We’re often asked what our favorite restaurants are, and we tend to answer with a list of favorites by type of food served. There are just so many great restaurants in Sarasota it doesn’t seem fair to pick one.
But I’m throwing caution to the wind here, and admitting that Andrea’s, located on Siesta Drive across from the Westfield Southgate Mall, is at the very least in our top 5. This is one of those places where you pay a bit more for your meal, but do so very gladly, because the food is worth every cent! Every time we’ve dined at this quaint restaurant, we’re surrounded by other tables who eat at Andrea’s to to 3 or 4 times a month. Loyalty like that doesn’t come by chance.
Being that the SarasotaFoodies dine out on a regular basis, birthdays and anniversaries call for someplace special, so Mart made sure to take me to Andrea’s on my last birthday. I won’t go into what we ordered that night, but I will admit we shared an appetizer and ordered three entrees! (I couldn’t decide) And, of course we had dessert. We ate with such joy that we talked about our meal for months.
Fast forward to our last visit. Andrea’s offers a set menu of customer favorites as well as a tasting menu that uses seasonal foods and changes every couple week. With so many tantalizing choices, we often can’t make up our minds (note the three entrees in December) so we decided to take advantage of Andrea’s recent wine pairings dinner, where all the choices are made for us. After all, who can resist a six course menu made by one of the best chefs in Sarasota, with 6 wines for only $80! Really? We’re in!
As expected, all ten tables in the dining room are taken, with a well choreographed epicurean performance ready to showcase the perfect parings of wine and food. Let the night begin!
The first course of the 6 being presented at Andrea’s was an Italian Charcuterie “Miniature”. When this plate was sat in front of me, I thought it was for the two of us to share, but each of us received our own. This artistic plate included bresaola stuffed with goat cheese, parma ham, chicken liver and fruit mousse, homemade cooked ham terrini and giardiniera with tuna. A balsamic glaze was painted across the plate, making it almost too beautiful to touch. Note that I said “almost”. . . This palate of flavors really set the tone for the upcoming meal and was accompanied by a Prosecco Ca di Rajo – a hit with everyone, including guests who claimed they don’t usually go for sparkling wines.
The second course of the evening was an Atlantic Swordfish resting on a tomato Veloute with broccolini. You can’t tell from the photo, but the swordfish was almost the size of an entree. I’m not typically a swordfish fan – it can often taste a bit dry to me – but this night I was all about this moist and flakey fighting fish. Andrea eagerly introduced each course and offered comments on the current plating. The swordfish, he explained, was more tender and juicy because it was line-caught, so the fish’s muscles weren’t shocked and over-exerted by being caught in a net. Great to know! The wine selected to compliment the swordfish was a Pinot Grigio Norina Pez 2010. I’m always a fan of Pinot Grigio, and this tasting didn’t fail to please.
Before each course, we were presented a new glass of wine from the “Grande Carpo” selections of Just Quality Imports, an Italian wine importer out of Miami that only works with small vineyards. Their representative, Francesco, shared with us which region each wine heralds from, the type of grape(s) used in each varietal, features of the year the wine was bottled, and how the wine was made. While he was sharing with us, the wait staff quickly removed our previous glass and replaced it with the wine pared with the upcoming course.
It was during the wine introduction for the third course, that Mart and I noticed the couple sitting at the table across from us, Christina and Raffaele, were ordering an additional glass of the Negramaro del Salento Vita wine for “their friend, who was running a bit late.” How kind of them to watch out for their friend, but we couldn’t help but notice that the invisible friend’s wine glass was empty when the next tasting came around. Suspicious? We’ll keep our eye on those two!
The third course brought by Andrea and his staff drew a collective chorus of “Ahhhhh’s” and “Mmmmmm’s” from virtually every table. This wondrous plate presented us with the sumptuous flavors of Black Mission Figs with a Goat Cheese Mousse and Peach Confit on the side. Let me tell you, if the only fig you’ve ever tried was in a Fig Newton, (say it isn’t so!) you need to get over to Andrea’s, pronto! The sublime combination of the meaty texture of the fig with the tang of the goat cheese was spectacular, and to follow that up with a bite of the fresh peach confit? Brilliant!
