“The world is not as big as you think.”
– Isaac Correa, Chef/Owner at Baker and Wife.
And with that statement, Jill and I settled in for a menu discussion at the restaurant that I personally have recommended more than any other over the last 3 years. (Has it really been 3 years since Baker & Wife opened?)
Situated on Siesta Drive in a strip plaza directly across from the recently opened Lucky’s Market, Chef Isaac continues to dazzle us with, as the menu so succinctly states, a cuisine whose “inspiration is sourced globally, ingredients are sourced locally.” The man knows whereof he speaks. After 22 years in the restaurant business in Moscow and 12 wildly successful restaurants later, Chef Isaac has developed culinary contacts around the globe, and we all become the beneficiaries his internationally trained culinary journey. As a side note, while running Baker & Wife in Sarasota, Chef Isaac is also the Executive Chef at the prestigious L’ADRESSE American Bistro in NYC! (Slacker!)
The staff at Baker & Wife has remained largely the same over the past three years, always a testament to a well-run ship, with the notable addition of Uldis Petersons as the head mixologist/cocktail wizard. A longtime trusted friend of Chef Isaac, Uldis was asked to advise Chef on what items to trim from the menu, what items he may want to add and to bring an international flair to the bar menu while making their craft cocktails accessible to more people. “Uldis reminded me,” he explains, “don’t “dumb down” the menu, but don’t try to be all showy either. He asked me, “Who are you trying to impress? Yourself?” And he was right. Don’t alienate your guests.”
In keeping with the concept of refined, while simple, Jill ordered a Cucumber Basil Gimlet, as fresh and refreshing as it sounds, while I was drawn to the Grapefruit Margarita. The flavor offered just the right amount of “tanginess” and came garnished with a beautiful oven-dried blood orange slice. We happily sipped our drinks before our fête began.
“Good food doesn’t have to be complicated or confusing,” Chef said, offering us a taste of the Garlic Shrimp appetizer, which is being added to the menu (yay!) “This is a perfect example of a dish you can easily make at home, so long as you get quality ingredients.”
Consisting of large Gulf shrimp cured in sugar, salt, and smoked salt, the shrimp are then grilled and presented on a bed of creamy green sauce made from a combination of serrano pepper, tomatillos, and avocado. The combination of perfectly seasoned, juicy grilled shrimp paired with that vivid sweet and slightly-spicy sauce was sooo good, that if it was the first, last, and only thing I had that night, I would be perfectly thrilled!
If you’re looking for gluten-free items, (or vegetarian for that matter,) Chef has you covered with over 20 amazing offerings. We sampled the delightful, colorful (and healthful) salad of Watercress, Butternut Squash, and Kale. Watercress is considered one of the super foods, something Jill’s trying to get us to eat more of, so she was pleased how the watercress was dressed with roasted butternut squash, pepitas, parmesan cheese, and a Dijon citrus vinaigrette. Fabulous – need I say more? Simply super!
Our next treat is something that grabs my attention whenever I spot it on a menu – octopus. This phenomenal dish was chargrilled and served with a poblano pepper sauce, sautéed spinach, charred baby tomato, green onion and charred orange. The smoky octopus was ever so crispy on the outside, leading to a firm, juicy and fleshy bite that was made all the better with its charred and sautéed friends alongside. A must-do for fans of this succulent seafood. (See what I did there?)
Moving away from the appetizers, where I could have spent the entire evening, Chef suggested we try the Black Grouper, another perfect example of less-is-more when creating a delicious flavor profile. Oven-roasted and served with a black-eyed pea salad, and a harmoniously simple blend of room temperature cherry tomato, olives, onions, parsley, a little jalapeno to kick it up a tad, and lime juice. The Grouper is clearly the star of the plate, with the fresh accompaniments that made my taste buds happy, happy!
Now, lest anyone thinks Baker and Wife is primarily a seafood restaurant, we next got off the (metaphorically speaking) culinary boat and were presented with a grilled pork chop. Not just a grilled chop, one that’s first marinated in garlic and herbs, grilled to order (do yourself a favor, don’t go past a “medium” on this – trust me,) and served over an ancho chili roasted tomato sauce that includes garlic, molasses, cider vinegar, dried ancho pepper, and guajillo chili pepper. The earthy, almost nutty flavor was reminiscent of a classic Mexican mole sauce, was exquisitely paired with a fried cauliflower tossed in parmesan.
Lastly, but not lastly (dessert, happily, is actually lastly) we were presented with a brilliant Orecchiette pasta cooked to al dente perfection, and tossed with a pistachio basil pesto, sautéed Brussels sprouts, pan-seared chicken, a generous measure of parmesan, and whole pistachios. Check the close-up photo and see if that doesn’t want to make you grab the car keys and head over there. I thought so.
Lastly (seriously this time,) we marveled at, OK devoured, the Double Chocolate Brownie & Salted Popcorn Ice Cream. (It’s alright, read that last dessert description again before continuing.) Like everything we’ve EVER had at this wonderful dining destination, it has enough of a twist as to be an eye-opener, but with zero snob appeal. Just delicious.
This leads me back to the last sentence of the blurb on the back of the menu that sums it up beautifully – “This unique perspective on comfort food is the epitome of Baker & Wife: Simple, delicious, and it just feels good.”