Monday, December 31, 2012

Pomona Bistro & Wine: Downtown Sarasota

One of the best restaurants in Sarasota is Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar run by two of city's most sought after chef-restaurateurs, executive chef Ryan Boeve and pastry chef Arthur Lopes, both formerly of Zoria. Their location on Citrus Square has an inviting old world character, with an attractive exterior, large windows, and handsome wood doors. Inside, a tranquil elegance reigns. The room itself, lit by tall windows on two sides, is a charming and welcoming mix of modern and traditional influences. Its well-spaced tables are dressed in fine white table linens set very simply with classic modern wine stems and sleek contemporary flatware. At the back, a wine bar with black stools overlooks a picture window through which Chef Boeve and his sous-chefs can be observed creating culinary magic each evening in their small but meticulous kitchen. 

Pomona's maestro — the superby talented Chef-owner Ryan Boeve

Pomona dinner menu

Pomona's inspired menu is a wonderful blend of French and Italian influences, and includes a lovely series of small plates, salads or charcuterie to start followed by about eight main plates or entrées to follow. Our table of eight started with a little bubbly — Cà Furlan, Prosecco ‘Cuvee Beatrice’ from the Veneto — followed by Hofstätter, Pinot Grigio 2010 from Alto Adige in Italy and Clos Thalès red wine from Roussillon, the perfect accompaniment to our dinner.

Clos Thalès red wine from Roussillon

Warm fresh baked bread with whipped churned butter

The menu includes a series of small plates, salads or charcuterie to start followed by about eight main plates or entrées to follow. Our table started with an assortment of small plates to start including an outstanding dish of Smoked Salmon served with whipped cream cheese, capers, salmon roe and chives with delicate homemade melba toasts that seemed to melt in the mouth; Mussels St. Germaine which came in an aromatic garlic, saffron, mustard and white wine broth; French Onion Soup with emmenthal cheese and baguette croutons; a Pear and Gorgonzola Salad with microgreens; and a delicious Vegetarian Vegetable Soup with white beans and kale.

Smoked Salmon with whipped cream cheese, capers, salmon roe, chives and baguette toasts

Mussels St Germaine with garlic, saffron, mustard and white wine

French Onion Soup with Emmentaler Cheese and baguette crouton

Pear & Blue Cheese Salad

Pomona Soup of the Day, a vegetarian white bean and kale potage

For our main plates we decided on Sea Scallops served with mixed wild mushroom ravioli; Roast Chicken with brussels sprouts, pancetta and root vegetables in a fragrant jus; Marinated Flank Steak and frites with homemade katsup; and exceptional Poached Lobster with mixed wild mushrooms in an ambrosial aromatic broth, which Arthur set before me as "Heaven on a plate!", and it was. The lobster was perfectly poached and the broth, intoxicating. For those with smaller appetites, Pomona offers half portions for many of their main courses, which allows diners to save room for one of Pastry-artiste Chef Arthur Lopes decadent desserts, which for us this evening was his 'gossamer' Warm Chocolate Soufflé with chocolate sauce and his Maple Mascarpone Cheesecake with candied walnuts.

Chicken Breast with brussels sprouts, pancetta and jus

Poached Lobster with wild mushrooms, fennel and fragrant broth

Beef Flatiron Steak with Shallot Puree, Maitre D’ Hotel Butter and French Fries

Seared Sea Scallops with Wild Mushroom Angnolotti 

Maple Mascarpone Cheesecake with Candied Walnuts

Warm Chocolate Soufflé with chocolate sauce

For diners wanting to enjoy a more al fresco experience or a pre-dinner cocktail and cigar, Pomona has an inviting outdoor courtyard complete with outdoor fireplace, twinkle lights, festive garlands and a little Christmas tree for the holiday season. It's just another small detail that makes Pomona one of the more exceptional dining destinations in the Sarasota area. Quietly refined with an understated elegance, inspired menu, exceptional kitchen and wonderfully friendly professional staff, Pomona is always the culinary highlight of our Christmas season.

