Mart and I have always been fans of the retail space at 481 N Orange in downtown Sarasota, a couple blocks north of Fruitville Road. The building’s architecture is welcoming, with shops and restaurants on the first floor, and condos above them. Lucky for the residents in that complex, there are several dynamite restaurants just downstairs, or within half a block or so.
Italian Tradition opened last year in the location that used to be home to Pomona Bistro. I’ve always enjoyed the understated ambiance of the restaurant, especially the cute outdoor dining area that features a fireplace when nights are cool enough to warrant. Seeing that Pomona Bistro was such an icon, it was interesting to see what brave new souls took over the space, and how they changed it. Happily, they kept the ambiance and deliver some uniquely delicious Italian dishes.
We started our evening, as we often do, with a glass of wine and two appetizers that we share with each other. I ordered the Insalata Di Rucola, an arugula salad topped with cherry tomatoes, carrots, pistachios and shaved Parmesan cheese. The light Italian seasoned dressing was lovely, and I enjoyed those bites where a pistachio made it onto my fork. A simple salad, that was simply delightful.
Mart’s choice was a little bolder than mine, ordering the Tonnato Di Vitello, a lightly grilled veal tenderloin sliced thin, as you’d normally see a carpaccio, served with a creamy tuna and caper sauce. What a unique pairing . . . veal and tuna!
Our appetizers were enjoyed with fresh rolls, butter and a dipping sauce made with spinach, pecorino cheese and olive oil. This was especially delicious, so we called our server over to ask about the ingredients. I had guessed an herb base, but Mart chose spinach as the main ingredient right from the start. Great way to introduce your Italian traditions to us, Chef!
Mart had checked out the menu before leaving the house and knew in advance that he’d be ordering the Lasagna Versione Dello Chef. As you may guess, this translates to “The Chef’s version of lasagna.” So, if you were expecting red sauce and a lot of cheese, you would be disappointed. But if you like trying a crafted spin on a classic, this would be the lasagna for you. Chef’s special lasagna features Foie Gras and mushrooms layered between lasagna noodles.
“This is exactly the earthy profile I was in the mood for tonight,” Mart said. My first thought was that the portion seemed a bit “conservative,” no doubt because I’m more accustomed to the large portions of lasagna at other restaurants. But upon tasting it, I had to agree with Mart . . . this dish is so rich and creamy that the portion size was exactly as it should be. “My taste buds are so happy right now,” Mart shared, “This dish makes me swoon!”
My Gamberi E Capesante was equally creamy and delicious, featuring diver sea scallops seared to a golden bronze and grilled shrimp served with cheese risotto and organic vegetables. I enjoyed the smokiness of the seared scallops and shrimp against the risotto, especially after I chopped the leaf of fresh basil into the rice of the risotto. A large grilled asparagus spear and roasted cherry tomatoes topped off the dish, adding the fresh vegetable ingredients most diets recommend. Nicely balanced overall.
At the end of the meal, we talked about sharing a dessert, maybe a Semifreddo or the Torta Borracho, a rum-soaked sponge cake served with ice cream. But Mart had to throw in the towel.
“I am still savoring the flavors of my lasagna,” he explained. “I don’t want to lose that “food memory!” (If you’ve ever enjoyed a dish so much you wished you didn’t have to stop eating, you know what he means.)
Congratulations to the owners and staff of Italian Tradition! We hope many of our readers make dining there a tradition as well.