Greek Salad — No, Not That One

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What comes to mind when you think Greek salad? I’m sure some variation of the classic “Village Salad” — that super-satisfying mix of tomato, cucumber, onion, olives and feta, dressed with olive oil and a touch of oregano. It’s traditional. And it’s almost everywhere.

In Greek, it’s called “Horiatiki Salata.” But you proably knew that. The ubiquitous salad’s listed that way on more than a few menus.

What you might not know is that there’s another Greek salad. One that’s not as familiar to most non-Greeks, even though it’s really delicious and more refined than the Horiatiki. I happen to love it and serve this elegant little salad with most of my Greek dinners.

And even though I make it year round, spring is the customary time for what is called “Manoulo” salata. The name means romaine — and that’s what this salad is all about. Well, almost.

To very thinly-sliced romaine, you add lots of chopped dill, some chopped scallions, then lightly dress the greens with lemon juice or red wine vinegar and your best olive oil. When I make the salad, I leave out the scallions and add a good handfull of crumbled feta.

It’s light, tangy and just the thing to serve with anything Greek! Especially, grilled octopus, like I did the other night. It’s also a natural with grilled swordfish, chicken, or butterflied leg of lamb. And with another favorite — my grandmother’s Greek meatballs.

Manoulo Salata

Here’s what you’ll need to make enough for four:

2 heads romaine, thinly-sliced
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/3 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup olive oil
5 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
Ground fresh black pepper to taste

To me this salad is all about personal taste, so adjust the amounts as desired. I happen to like lots of dill, you might want less. Start by adding 1/4 cup and see what you think. Then taste. Taste. Taste.

Some final thoughts — on the feta. Make sure it’s from Greece. You want to find tart-tasting cheese made, in the traditional manner, from sheep’s milk or a combination of sheep’s milk and goat’s milk.

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Bottarga — Demands Attention!

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OK, so it’s just salted, pressed and dried fish roe. But have you tried it?

If you haven’t, maybe you should. Bottarga seems to be having its moment. It’s showing up in more and more restaurants. And in creative home kitchens too. In fact, I was just served some at a friend’s house.

It was shaved over pasta, along with some lemon zest and a splash of fruity olive oil, as it usually is in Italy. Simple, tasty and impressive.

How can I explain its distinctive taste? First, bottarga’s not timid.

It grabs your attention — an intense taste of the sea, salty and satisfying with all the pleasures of umami. But, to some, it may be a bit too bold, like the funk of anchovies or fermented fish sauce. Of course, it all depends on how much you use. And how you use it. Descretion is best.

This delicacy has become the darling of a number of serious chefs, including Christopher Kostow of the Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, winner of 3 Michelin Stars. Mario Batali is also a fan. So is award-winning Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain. His hot restaurant was voted “Best in the World” by Restaurant Magazine last year.

I first experienced the bewitching bite of bottarga some years ago at a small restaurant called Derek’s here in Sarasota. And what a surprise it was. Chef Derek Barnes suggested I try it, served like truffles, gently shaved over his homemade linguini and I seriously fell under its spell.

Then another surprise: The bottarga that night came not from Italy but from Florida! From Cortez. A small fishing village on the Gulf of Mexico, not too far away. Seems a friend of Derek’s, Seth Cripe, was producing the delicacy from local, grey striped mullet roe. He still is. It’s being sold under the name Cortez Bottarga. And the stuff is causing quite a stir.

For good reason. Cortez is known for having the finest grey striped mullet in the world. The fish are caught in hand-thrown nets, then brought to the docks for processing within hours. The roe is sun-dried and cured with kosher salt, instead of sea salt. And then — there’s the taste.

Chefs love this bottarga because it’s a bit milder and cleaner tasting than Italian or European bottarga. Oh, there’s still lots of that characteristic salty taste of the sea. An added bonus: The color is beautifully golden.

Want to try it? You could run across some at top restaurants in NYC, L.A., Chicago and Portland. As well as other major cities in 18 states. And if you happen to be in Sarasota, ask about it at State Street Eating House.

But, if want to try Cortez Bottarga in your very own kitchen, maybe on pasta, maybe to simply shave over grilled vegetables, you can score some though the Healthy Earth offices. That’s definitely what I’m going to do.

Healthy Earth / 1800 2nd street, West Tower, suite 892
Sarasota, FL 34236 / 941-366-7778

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Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar

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Somebody has to say it. Sarasota isn’t a restaurant town! No matter what the reviewers write. Oh, there are a few places that deserve praise. And some that merit a positive nod now and then. But for the most part, not!

