Note to our Readers: Viento Kitchen & Bar is the first restaurant we’ll be featuring on the upcoming series covering Restaurants With a View. Please stay tuned over the new few weeks as we introduce a series of great dining destinations with waterfront or skyline views. We’ve also added the category: Restaurants With a View to our search criteria, so if you know of a great dining destination you think we should visit or if we need to update a previous blog to include one of your favorite restaurants in our Restaurants with a View search results, just let us know via email to email@example.com
We admit it . . . There are a handful of restaurants that we write about time and again, most often because the menu is seasonal – resulting in the menu changing several times a year. Viento Kitchen & Bar follows a seasonal menu but it also offers an additional enticement . . . the views. Located on the second floor of Zota Beach Resort, right on the beach on Longboat Key, dinner guests can enjoy cocktails and/or dinner while enjoying a spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The restaurant has several dining areas, inside and out, with uninterrupted views of the Gulf as well as the resort’s infinity-edged swimming pool and the expansive beach of Longboat Key. Ahhh! Heavenly!
When Mart and I decided to write a series on Restaurants with a View, Viento Kitchen & Bar had to be on the list. When, a few days later, we were invited to a private wine dinner/menu tasting at Viento Kitchen & Bar, I quickly said YES! Wouldn’t you?! Since Mart couldn’t make it, I invited a dear friend and fellow foodie, Kimberly, to join me, making for the first time she’d ever experienced what a media dinner can entail. It was also her first time at Viento, so I was tickled to be woken via her text the next morning — “OMG! That was so delish!” I am convinced Kimberly now knows how impossible it is for me to stay on a strict diet. The struggle is real!
This was my favorite style of tasting . . . intimate and well-paced. There were only 4 of us, which resulted in a true focus on the food and allowed all of us to ask Chef questions about the food preparation and new menu choices. I can honestly say I learned more from Executive Chef Jeremy White and F&B Manager Sergio Cunha’s presentation than any tasting I’ve been to in a while. With each of us having a number of questions, the smaller group allowed Chef to take more command of the floor and even repeat himself upon request, which I asked him to do numerous times while I madly scribbled out quick notes. All in all, an interesting and beautiful evening.
Upon arrival, Kimberly and I met fellow food writer, Ariel Chates from SRQ Magazine and her friend Jeff at the bar, enjoying the sunset before stepping out on the adjacent balcony for some small plate appetizers featured on Viento’s new 2020 spring menu.
First up was Torpedo Shrimp cooked in a Tempura batter with a wakame salad, harissa, and a poke sauce. Photos don’t lie, so trust your eyes on this — the tempura batter was absolutely perfect, hot and crunchy while fully enveloping large, juicy shrimp that still remembered swimming in the sea. There is more shrimp than batter to this appetizer, exactly as it ought to be, and it took me a good 4 or 5 bites to finish one. And then, another 4 or 5 bites enjoying a second one! No fork or knife needed!
Kimberly, Ariel, and Jeff – my fellow food tasters- were totally enamored with Viento Kitchen’s Crab Cakes. Because this was a tasting for us, our crab cakes were served in smaller 2-3 bite-sized portions, (the standard order is much larger.) The Crab Cakes offered all the flavors of the well-seasoned crab cake, pickled fennel, and watercress, while topped with fresh mango relish and chili aioli. When our server, Leonard, announced that we were ready to be seated Kimberly, Ariel AND Jeff grabbed a few more plates of the Crab Cakes to sustain them for the 30-second walk to the private dining room. There was absolutely no way they were leaving those crab cakes behind! Enough said!
Soon after being seated, it was time to meet Chef Jeremy and have our first tasting – Watermelon from the small plates portion of Viento’s new spring menu. Here is where I fell into my favorite ‘Foodie Groove’ . . . first enjoying the harissa-marinated compressed watermelon resting on a bed of wakame (seaweed salad) and topped with soy, slivered jalapeño, and crumbled feta . . . and then being able to ask Chef Jeremy what compressed watermelon entailed, since these chunks of watermelon look anything but compressed.