Busy every night, there were people still arriving for dinner as we left at 9:30pm

The magical evening sky as we left Pomona

Friday, December 28, 2012

Owen's Fish Camp: A Taste of Old Florida

Nestled in an old 1923 cottage, under an imposing banyan tree in the eclectic Burns Court corner of downtown Sarasota, is Owen’s Fish Camp, named for Sarasota real estate magnate and avid fisherman, Owen Burns. The restaurant looks like an early 1900's fish camp, and the vibe is decidedly 'trendy bayou,' serving a wide variety of southern-style culinary offerings such as traditional fried baskets of oysters and shrimp, soft shell crab, Po' Boys and low country boil with crab legs, shrimp, mussels, clams, andouille sausage, potatoes and corn. Owen's also offers a selection of entrées including steamed mussels, cornmeal crusted catfish and steak frites. 

Owen's Fish Camp Bar

Busy and bustling, the bar was where to be, and be seen

No fish camp is complete without the requisite 'catch' of the day

They also serve salads, soups and sandwiches. Waiting for a table at Owen’s is one of the more pleasurable aspects of the restaurant. Those who choose to stand for a drink while waiting for a table, will find a light-hearted wine list with selections designated as 'Good', 'Decent', or 'Cheap', and a solid beer and respectable cocktail list. After two rounds of drinks, 45 minutes later, we were seated in one of the restaurant’s front room, oars, buoys and large fishies hanging overhead. 

Specials are highlighted on various chalkboards throughout the restaurant

Owen's Fish Camp Special Brew

Owen's Sparkling Cava - yum!

Owen's Fish Camp wine served in a 'stubby'

Owen's Fish Camp placemat menu

Old-fashioned condiments dressed the table, and the menu was appropriately, a paper placemat, with offerings inspired by classic southern seafood, from Murph's Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters and a mason jar of Smoked Fish Spread with saltines to whet our appetite. The shooters, marinated in Sake, were memorable and well worth the $5 price tag for two small shot glasses with horseradish spiked tomato juice and a plump oyster nestled in the bottom. One heavenly slurp and you're smitten. The Fish Spread is just the same — yum!

Smoked Fish Spread appetizer 'Jar' with Saltine crackers

Murph's Famous Bloody Mary Oyster Shooters - $5 for 2 - and well worth it!

The starters were also delicious, and almost the best part of the meal. The cornmeal-crusted FGTs — Fried Green Tomatoes — were served over arugula and romaine with warm goat cheese and crisped country ham, cucumber, red onion, and an herb-buttermilk dressing — light, refreshing and impossible to resist, this was absolutly delicious. The creamy New England Clam Chowder with applewood bacon was also noteworthy, with a luscious texture chock full of clams, as well as the dozen Texas Oysters served with lemon wedges, cocktail sauce and tangy mignonette sauce.

Fried Green Tomato Salad with goat cheese and country ham

 One dozen Texas oysters with lemon wedges, cocktail and mignonette sauce for $14

Thick and creamy New England Clam Chowder with Applewood Bacon

Our entrées included Naked Blackened Mahi Mahi with Owen's succotash and shoestring fries, Cornmeal Crusted Catfish with spicy local collard greens, bacon and 'My Way or the Highway' cheesy grits, Pasta Jambalaya with crawfish, shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage and the heartedly endorsed speciality of the house, by our enigmatic server Terri — the outstanding Seared Scallops with braised pork and owen's succotash — hands down the best dish on the menu, although each and every dish on the menu looked great.

Naked Fish - Blackened Mahi Mahi with green tomato salsa, 
Owen's succotash and shoestring fries

Cornmeal Crusted Catfish with spicy local collard greens, bacon 
and 'My Way or the Highway' cheesey grits

Seared Scallops with braised pork and Owen's succotash

Pasta Jambalaya with crawfish, shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage

Our effervescent and ebulliant server Terri, our culinary conduit to what were 
the most tasty offerings on the Owen Fish Camp menu

Owned by the Caragiulio Brother’s, of Italian restaurant fame in Sarasota, Mark Caragiulio, chef and co-owner of Owen's Fish Camp and the newly opened 'Shore' in St Armands Circle, unfortunately declined my request to photograph him in his kitchen at Owen's Fish Camp. I can only deduce that they're doing such a stupendous trade, he'd no time to indulge a small request from a fellow foodie. Well, maybe next time...and there will be a next time!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Salvador Dali Museum: St. Petersburg, Florida

The latest art buzz coming out of Florida isn't from Miami, but St. Petersburg. In January 2011, 96 works by surrealist Salvador Dali found a new home in this appropriately extraterrestrial-like building with a "melting geodesic" dome. The Dali Museum not only features the most comprehensive collection left behind by Salvador Dali, but the museum itself is considered to be one of the most beautiful museums in the world. 

