My wife Colette and I briefly entertained the notion of buying the apartment above Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar in Citrus Square, imagining ourselves lowering a basket, as Colette’s French namesake did when she lived above Le Grand Vefour in Paris, and pulling up dinner—or at least a soufflé for dessert—whenever the craving seized us.
That’s how much we both like this scaled-back and better focused descendant of Zoria.
Pomona opened with great confidence and style over the holidays, managing to offer flawless service and impeccable cooking just two weeks after opening, a time when many restaurants are still finding their legs.
The room itself, lit by tall windows on two sides, is a charming and welcoming mix of traditional and modern. Its well-spaced tables are dressed in white cloths and black napkins and set unfussily with wine stems and flatware. At the back, a wine bar with black stools overlooks a picture window through which chef and his minions may be observed at work, minus the clashing sounds of pots and pans. Another picture window shows off a bit of the wine cellar.
Of course, it is the cooking—here a felicitous blend of French and Italian cuisines, two of the world’s best—that will make or break the enterprise. On that score, Pomona need have no worries at all.
Also commendable is the practice of offering half portions of many main courses, which allows the diner to more perfectly tailor a meal to his or her appetite. We, for example, don’t like to waddle out of a restaurant feeling overfed or, in the alternative, to exit ungracefully schlepping containers of leftovers.
Let’s first take two dishes from the seasonally changing menu that epitomize the special genius of the kitchen at Pomona.
One is an Italian starter, buttermilk gnocchi ($8), which arranges five perfect lozenges of the cheese-rich dumplings on a prim skim of sage brown butter in which delicately browned mushrooms disport. The flavors play in divine counterpoint, each one striking just the right note. Although rich, the dish’s restraint marks it as a savory appetizer rather than as a main course in disguise.
The second exemplar is succulent roast chicken accented with rosemary and lemon and plated with seasonal veggies ($20). But this is not just any chicken. It is a heritage breed bird, a poulet Rouge Fermier du Piedmont, which hails from France but is now bred and raised on a collection of small North Carolina farms in accord with French Label Rouge standards. The rustic breed produces a small chicken, but one in which everything has gone absolutely right: The meat is moist and so full-flavored it astonishes the palate, and the unusually thin skin browns to a delicate snap. The meat from one diminutive whole bird is served here and is just right for one. If I were really hungry, I think I just might be able to dispatch two without doing myself an injury.
Also on our plates that evening were a delightful fresh salad of walnuts, thinly sliced fragrant pear and arugula ($6) and a half-portion main dish of seared sea scallops ($13/$24), which posed two gorgeous and done-to-a-turn scallops aboard two big pillowy ravioli stuffed with rich butternut squash, the whole set off sublimely by more of the sage brown butter that graced the gnocchi. Yum.
Earlier in the evening, as we studied the menu and shared a quartino (amounting to about a glass and a half) of a delightfully flinty white Bordeaux, we overheard our waiter checking with the table next to us on the timing of the chocolate soufflé ($11) they had ordered for dessert. Oh, my! With that, at least one decision had been made for us. (If you ever hear me turn down a soufflé, please dial 911 immediately.) We shared one of the puffy darlings and swooned over its powerfully rich dark chocolate punch wrapped in a sugary cloud. Pure heaven, I tell you, pure heaven.
Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar
481 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota
Reservations: (941) 706-1677
Wine: well designed international list by the glass or bottle
Hours: 5-9:30 p.m.
Tuesday through Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday through Saturday
Cards: all major
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street
Pomona’s menu embodies the happy marriage of two of the world’s great cuisines, French and Italian, in a relaxed and dignified setting. Food, service and ambiance are all world-class.
Square’s the Beef
Square 1 Burgers & Bar has moved into and refitted the space once occupied by Lonjevity across the South Trail from Sarasota Memorial Hospital. With a design motif blending cowhide with brushed aluminum and black lacquer, it’s an agreeable midtown destination for a burger and a beer.
We’re fond of grazing at the bar, and this is a good spot for it. It’s a full liquor bar, but what caught our eye was the array of taps offering an exemplary selection of draught beers from all over, as well as an even wider selection by the bottle. From the kegs, Colette chose a Sierra Nevada pale ale ($4.25), while I popped for a Stella Artois ($5). Really, there’s no better accompaniment for a burger than a freshly drawn brew.
Although we were tempted by the fried dill pickle chips and what sounds like an authentic beanless chili, we skipped over the appetizers, salads and soups in favor of the main attraction, an extensive list of imaginatively dressed burgers starring Angus beef with chicken, buffalo, pulled pork, tuna, ostrich and vegetarian options in supporting roles.
The burger menu starts off with an assortment of the little sliders that continue to enjoy a heyday and moves on to the big guns. We pondered for some time before settling on a très Southern pimiento cheeseburger with sweet potato fries for her and a barbecue bacon burger with regular fries for him (both $9.99). Both featured good beef cooked to a red-centered medium rare as ordered. We could have substituted Kobe beef for her or buffalo for him at an extra five bucks each.
The pimiento cheese is described as housemade, and we believe it. Combined with toppings of applewood smoked bacon and a dollop of crunchy cole slaw, it made a fine two-napkin gut buster, as did the barbecue burger. The latter also is crowned with bacon, as well as a good smoky but understated sauce and melted sharp cheddar.
The sweet potato fries were first-rate, crisp and lightly salted to let the tuber’s natural sweetness shine. The regular fries also were excellent, with not a frazzled klinker in the bunch.
The burgers left us with little room for traditional dessert, but not to worry: Square 1 offers a fine option in the form of a sampler of three mini cupcakes for $3.50, a perfect solution offering vibrant little tastes without foundering the diner. We chose carrot, red velvet and dark chocolate minis, each providing us a bite apiece, and loved all three.
Square 1 Burgers & Bar
1737 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Phone: (941) 870-8111
Bar: full bar, wine and beer
Hours: 11 a.m. -11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, ’til midnight Friday-Saturday
Cards: all major
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: in lot
An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, websites and newspapers, most recently for the St. Petersburg Times. Read his past restaurant reviews here.