarly fun and enjoyable sampling—multiplied to the Nth degree. Great for Valentines, too, as we got to share the experience, rattling on to each other about every bite, trying to find the words together. We were there for two hours and never once looked at the clock.
Dessert: sorbet and Oreo-topped passion fruit cheesecake.