The salty breeze blows off Sarasota Bay, picking up a few notes of sweetness as it passes through the petals and boughs of Sarasota Bayfront Park. But it gets better: soon the scent of fresh baked pizza takes over, and with it the aroma of calzones and lasagna—with Bella Nonna in the center of it all.
Amid this delicious eddy of air currents sits the restaurant itself, a beachy gem with red exterior walls and covered outdoor patios hung with curtains. Strings of light run along the beams framing the patio, making the space appear to glow from within. Inside, the flavor of the Italian specialties matches the rest of the eatery's sensory promises as dishes such as shrimp scampi made with local giant Gulf shrimp arrive tableside. Bella Nonna's pizzas fit the bill too, with choices such as the custom Presto Pesto that combines the kitchen's own pesto sauce with grilled chicken, caramelized onions, and mozzarella.
“I believe that if you’re not cooking with all five senses, you’re not cooking,” declares Derek Barnes in his feature for Sarasota’s Hot Chefs. It’s this maxim that earned him a lifetime of culinary achievement, starting with a four-year stint under the expertise of Emeril Lagasse and leading to a Zagat rating for his own restaurant and the title of semifinalist in the 2009 James Beard Awards. Derek channels these achievements into the innovative dishes he creates at his eponymous restaurant, which specializes in what he calls progressive American cuisine. That “progressive” moniker can mean a lot of things, whether it’s anointing a dish of foie gras with hazelnut honey and walnut streusel or braising a savory lamb shank in the tart flavors of lime and cilantro. Unlike a time-traveling Byzantine explorer, the chef doesn’t obsess over his plentiful spice cabinet, as the menu’s simple-grill selection serves up fresh cuts of steak, fish, and poultry in a simple, unadulterated form. Each flavor note finds its ideal complement in a wine list that features 100 bottles, many of which are available by the glass.
Vung Tau Oriental Market casts a wide net, providing shoppers with a pan-regional selection of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, Filipino, Malaysian, Indian, and Japanese groceries and ingredients. Items such as pho noodles, fresh quail eggs, tea, medicinal herbs, and lemongrass stems line the shelves and display cases. Selling meats, vegetables, and seasonings isn't enough, though. The market also offers cooking classes, which teach students to use those ingredients when preparing regional Asian dishes such as Korean-style bulgogi beef or Vietnamese-style spring rolls.
The gastronomic gurus at The Savory Street Café and Bakery conjure a cornucopia of signature artisan breads to adorn their menu of breakfast- and lunch-centric fare. Roust slumbering appetites or hibernating woodland creatures with the lox-and-egg omelet, which accompanies its namesake ingredients with an entourage of cream cheese and chives; or, oil rusty jaw hinges with eggs benedict, english muffins elevating a stack of poached eggs, asparagus tips, and hollandaise sauce. The chef's signature Creative Craters dish stuffs crater artisan bread with eggs and cross-cultural ingredients such as spanish chorizo and francophiliac brie; a croissant filled with India-inspired curried chicken salad introduces lunchers to bread as flaky as Howard Hughes’ flint collection. Accompany the feast with offerings from the beverage menu, such as a white chocolate mocha or a chai latte.
The forecast at Tsunami Sushi Bar & Grill never changes: there’s always a heavy chance of sushi. More than 30 sushi and sashimi creations take up a good chunk of the menu, with ingredients ranging from smoked salmon to spicy scallop. Diners can set aside their chopsticks and slice into hearty orders of filet mignon teriyaki or Gal Be—Korean barbecued short ribs served with steamed greens. Tsunami serves its artful plates in a dining room that This Week in Sarasota calls “dark, rich, and casually elegant,” making the restaurant an ideal spot for a romantic date or suit fitting.
Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant not only imports ingredients and products, but also recipes. With roots in northern Spain and Catalonia, these dishes come together on a menu of more than 100 hot and cold tapas selections, along with paella and cazuela. Paella, a widely varied rice dish cooked at length in a wide pot over open flame, can contain Serrano ham, scallops, pork, chorizo, and saffron rice the stunning golden hue of an alchemist's magazine advertisements. Though the restaurant spans multiple locations, each one presents guests with some charming element: a poolside patio at the Tampa location, a central tapas bar in Orlando, and a flamenco room in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, no matter the location, events bring about live music and joviality, all supported by an ample list of Spanish and Portuguese wines.