So it’s always surprising to me when a restaurant here manages to hit all of the right notes – bringing together delicious, satisfying food; provocative, nuanced wine; and subtle, seamless service. That’s what happened the other night. Yes, it did! The place was Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar.

How can I give you a feel for the evening? Well, it was utterly engaging. I’m thinking it was similar to a gypsy jazz tune by Django Reinhardt. There was an underlying sensibility that evoked Paris. There was a precise, but casual, expression of professionalism reflected in both the food and the service. And there was that difficult to explain feeling of delight.

OK, OK, specifics. Let’s start with the service.

When was the last time your wine glass wasn’t over-filled? That happens too often in Sarasota restaurants — and it really drives me crazy. Doesn’t anyone train these people? Well, at Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar it’s obvious that some knowledgeble soul did. Here the wine is poured exactly as it should be — a scant 1/3 of a glass for white and 1/2 of a glass for red.

And the rest of the service was equally spot on. Friendly. Unobtrusive. Prompt. And professional. It was some of the best I’ve had in town.

There were four of us at the table on this night. My wife and I and two good friends who just happen to be Napa Valley wine professionals. Besides being enjoyable dinner companions, they always make sure the wine selections are intersting and appropriate. Their picks for the meal: a flinty Sancerre to start and then a light, delightful, Oregon Pinot Noir.

Now for the food. When you look over the menu, there’s no question Pomona is a Bistro. But a very refined one. Not unlike a lot of those little places popping up around Paris these days. The ones that are wowing diners with what could be called “Ethnic-Accented New French Cuisine.”

The dishes that ended up on our table should give you an idea of what I mean. If they don’t, it doesn’t much matter. All you need to know is that each and every one of them was delicious. And that’s no exaggeration.

Seared sea scallops over Asian greens, with blood oranges and avocado. Duck leg and thigh confit with Brussels sprouts, bacon, mustard and a sunnyside up egg. A salad of beets, goat cheese, walnuts, arugula, with walnut vinaigrette. Branzino stuffed with mushrooms, garlic, and arugula. Red snapper in parchment with ginger, turmeric, coconut water sauce, and sauteed greens. Thank you Chef. Not one dish was off key.

But enough. I don’t want to rave any more than I have. It’s what happens next time, and the time after that’ll make me shout — that is, if Pomona keeps hitting those same “le jazz hot” notes. And with pros like Arthur Lopes and Chef Ryan Boeve in charge, chances are good, it’ll do just that.

Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar / 481 North Orange Avenue, Sarasota, FL / 941-706-1677 / www.pomonabistroandwine.com

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Preserved Lemons — Hit the High Notes

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Lemons — they add a bright, resonating, high note to almost any dish. But if you’ve ever experienced the complex mojo of preserved lemons, you know they deliver even more of that acidic satisfaction. Along with an added jolt of earthy overtones. You might say, they’re operatic.

Well, lucky me! Last week there were still lots of lemons clinging to the twisted branches of the aging but prolific lemon tree on my property. Enough to make a big batch of preserved lemons. So that’s what I did.

Basically, all you need for the project is kosher salt and lemons. (And, if you have one, an electric juicer.) You should definetely give it a try.

Not only is it incredibly easy to do, it’s really rewarding. Once made, preserved lemons can be stored in the fridge for up to a year. Yes, a year! And the over-the-top flavor boost they give food is seriously memorable.

According to San Francisco, Michelin-starred Chef Mourad Lahlou, preserved lemons are Morocco’s greatest culinary contribution to the world — and an irreplaceable component in the country’s salads, stews, soups, tangines, marinades and sauces. But you don’t have to limit yourself to Morraccan cuisine. Just think of preserved lemons as a killer seasoning.

I like to use them, along with some red pepper flakes, in a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette to top grilled fish, chicken and lamb. Or to add interest to sauteed greens, roasted eggplant, smashed potatoes, and spiced rice.

You can also sneak bits of preserved lemon into most savory dishes to heighten and brighten their already existing flavors. In fact, lots of professional chefs are doing that these days. Now, you can do it too.

Preserved Lemons

Here’s all you need to make a one quart batch:

About 6 lemons for preserving
About 6 more lemons for 2 cups of juice
About 3/4 cup kosher salt

1-quart canning jar with a clamp-on glass lid and rubber gasket

The Process:

Sterilize the jar in boiling water. Or run it through the dishwasher on the hottest setting. Make sure it’s completely dry before you use it.