When Mart compliments Andrea on the Black Mission Fig, Andrea replies; “I’m justa stretching at a this point. Now you are going to taste something really special!” Really? Can we stand it?
By the fourth course, I’ve already decided we’ve enjoyed more than $80 worth of delectable food and wine. But then Andrea hits us with a plate he is famous for, one of his acclaimed risottos, and I’m back in the game. This risotto is blended with aged Stilton cheese and topped with a fresh pear steamed in Primitivo wine. Chef Andrea himself goes from table to table to top each plate off with a light drizzle of a Primitivo syrup, because he “just wants to spoil us a little bit more“.
Pared with the risotto is a lovely 2010 Primitivo de Manduria Vito, my personal favorite of the night. We can’t help notice that it must be the favorite of Christine and Raffaele’s invisible friend as well, because now he has added an invisible date, and 4 glasses of the Primitivo are on their table. This time Christine is helping the invisible date finish her glass, and I can’t help notice they both wear the same lipstick!
A number of the men are sitting a little taller as Andrea presents the 5th course of the evening; Wagyu Short Ribs, slowly braised with Oxtail Raviolini. Mart couldn’t wait to taste this course after hearing Andrea’s description of the ribs – “One word: Insane!” The ribs just melted the minute they hit your mouth, and the oxtail raviolini was beyond description. Each bite was happily savored, and enjoyed slowly. The dining room, that a moment before was buzzing with conversation, fell silent as everyone savored bite by bite of this course, easily one of the best of the night!
As chefs are wont to do, Andrea and Francesco saved the best wine for the 6th, and final course. The Diadema 2007 (very, very limited) is rated 95 pts. by Wine Spectator who described the wine as: “Fabulous aromas of crushed berries, spices, black licorice and smoke. Full-bodied with a beautiful density of rich and ripe fruit, as well as coffee and toffee. Complex and spellbinding. The bottle is total bling, with encrusted Swarovski crystals as a label, but the wine is very, very real. Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.” All we know by this point, Mart and I are joining Christine and Raffaele . . . just in case their “invisible friends” need help with their wine. But alas, at over $105 per bottle for this award winning wine, the invisible friends are not served.
We discover that Christine and Raffaele are regular guests who haven’t missed a single wine tasting since Andrea’s opened. So serving their “invisible friend” was a little bump for their loyal patronage. And we had to ruin their special treatment by joining them. Oops!
Being that the Diadema 2007 is such a rare, treasured wine, I have to wonder how Andrea’s can afford to serve tastings to a dining room full of guests who only paid $80 each for the entire evening. I came to the following conclusion: Either he really, really enjoys indulging his guests, or he’s just plain nuts. You can decide after dining there.
While some folks might hope for a sweet dessert to cap off the evening, I was thrilled with the selection of Artisanal cheesess and homemade dried fruits served at the end of the tasting. Anything sweeter would have detracted from the delicate undertones the amazing Diadema wine. Instead, the various flavors of cheese and fruit were themselves enhanced by each sip. What an encore to a fabulous night!
Andrea’s makes the top of our ‘must visit’ restaurants in Sarasota because of Andrea himself. His passion for food transcends the artistry of his craft, with each bite a celebration of flavor that sing, dance and have an all out celebration across your palate. We absolutely love dining there and so appreciate a chef who personally visits each table to make sure you are happy. Little hint: You don’t have to tell your guests that Andrea normally visits every table — let them think he made a special trip to your table because you’re ‘all that’! (Imaginary friend not required.)
Whether celebrating a special occasion, hosting an important client to dinner or enjoying date night with your special someone, Andrea’s is an indulgence no one should miss out on.