What's cookin' in Sarasota County

Members of the area’s thriving culinary scene promote Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week in Tampa.

Posted by Meaghan Habuda on Fri, May 23, 2014 at 2:33 PM

Louies Modern chef James Baselici garnishes his dishes at a media  - preview for Sarasota County's restaurant week. - MEAGHAN HABUDA
  • Meaghan Habuda
  • Louies Modern chef James Baselici garnishes his dishes at a media
    preview for Sarasota County's restaurant week.

The arts, the food, the beach. These are some of the reasons Michael Klauber said Tampa Bay residents choose his county for their weekend getaways.

As the proprietor of Sarasota restaurant Michael’s On East and the chair of Visit Sarasota County, which is sponsoring June 1 through 14’s Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week, Klauber should know.

“There are so many great choices for people,” he said, adding that the region is a center for the culinary arts.

After showcasing dishes off their restaurant week prix fixe menus Tuesday evening during a media event at Tampa’s Epicurean Hotel, eateries like Louies Modern, Libby’s Café + Bar, Darwin’s on 4th and Michael’s help support Klauber’s assertions.

Fifty more restaurants will offer lunch menus for $15 and dinner menus for $29 throughout Savor Sarasota's run.

Beet causa (mashed yellow potato dumping) with jumbo lump crab meat, avocado, aji amarillo tartare and citrus sweet chili were crafted by chef Darwin Santa Maria, of the Peruvian gastro-brewpub Darwin's, for the preview. Bradenton's Darwin Brewing Company, another endeavor of the chef's, will host its grand opening from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Michael's chef Jamil Pineda plated pan-roasted Mote Marine sturgeon and miso rémoulade, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts and green apple hash with roasted red pepper relish. To Pineda's left, New American fare was featured by chef James Baselici, of Louie's, who topped his crab cakes with celery root rémoulade, pairing them with lemongrass corn gazpacho shooters.

Along with other pleasant smells, tasters welcomed aromas from the Libby’s station, which offered chef Kyle Harrington’s fried sticky Asian ribs with crushed wontons, that filled the Epicurean’s small classroom theater.

Klauber and Virigina Haley, Visit Sarasota County’s president, hope that Tampa Bay diners will make the drive south for restaurant week, and thereafter, to indulge in their region’s cuisine. Like Klauber, Haley said locals from the Bay area already convene in Sarasota County.

“Tying the food connection between [Sarasota and Tampa] made sense,” she said of the Savor Sarasota preview.

What started as way to build attendance during summer’s lower dining turnout, an event that was fortunate if it brought 15 restaurants on board, has transformed into a community staple. Haley described how foodies know when the two-weeklong Savor Sarasota, now in its ninth season, is approaching. They call about it, ask around, participate.

Baselici, who has lived in Sarasota for three years, said Savor Sarasota is great for marketing and that many restaurants want to be involved. He noted that diners feel like they’ve stepped in to a restaurant in New York or Los Angeles when visiting Louies Modern.

And according to Klauber, that’s what the county’s restaurants are all about — the culinary experience.

At Michael’s On East, Klauber said he challenges Pineda, but that Pineda is also challenged by the clientele, “to do world-class things.” Pineda creates new items for diners regularly because the eatery dedicates its menus to a specific location every month. In the past, Michael’s has devoted menus to Mexico, South Africa and France, calling its refashioned offerings Epicurean adventures.

Reflecting a sentiment that’s embedded into Tampa Bay’s food scene, Klauber talked about swapping the industry’s competitive nature for camaraderie.

“We’re lucky to have so many fabulous local, independent places,” he said, “And that’s why we celebrate … The guy down the street is your friend, not competition. We set old feelings aside to preserve the culinary heritage in Sarasota County.”

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