Next scrub the lemons under cold running water. Dry them thoroughly.

Stand a lemon on the stem end and slice down into it as if you were going to cut it in half — only stop about a 1/2 inch from the bottom. Now make a perpendicular cut, again stopping shy of the bottom in the same way, so that the lemon is basically quartered but still holding together.

Add the salt to a large bowl, hold the lemon over the bowl and pack as much salt into it as possible. Put the lemon in the jar, cut side up, and repeat until the jar is filled. Clamp the lid and leave the jar sit over night.

The next day, the lemons will have softened a bit and you might be able to add another lemon to the jar. If that’s the case, use a clean spoon to press down all the lemons before you add an additional piece of citrus.

Now squeeze some lemons to end up with about 2 cups of juice. Or enough to cover the lemons in the jar. Fill it to the brim, clamp the lid closed and put the jar in a dark spot, like a kitchen cabinet or pantry.

For the next week, turn and shake the jar once a day. Add more juice if the lemons are no longer submerged. And that’s basically it.

Well, you do have to be patient and wait. But for only a month.

Once they’re ready, that’s when the excitment begins. To use your new seasoning, cut a preserved lemon in quarters and then scrape the pulp away from the rind. It’s the softened rind you’ll be using, not the pulp.

When I first used it, I simply diced the rind and sprinkled it into a vinaigrette of equal parts lemon juice and olive oil with a hit of red pepper flakes. That’s a good place to start. After that — just experiment.

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Hydra — Inspiration in the Aegean

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I’m planning another trip to Greece with friends and this awesome little island is definitely on the itinerary. Have you been? I just love the place.

Hydra is one of my favorites among all of the Greek islands — and I’m not alone. Artists, writers, musicians, intellectuals, and free spirits have all sought solitude, solace, or inspiration there. It’s a magical, sun-soaked spot surrounded by the all-entrancing, blue waters of the Aegean Sea.

Henry Miller spent time there. Along with Laurence Durrell of Alexandria Quartet fame and the flamboyant, Greek intellectual, called Katsimbalis. Reknowned travel writer, war hero and adventurer, Patrick Lee Fermor lived on the island. Nobel Prize-winning poet George Seferis did too — and he sang Hydra’s praises in verse. It was also home to one of modern Greece’s most influential artists, Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Gikas.

If you are a Leonard Cohen afficiando, you might know that he bought a house there. So did minamalist artist Brice Marden, who still lives on the island. As do many other artists, musicians, and wealthy Athenians.

Lately, Hydra’s been the haunt of billionaire Greek art collector and benefactor, Dakis Joannou who is making the island a gathering place for important artists, dealers and collectors from all over the world.

But Hydra’s still unspoiled. An ideal place to chill for a week or two — or for just a long weekend, the captivating little island is only two hours or so by fast boat from the frenetic port of Piraeus, just outside of Athens.

OK. I know what you’re thinking: refugee crisis! Is the island affected? No, it’s not. Hydra is located southwest of mainland Greece — not in the eastern Mediterranean, close to Tukey, where islands like Kos, Leros, Lesvos, Samos and Symi are experiencing problems you see in the news.

So, what makes Hydra so appealing? One of the most beautiful harbors in all of Greece. A feeling that time has stopped still or, at the very least, slowed down considerably. Unbelievable charm. And no motor vehicles.

Some years ago, I spent a week on Hydra doing nothing more than soaking up the rhythms of the island, savouring its freshly-caught, grilled fish and walking the meandering, herb-scented paths, all the while being seduced by the ever-present, sparkling, Grecean-blue, Aegean Sea. My wife Trulee was there with me to share in the experience — and to paint.

A watercolor she did of the view from the patio of our little, white-washed house, built into the rocky hillside high above the harbor, captures the magic of our lazy afternoons there. I looked at it this morning, as I do every morning — and like the island itself, it always enchants me.

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The Perfect Paella

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Ever since I tasted the Paella Valenciana at a traditional,”old-school” Spanish restaurant in downtown Washington, DC, more than a few years ago — my fondness for the distinctive flavors of this beautifully festive dish became somewhat of an obsession. One that’s still with me today.

Smoked paprika. Onions. Garlic. Tomatoes. Chorizo. Saffron. When combined properly, they conspire to transform what could have been just another, ordinary, rustic rice dish into something so much more thrilling.

But finding a recipe to make that happen has been no easy task. There are so many. And to complicate things even more, I wanted one that would recreate the experience I had back in DC. Or at least get close.

