It started with a fish and ended with an apple, while in between our recent dinner at Chef Rolf’s New World Cuisine was filled with eye-opening flavors and surprising twists on classic presentations. But what else would you expect from a local chef who is as well known for his unconventional hairstyle as his unique approach to cooking.
Many of us locals know local celebrity Swiss Chef Rolf Zahnd from his cooking show, New Florida Kitchen, seen weekdays on SNN at 11 am. Others know him from his previous restaurant, Saltwater Cafe. Mart had met him before, but this was a new experience for me. I was pleased to discover Chef Rolf is as charming in person as he is on television.
My first impression was that Chef Rolf doesn’t show much restraint on his menu. It is enormous. Most every fish offered is today’s fresh catch, be it grouper, redfish, flounder or shrimp. As a member of Florida’s state agriculture campaign, Fresh From Florida, Chef Rolf supports offering sustainable seafood, as well as locally sourced fresh produce. Knowing the kitchen is stocked with fresh ingredients gets me excited every time.
We started with a Triple Tail Ceviche, a delicate warm water fish that is considered a delicacy by many Floridians. Diced to small cubes and tossed with vinegar, lime, and slices of onion, the ceviche was expertly paired with warm slices of soft pita bread that had been toasted just enough to give them body without becoming crunchy. I was folding the ceviche up in the pita like a small fish taco. Really a nice dish.
Next up was the surprise of the day, an Asian Cauliflower appetizer that featured bite-sized cauliflower florets glazed in plum and Thai chili sauce and served with a side of blue cheese dressing. There was just enough ‘heat’ to give the cauliflower a nice zing to it, without being too spicy. I honestly think most folks, when looking at this dish, would think we were served some kind of Buffalo chicken dish! (That side of dressing would make you think so, am I right?) I could have eaten the entire serving myself, but there was more yumminess coming, so I restrained my enthusiasm and kept them close by . . . should I find room for them later!
It had been some time since I had a great Oysters Rockefeller, but that issue was laid to rest at Chef Rolf’s. Just look at those oysters! They were large, briny and succulent, topped with crab meat, spinach and mozzarella cheese baked to a golden brown. Truly, these were what Mart calls “Big Mouth Oysters” meaning you need to open wide to eat one whole. Sometimes I get a hankering for Oysters Rockefeller, so now I know where to go next time that happens.
Being a friend of Mart’s, Chef Rolf brought out a dish he has yet to feature on his menu: Cauliflower Crust Flatbread with Gravlax, capers, tomato and ribbon slices of onion. Vegan and gluten-free, the crust had such a nice crunch to it, and it truly didn’t have a strong cauliflower flavor. Between this dish and the Asian Cauliflower, I wonder if Chef Rolf knows something about disguising cauliflower that my mom didn’t know? Vegetarians, vegans, and foodies, in general, will enjoy both these takes on cauliflower.
So many appetizers usually mean we’re splitting an entrée or skipping ordering one altogether. Not in this case. My restraint with the Asian Cauliflower, Oysters and Flatbread were rewarded with a couple of take-out containers and a fresh glass of wine. Time to sit back a bit, relax and enjoy the live piano music playing in the main dining room.
Live music can be great when it enhances a meal, but sometimes I find myself wishing the music was more “scene setter” than a “scene stealer.” The music at Chef Rolf’s was set at the perfect volume and selection choice, the pianist’s choices allowing guests to visit with each other while enjoying his quality performance. He jumped from song to song, segueing from one genre to another without a hitch. That’s pretty special to me . . . but back to the food!
My entrée was Chef Rolf’s beautiful Diver Scallops “Sarasota Style”. That means 5 large Diver scallops served on a bed of sautéed spinach with a key lime champagne sauce drizzled over the top, with caviar dressing each the nicely grilled scallops. This was not only a pretty presentation but a delicious one as well. No wonder it is a favorite on the menu.
Mart’s dish was one of Chef Rolf’s specials. I call it a Surf’nTurf’nSurf. . . a serving of grilled shrimp, a 6 oz filet and grilled Triple Tail all hosted on a bed of Chef’s outrageous pea risotto with a side of sautéed broccolini. I reached over and stabbed one of the shrimp to taste, immediately impressed by the lemon beurre blanc the Chef had also drizzled lightly over the risotto. The filet was a perfect medium rare, with a splash of bearnaise sauce that was equally as delightful with the Triple Tail as with the beef. And that pea risotto? Mart said if he hadn’t had any that night, he’d be ordering some to take home! Overall, everything on this dish worked well together, both on the plate and on the palate. Surf’nTurf’nSurf . . . who knew!
“I’m stuffed,” Mart announced. As usual, he sometimes gets too enamored with the flavors that he doesn’t slow down enough to realize he’s eaten too much. “I can’t eat another bite!” Oh! Reeeaaallly?
I may have been new to Chef Rolf’s cooking, but not to his reputation. I WAS having an order of his Fried Apple dessert, also known as apfelchuechli in Switzerland. Chef thinly slices peeled green apples (not sure if they are Granny Smith or not) and dips each slice in a sweet batter, then flash-fries them and rolls each crispy slice in cinnamon. With this technique, he achieves a softer apple that still has a slight crunch to it, almost like an individual apple pie slice, crunchy crust and all. Each order is served with a dish of gelato that Chef Rolf has sent in daily from Ciao Gelato, a popular ice cream shop in Venice. “They make the best gelato,” Chef explains. “It makes 100% sense to use their product instead of making my own.”
As I was finishing up, I couldn’t help but think of my parents, who live close by. While more pricey than some of the places they frequent, Chef Rolf’s New World Cuisine offers many of the dishes that my father loves with gluten free options for my mom.
The restaurant wasn’t too busy the Monday night we were there, but the bar crowd seemed pretty consistent. I understand there is a separate bar menu, so by all means, if you want to try out Chef Rolf’s New World Cuisine, why not start there?
Or you could go nuts, like Mart and I did, and roll yourself out to the car totally satisfied and happy. Or . . . perhaps, just perhaps, there’s a choice somewhere in between!
Congratulations to Todd Sak of Nokomis Florida for correctly identifying our latest “Guess Where We Ate?” challenge and winning a $25 gift certificate to Chef Rolf’s New Florida Kitchen! Thanks for subscribing to our blog – and GO BLUE!
(By all means, subscribe to www.SarasotaFoodies.com, and we’ll be offering an array of foodie freebies in the form of gift certificates by choosing email subscribers at random. So subscribe, good luck, and enjoy!)