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.
At Selva, Latin America meets the United States atop plates splashed with "Peruvian cooking reinterpreted with polish and sophistication," according to the Herald-Tribune. Dubbed Nuevo Latino cuisine, the menu's signature ceviches and seafood entrees hint at eastern origins due to Peru's influx of Asian immigrants. The Ceviche de Ostras, for example, is tinged with ginger and rocoto, a Peruvian pepper, divided into "three white espresso cups…each containing oysters floating in leche de tigre, or tiger's milk." Joined by more familiar dishes such as chili-glazed Chilean salmon and bone-in veal chops, the ceviches claim a large chunk of the menu. The wine list contains exotic offerings from Argentina and Italy.
The dining room vibrates around an aesthetic centerpiece, a glass wall glazed with chunks of color that conjure imagines of a swirling mosaic. With auburn walls and plush couches, the lounge area facilitates chatter and nickel-filled pillow fights as live DJs spin tracks until 1 a.m. on weekends. Outside, water spills over a wall beside the patio seating.
The Coyne family didn't forget their heritage when they left Ocean City, Maryland, to move to Sarasota, Florida. They took their native region's recipes with them and their love for local, fresh food, and the menu at Coyne's Pier 28 stands as evidence with jumbo lump crab cakes, crab pretzels, and a raw oyster bar. Their entrées feature fish from every sea, including items such as big island ahi tuna and the North Atlantic codfather, found in Francis Ford Coppola's pool. They also hosts events such as trivia night, ladies’ night, and hospitality night.
At O'Maddy's Bar & Grille, chef Wade Parrish takes ownership for more than the menu; as the man who built O'Maddy's, Wade takes credit for the waterfront view. When construction wrapped up more than 20 years ago, Wade tossed his tools into the Boca Ciega Bay and became a full-time executive chef, cooking starters such as gator bites with Guinness breading ($7.95) and clams with cilantro pesto and toast ($8.95) for soaking up juices or dabbing away drool slicks. From the entrees, Gulf of Mexico red grouper ($15.95) arrives grilled, blackened, or fried, and a 6-ounce grilled Maddy's filet partners with fontina cheese, fresh basil, and a Marsala demi-glace ($17.95). The drink menu promises refreshment with a multitude of wines, beers, and cocktails. An aromatic and fruity glass of Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc ($6) plays well with ocean fruits, and a Gulfport Guava Breeze tropical cocktail gently whistles down gullets. Decorating the restaurant's walls, a beach mural serves as the backdrop for nightly karaoke. When the microphone comes out at 9:30 p.m., guests can belt out a classic or croon "Just the Two of Us" to the last remaining clam.
The epicurean experts at the Oyster Shucker unfurl a savory tasting menu of seafood and beef burgers, fish sandwiches, and 1-pound burritos. Dining duos settle amid bright-red walls as they gaze out the window at the ocean waves, or enjoy the fresh air of a patio with even better views of the sunset and leaping mermen. Guests ease appetites into the water with options such as fried clam strips. Lettuce crunches under the pitter-patter of tongs as they dance across the salad bar, which paves the way for entrees such as a sandwichful of blackened mahi-mahi with tomato. White fish makes cameo appearances in a 1-pound burrito or alongside tartar-sauce-limned sliders. Guests can venture into landlocked fare with triple buns tucked with two 10-ounce burgers lathered in the Oyster Shucker’s special sauce, or philly steak draped, like a slumbering man in the moon, in a sheet of melting provolone.
Woody's Waterfront Cafe, built on an inlet off the Gulf of Mexico, regales guests with vintage 1960's beach-bar vibes and scenic views, shimmying up a menu of casual American fare and ice-cold drinks. Commence the evening with one of Woody's basket cases, which nestle a bushel's worth of plain or spicy fries next to bite-sized morsels of chicken, shrimp, clams, or wings ($8.75–$12.50). Otherwise, the burgers—half-pound patties of grilled chuck cooked to preference—make for hearty handheld eats and surprisingly accurate discuses ($7/50–$8.45), and the cheese-topped surfin' steak sandwich snares shaved slices of grilled sirloin and veggies within the soft embrace of a bun ($8.25). Woody's chefs also sizzle up mahi-mahi steak, which comes blackened, grilled, or fried, and plated with a choice of two sides ($12.95). At the full bar, bartenders sling draft and bottled beer, as well as a bevy of frozen mixed drinks that include mudslides authentically prepared with the mire from Mt. Oreo's historic avalanche.