I haven’t had much luck. That is, until a few weeks ago when I found a recipe for a “paella mixta” with seafood, chorizo (dried, smoked, ready-to-eat pork sausage,) and chicken. It sounded like it might be the one.

And it was! In fact, after a little improvisation, the recipe became the basis for our family Christmas dinner. Everyone loved it — so it will most definitely be on the holiday table again next year. But I won’t wait until then for another taste. I’ll be serving this paella throughout the year.

The original recipe came from San Francisco chef and culinary writer Christine Gallary, who says “the key to the dish is the crusty, caramelized layer of rice, called socarrat, that forms on the bottom of the pan.”

I couldn’t agree more. That socarrat adds a characteristic layer of smoky flavor and a bit of crunch to the paella. It’s actually the soul of the dish.

Why don’t you give this paella a try! It’s not that difficult. It’s great for a party. And I’m certain your guests will love it. This recipe serves 6 to 8.

Paella Mixta

In addition to a 15″ paella pan, here’s what you’ll need:

2 medium ripe tomatoes
16 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton dulce)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1″ pieces
8 ounces Spanish chorizo, cut into 1/4″ thick rounds
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large pinch saffron threads
2 cups paella rice (bomba or Valencia)
1 tespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning shrimp and chicken
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
16 clams, well scrubbed
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves
2 medium lemons, cut into 8 wedges for serving
Aluminum foil, enough to cover paella pan

The preparation:

Core and halve the tomatoes. Grate the flesh side of each half on the large hole of a box grater over a medium bowl, discarding the skin. You should have about 3/4 cup of pulp and juice; set aside.

Place the shrimp in a medium bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon of the paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and refrigerate.

Place chicken in a bowl, generously salt and pepper; set aside.

Place the paella pan over two burners, heat until hot, about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the chorizo to a large bowl; set aside.

There should be a thin layer of fat in the pan. It not, add some olive oil, then add the chicken, stiring occasionally, until the pieces are golden brown, about 6 minutes total. (Rotate the pan from time to time to evenly dsidribute the heat.) Transfer chicken to the bowl with chorizo; set aside.

Add the onion to the pan, season with salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as needed so that onions don’t burn. Add garlic, remaining 3/4 teaspoon paprika, and saffron, stir to combine, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the tomato pulp and juice, cook until mixture has slightly darkened in color, scrapping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes. Add the rice, teaspoon salt, and stir to coat rice in the mixture.

Add the broth and stir to combine. Arrange the rice mixture in an even layer. Distribute the chorizo and chicken over the rice, adding any juices from the bowl. (Don’t stir the rice from this point on.)

Bring mixture to a lively simmer. Continue to cook until rice grains have expanded, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and rice begins to make a cracking sound, about 12 minutes. (Rotate pan occasionally to evenly distribute heat, adjusting heat as needed to maintian lively simmer.)

Arrange shrimp and clams (hinge-side down) in rice. Sprinkle in peas, cover pan with foil, and cook until clams have opened, shrimp are cooked through and rice is tender but al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, let stand 5 minutes. Remove foil, discard unopened clams, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with lemon wedges.

Round out the meal with a simple romaine salad, topped with manchego cheese and some grilled, crusty bread, drizzled with your best oilve oil.

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Spicy Charred Octopus — A New Recipe

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Can’t tell you how happy I am! My new kitchen is finally finished–after too many days of dust and disruption. Yes! Now I can entertain again.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Sharing my food with friends.

One of the first dishes I decided to cook after being away from the stove for so long — was “spicy octopus with yogurt and herbs.” And it’s become a real favorite. Tender and tangy, everyone seems to love it.

This isn’t the typical Greek version, seasoned with lemon, oregano, vinegar and olive oil and then grilled. No, this is totally different.

The tastes here are bolder and yet somehow more refined. Subtle hints of the Southeast Asian mix of hot, sour, salty, and sweet in an “attention-grabbing” glaze give a complex dimension to the octopus. Some smokyness is added when the well-glazed tentacles get a good sear.

To me, its addictively delicious! And it looks good on the plate too.

What’s even better, it’s ridiculously easy to make. It really is. First you braise. Then you sear. That’s it. Actually, the octopus is fully cooked after the braise. But don’t stop there — give it that final glazed sear!

