There wasn’t a hair out of place on the lively Saturday evening we dined at Louies Modern, the latest addition to downtown Sarasota's enviable array of restaurants, pubs and bars. Every bite was delicious, every sip a delight, every course perfectly timed and service thoroughly professional, informed and attentive. All this in a sleek and sophisticated setting that is as comfy as your favorite easy chair.
In short, Louies Modern is a knockout, one of the best new restaurants to open in Sarasota in some time.
If the restaurant’s team of creators overlooked a single detail, we failed to detect it. For starters, there isn’t a bad seat in the house, not in the handsome dining room backed by an entertaining exhibition kitchen, not in the under-roof but open-to-the-air lounge, not at a string of well-spaced sidewalk tables. The greeting at the door is warm, the wait staff more concerned with knowledgeable service than with cute costumes, and the mixologists behind the bar talented and quick. The varied menu is attractively priced and beautifully thought out, as is the selection of wines and craft beers. Even the soft drinks list is expertly tuned to modern tastes, offering everything from ginger mint limeade to cult favorite Cheerwine to root beer on tap.
And while Louies Modern is certainly at the leading edge of the latest iteration of New American cuisine, it resists the temptation to indulge in novelty for novelty’s sake. That begins with the signature cocktails list (all $10), including standouts the rum-based Lavendula Collins and the bourbon-based North Palm, served in a cedar-smoked glass, and continues with a short list of petite pre-appetizers they call snacks. We tried the deviled egg ($4), a picnic favorite brought to vivid new life with judicious little chunks of smoked trout mixed in and topped with crispy capers.
We followed that delightful amuse bouche with appetizers from the small plates list, starting with another fine example of how to revivify a tried and true standard: the usually homely, deep-fried hush puppy here is taken uptown by enriching the batter with sweet onion and Scottish salmon and plating the little jewels with a green peppercorn tartar sauce and radish sprouts ($9). Just as successful was a salt-roasted Bosc pear ($8), delicious on its own but raised to brilliance with the addition of a Roquefort mousseline and walnut relish plus a few bites of Parmesan shortbread so savory we practically shed a tear when they were gone.
One of the kitchen’s focal points is a wood-burning oven from which emerges everything from flatbreads and pizzettas to fresh local grouper and a seasonal veggie platter (“probably sustainable, possibly local, hopefully organic”). Surely one of that oven’s best products is a done-to-a-turn half chicken ($14) fragrant with wood smoke and brightened with a pitch-perfect pomegranate balsamic reduction. There are several sides to choose from, and Colette was happy with her tender young asparagus spears.
For my main event I chose steak frites ($24), an all-time favorite once again revved into the realm of superlatives by first being fired to a perfect medium rare in the wood oven, spiking the savor of the good red meat with a divine smokiness. The steak is sliced and fanned on the plate alongside a ramekin of heavenly Bearnaise aioli, fries to die for and a nice little rocket salad. That’s it, folks: This dish has been glorified to a point beyond which no further improvement is possible.
Now for dessert and another very smart move. After a bountiful dinner prefaced with cocktails and accompanied by wine (we loved the Four Graces Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley), who needs a heavy finish? Desserts here are petite but robustly flavored, sized for just a touch of after-dinner sweetness and priced accordingly at $4 each. My razor-thin Key lime wedge and Colette’s little lavender crème brûlée were both just right. I wish more restaurants would adopt this excellent strategy.
Welcome to downtown, Louies Modern! Long may you prosper.
The Verdict: A New American star of the first magnitude is born on North Palm Avenue, where Louies Modern shines brightly on every point of hospitality worth noting: food, drink, service and setting. Bravo!
Louies Modern, 1289 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941) 552-9688