After our first, now weekly radio segment on The Nilon Report with Susan Nilon, the personable owner/manager of local talk radio station WSRQ (1220 AM; 106.9 FM), Jill and I decide to celebrate at Harry’s Continental Kitchens, located on beautiful Longboat Key.
Harry’s Continental Kitchen is a true A-Lister . . .one that’s been on our radar forever. We’ve lost track of the number of friends who say Harry’s is one of the “don’t/can’t/never miss” restaurants in Sarasota. Those testimonials and the current Savor Sarasota discounted menu extravaganza hastened our path to Proprietor/Chef Harry Christensen’s door.
This is one of those rare places that’s been in continuous operation for over 35 highly successful years! Wow!! That is an outstanding accomplishment for any business.
We arrived on-the-dot for our 6:30 reservation (trust me, you will want to make a reservation,) and were promptly seated in one of the few remaining tables, and watched the remaining seats quickly fill up . . . on a Thursday night . . . during “off season”.
The room was buzzing with a lively energy, and as I looked around, it occurs to me that this is a perfect microcosm of Longboat Key itself – decidedly casual and refined at the same time. Our server, Linda, and indeed all the support staff, were in constant motion; making sure everyone’s water glass was refilled, bread baskets were delivered and dishes were cleared as if it were a well choreographed show. Love it!
On to the really good stuff – the food. The baseline for Savor Sarasota is the same for all the (at last count) 57 participating restaurants. It’s three courses for $29 at dinner. If you peruse the www.SavorSarasota.com website, you’ll see that many restaurants add “extras” for a nominal or even no cost. Such was the case here. Harry’s goes the extra mile by offering a fourth course – a delicious soup to start – and you can add an optional wine pairing for a paltry $10 each. We were all in for the wine pairing, since the discounted Savor Sarasota menu already feels like a gift.
With the heat and humidity slapping me in the face this week, my soup choice runs to the classic Vichyssoise, a chilled leek and potato soup that did not disappoint. Velvety smooth, with of few bites of crunchy leeks shining through in the creamy potato base broth, this simple looking soup was packed with subtle pleasure. Mmm-mmm.
Jill opts for the Gazpacho, which arrives with several plump shrimp and a crunchy crouton garnish. This soup, when executed as well as it is at Harry’s, not only refreshes, but it also makes one feel good about their meal choices for ordering it. That’s the real joy of food!
Speaking of joy. . . I almost forgot the pleasure of Harry’s bread basket. I simply adore even the simplest of twists on this ubiquitous offering. The warm, sliced and crusty roll came with a ramekin of soft (thank you!) butter, and sweet, fresh roasted garlic cloves, which I (naturally) slather over the bread. Roasting the garlic takes the bitterness and pungency of the garlic out and, by caramelizing it, brings a sweet nuance to it. Nice touch, Chef!
Then it was on to the (second) first course. Jill’s Shrimp-Cargot is a lovely riff on the classic escargot dish, complete with all its garlicky/buttery/melted cheesy splendor. The dimpled dish pretty much goes back to the kitchen as clean as it was before they prepared the dish . . . all the savory goodness being mopped up with a few bites of crusty bread.
Being something of a bread-oholic, I loved the sound of the Spanish Tapas appetizer. This featured a trio of crostini – the first topped with brie and artichoke, the one in the center topped with prosciutto and eggplant, and the third one a bruschetta of tomato, basil, garlic and olive oil. There’s that “casual and refined” (and awfully delicious) thing happening again.
Our entrée selections are up next, and I should mention here, kudos to Chef Harry for offering not one, not two, but three choices for each course. The decision was easy. . . Seared Sea Scallops for Jill, and the Grilled Florida Red Grouper Key’s Style for moi.
The scallops were perfectly prepared, each perched upon a disc of sweet potato and pork belly risotto, and smartly plated with a pecan brittle crumble – because sweet and salty, and crispy and soft – all in concert with each another will never be anything but magic!
My grouper was covered in a lovely blend of shallots, black olives, pimentos, mushrooms, and a white wine cream sauce. Sound too busy? Nope, not in the least. With a mashed potato for the starch, and some fresh julienned veggies, this entrée was another winner from Harry’s kitchen. . . a popular dish that normally sells for $37 without the other courses. What price perfection? $29!
Now, I don’t know, or actually care, if the portions are larger on the regular menu. To me, a great meal isn’t about scoring a mind-boggling mountain of food that I either: a) eat until I hurt myself, or b) pack up half and hope it tastes as good tomorrow. (Never mind that I would have to wait on myself the next day!) As I approached the end of my meal, Jill and I both discover the portions are ideal. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if I even have enough moxy to tackle dessert, but since it’s part of the package . . . I savored on.
And am I glad I did! To my true delight, Harry’s Key Lime pie was one of the absolute best I’ve ever had. Ever! No joke. The perfectly tart key lime tart was topped imaginatively with a light-as-air whipped and torched, crunchy surface meringue. The filling was sweetly sour. The crust is buttery and flaky. Once again I feel like I’ve cheated the calorie brigade. Brilliant!
As we are wont to do, Jill makes a point to order a different selection than I do, so she selects the Chocolate Mousse Cake, which, trust me, is enough to satisfy the cravings of any chocolate lover.
The entire feast, with the wine parings (2 glasses of wine each and a port with dessert) and a tip, comes in under $100 bucks! Being that the service was as on point as the kitchen, a bit extra on the tip is well deserved. Bravo, Harry, on your professional staff!
Hmm, at this point I have to admit, if we don’t go to one other restaurant during Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week, we’re so glad we went to Harry’s Continental Kitchen. There’s more than a few reasons why Harry’s is consistently ranked one of the top 5 restaurants in Sarasota/Bradenton. We can’t compliment Harry’s Continental Kitchen enough. Highly, highly recommended!