If there’s anything better than sampling delicious, expertly prepared food, it’s enjoying it in a spectacular waterfront setting at the recently opened, stunningly beautiful Zota Beach Resort on Longboat Key.
From the first sips of craft cocktails at sunset, through the last fabulous morsels of desserts, we were fêted on the outdoor patio of the Viento Kitchen & Bar. The restaurant itself is ideal for the setting. Situated on the second floor, overlooking the hotel’s pool with the beach just beyond it, Sarasota’s spectacular sunset served as a dramatic backdrop to an evening full of epicurean delights.
Sharing the night with fellow food bloggers and television personalities, we started out with our choice of one of Viento’s most popular cocktails. I couldn’t resist the Bloody Mary, while Jill nabbed one of their fresh Blueberry Mojitos. Also on the cocktail menu was Viento’s Fresh Pressed Margarita and a Sunset Lemonade garnished with fresh raspberries. So crisp and refreshing!
Our group was ushered to the outside veranda, where a long table was set up for us to enjoy a selection of dishes served family style, which means the servers bring out a standard-sized portion of an appetizer, salad, entree or dessert and you’re supposed to share. But . . . like a real family, “you snooze, you lose,” so I can only rave about the appetizers and entrees that I actually sampled. (Thanks, Stephanie R.!)
The initial round of apps started with the Zota Crab Cakes, with a flavor profile totally amped up with pickled fennel, mango, arugula salad and a creamy horseradish sauce. What really had the table talking, however, was the neat, 3 oz. bite-sized portions! This allows you to enjoy the creaminess of the crab cake while getting some of that outer crust in every bite, making for one of the best crab cakes I’ve enjoyed in some time!
Next up was one of my favorites of the evening, the Burrata Bruschetta. This is a unique take on bruschetta, where Executive Chef Jason Pellett takes Parma prosciutto and wraps it around the creamiest fresh burrata cheese and tomato basil compote, all served on toasted ciabatta bread. I could seriously eat just this appetizer and would have considered the tasting a smashing success.
Every Chef has a surprise twist on a classic dish, you know . . . that one dish where you think you know what to expect, and then “Bam!” he/she hits you with bold flavors, unique textures or eye-catching presentations all their own. To me, Chef Pellett surprised us with his Roasted Garlic Hummus with kalamata-caper relish and grilled pizza bread. This was so delicious, it came pretty close to a tug-of-war between foodie extraordinaire Nicole Coudal and myself. Seriously, I wouldn’t normally order hummus off the menu because who hasn’t had a good hummus before? Apparently not this guy! The roasted garlic made this hummus simple perfection and the creamy texture was on point.
We enjoyed sampling two of their signature salads; the Baby Spinach salad was served at our end of the table, featuring strawberries, crispy pancetta, crumbled gorgonzola, almonds and a summery-sweet strawberry vinaigrette. Jill said she’d buy the dressing by the gallon if it was an option, but sadly that wasn’t possible.
The Zota salad, consisting of kale or spinach, heirloom tomato, shaved English cucumbers, and hard boiled eggs, candied pecans, dried cranberries, pecorino cheese and a delicate lemon vinaigrette landed at the other end of the table first, which resulted in the first “snooze you lose” scenario of the night! They liked it so much there was none for us to try. (Insert cry-baby emoji!) Fortunately, Chef sent out a second one and even then I only managed to snag one forkful! But that was all that I needed to understand why our fellow table mates cleared the plate when they had the chance. That lemon vinaigrette was zesty and delicious!
(Note to self: When dining family style with a table of women who look like they practice yoga every morning, be prepared to lose out on the lower calorie options! I think I’ll have more luck when dessert comes out!)
It wasn’t until the entree samplings, that things got away from me, (read: ended up at the far end of the table first!) I did manage to taste the lightly breaded Veal Chop al Forno, adorned with heirloom tomatoes and gooey melted mozzarella, and herbed riscossa spaghettini. This tender cut of veal soaked up the flavors of the cheese and herb sauce and I really enjoyed the fresh tomato in the sauce.
At this point in the meal we were offered a glass of Caymus Cabernet (!) which, to my knowledge, you can’t order by the glass anywhere. And I mean ANYWHERE! If that’s not motivation to visit Viento Kitchen & Bar, I don’t know what is! Seriously . . . THAT’S living large!
I confess . . . I am an unabashed steak lover, so you gotta know my eyes lit up when they presented the Espresso Rubbed Bone-in Ribeye right in front of me! What a steak! The char was so perfect you just know someone extra special was given the task of cooking this beauty! I would 100%, most definitely, absolutely positively choose this entree my next visit when I can keep it all to myself! Served perfectly medium rare with herbed fingerling potatoes, roasted veggies and drizzled with EVOO let me tell you . . . it was painful watching that plate move away where it was shared with the rest of the table. I could have cried!
Maybe it was my full-on attention to the ribeye that resulted in my missing out on writing down my reflections on the Grilled Grouper and the Lobster Ravioli. Fortunately, I had my wingman (wing-person? wing-wife?) with me, and Jill made sure she tried both.
The Grilled Grouper was served with an artichoke champagne risotto, with saffron butter and gremolata. The fish was light and flaky, just how she likes it, and wonderfully paired with the saffron butter. which also enhanced the risotto and went so well with the grilled artichoke.
The Lobster Ravioli was one of Jill’s favorites. Large pillows of fresh pasta were stuffed with lobster and nestled in a sherry butter. Sauteed spinach, roasted grape tomatoes, and crispy leeks fill out the dish. Very tasty! (Or so Jill said!)
Knowing how much I was enjoying the Espresso Ribeye, Jill made sure I had a portion of the Grilled Filet to compare. Frankly, I’m a ribeye guy at heart, but that filet? So tender and delicious. There is some serious talent on the hot line at Viento, that’s all I can say. Jill and Nicole were pretty amped by the truffled mashed potato served with the fillet, as well as the roasted tri-color carrots. Big thanks for making sure I tasted both steaks, Jill. It’s good to know you have my back!
Desserts were no less tempting (for me,) but as expected, those trim ladies at the table began taking only the smallest spoonful of each dessert. Everyone had a favorite, be it the orange ricotta cheesecake, the Key Lime Panna Cotta, the cutest Creme Brulee served in a small mason jar, or the “Crimeless” Chocolate Cake with pistachio gelato(!!) and fresh strawberries. (Trust me when I say this is a heavenly chocolate dessert.)
Naturally, Jill asked me was what my favorite was, and I decided that my favorite would be to be hungry all over again so I could experience this magnificent evening from the beginning! Does that tell you how great it was?
In any event, Viento Kitchen & Bar is certainly a stand-out restaurant that deserves to be on everyone’s short list for a memorable night out! There’s only one way to improve on a visit to Viento, and that’s making it a STAYCATION at Zota Beach Resort!