Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Drunken Poet: Superb Authentic Thai Cuisine

Originally from Bangkok, owner-chef Aporni Punyhotra has made the Drunken Poet Café a downtown Sarasota institution since opening in 2006. The Thai restaurateur is known for her sinful sushi with names like the Sexy Man Roll and Sexy Woman Roll, as well as her outstanding Thai curries and sticky rice desserts. A former pharmacist and world traveler who hails from Thailand, Punyahotra seduces Sarasota locals and unsuspecting newbies with her genuine warmth, beguiling charm and culinary mastery, an intoxicating mix that is hard to resist. Everything is made to order, with highly sophisticated dishes that include Thai Crispy Duck with Panang Curry Sauce, Kang Kiew Wan Green Curry with Thai Eggplant, classic Pad Thai and her phenomenal signature Seafood Homok with jumbo scallops, shrimp, calamari and New Zealand Mussels in red curry which are all steamed in a young Thai coconut, plus a host of outstanding stir-fry creations, tempura, fried rice and noodle dishes as well as an absolutely spellbounding sushi menu. There's also a selection of Thai and international beers plus boutique wines and wonderful sake. The burning question is how did this extraordinary restaurant escape my culinary radar for so many years? I have no idea, but no matter, I have seen the Thai and sushi 'light' and have become a Drunken Poet devoté forever more. Resistance is futile.

Aporni “Oy” Punyahotra has made the Drunken Poet Café a downtown Sarasota mainstay 
since opening in 2006

Open until 2am, The Drunken Poet is one of our more delicious discoveries in Sarasota

A vintage typewriter greets guests as they enter The Drunken Poet

Sushi Bar beautifully designed with stone tile walls and traditional Thai paper lanterns

Chalkboard with special Thai dishes

Sitting area with traditional Thai cushions and mattes with paintings and photographs of King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand who recently died at the age of 88 in October 2016

The Drunken Poet menu of fabulous Thai dishes

Floral centrepiece on each table

Creative wall mural of poem by Thai King Rama, speaks of his love of food, and of women 

Glass of cold Thai Singha beer served in an Asahi Japanese beer glass

'Pinky in the Blanket': Fried shrimp in spring roll wrap and served with homemade plum sauce

Full flavoured Miso Soup with tofu, seaweed and spring onion

House Salad with sliced carrot, cabbage, tomato and cucumber with a sweet and sour ginger dressing

Kang Gari with Chicken and Potato in homemade yellow chili coconut milk curry served with Thai sticky rice

Shrimp and Lobster Pad Thai

Seafood Homok with jumbo scallops, shrimp, calamari and New Zealand mussels in red curry steamed in whole young Thai coconut with sticky rice

Closeup of the outstanding Thai Seafood Homok with Thai basil in young coconut

Drunken Poet Pork Satay
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of Aporni Punyhotra

1 lb pork butt
1 14 oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp curry powder
3 tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Slice the pork into 1-inch strips and set aside. Mix the other ingredients together, the add the sliced pork and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Place the pork slices on skewers and grill over medium high heat until cooked through and golden brown. Serve with coconut rice.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Singing Christmas Tree: A Sarasota Tradition

With 80 choir members nestled in its branches and music ranging from "O Come, All Ye Faithful" to "Hallelujah" and "Peace On Earth," the First Sarasota Baptist Church has been bringing the Christmas spirit to life in Sarasota for over 40 years. At any given moment the more than 12,000 lights on the tree change pattern coordinating with the music, and at 30 feet tall, 12 levels and holding 115 choir members, tickets are just $15 but they sell out quickly. Arriving for the first concert of the season, we were seated in the third row with optimum viewing of this annual Sarasota spectacle, and were embraced by the spirit of the season.

