It’s date night. So where do you want to go when you want to simply relax, enjoy each other’s company and be assured of having an excellent meal?
In my humble opinion, Roessler’s Restaurant should be on your short list. Your very short list! After all, Roessler’s has been hosting date nights for 40 years(!) now.
Since its inception at the Venice airport as Roessler’s Flight Deck in 1978, to its current location on Vamo Way in south Sarasota since 1985, Roessler’s Restaurant has been a rare model of sophistication and consistency in an unparalleled oasis . . . one of precious few in a sea of “look at me” restaurants in the area.
Featuring four dining areas, much of which was tastefully remodelled just weeks ago, we managed to get a seat with tranquil water views featuring soothing fountains, a bridge leading to a gazebo, and amid lush green landscaping. This is already starting to feel like supper wrapped up in a mini stay-cation.
The menu is largely classic continental European fare, with a distinct nod to New Orleans. Chef/founder Klaus Roessler Sr. worked as an executive chef at the famed Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. His recipes and traditions have been proudly carried on by his son, and Head Chef, Klaus Jr., along with his mother, Linda, and sister Marilyn.
This almost merits an historical biography, but let’s get to to the food!
We started with a couple of cocktails (because it’s date night, and why rush things) with Jill ordering that evening’s special libation of a Peach Palmer – basically an Arnold Palmer (tea and lemonade) with the added punch of brandy, fresh peach puree, and mint – a summer fresh cocktail we’ve not seen before. My tastes ran to the Sazerac, looking to enjoy the Louisiana lineage of the restaurant.
For oenophiles, you absolutely do not want to skip looking over Roessler’s incredible wine list. There’s certainly some varietal you’ll want to try, especially when you see the highly affordable prices. Trust me on this!
Our starter appetizers were two absolutely stellar dishes. First, a lobster “escargot” a la Bourguignonne, in which Maine lobster is baked in Roessler’s signature garlic butter (the aroma foretells the deliciousness – I want a Febreeze version of this for my house!) Seriously, laden with garlic, fresh herbs, and a good dose of lemon, rind and all, Roessler’s garlic butter should be marketed to home cooks everywhere. Incredible!
The other starter we simply had to have was a rarely seen Veal Sweetbread dish, which is also available as an entrée for aficionados of this classic dish. For the uninitiated, check the link. For the fans out there, just know that the perfectly crispy exterior leads to a lush, creamy bite, that is absolutely dreamy with the sherry veal reduction sauce.
Generations of diners have specific favorites here, for good reason, but our knowledgeable server, Brian, when asked the age-old question of “what’s best,” confidently informs me that I could “cover my eyes, point at the menu, and I’m sure that you’ll be thrilled with your choice.” While I believe him as I scanned the menu, I’m in the mood for the Crispy Duckling New Orleans – and I can’t say as if there are any better duckling in town.
The duck is served boneless, atop a Bing Cherry Peppercorn sauce, and accompanied with a rice pilaf as the starch, and the chef’s veggies. Let me add that the sides at Roessler’s have a history as old the restaurant! The Creamed Spinach is prepared with Pernod, the fresh cut carrots are glazed with a ginger sauce, and their ever-popular Red Cabbage is slowly braised to a slightly crunchy texture. Roessler’s menu is so time-honored that if any changes to the menu or presentation were to occur, there would be a rebellion amongst the guests! Folks have been coming here for decades because the quality and flavors have never disappointed.
Jill was in the mood for seafood, so the fresh-from-Alaska wild halibut caught her attention. Again, no exaggeration, this mild, flaky fish preparation was perfection! The herb butter over the fish, complemented with sliced toasted almonds, is something I’ll try to replicate at home. (Who am I kidding; I’ll just head back here. Can’t mess with date night now, can I?)
There are a few different sides you can order a la cart, so Jill convinced me to order Roessler’s Angel Hair onion rings. There are two classic ways to serve onion rings, and the lighter than air crust on Roessler’s version holds up to the sophistication of the rest of the menu.
This is also the kind of restaurant where dessert is almost de rigueur, so the finale of our lovely evening came back around to the Cajun roots and an order of Bananas Foster, which, of course, is a dramatic tableside preparation. (As a sidebar – I looove that special touch that restaurants give with any tableside anything!) and here it just feels like the right thing to do.
Some Bananas Foster trivia for everyone: Chef Klaus Sr., in his capacity as chef de cuisine at Brennan’s, was there when the original recipe was developed for Bananas Foster – so if you are looking to connect the dots to the roots of a real-deal Americana recipe, you need to do this!
So, summing up our evening, our meals, and experience, and given the history of this restaurant – if there was a “Mount Rushmore” of the most successful restaurants in Sarasota, Roessler’s Restaurant would most certainly be on it!