Exterior view of 'melting' geodesic dome. Dali was a friend and admirer of Buckminster Fuller, who helped the pioneer geodesic geometries and is a hero of the architect.

Coquina grotto draped with bromeliads

The building has bright galleries, a concrete helix staircase, and a coquina grotto draped with bromeliads. Major Dalí works are set off by a few fun, lesser-known works like Lobster Telephone and Basket of Bread and screenings of surrealist films by Dalí and Buñuel. The collection is rich in works from the artist's entire career, with key works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic activity, including 96 oil paintings, many original drawings, bookworks, prints, sculpture, photos, manuscripts, and an extensive archive of documents. 

Salvador Dali

Designed by architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, the new building combines the rational with the fantastical: a simple rectangle with 18-inch thick hurricane-proof walls out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the "enigma." The "enigma," which is made up of 1062 triangular pieces of glass, stands 75 feet at its tallest point, a twenty-first century homage to the dome that adorns Dali's museum in Spain. Inside, the Dali houses another unique architectural feature - a helical staircase - recalling Dali's obsession with spirals and the double helical shape of the DNA molecule. 

The helical staircase at the Dali Museum

The tip of the staircase looking up to the large free-form geodesic glass bubble 
known as the "enigma" 

The Dali Museum's Café seating area

Café Gala, named after Dali's wife

The museum's Cafe Gala, named for Dalí's wife, is open for breakfast and lunch during museum hours. It's fast and casual. Order at the counter from a chalkboard menu, wait for your food and carry it on a tray to one of several small, round brushed-aluminum tables inside or outside, in warmer weather.

Turkey Breast and Basil Pesto Flatbread Panini

The menu, designed by chef Tyson Grant in collaboration with museum director Hank Hine, is a short but flavorful tribute to Dalí's Spanish roots, such as Serranita, a sandwich on focaccia bread, stuffed with pork, serrano ham, olive oil, roasted garlic, tomato, Manchego cheese and pimento aioli. Layered with flavour and filling enough to share, it's delicious with a bowl of Gazpacho or Caldo Gallego Soup. 

Bird's eye view to the café from the top floor

Another solid choice is Ensalada Jamon, a salad of mixed greens with serrano ham, Spanish almond slivers, roasted peppers, olives and Manchego cheese or a Cold Tortilla, a Spanish take on a frittata made with onions and potatoes or serrano ham. There's also a short tapas menu. It's a beautiful space, framed at one end by a winding staircase and at the other by a piece of the iconic glass enigma that wraps the building. It looks out onto a serene patio and the bay beyond.

The Museum gift shop is chocked full of fabulous books and crazy gifts 
like this 12" lobster tree ornament!

Regular daily docent tours are available every hour on the half hour, with private docent-led tours including privacy headsets, available with advanced notice for a fee. These private tours can encompass the collection as a whole, or specific areas of interest such as mathematics, science, psychology, religion, and other areas. Our docent for the afternoon was Wally Shearburn, an extremely knowledgable and engaging authority on Salvador Dali, his life, work and art. Having graduated with an honours in art history, Salvador dali was a not an artist I had studied, nor was I initially intrigued by — that was before Wally had my attention for a full hour, bringing the artist's life into full colour.

Dali docent Wall Shearburn, who gave a wonderfully informative and captivating 
one hour tour through the Dali Museum 

Wally explained that the Dali Museum was founded with the works collected by Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who collected his art for many years and subsequently donated it to a museum that would promise not to break up the collection — ergo, The Dali Museum St. Petes. 

Dali's 'Still Life Moving Fast'

Dali's 'Daddy Longlegs of the Evening - Hope!'

Born in Figueres, Spain in 1904, Salvador Dali was known for his technical skill as a painter and the shocking quality of his imagination. Dali consistently depicted the landscape of his homeland, one that became synonymous with the landscape of the imagination and of dreams. He forged in his long career a remarkable body of work, and his life demonstrates the richness of living creatively in every aspect of one's existence. The Dali Museum, in a larger sense, is a place of beauty dedicated, as is Dali's art, to understanding and transformation, and a cultural, architectural and artistic gem not to be missed, when visiting South Florida.