So let’s pretend for a moment that you, dear reader, are a chef or owner of a restaurant that changes their menu a couple/three times a year, or offers a unique menu for special holidays like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Thanksgiving. Are you with me yet?
Imagine now, that you have a number of new dishes that you’re thinking of adding to the menu. You’ve tested them on the staff and maybe a few friends, but don’t they always tell you your food is great? How do you know they’re being honest? Well, if you write their paychecks, you probably don’t.
So how do you get honest feedback on those new dishes? If you’re Chef Pedro Flores of Phillippi Creek Creek Village Restaurant, you call up local celebrity Chef Judi Gallagher and invite her and “a few” of her foodie friends to try out your new menu items and share their feedback.
That’s the 411 behind the media dinners we often attend. I am, quite happily, a guinea pig . . . emphasis on the word pig! (speaking only for myself, Judi!) If Chef wants my opinion on his new dish, I’m all in, and honestly prepared to tell him what works, and what doesn’t. (Note: This doesn’t occur very often with Chef Pedro!)
So as the winter winds start to chill the air and I pull out a pair of socks and shoes instead of my flip flops, I jump in the car and head over to Phillippi Creek Restaurant (aka Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar) to offer my service testing their new winter menu. What can I say . . . I’m a giver like that!
We begin with a refreshing cocktail of the Berry Caipirinha – a tall, cool Brazilian Cachaça with house-infused berry syrup and fresh lime. Mmm-mmm. Was I ready for what came next? Bring it on!
The first new dish was a creative riff called Peruvian Seafood Popcorn. We’ve all heard of popcorn shrimp this, and popcorn chicken that, but this was a fun and tasty dish featuring popcorn kernels sized calamari, oysters, and shrimp with a blackened BBQ rub, a yellow pepper aioli with crunchy, salty popcorn and Peruvian street corn called cancha! Anyone in movie-land listening? This is definitely two thumbs up for this appetizer. Spicy, savory, addictive and a must-have for seafood lovers. This is a date night/gotta have it/share with friends and family seafood treat if there ever was one.
Not on the featured menu yet, but on the not-to-be-missed list, is the Prosciutto Wrapped Gulf Prawn. What a succulent bite! I love that each skewered portion was mounted on a rustic serving board, all standing proudly, and wowingly (is that a word?) ready to us guinea pigs to gobble up.
The reason this landmark restaurant continues to astound is menu items like their new Mediterranean Mussels & Clams. There are even a number of bites of octopus, drenched in a coconut milk chorizo broth that escalates this dish from great to greater! I absolutely adore steamed mussels and clams, and this recipe sets a new bar. I can’t even expound more than the picture. This was waaayy beyond what you would expect from an average “seafood joint” in Sarasota, (and also why we almost always bring first-time visitors to SRQ to Phillippi Creek Restaurant!)
The avalanche of food that followed included a cavalcade of fantastic grouper sammies, including a Grouper BLT, Grouper Reuben, Buffalo Grouper Sandwich, and Grouper Philly. A bite of each was all I could manage, and a bite of each is enough to know that I’m in grouper sandwich heaven. I will always acknowledge that a fish sandwich and a cold beer would be my preferred last supper. And if I were to offer any suggestion to Chef Pedro, it would be to also offer a trio of these grouper options as sliders, allowing guests to choose their favorite new twist on a grouper sandwich. Personally, I really enjoyed the Grouper Reuben, with red cabbage replacing the expected sauerkraut.
This winter’s Seafood Duo at Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant features the best seasonal fish for this time of year . . . you guessed it, grouper! Grilled with nice markings, the grouper is paired with cold water baby lobster tails and a stone crab reduction. (Can I get a Hallelujah for the stone crab?) Add some mashed potatoes topped with crispy fried onions and large, grilled asparagus and you’ve got a well-rounded meal sure to tackle a hefty appetite. Hint . . . drag those mashed potatoes through that buttery stone crab reduction and you’ll wish Chef Pedro could offer it year round as a gravy!
As if the cuisine wasn’t elevated enough, (and, like, I was starving when I got here,) we were tantalized a with beautiful Ahi Tuna Niçoise. Perfectly seared Ahi tuna, eggs, potatoes, haricot vert, heirloom tomatoes, in a delicious Dijon red wine vinaigrette, this is an ideal dish for someone who wants a lighter meal than the Seafood Duo, while still enjoying all the flavor of seafood with harvest vegetables.
For the pièce de résistance, we were served the Poseidon’s Ship. This masterpiece features a 2 1/2 lb. lobster, king crab fritters, beef tenderloin skewer, and crispy onion rings. To say this is some mere surf-and-turf dish would do it an injustice. The king crab fritters alone are reason enough to take on this table sized entree!
Just when I thought this intoxicating culinary evening was over, out came the Peruvian street corn “parade.” Now, even though it’s actually a side dish you can order with one of the many dishes on Phillippi Creek Restaurant’s menu, this is MY idea of dessert. These sweet corn and queso fresco cheese ‘pops’ are just another reminder why Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar is one of the best casual restaurants in Sarasota – Yikes! Here comes the Peppermint Crush cocktail! Oh.My.Word! Call my Uber driver!
This happy guinea pig wants to personally thank all the hard-working folks at PCOB, but especially Chef Pedro and the team in the kitchen. I just love how inventive and fearless the kitchen staff has grown over the past couple years! Keep up the good work!
Which brought me to my final thoughts tonight before I fall asleep in a blissful food coma. The holidays are the best season of the year in Sarasota; hurricane season is in the rear-view mirror, the cool weather season is here (YAY!,) the holiday season of coming together with family and friends, and the new year, with all its promise of positive change for all, is in sight.
We are, as always, grateful, to be foodies in Sarasota.