For Sarasota, the “season” is fast approaching. You won’t hear any merchants, restaurants, or Realtors complaining, but some full-time residents experience stress during this time of year. There is no doubt that our wide open beaches become crowded, we find longer waits at bars and restaurants, have to maneuver through increased traffic and the (alleged) attendant frenetic pace of things increases.
Sure things get busier this time of year, but we have a prescription for that, and it’s not Xanax or Prozac. Whenever we feel particularly stressed or rushed, we can’t imagine a more calming and relaxing way to sooth our spirits than a visit to Ophelia’s on the Bay, which is just what we did last Thursday.
From the moment we arrived and were warmly greeted by the valet, through the end of a fabulous meal, this place evokes a soothing, almost magical feel. The fact that Ophelia’s sits right on Little Sarasota Bay, and has served countless happy diners for well over two decades, makes this a “must do” restaurant for anyone visiting our magnificent town, as well as locals wanting to celebrate a special occasion or, like us, pamper yourself and unwind.
We were fortunate to snag a waterside table but, that being said, there isn’t a “bad” table in the house. Pretty much every table has a water view where boats, paddle boarders, and kayaks meander by, sharing the tranquility of the evening as fish jump and play with regularity. It’s no wonder 90% of the place was seated outdoors.
We chose our wine, and were welcomed by our server, Annette, or perhaps I should say servers, as it was obvious that the entire staff helps make your evening special. A few sips of wine and shortly thereafter, a basket of delicious, fresh baked bread arrived. And I mean delicious! (Note to management – I suggest this be called “now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t” bread.)
On perusing the menu, clearly Chef/Owner Daniel Olson is focused on offering variety for his guests, with a big nod to fresh seafood while also offering tempting dishes of beef, veal, lamb, pork, and duckling.
On many an evening, Jill and I split an appetizer, but with so many beautiful starters, we couldn’t make up our minds, so after a second serving of n-y-s-i-n-y-d bread, Jill selected the Bon Secours Oysters, which was a brilliantly nuanced baked oyster dish with Grana Padano (cheese) and macadamia nut butter, basil, chives, horseradish, tabasco, blue crab, and butter cracker crumb! (Hey, at least finish reading this before you grab the phone for a reservation!) This is easily one of our favorite oyster preparations ever.
Since I can practically count the number of local restaurants that serve frog legs on the fingers of one hand (or the other), I naturally had to have the Crispy Frog Legs, which are prepared with a buttermilk brine, creole spice dust, served atop a Cambazola aioli, and a hot pepper butter sauce. The delicate crunch led to a beautifully mild and moist bite which complemented the aioli and butter sauces to a “tee.” This is a dish I would gladly jump for, again and again! (Get it? Jump? Frog’s Legs?)
After a little back-and-forth with Annette, Jill picked the Trini Yellowfin Tuna, and I chose the Breast of Duckling. Both dishes were artfully plated and presented, and the preparations flawless.
The tuna was flash blackened, and accompanied with Katsu gulf shrimp, slices of avocado, a cucumber kimchee, masago (fish roe,) and sushi rice. On seeing the portions of each of our dishes, it always makes me smile knowing that we’ll surely be taking some of this deliciousness home for the next day – as if!
The Breast of Duckling with its roasted garlic and basil, rosemary scented fresh blueberry coulis, Chambord macerated berries, fingerling potatoes, and baby squash was irresistibly moist, practically fork-tender, and impossible to stop eating. Ditto for the tuna as Jill and I exchanged bits and bites of each dish. And who doesn’t like to see a smile on your dinner date’s face!
Dessert? (Why not. The way I see it, the heavier I am, the harder it will be to kidnap me at this point.) For this course, we actually did opt to share Pastry Chef Josh Draken’s provocatively named Ménage à Trois. The tasting flight featured a warm chocolate cake over a graham cracker with torched marshmallow, an almond macaroon filled with fresh raspberries and vanilla Chiboust (pastry) cream, and a scoop of Amaretto semifreddo over crumbled chocolate cake with pine nut biscotti.
We savored every last amazing bite on this evening, and as I live and breathe, even the coffee was the best I can remember!
So for any Chicken Little types that are dreading our upcoming busy season, the sky’s not falling. We call that sunset, where the dimming of the daylight paired with a meal at Ophelia’s on the Bay, always puts a bow on another magnificent gift of a day in Sarasota. Just remember . . . you are lucky enough to live here all year!