By the time he was 20, Christian Zebier was serving as maître d'hôtel for a prestigious restaurant in Belgium. After a five-year stint teaching primary school, he realized that his heart lay in hospitality, and that children have terrible table manners. The first business Zebier began, Air du Temps, deployed an elite staff to serve such distinguished parties as the Belgian royal family.
Zebier stuffed his fine-tuned sense of hospitality into a suitcase and brought it to the United States, where he opened Brasserie Belge. He felt that Sarasota's open-minded, well-traveled residents could appreciate the traditional ambiance of a brasserie. The restaurant's attentive staff serves a menu of Belgian cuisine, such as Prince Edward Island mussels delivered fresh every morning and served with one of 12 styles of belgian fries. On the leather couches of the piano lounge, patrons enjoy Belgian beers, specialty martinis, and small plates.
As a café, bakery, and art gallery, Burns Court Café provides pleasant sensory overload for its guests, whether they’re enjoying live jazz music or staring in a daze at the Italian gelato and sorbet selections. Here, French café fare—such as daily quiches and melt-in-your-mouth croque-monsieur (the Frenchy take on grilled ham and cheese)—merges with real Italian coffee and Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Once monthly, the café features a new exhibition with work from local artists.
An old world union of shiny red tablecloths, wall murals, and rustic wooden accents forms the backdrop for La Cote Basque's chefs, who harness traditional European recipes to imbue their menu with classic French, Italian, and German flavors. Complex flavor combinations tastily define La Cote Basque’s menu. The restaurant’s palate-popular chefs enlist sherry to sauté shrimp, fresh mushrooms, and peppers before recruiting brandy to flambé the entire concoction while a sunny-side-up egg adorns schnitzel holstein, a breaded veal cutlet served with anchovies and capers. Like friendship bracelets traded by butchers, the medallions senater assorties encompasses six different meats, including beef marsala, veal piccata, and chicken parmesan. House wines, such as chianti and sangria, complement the international-dining experience.
A complimentary glass of champagne greets each guest as they find their seats and prepare to embark on a three-hour journey. The two dozen adventurous souls converse, but grow quiet as a figure walks through a red curtain. Chef Richard Bottini introduces himself and describes the special menu of gourmet, seasonal dishes he has planned for the evening. True to its name, the restaurant features just six tables, and every meal at Six Tables is an intimate experience with twinkling lights illuminating antique crystal in a setting Gayot named as one of the top 10 romantic restaurants in the area.
Bottini, an award-winning chef and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, creates a new six-course prix fixe menu every day using seasonal ingredients and his expansive knowledge of French cooking. In the kitchen, he personally prepares each course, incorporating such delectables as Cornish hen and poached duck breast. Bottini breaks down each menu item in English or Klingon to diners and offers wine pairings with dishes, which can be tailored according to taste and diet.
Honored by the U.S. Commerce Association with 2011’s Best of Friday Harbor Award, the Blue Dolphin Cafe boasts Culinary Institute alumni who concoct fresh breakfasts and lunches throughout the day. The eatery obtains provisions from Sarasota’s Sutter Egg Farm to craft three-egg omelets and eggs benedict, and fruit-sprinkled pancakes are topped with Vermont maple syrup or folded neatly into the lab-coat pockets of on-the-go surgeons. Patrons can top salads with their choice of chicken, shrimp, or tilapia, pairing them with burgers, wraps, sandwiches, and fried eats prepared in trans-fat-free oil. A kids’ menu accommodates youthful palates, and Friday-night dinners served November–April brighten the colder months.
A flash of silver glimmers in Little Sarasota Bay, mere feet from the lush, tropical patio of Ophelia's on the Bay. It could be the belly of a leaping dolphin, the petals of a water lily, or the shiny lures of fishermen as they reel in the evening's catch. No matter its source, this sparkle reminds guests that simple pastimes such as nature gazing and family dinners are among life's greatest riches. Owner Stanley Ferro has honored this sentiment by naming Ophelia's after his grandmother, an epicure who has lived in Sarasota for more than 40 years.
In the kitchen, chefs use black grouper and tuna to showcase recipes from Florida's coasts and seaside countries such as France, Nicaragua, and Japan. Maine lobster tails morph into Mexican-inspired rellenos, and New England sea scallops bask in an emulsion of caramelized shallots and dill. Within the dining room, floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of the bay, where sea captains dock their boats or play Marco Polo with the nearby nesting herons. As the evening sky dims, moonlight casts a romantic glow over the patio's white tablecloths, and guests raise glasses of French champagne to a lovely evening under the stars.