Spicy Charred Octopus

Here’s what you’ll need to make the dish:

For the braise:
1 1/2 gallons water
2 lemons, cut in half and squeezed
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup kosher salt
3 bay leaves
3 to 4 lb. octopus (just get the 8 tentacles)

For the spicy glaze:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1″ piece ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 cup Sambal Oelek chili paste
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar

For the plate:
2 cups torn fresh herbs and baby greens
(basil, mint, cilantro, watercress, arugula
and maybe some thinly sliced fennel)
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
A very good olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

The preparation:

Combine all the braise ingredients in a large pot, except the octopus. Bring to a boil and then holding the tentacles with tongs dip them into the boiling water 3 times, leaving them submerged for 3-5 seconds each time. After the final dip, put the octopus back in the pot and cook, partially covered, for 60 minutes. Transfer to a sheet pan to cool.

(Once cooled the octopus can be held in the fridge for up to two days. But I usually do the braise the day before I want to make the dish.)

While the octopus is braising, make the spicy glaze by putting all the ingredients a small bowl and blitzing with an immersion blender. The glaze can be made up to one week in advance, just cover and chill.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. (Take the octopus out of the fridge 1/2 hour before, separate the tentacles and cut into equal lengths.) Splash some olive oil over the tentacles, season with salt and pepper. Then sear, turning from time to time, until charred, 8-10 minutes. Brush with glaze, turning occasionally, until well caramelized, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and add olive oil to coat.

Finally, toss the herb salad with the lime juice and a discrete splash of olive oil. Smear a large dollop of yogurt across each plate, top with octopus and a handful of salad, then drizzle some glaze around the plate.

This is a recipe for four: serve two tentacles per plate as an entree. Or one per as a first course and save the rest for the next night. Maybe serve them sliced with pasta, olives, capers and a light tomato sauce.

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Art Basel Miami — A Cypress Tavern Brunch

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Finding a quiet place for a civilized brunch amidst the madness and bustle of Art Basel Miami is not an easy thing to do. It is, after all, the world’s largest art fair. And this year it set another attendance record.

Luckily, I decided to see if a small restaurant called Cypress Tavern was a possibility — a number of things about the place appealed to me. It’s owned by Chef Michael Schwartz. It’s in Miami’s Design District. And the dinner my wife, Trulee, and I had there last year was more than praise worthy. So was the service and the ambiance.

Calling for a reservation two weeks in advance is a must during art fair week. At least for the better tables in town. So that’s what I did.

Yes, brunch was being served on Saturday. And they had a table for us.

The Cypress Tavern was just what we needed after an intense morning immersing ourselves in the monumental art of Anselm Kiefer at the Margulies Collection, a short, cab ride away. Sitting in the Tavern’s cheery, club-like space was a welcome counterpoint to the dark, monochromatic tones of Kiefer’s beautiful, but unsettling, Neo-realist work.

Brightening things even more was the artful brunch menu. Wood-grilled mushroom salad. Lobster- avocado toast. Wood-grilled giant prawn. Soft polenta, grilled mushrooms and poached egg with truffles. Yellowfin tuna Nicoise. Buccatini carbonara with poached egg.

A James Beard Award-winng chef, Schwartz has been a favorite of mine ever since he opened one of the first restaurants in Miami’s Design District, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. His dishes are simple bistro-like fare — but a lot more. Carefully thought out and delicious.

As much as I wanted to try the buccatini carbonara with the poached egg, my choice on this drizzly, art-filled Saturday was the tuna Nicoise. I needed something “salad-light” after the crazy, multi-course meal with friends the night before that was way too rich for my taste.

Some Sancerre seemed to be the right thing to do while we waited to see if what we ordered would live up to our expectations. (Trulee had decided on the polenta, mushrooms and poached egg with truffles.)

Well, the Nicoise was a colorful rendition of the classic dish with perfectly seared tuna and a boiled egg that was possibly the best I’ve ever had — a soft, but not-too-soft, golden center begging to be eaten together with a bite of potato and haricots vert. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette that must have been made with the best of olive oils, just the right amount of acid and a touch of Dijon, the salad would have satisfied the most demanding of Francophiles. It certainly satisfied moi!

And the poached egg on soft polenta, with mushrooms and truffles?
It was just as good as it sounded! Maybe better.

I guess we could have eaten at one of the uncomfotable, over-crowded, food venues conveniently tucked into Art Basel, itself. Lots of people do. But the more civilized experience at the Cypress made more sense. At least to us. And in addition to the first-rate food, it was quiet enough to eavesdrop on the table next to us where an art consultant discretely counseled a couple on investment opportunities and emerging artists.

Cypress Room 3620 NE Second Avenue / Design District – Miami
305-520-5197 / www.cypresstavern.com

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Thinking about Paris

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Of course, I’m thinking about Paris! How could I not?