Chef’s compressed watermelon, he explained, starts with dicing up the watermelon and sealing it, along with the harissa marinade in a vacuum-sealed bag. Then all the air is sucked out of the bag, forcing the flavors of the harissa into the watermelon, creating changes to the composition of the watermelon on a cellular level. Fellow guest, Jeff, (admittedly not a cook,) asked if Chef uses a system similar to the vacuum seal storage bag used to pack away winter sweaters and linens. (I like this guy! Trust me, there’s more!) Close — but not exactly, was the answer. What really made the flavors of the watermelon dance, in my humble opinion, was taking a taste of the Castello Del Poggio Moscato D’Asti that F&B Director Sergio Cunha selected as a wine pairing for this course. The Moscato was sweet with the flavors of peaches and citrus blossoms, which, upon taking another bite of watermelon, really highlighted the previously subtle, but now almost pungent hints of harissa. Just lovely! (FYI – this dish is only $7 on the new menu!)
After Chef left the room, Ariel began reading over the tasting menu and upon reading the description of our next course – Grouper – began by asking a pretty good question. “What is tomato water?” I Googled “Tomato Water” and after reading all that it entails, suggested she ask Chef Jeremy. When the dish arrived, our table was provided on a normal-sized portion to photograph, and each of us had about a fourth of that size served as our tasting sample.
The black grouper was pan-seared with a delicate, yet crispy sear and sat atop a nest of sauteed vegetable noodles surrounded by the aforementioned tomato water. I can’t say why, but I expected tomato water would look more like tomato juice. Aren’t they about the same thing? Nope! Chef Jeremy first purees the tomato, jalapeño, onions, and cucumber in a blender with a dash of select seasonings. He then strains the mixture through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and lets the juices all sweat out into a bowl. This broth is then drained one last time through a coffee filter, resulting in a clear broth that provides a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and potent antioxidants. We all loved the flavor, and Jeff (told you there was more) summed this dish up perfectly . . . “Come for the Grouper, stay for the tomato water!”
Our next tasting, Mushroom Ravioli, was the picture of attention to detail and fine knife skills. When Chef Jeremy explained that the Ravioli featured a smoked pork-parmesan broth made with ham hocks and Nueske slab bacon, I honestly thought those little scored morsels shown on the Ravioli photo (above) might be small slices of ham hock skin. NOPE! Those are crimini and King oyster mushrooms hand-scored so the flavors of the broth soak through into their fleshy goodness! The whole-wheat pasta ravioli is made in-house and filled with creamy Boursin cheese and topped with shaved seasonal black truffle, while the hint of green is red ribbon sorrel whose natural color patterns calls attention to the scoring details on the mushrooms. This dish is well worth driving out to Longboat Key. I am still in awe of the effort Viento Kitchen’s crew takes to score all those delicate mushrooms just so guests can experience a more complete celebration of flavor! Way to go Viento Kitchen!
Another culinary gift presented itself in Viento Kitchen’s Salmon entrée. Featuring an 8oz Faroe Island Salmon, Chef Jeremy and his team first start by cooking the salmon skin side down in a piping hot cast-iron skillet. About 3 minutes later, they flip the salmon and remove the skin, deep frying it into a crispy chip. Nice! First Salmon Chip I ever had! I’m also a fan of Faroe Island salmon, a natural feeding ground of wild Atlantic Salmon. (Give me wild salmon over farm-raised any day!) This choice of higher quality, sustainable salmon shows the care that goes into this dish. I especially enjoyed the green peppercorn emulsion under the salmon, a mixture of vinegar, Evoo, and salt pureed and then finished with a Meyer lemon oil. I used it as a sauce with the herbed fingerling potatoes and broccolini as well!
