Typically, your SarasotaFoodies don’t blog about chain restaurants unless we have a personal connection to one, or if the chain is founded in Florida. We tend to throw our support to the local chefs and restaurants, knowing that the true flavor of Sarasota is built on their talent and imaginations.
Knowing that we still stopped into Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen back when they originally opened last year. But since then we’ve learned something pretty “Sarasota” about this new gem at Westfield Siesta Key Mall. . . Sarasota is the FIRST Bravo Coastal Bar & Grill being developed by the founders of the Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo Cucina Italiana. Unlike their flagship restaurants, Bravo Coastal has a decidedly coastal-inspired menu, with plenty of seafood and a focus on seasonal ingredients that aren’t quite so seasonal at other areas of the country. On the Pacific west coast, they have developed a Brio Coastal in Torrence, California, but Bravo Coastal . . . its first location is Sarasota inspired, which is fitting since we’re the Culture Capital of Florida, and “Bravo!” is heard quite often at our local performing arts destinations.
Bravo Coastal’s Executive Chef is Izzy Martinez, and about the happiest chef on the planet. Seriously . . . the joy of cooking can be read all over his face!
“I love working with food, ” Chef Izzy said, “I don’t see myself doing anything else. I’ve been in the kitchen since I was a little kid and don’t know anything else I’d be good at!” Chef Izzie, who was invited to compete on Iron Chef, traveled out to California to work with the chefs at Brio Coastal to develop the menu for the Sarasota store. He has since worked with the company locally, developing a number of his own dishes for Bravo Coastal’s brunch menu as well as a few hand-held sandwiches that he’s excited about. That tells me there’s a little more “local restaurant” in the kitchen of Bravo Coastal than you’ll see at most chain restaurants.
Starting off our meal with a few of Bravo Coastal’s small plates is always a good idea, as it allows guests to sample and share dishes without (or before) ordering an entrée. We decided on three small plates because just as you should never trust a skinny chef, the same goes for food bloggers! Just sayin’!
The Shrimp and Grits small plate . . . let me take a moment and opine about this dish. To be honest, it wasn’t “good.” It was very, very, very good! The shrimp were grilled to perfection and the marriage of the creamy smoked gouda with the polenta was beyond description. Polenta can be pasty sometimes, and this creamy blend is anything but! The blistered tomato added just the right amount of acid to the creamy polenta, and fresh chopped green onion added a bit of crunch. Mart was absolutely thrilled with the dish, and totally bummed when we finished it. If you order nothing else, try this next time you’re at Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen.
Also on the “don’t miss list” is Bravo’s Buffalo Cauliflower Steak. “I’m obsessed with the Cauliflower Steak,” our server Alba told us. “The first couple weeks I worked here I took home an order every single night!” Chef Izzy gets 3 cauliflower steaks from a single large head of cauliflower, which is then seasoned with salt and pepper before it’s butter seared to a golden brown. Topped with a buffalo-style hot sauce, gorgonzola cheese, creamy horseradish and green onions, this vegetarian dish is an excellent starter or even a main course for many of Bravo Coastal’s guests. “It is one of our best sellers,” Chef explained.
Not to be outdone is Bravo Coastal’s version of Crispy Calamari. Topped with a sweet chili aioli, the calamari is cut into planks, instead of the rings we’re most used to. Each meaty bite is coated in a mix of rice flour, all-purpose flour and cornstarch then flash fried to a light golden brown. Sitting on top of some of Bravo Coastal’s house-made Buffalo Sauce, a simple twist of lime and sprinkling of cilantro are all that’s needed to bring each bite on point. My first thought was this reminded me of a “Bang Bang” sauce. Try it, and let me know if you agree.
We also decided to split one of Bravo’s Bibb Lettuce Wedge Salads. We thought this would be a simple quarter cut of iceberg lettuce, but found ourselves pleasantly surprised with what appeared to be a full half of a butter bibb lettuce. . . hence the name! Let me just say this is a beautiful salad. The vibrant green of the bibb lettuce showcased the colors of the sliced radish and smoked applewood bacon. Small bites of pepitas added additional crunch and the perfect amount of creamy parmesan vinaigrette was drizzled over the wedge. Don’t you feel healthy just looking at it?
For our entrées, Mart and I agreed to order a couple and then share. (It’s kinda what we do. We’re also big fans of left-overs!) My entrée was the Chicken Saltimbocca, featuring lightly breaded sautéed chicken breast topped with melted provolone, sage (which smelled heavenly) and crispy prosciutto that had been baked to a delicate crunch. Served over a butternut squash purée, I knew this would be a well-crafted entrée. The saltiness of the prosciutto and the aromatic sage were the perfect bite with the juicy chicken and provolone. And that butternut squash purée? We need to learn how to make it at home.
We couldn’t dine at Bravo Coastal without trying their Grilled Salmon . . . so we did! Grilled to a perfect medium/medium rare, the salmon was delicious, but the marinated kale, farro, grape and Marcona almond salad that it rested on was something I could eat all day! Marinated in a lemon vinaigrette that equally suited the salmon, this salad should be served as a side dish. Having those veggies and farro marinate in the lemon vinaigrette was an example of simple brilliance that fine chefs have perfected over the years. It literally had me dancing in my seat!
When we were getting ready to order, we’d asked about the “Jar”Bonara entrée. I’m glad we did. Chef Izzy came by and whipped up an order for us, that we ultimately tasted before wrapping it up to go. This is your classic carbonara recipe, but instead of mixing in a skillet, the hot cavatappi spiral pasta, peas, bacon and egg yolks are put in a jar and shaken up tableside by the chef. This is one of those “voila!” dishes that bring a bit of fun, and creamy deliciousness, to an evening out!
By now we know that Bravo Coastal knows we’re food bloggers, so we aren’t surprised when we were asked to sample three of their custom desserts. Bravo Coastal also has a bakery, that opens every day at 8 am. Every slice of bread, cookie, croissant, bun, and dessert is made in-house. So Chef Izzie wasn’t about to let us go without tasting some of their desserts. Mart and I originally ordered just the S’mores Donuts, but Chef surprised us with a complimentary Gooey Chocolate Cake and their Seasonal Dessert.
The S’Mores donuts are a graham cracker donut that’s served with a dish of Nutella and a marshmallow dip. The warm donut holes were two or three bites for me, just so I could dip into the Nutella and marshmallow with each bite. This is a perfect dessert to share!
The Gooey Chocolate Cake is similar to a chocolate lava cake, topped with a hazelnut gelato (!!!!!) and Nutella crispies with a whipped caramel sauce that is a winner all its own. Chocolate lovers will enjoy the combination of the nutty gelato with the caramel sauce.
My favorite turned out to be the Seasonal Dessert, a berry cake of mixed berries with a vanilla gelato. Wow! The edges of the cake were baked to a golden brown, while the sponge was moist and springy. The best part was dragging a forkful of cake through the berries and vanilla gelato . . . it reminded me of summer vacation. What a surprise!
So, while we continue to focus on our locally owned restaurants, I’m really pleased to have met a chef working locally to develop a menu that will be enjoyed in other parts of the States. It’s truly a compliment to the diners in Sarasota to know their refined palates are recognized by the folks at Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo Cucina Italiana in the investment they’re making into this new venture, Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen. Stop by, and be sure to say hello to Chef Izzy!