Maybe it’s me, but every time our broker – who is pretty much our “boss” – invites us to lunch, my emotions herald back to being called to the principal’s office at school. It didn’t matter if I was getting a commendation for perfect attendance or high grades; I just knew the principal had some ulterior motive to ask me in. Pretty sad, right? It’s even more so if you met our broker, Pauline, who’s about as affable and encouraging as any Realtor could want, but there’s just something about those ‘off campus’ visits that worry me a bit.
Okay, I get it . . . I probably need years of counseling to uncover my deep-seated fear of authority figures, but Pauline had invited us to lunch a good month or so in advance, so I had more than enough time to self-mitigate any irrational angst. Fortunately, Mart knows I’m a bit nuts, and always finds a new and delicious place to suggest whenever Pauline’s invite comes up. I’m all for that, after all, no real talking goes on when there’s good food on the table! Happily, the owners of Cest La Vie, one of the mainstays of French cuisine in Sarasota, recently opened Lolita Tartine, and once Mart and I looked over the menu, we declared “This is the restaurant we need to suggest when we lunch with Pauline.” Sneaky! Why not let someone else butter up the boss!
Tartine refers to the popular French style open-faced sandwich brimming with rich or fanciful ingredients. At Lolita Tartine, these fancy sandwiches are the center piece of their menu, and share the names of famous artists like Matisse, Manet, Cezanne and Da Vinci. Open only three months, we were tickled to find Lolita Tartine packed with enthusiastic guests waiting for tables. Being that this is a work day, we grabbed the only spots available at the counter, and were seated immediately.
First thought? If the food is even half as appealing as the décor, we’re in for a treat. The high ceilings, and dare I say, “industrial urban chic-ness” is gorgeous! (Are we still in SRQ?) Bright and colorful is always an attractive choice for a restaurant.
There is an absolute buzz going on in this place. Everywhere we looked, diners were exhibiting the universal body language of “nodding while chewing,” which lets you know they like what they’re tasting. Behind us, a table of four women was happily chatting away, only to suddenly become very quiet as their food arrived and they dived in with gusto. Like I said, there’s no real talking when there’s good food on the table! I can’t wait to order!
Knowing that we want to blog on Lolita Tartine, Mart and I never order the same meal as someone else at our table, so we encourage our guest, or in this case, our benevolent leader, to order first. Seems polite, right? Pauline zeros in on the Dali Tartine, featuring onion marmalade, chopped asparagus, smoked duck breast, tomato, walnuts, and mesclun salad topped with a vinaigrette, all heaped on a perfectly perfect slice of warm French bread. “How often” she asks, “do I get to have smoked duck a sandwich?” Gotta try it!
The key to eating a tartine is to ditch any thought about picking it up and eating it like a sandwich. This delightful sandwich is definitely best tackled with a fork and knife. On the Dali Tartine, the onion marmalade went on first, softening up the bread (just a bit), then the asparagus, duck, walnuts and tomato. Each tartine comes with a side salad or Lolita potatoes, and Pauline chose to stay with a healthy side of greens. Delish!
Mart’s appetite is craving something a little more Mediterranean, so the olive tapenade and prosciutto on the Manet Tartine draw him in. The additional ingredients of feta cheese, sundried tomato and asparagus don’t hurt either — being that all these ingredients are irresistible alone, but when combined together, outstanding! Looking no further on the menu now that he’s zoned in on the Manet, Mart chooses a side of Lolita’s delicately seasoned and sautéed potatoes instead of a salad.
Now, if you’re a fan of home fries done well (as opposed to “well done”), give the Lolita potatoes a try without asking for extra time on the grill. These are more of a French country fried potato, with just a hint of sea salt and a slight glistening of olive oil. Cooked to just al dente, they aren’t soft or mushy, like some home fries can be. These babies have that superior “fresh cut” taste that holds up to being roasted on the grill.
Now that I know what the others have ordered, I’m free to choose from any of the 9 other Tartines on the menu . . . or maybe I could go with a Panini – or one of their large salads, or a quiche, or the Croque Monsieur au Comte? Mais non! I’ve never had a Tartine, so when in Lolita Tartine, I go with a signature dish, which in my case is the Matisse, featuring curried chicken, pineapple, sour cream and tomato. Choosing a side salad to accompany this flavorful dish was the right choice for me, as I just love a crunchy, fresh salad whenever French bread is anywhere near my plate.
So what can I say about the Matisse Tartine, other than I LOVED it! When I ordered curried chicken, I expected little chucks of chicken that had been simmered in curry sauce. What I got was so much better. The chicken breast was pounded thin, seasoned and rolled tight, then baked with aromatic spices. Once cooked, it was sliced thin – but not too thin – just perfect for this sandwich, and lightly brushed with the aforementioned curry sauce. It was then topped with grilled pineapple and micro greens with just a hint of balsamic vinegar to add a savory bite to the sweet tomato. Let me be honest here. Paring the curry chicken with pineapple is one of those simple strokes of culinary genius that great chefs come up with. Both flavors just bounced off each other and I want to bang myself over the head for not thinking of this myself. Seriously!
So, after a tasty, fulfilling lunch, I’m happy to report that my self-indulgent angst over ‘being called to the principal’s office’ was a serious waste of energy on my part. We had a great meal, in a lovely atmosphere with friendly – if a bit busy – servers.
And BIG props to Pauline! How many bosses have ever bought you a Matisse or a Manet?
Hmmm?? Hmmm?? Yeah, I didn’t think so! Thanks, Boss! I’ll do lunch with you anytime!