The only man at the table, Jeff made it clear that the NY Strip was foremost on his mind. Since we were only eating the tasting sized portions, we four asked that the entrée-sized portions provided for photo opportunities be packed up with each of us taking one home. Naturally, the tomato-water-loving Ariel snagged the Grouper, the ‘shroomer loving Kimberly requesting the ravioli, and I got the Salmon. (I am Norwegian American, after all!) Jeff could have done cartwheels, he was so happy! This was a meat and potatoes man who patiently enjoyed three other courses while dreaming about that steak.
And what a steak! Viento’s 14 oz NY Strip is sourced from Revier Cattle Company, out of Olivia, Minnesota, a fifth-generation cattle ranch known for high quality, sustainable ranching practices. The Black Angus cows raised there are grass-fed, free-range and only brought inside when foul weather approaches. Chef Jeremy then takes this high-quality protein and sous vide each portion to his guest’s requested temperature before finishing it off on the grill. The resulting steak featured a nicely crisp bark, the ideal medium-rare center and was topped with red onion marmalade and melted smoked blue cheese outsourced from Wisconsin. Personally, I can’t recall tasting smoked blue cheese before, and Chef Jeremy explained the complex flavor profile is what piqued his interest in “playing with it.” (I call cooking work. For Chef Jeremy, it’s playing!) Offered with a side of hearty house-cut rosemary steak fries, the Strip rests on a red wine demi-glace with hints of juniper, thyme, and black peppercorn. WOW!
I have to compliment Food and Beverage Manager Sergio yet again since each of his chosen wine pairings was just ideal with the entrée paired with it. “You don’t want the wine to tarnish your taste buds,” he explained. “Always start with a light wine before enjoying a more hearty wine,” such as the Robert Mondavi Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon he paired with the NY Strip. Each sip was smooth and velvety to the palette, rounding out the smokiness of the grilled meat and rustic potatoes.
Before our final dessert course, we had the opportunity to ask Sergio and Chef Jeremy what lead to the newest additions to Viento Kitchen & Bar’s menu. “Wine leads the menu,” Sergio explained. “When we get an inspiring harvest of a specific wine, that wine is limited. It can never be the same wine as it is during that harvest, so we turn to Chef and his staff to create the ideal dish to celebrate this ‘limited engagement’ wine.’ We also turn the menu as new seasonal produce comes our way.”
Turning out 120-150 covers a night during Sarasota’s snowbird season, the menu changes 3x every year, creating a cause for celebration in the kitchen and the dining rooms! With a focus on modern American flare with Caribbean influences, Chef Jeremy expects even more seafood on subsequent menus!
“Our kitchen staff hand cleans about 500 lbs of fish every week during the season, ” Chef explains. “None of that fish remains in our kitchen by the third day. It’s always a favorite for our guests and it’s always fresh. We don’t use any prepared proteins, not even deli meat on our lunch menu. We roast and brine our own turkey breast. Our bread is brought in from an artisan baker. We hope to celebrate each ingredient. ”
I cannot finish this blog without sharing the pièce de résistance: Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert. Pared with La Marca Prosecco, this creamy chocolate decadence offered a side of chocolate fudge sauce and seasonal berries. But, may I point out that while it may be a flourless cake, it wasn’t a flower-less dessert. Those bright dianthus and carnation petals were the perfect accessories for a dessert sure to take center stage on Viento Kitchen & Bar’s 2020 Spring menu.
Looking back at all the times we’ve visited Viento Kitchen & Bar, it is wonderful seeing how much the restaurant and the menu have evolved and improved with each season they’ve been open. Locals may need to take advantage of one of the summer passes that Zota Beach Resort offers to area residents to enjoy the resort amenities while keeping in mind that August and September offer some fabulous staycation prices for a weekend getaway. Or just for fun, why not get a group of 8-10 friends together and host your own wine tasting?!
In the meantime, we’ll continue to relax and enjoy a leisurely drive out to Longboat Key’s few, true beachfront restaurants, Viento Kitchen & Bar. Lucky us!