Especially since it was not that long ago my wife, Trulee, and I wandered the beguiling streets of this luminous city — thrilled to be immersed again in its endless charm, beauty and sophistication.

But when those despicable, barbaric events of 11/13 so rudely shattered the Parisian night, randomly interrupting lives and shrouding this joyous city in fear, I was overcome with sadness. And anger.

One look at Facebook and I knew I wasn’t alone.

So would Paris be different now? I keep revisiting my experiences there in Setember of last year. As you might guess, the focus was food.

And did we enduldged ourselves — thanks to a well-researched list of the most interesting tables the city had to offer. Everything from three star kitchens like Astrance to creative, new bistros trying to make a culianry mark like Clamato. And those that already have like Frenchie.

Tucked away on Rue de Nil (actually an alley) in the 2nd arrondissement, Frenchie – now one of my favorite places to dine in Paris – is a captivating little space, seating only twenty-six people and serving creative, simply-prepared plates that linger in memory long after you’ve had that final espresso. The food is beautiful, delicious, and affordable.

Thinking back on my meal at Frenchie brings me considerable comfort after the recent unspeakable events. It even brings a smile to my face.

After some champagne, a starter of seared squid with black pudding and tomatoes. Then John Dory from St Jean de Luz with green beans, fresh nuts, kalamata olives and red lemon peel. And to finish, Wild blackberries sorbet, marigold, green lemon and caramelized brioche.

But it was much more than that. It was pure pleasure teased out of simple, pristine ingredients. It was an eloquent expression of the new bistro fare that has been redefining the French dining scene.

And Chef-Owner Gregory Marchand is the one who makes it happen.

A native of Nantes, France, Marchand opened Frenchie in 2009 — after working at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurant in London and Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Tavern in NYC. He’s just as charming as his food.

Yes, I’ve been thinking about Paris. But now, no more dark thoughts…

I want to think about dinner at Frenchie, my conversation with Marchand after that wonderful meal, afternoons bicycling along the Seine. Sidewalk cafes. Shakespeare & Company. Marias galleries. The Louvre. Brunch at Le Comptoire du Relais. Lunch at Septime.

So that’s what I’m doing. How about you?

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State Street Eating House — Get the Grilled Sardines

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When I can’t decide where to go for a casual dinner here in Sarasota, I usually end up at State Street Eating House — to sit at the bar for a plate of their exceptional, grilled sardines. And a few glasses of wine.

There’s something about eating at a restaurant’s bar that just feels good. (This one is no exception.) And in a town where so many places are doing too much to their food and charging too much for it, those sardines with their pleasantly-assertive taste always seem to satisfy.

Discretely listed on the menu under appetizers, the dish features two perfectly-grilled sardines, simply dressed with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt and a touch of olive oil. Keeping them company on the plate are a toss of baby arugula, some lemon and a slice of grilled peasant bread that’s most definitely addictive. To complete my rustic, yet very civilized, meal at the bar, I add an order of charred broccolini.

This little dinner would be nothing out of the ordinary in, say, Montreal. Or Barcelona. But in Sarasota, it certainly is. And when you consider those lovely sardines only set me back $11.00, it’s even more so.

But to me it’s all about taste. These are uniquely flavorful fish. Not “fishy” tasting at all. And they take to the grill like they were concieved for the fire because of their ultra-high oil content. Charred, smokey and super-savory when they come off the heat, grilled sardines are one of those simple culinary pleasures that I just can’t get enough of.

OK. I know some of you are saying, two little sardines — that can’t be enough for a meal. Well, the ones at State Street aren’t the same size as those little guys you find packed in a can. They’re a whole lot larger.

If you’re into esoteric cocktail conversation: The average weight of a fresh sardine is 3 to 6 ounces. It’s packed with protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. And the delicious little fish is mercury free.

Even so, occasionally my wife is up for something other than sardines. And she’s not been dissapointed here. At least, not lately. (Early on, some of the oven-roasted, fish dishes didn’t live up to expectation.)

Here are some of the stand outs we’ve enjoyed of late at this casually-cool, little “hot spot” of a restaurant — a beautifully-composed roasted beet salad, a luscious duck burger, an “entree-sized” roasted sweet potato and a variety of expertly-grilled, whole fish from local waters.

And what about the service? Just as it should be for a place like this. Professional, personable and fun. Especially the people behind the bar!

State Street Eating House / 1533 State Street – Sarasota, FL
941.951.1533 / www.statestreetsrq.com

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