Jill and I were absolutely tickled when Visit Sarasota asked for our idea of the perfect “Date Night in Sarasota.” We talked about it for a few days and decided that rather than suggest one restaurant as the ultimate destination, we’d come up with something a little different. I told Jill I’d put my thinking cap on and discuss this later. . .
So, imagine my surprise to come home one evening and find a love note from Jill, explaining that she’d planned a special “Scavenger Hunt Date,” just for me. (Sweet!) Everyone knows what a typical scavenger hunt entails, but Jill’s Date Night Scavenger Hunt entailed clues to several Sarasota restaurants that have special meanings to us. At each one, she’s arranged for me to pick up one course of our meal, as well as a clue to the next restaurant. At the end, someone better have a clue where I’ll find Jill. No way I’m having a romantic dinner like this ALONE! I better get going!
So what was IS my first Clue? Let’s just see . . .
All right. Pretty clever, sweetheart, but the “New Orleans flair” is a clear tip-off on where I’m headed first. Seeing as Jill’s not at the house, or answering the phone, I know she’s already headed to our rendezvous, so I drive straight to Duval’s New World Cafe. If this is the quality of restaurants she’s sending me to, we’re in for a great meal! Seriously, Duval’s was voted the best Seafood Restaurant in Sarasota, so I can’t wait to see what Chef Nils Tarantik has worked up.
Alright! This is cool! I walk in the front door and they know to expect me. Is Jill hiding somewhere, calling these orders in as I drive over, or did she plan everything ahead? Hmmm. . . The host at Duval’s tells me my order is ready and I’m happy to hear it’s one of their delicious Ocean Cobb Salads. I’ve wanted to try one ever since I saw Duval’s Chef make an Ocean Cobb Salad on our local ABC Channel 7 morning show. And how cool is this? Duval’s has the Ocean Cobb Salad beautifully plated so I can take a quick photo, and then they wrap it up for a neat to-go order.
I’m guessing Jill’s reference of picking up “cool foods to hot” is why this course, so large I’m guessing it’s a main entrée, is the first dish I’m picking up. Not a bad idea, really — by the time I get to wherever she’s waiting, it could be a while. Wouldn’t want the hot food getting cold while I pick up the cooler choices. Ahhh! Beautiful and smart! Back to the food.
I find some of the best food is a simple spin on a classic. . . in the case of Duval’s Ocean Cobb, the spin takes a classic cobb, ditches the ham and turkey for lobster, crab and shrimp with avocado, bacon, bleu cheese, tomato, onion, hard boiled egg, mixed spring greens, balsamic vinaigrette and a crispy parmesan twist. No standard cobb salad ever looked this good. Now I’m getting excited for the next clue, which Duval’s manager, Joshua Halbrucker hands off to me.
OK. This one’s easy. This clue here is Jill’s birthday – actually two years ago, and it’s definitely leading me to CasAntica, home to Sarasota’s absolutely friendliest proprietor, Pietro Migliaccio. Even though her clue refers to a birthday two years ago, we still remember the stellar service and amazing Escargot appetizer. But as memorable as the Escargot was, I’m secretly hoping I’ll be picking up our dessert course with this clue…
Hopefully its Tiramisu . . . Yesss!
Seriously, as Jill mentioned in her birthday night clue, after having appetizers and entrées that night, we couldn’t imagine eating dessert, and turned down the opportunity to see the dessert menu. But CasAntica wouldn’t hear of Jill missing a dessert on her birthday, and they gave us one of their “appetite inspiring” Tiramisus. Honestly, this is a big serving, but CasAntinca’s tiramisu is so light and creamy. . . one bite and we were practically dueling each other with our forks – fighting for the last bite. I’m so excited to be having one of Sarasota’s best desserts . . . again!
Pietro couldn’t have been more accommodating, inviting me to join him with a glass of wine while the tiramisu was packed up to go. It’s easy to understand why his clientele follow him from his Mama Lucia’s restaurant in Brooklyn, to Café Gabbiano on Siesta Key and now to CasAntica in downtown Sarasota. I could have visited with him all night, but he reminded me I have a lovely lady waiting for me (like I could forget) and handed me my next clue.
I think I’m starting to get the hang of this Scavenger Hunt Date.
There is no doubt in my mind when Jill refers to Southern European/Mediterranean cuisine, while calling out one of the best Chefs in Sarasota, that she’s talking about Chef Dylan at Mozaic. Does she love me or WHAT! I just know he’ll have one of his astonishingly delicious meals or appetizers ready. But what? What? The curiosity is killing me, but it matters not . . . whatever Chef Dylan prepares, I’ll love it. In fact, we could point at the Mozaic menu blindfolded and have an incredible meal! So. . . what will I find next?
Now this is romantic entrée choice on Jill’s part. She picked Mozaic’s Estofado of Boneless Short Ribs with Cannelini beans, anise sausage and dark chocolate. Ahhh, short ribs. Just the smell of them alone is reminiscent of our wedding dinner. It’s a good thing they didn’t pack a fork in my take out container or I wouldn’t be able to resist taking a bite or two. How lucky am I?
So let me look at what I’ve picked up so far. . . Ocean Cobb Salad, Tiramisu and Estofado Short Ribs. If the Ocean Cobb is an entrée, that leaves an appetizer course. What does the next clue have to say?
Fortunately Chef Dylan comes out of the kitchen with a clue to my next destination.
Do I know Jill or what! This clue is a ‘no-brainer’. It’s GOT to be Caragiulo’s! Not only do I know where I’m going, I have a pretty good hunch what I’ll be picking up, because this has to be an appetizer, and when it comes to an appetizer at Caragiulo’s, Jill is 100% predictable.
Yup, exactly what I thought! Calamari and Zucchini Fritti with spicy Sicilian sauce and anchovy mayo. This app remains a huge favorite for Jill and I whenever we stop in at the iconic Caragiulo’s, which is about as often as we possibly can. I doubt there’s another place in town we’ve visited as much as this downtown institution. The restaurant and bar feels like “home”, and not only to us! We’ve met some of the most fascinating people at Caragiulo’s over the years. And the calamari? The crispiest, crunchiest in town . . . and the sauces? Perfect! Great call!
So Jill’s last clue told me to see “the man at the door.” Guess Anthony Caragiulo isn’t handing off my clue this time . . . he’s waaaay too busy spoiling the customers. Hmmm? What do we have here?
Wow! What a great idea? A Scavenger hunt date leading to a sunset picnic in paradise! I’m all in!
Now another food blog might show a romantic shot of the two of us cuddled close, enjoying the sunset as we dine at a picnic table by the bay . . but from this point on, this date is going private. After all her planning, I think Jill deserves my undivided attention, as so does all this delicious food – the likes of which you can find only in Sarasota. #mysarasota