The Singing Christmas Tree Program

The 30-foot tall Christmas Tree and seats for the orchestra before the performance began

Last minute sounds checks and lighting of the live Christmas tree on stage

Decked out in festive attire, the performance began with a group singing 'The Wonder of Christmas'

The Singing Christmas Tree with 80 choir members perched in the branches and more than 12,000 lights changing pattern coordinating with the music, serenaded by a live orchestra

The colours of the lights changed and twinkled as the choir sang different carols

A young member of the church sang a touching rendition of 'I Believe'

Closeup of singers in the tree

'A' for effort as a young woman dressed as an angel zip-lines over the audience onto the stage

A family of little angels

Monday, December 11, 2017

Café L'Europe: Continental Cuisine on St Armands

A Sarasota institution for almost 45 years, Café L'Europe has groomed some of the area’s most successful chefs and restaurateurs. Founded by Titus Letschert and Norbert Goldner in 1973, those that went on to become some of Sarasota’s top culinary stars include Michael Garey and Bob Fracalossy, of the Lazy Lobster, Harry Christensen, of Harry’s Continental Kitchens, Ray Arpke, of Euphemia Haye, and J.P. Knaggs, of Bijou Café. With a solid reputation for elegant European cuisine, award-winning wines, and professional service, Café L'Europe is a dining treasure and one of the most popular dining destinations on St. Armands Circle. Elegantly designed with old world charm, the restaurant was originally the real estate office of one of Sarasota’s most famous residents of the past — John Ringling. Under new ownership since August 2016, proprietors Ron Milton and Joe Balzano proudly continue Cafe L’Europe’s excellence, honouring the restaurant’s old world traditions, while adding their own special touches. 

One of my favourite places to enjoy an elegant lunch on St Armands Circle is the leafy outdoor patio of Café L'Europe. Starting with a lovely glass of prosecco and some fresh warm baguette and little rolled balls of butter, we decided on the Lobster & Shrimp Salad with crème fraîche, poached asparagus and hearts of palm with a citrus mayonnaise served on Bibb lettuce as well as the Salade Niçoise with fresh ahi tuna, baby field greens, haricot vert, red potatoes, grape tomatoes, chopped egg and Kalamata olives with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and wasabi. The calibre of cuisine being put out by the kitchen, and the polite, professional and attentive wait staff, proves why this restaurant has been around for more than three decades, and promises to be around for many more years. For dog-lovers, Café L'Europe even has a special 'Doggie Dining Menu' for pampered pooches, with canine culinary treats such as Gustav's Steak Tartare for $5, Cruiser's Filet Mignon of Beef for $18, and Biscuits de Jour baked daily for the little princesses for a modest $2.50 for a package of 4, and for doggie dolce there's Dogsters Ice Cream Treats in Nutty Peanut Butter or Minté Fresh. Fresh water is provided gratis, however Acqua Panna bottled water is also available, served by Café L'Europe's smartly attired black-vested waiters — Mon Dieu!

Two glasses of chilled 'Cielo' Prosecco were a refreshing bubbly start to our outdoor lunch on St Armands 

The lunch menu of Café L'Europe features a lovely selection of fresh seafood salads and light entrées

Faux but festive poinsettia 

Fresh warm baguette

Perfect little rounds of butter

2012 Trimbach Riesling from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Salade Niçoise with fresh ahi tuna, baby field greens, haricot vert, red potatoes, grape tomatoes, chopped egg and Kalamata olives with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette and wasabi

Maine Lobster and Gulf Shrimp Salad with asparagus, hearts of palm, citrus aioli, fresh berries, orange, grapefruit and crème fraîche

Bananas Foster
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy of Café L'Europe

2 tbsp butter
2 bananas, cut in bite sized pieces
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 oz banana liqueur
2 oz dark rum
2 oz Bacardi rum
Dash of cinnamon
Vanilla ice cream

Heat a pan over high heat. Add butter to melt and coat pan. Add brown sugar and remove pan from heat. Add rum and banana liqueur and flambé. Add bananas and stir being careful not to overcook. Remove pan from heat and add Bacardi rum. Flambé again. Add cinnamon and stir. Remove from heat. Serve over vanilla ice cream.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Beach Bistro: A Culinary Gem on Anna Maria Island

