We heard a lot of exciting buzz about The Coolinary when it first opened, but we never seemed to find time to get there. We were captivated by the almost “hidden” location, upstairs from ofKors Bakery on Main Street. You can either take the stairs or the elevator and, more often than not, you’ll find a lovely hostess downstairs encouraging you to visit with a 10% discount card. Let me say, having finally visited, there’s no reason to discount The Coolinary experience.
Not that long ago, we were talking with Neal and Vanessa Finelli, the editor, and owner of Taste Dining & Travel Magazine, about several locally owned restaurants that don’t seem to get the accolades they deserve, and The Coolinary was the first on Neal’s list. He “scolded us,” kindly, honestly surprised that we hadn’t been there yet. After all, we share the same belief that our high-quality restaurants in Sarasota should be touted and supported. So a week ago, Neal extended an invite to “re-discover” this absolute jewel of a restaurant on lower Main Street.
If you want to know what The Coolinary is all about, nothing says it better than their mission statement, posted for everyone to see. After listening to Neal and Vanessa, I’m so ready to begin this gastronomic adventure!
Featuring a blend of Hungarian roots and American sensibilities, The Coolinary delivers European fusion in spades. To begin with, the dining room itself could not be any more inviting. I don’t know what I’d call it . . . cute, chic, stylish, whimsical and, or maybe just cool. “This couldn’t be any more perfect” I found myself thinking. There are five unique seating areas within The Coolinary — each with a unique vibe and decor, making it a great place to host small parties, such as ours. I’m rightfully impressed, and this is before the amazing fête we were about to experience!
After greeting Neal and Vanessa, who welcomed us with a refreshing Raspberry Martini, we took our seats and were introduced to Executive Chef William Goldenberg, who greeted us with an Artisanal Cheese Selection with Fruit Chutney, from their bar food menu. I likened this to a playful artisanal “cheese forest,” consisting of Bellavitano merlot cheese, aged gouda and cheddar cheeses supporting the crackers. Paired with a fresh mango chutney, sliced fresh apples, grapes and pears, this was a great way to start off an evening of sharing the different flavors of The Coolinary! That’s right . . . we dined “family style!” (My favorite!)
Manager Andor Budai joined us a few moments later, telling us the story of The Coolinary and how dedicated they are to keep their menu all natural, non-GMO and antibiotic free. “Everything is made on site,” he explained. “There’s no fillers, additives or shortcuts to our recipes, and that includes the cocktails at the bar.”
Neal kept the lively delicious evening going as we sampled a perfectly savory Hungarian Gulyás. This is a real-deal traditional Goulash prepared expertly by Chef William who spent considerable time in some of Europe’s finest kitchens. With a consistency somewhere between a soup and a stew, the beef, carrots, celery root, beets, paprika, and caraway seed all joined together to create the very definition of comfort food.
But, Neal pointed out, we had only tickled the surface of The Coolinary so far.
Next on our journey was the Beef Tartar with wasabi aioli and toast. Being an avowed fan of this classic dish, I would enthusiastically give this two thumbs up – that is, if I could ever put down my knife and fork long enough! The fresh hand chopped prime beef tenderloin paired with the creamy/spicy aioli was a marriage made heavenly in this kitchen.
Not leaving the other-worldly appetizer dishes yet, next to appear before us was a delectable Tuna Carpaccio. I don’t know how exactly this occured, but the carpaccio arrived at just the precise moment I had taken a sip of their Ginger Flower Cocktail. Ginger and sashimi grade tuna just go together so well, it was a treat to enjoy the flavors of the cocktail and the tuna carpaccio one right after the other. The cool tuna, peppery arugula, and shaved Parmesan topped with capers was another example of how honoring simple ingredients lend themselves to a beautifully executed menu.
Cauliflower has become the darling of vegetable lovers everywhere, as well it should be, with its versatility across the culinary spectrum. The Oven Roasted Cauliflower Fritters with Bleu Cheese Sauce provided another delicious bite that I would gladly recommend. Looking at the picture below, I ask you, “What’s not to like?” especially if paired with a dry white Hungarian wine.
While not starving at this point (duh) I cannot deny that I would have arm-wrestled anyone at the table for the chance to keep the Hungarian Chicken Paprikash all to myself. Sharing is the “family style” of dining I had agreed to, but man! I did not want to share!
This traditional dish was composed of a perfectly braised half chicken served in a creamy paprika sauce over a The Coolinary’s homemade spaetzle. It was inspiring to see how such a humble dish could win over a group of local foodies. This is the dish Jill will be coming back for. The paprikash sauce was smoky and tangy and warming and just . . . wow . . . every ingredient illustrates why Hungarian Chicken Paprikash is a world-famous dish. Chef suggested we try a bit of the chicken with one of the mini Kosher dill pickles he’d brought out with the dish. Great suggestion, Chef! The seasoning of the paprikash sauce really changed with the addition of the dill pickle!
Hands up if you love sweet potatoes! That’s what I thought – pretty much all of you.
The Vegan Sweet Potato Risotto combines the creaminess of sweet potato risotto, with a steamed kale and dried cranberry salad on top, delivering both a velvety texture and a crunchy finish to each bite. Dressed with a curry orange vinaigrette and topped with toasted pecans, this is one of those “feel good about yourself” dishes that you can order as an entree, or order as a side for the table to share.
Going back to the Coolinary’s Signature Dishes, let me tell you about the Lamb Osso Bucco.
This signature dish features oh-so-tender braised lamb in a white wine sauce, served with green beans, large bites of earthy mushrooms, and polenta. The green beans were al dente and the polenta absorbed all the flavors of the white wine sauce and the braising liquids of the lamb. My taste buds are still high-fiving me for this beautifully prepared tummy-comforting dish!
The Braised Beef Short Rib was another fall-off-the-bone dish, so tender and delicious. Topped with a Hungarian “Goulash” sauce and assorted pickled vegetables, the short rib was served atop couscous, the ideal accompaniment to all those flavor profiles. This sauce had a bit of a “tang” to it, making it stand apart from other short rib dishes I’ve enjoyed.
This was turning out to be a deliciously fun evening, spent with quality people who really appreciate good food. My family hails from Estonia, so while the flavor profiles are different from Hungarian, I appreciated knowing I was eating out in Sarasota, but tasting the flavors you’d get from a European meal lovingly cooked at home.
Perhaps saving the best for last IS a good idea, because I was truly blown away by the Hungarian Dobos Torte. The manager, Andor Budai, makes this dessert himself, and explained that the “Dobos” torte has been made continuously for over 400 years in Hungary, and is one of the most honored recipes of their homeland. Featuring six layers of sponge cake slathered with chocolate buttercream, the Dobos Torte is topped with a caramelized sugar topping that balances on the top like a glistening layer of sugar gold. The dedication it must take to re-create this dish every day is so obvious, and so celebrated in every single mouthwatering bite. OMG to the Dobos!
As our evening winded to a close, Neal and Vanessa reminded us that no meal in Hungary is complete without an after-dinner toast. Fortunately the managers and Chef William Goldenberg were able to join us for a hearty round of “Egészségedre,” which means “Cheers” in English. (Trust me, they pronounced it much better than I, even after a little coaching from the Chef’s Hungarian wife!)