Jill and I just went on a culinary tour of Europe, from Spain, to Italy, Greece, France and Germany, all without leaving the ever popular St. Armand’s Circle. The good news is . . . you can too.
In one of the more innovative summer promotions around, owner Betsie Coolidge of the venerable Café L’Europe is offering its five month long “Tour of Europe Passport Series” starting June 1st, beginning with Italy.
Here’s the skinny: Each month’s passport menu will feature a choice of two appetizers, three entrees, and two desserts for a prix fixe deal of $40.00 per person. Café L’Europe’s sommeliers will be making wine selections to complement each course for an additional price based on your selection. To lend even more authenticity to each European destination’s menu, the restaurant has invited some very distinguished members of our Sarasota community to act as Ambassadors, working with Executive Chef Rolando Casillas’ team to ensure that the dishes and ingredients are authentic representations of their homeland.
We had the extraordinary pleasure to meet Chef Casillas and the Ambassadors, while mingling with some fellow foodies, and getting a Reader’s (Eater’s?) Digest version of the entire summer at a recent media event where we sampled tasting portions and wines from all five countries in one evening!
Did I hear someone say “tell me more?” Ok . . . ok. Ask for your L’Europe Passport at your first visit during the summer series. They’ll stamp each time you order from the passport menu from June through October. Once filled, epicurean tourists will receive a souvenir of their “travels” from the restaurant. Simple, yet brilliant, no? To get your souvenir, you won’t want to miss Italy in June.
Ahhh, the cuisine of Italy. What can Café L’Europe do that isn’t already done at the multitude of fine Italian restaurants in Sarasota? The key here is the stewardship and involvement of Italian Ambassador Giuliano Hazan.
Guiliano’s resume includes cookbooks that have earned James Beard Award nominations, the World Cookbook Award for Best Italian Cookbook in the English language, the 2007 International Association of Culinary Professionals Cooking Teacher of the Year award, and regular appearances on the Today Show.
For our sampling menu, we enjoyed Clams Oreganata and Caprese Salad (on a stick). However, during Café L’Europe’s passport series, the Italian entrées feature Pork Milanese, Petto Di Pollo Alla Parmigiana, Cernia al Samoriglio or Fettuccine Alfredo. See why we’re excited here?
July marks a visit to the tastes delights of France. The French Ambassador for this adventure is Francoise “Frenchie” Mandonnaud Stotts. Born in Limoges, France, she is a tirelessly energetic woman who has been a dancer, acrobat, photographer, and painter over the course of her endlessly fascinating travels. Fiercely proud of the culinary treasures of her home country, you can be sure the month of July will be spectacularly delicious at Café L’Europe!
If there’s one reason, and only one reason to visit Café L’Europe during July, the tableside prepared crepes are, in our estimation, pretty much a flawless, perfect reason. (I know double negatives are a no-no. Pardon my double positive!) The Crepe Suzette are worthy of a trip to Café L’Europe any time of the year!
The month of August will take you to Greece, whose Ambassador is none other than local bon vivant, fellow Realtor, and all-around great guy, Andrew Vac. This guy is personality plus!
On the evening we sampled some of the goodies from the Grecian passport menu, the Dolma – seasoned rice wrapped in grape leaves, marinated in olive oil and topped with a lemony yogurt sauce – was a HUGE hit with all the foodies. I have yet to see the full menu for “a visit to Greece” in August, but if this is any indication of what we’ll get, I can’t wait!
Come to think of it, we made a few more return visits to the Greek table than any other. I just could NOT resist the Dolma, and the rice pudding was the very definition of a simple, timeless classic dessert, with just enough of an exotic flair.
September’s menu will transport you to Spain. And what would a trip there be without some fresh ceviche? (The answer to that of course is – “hey where’s the ceviche?”)
Daniel Perales, the bi-cultural Ambassador for September, didn’t let us down – suggesting a sampler of three different ceviche. A shrimp ceviche, a scallop ceviche and a tuna ceviche – offered with or without cilantro. Spain’s Ambassador Perales is another notable Sarasotan – a member of the contemporary visual art group s/ART/Q, and a photographer extraordinaire. We’ll look forward what’s in store from the Iberian peninsula, for sure.
The summer long event concludes in October with a trip to Germany (naturally), when the temperatures plunge to – ah, never mind . . . this is Sarasota and what month is nicer than October, where we can all enjoy dinner on the outside seating area at the Café.
The Ambassador for this leg of the journey is the worldly and sophisticated Rainer Scheer. Born in Germany, he is the one that coined the phrase and organized the wildly successful “Chillounge” Night. This creative gentleman seems to have kept a focus on what I’d call “German comfort food.”
For our parts, the love affair with hearty food of Germany goes way back to our childhoods. My Estonian parent’s family menu featured many flavors found in German culture, and Jill spent three years in Bitburg, Germany while she was growing up. Seeing as there are so few German restaurants in Sarasota, we’ll be sure to mark time on our calendars to visit Café L’Europe in October for some bratwurst and country pate. Maybe even a German Pilsner. Did someone say Oktoberfest?
And as the Passport Tour de L’Europe isn’t enough, the restaurant is also participating in the annual Savor Sarasota culinary extravaganza from June 1 through June 14, along with weekly live entertainment.
Be sure to check out their website for this and other specials, but more importantly, pack your appetite, forget your baggage and head on over!