Relaxed and sophisticated, Beach Bistro’s relentless pursuit of culinary and service excellence has earned owner Sean Murphy regional and national acclaim. One of Zagat’s “Top Restaurants in America”, Beach Bistro has been the island’s most romantic, fine-dining destination for more than 30 years, and its spectacular waterfront location makes it the perfect place to catch a spectacular sunset and enjoy some of the best cuisine in South Florida. And the cuisine is always consistently excellent, from their Nova Scotia Smoked Salmon on Parade with capers, caviar and key lime crème fraiche, outstanding Bouillabaise with lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, shellfish and calamari with garlic toasts and aioli, Herb Rubbed Pan Seared Rack of Lamb finished with a port rosemary demi-glace to the over-the-top 'Food Heaven' — Beach Bistro's rich marriage of Colorado lamb, butter-poached Nova Scotia lobster and Hudson Valley foie gras, all on a brioche bread pudding and served with a port, demi-glace and a sip of Essensia, which Sean christened — "a Dionysian vision from the end of a pier in Maine." 

With it's spectacular setting overlooking Holmes Beach on beautiful Anna Maria Island, Beach Bistro is like a painting, complimented by the finest food in the area, an extraordinary wine list and dedicated professional staff that have been with owner Sean Murphy for years. White tablecloths, a rose on each table and romantic sunset view sets the scene for an outstanding menu that celebrates coastal cuisine at the highest level. Sean’s ambition has been the same throughout Beach Bistro’s history — to provide his guests with one of the best dining experiences they've ever had, and he's definitely succeeding, reflected in all of the glowing accolades that Beach Bistro consistently receives, and his dedicated following that return over and over again. Our family has been making regular culinary pilgrimages to Beach Bistro since it opened in 1985, and it's definitely one of our favourite gastronomic traditions. Sean’s ambition has been the same throughout the Bistro’s 30 year history — to provide patrons with one of the best dining experiences that they've have ever had. Mission accomplished.

The cozy, sophisticated and colourful interior of Beach Bistro

Complimentary Vodka Cocktail with pomegranate, blueberry and St Germain on ice

Amuse-Bouche of toasted rosemary focaccia topped with tapenade and roasted tomato

Amuse-Bouche of Beach Bistro 'One Helluva' Tomato Soup made with seasoned Parrish plum tomatoes with sweet cream and Maytag blue cheese

Desiderio 'Jeio' Prosecco from Veneto

Seared Hudson Valley foie gras on savoury brioche bread pudding, garnished with a vanilla bean and Sauternes reduction, nutmeg anglaise and aged balsamic

Essensia Muscat served with the foie gras

Bistro Burrata Caprese  with local heirloom tomatoes, creamy burrata cheese, micro basil and an espresso balsamic reduction

Braised Short Ribs finished with tomato ragout, Parmesan Reggiano, 
with chef's vegetable and mashed potatoes

Seared scallops in Beach Bistro famous Bouillabaisse broth, 
finished with sweet cream and a soupçon of curry

Blanc de Blanc Champagne

The Famous Beach Bistro Bouillabaisse
Serves 6-8
Recipe courtesy of Sean Murphy, Beach Bistro

"First, you hire a bunch of pros to build a killer broth, poach to order Nova Scotia lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, premium market fish, shellfish and calamari"

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 leek, white parts only, finely chopped
2 tbsp shrimp or crab base
1 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tbsp fennel seed
2 cups white wine
1/4 cup pernod
1 quart seafood stock or clam juice
2 cups tomato juice
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 dash Tabasco
3 medium tomatoes peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 pinch of saffron
3 pounds firm-fleshed fish
14-18 jumbo shrimp
2 lobster tails
2 dozen mussels, bearded and cleaned
2 dozen littleneck or sweet clams, well cleaned
8 oz cleaned, sliced calamari tubes and tentacles

Heat a heavy bottom stockpot over high heat. Add the oil and garlic. Sauté the garlic for 5 minutes and then add the onion, leek, and celery. Stir the vegetables well to prevent burning and allow to cook for an additional 3 to 4 minutes, or until translucent. Next add the shrimp or crab base, dried herbs, white wine, and Pernod, bring to a simmer and allow to reduce for 5 minutes. Add seafood stock (can substitute clam juice), tomato juice, tomato puree, Tabasco, tomatoes, and saffron and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add all the seafood and cook for 6 minutes, or until the shells have opened. Discard any shells that do not open. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with a dollop of aioli and toasted French bread and garnish with a sprig of fresh thyme.