Quick! Name your favorite 5 fine dining destinations in Sarasota. . . Chances are Café L’Europe is on that list, if not at the top of the list for many of you. After all, this romantic bistro has been a local destination restaurant for over 40 years (!) on historic St. Armand’s Circle.
F-O-R-T-Y YEARS. Think about that. Café L’Europe been on the scene before there was a scene. That easily makes them an A+ Lister in SarasotaFoodies parlance.
In keeping with our goal to focus on premier A-Lister restaurants during this year’s Savor Sarasota dining event, Café L’Europe certainly leads the pack of award winning establishments that have been thrilling Sarasota epicureans for over a decade or more. Though we’ve dined here numerous times before, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit at this landmark restaurant when offered Savor Sarasota’s prix fixe 3 course meal for $29.00. Oooo La la!
It was a dark and stormy night Scratch that . . . We were under a tropical storm warning when we arrived at Café L’Europe around 6:00, a bit earlier than prime time. Being that outdoor dining was out of the question, we requested a window table, and we were promptly greeted by virtually everyone on the stellar wait staff synonymous with Café L’Europe. Thinking we’d be in for a quiet evening, we were surprised to see the main dining room quickly fill up soon after we were seated. While we would normally request old friends Dominique or Steven as our server, we were so pleased with our “main” server this evening, Tamas, who was at once professional, cordial, and poised. I say “main” server, because everyone on the staff by turns came by the table to see how we were enjoying ourselves, and could they get us anything else. Not in an intrusive way, just warm, assuring, and efficient.
As an aside, another beautiful thing about the Savor Sarasota menus, is being able to preview the menu online in advance, so we knew what we wanted to order before we even sat down. I’m sure the participating restaurants must like that as well, as they can fine tune the presentations and perhaps generate an extra turn each night.
There were three selections offered on the appetizer course of the menu, so Jill and I choose the two most likely never to be prepared at home, skipping the Café L’Europe Salad, even as tantalizing as it sounded. In my sights was the dreamy and smooth Lobster Bisque, with a beautiful, subtle sherry taste, laden with chunks of lobster, and decorated with crème fraiche. Mm-mm-magnifique!
Jill makes the not-so-hard selection of Escargot for her starter, classically prepared and baked in garlic-herbed butter. This traditional French dish arrived bubbling hot to the table, so hot she had to wait for the dish to cool off — helping herself to some of my bisque in the meantime. Hey!!! Hands off!
With just the right amount of garlic, Jill declared the escargot as kiss worthy . . . meaning the balance of garlic didn’t overpower the escargot, leaving the diner’s breath fresh enough for a kiss! Of course we use our bread to mop up every last drop of buttery goodness as each snail was consumed.
So far, so great!
Silly as it sounds, with three main second course choices, there’s still some hemming and hawing over what to order. In the end, I choose the Liver L’Europe. After all, I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a delicious liver entrée, a long-standing staple on the regular lunch menu at Café L’Europe. As pedestrian as it may sound, the sautéed calves liver, crisp bacon and fried onions are off-the-charts good! Mashed potatoes are artfully served in a swirled peak, while mashed sweet potatoes rest at the bottom of the plate, with a bundle of three asparagus spears giving the dish even more color and panache.
Jill’s choice was the Dilled Atlantic Salmon, lightly seared and finished with a lemon dill cream sauce. Potato latke cakes, a bundle of asparagus wrapped up in a raffia-type bow and sweet potato mash finished off the dish to perfection. True to form at Café L’Europe, she felt her meal was simply impeccable.
With dessert as part of the Savor Sarasota deal, who are we to quibble about calories at such a time as this? It’s a no-brainer for us, Tableside Crêpes Suzette For Two. That’s right – prepared tableside, which will hook us every time.
This phenomenal preparation consisted of beautiful scratch made crêpes, butter, powdered sugar, fresh orange zest and juice, and fresh lemon juice, quickly flambéed with a brandy and Grand Marnier (which is easily my all-time favorite liqueur) reduction. Si somptueux! Jill notes that the severs at Café L’Europe not only serve, also cook a number of the dishes on the menu, so you know they are trained beyond the standards of most restaurants.