Jill and I headed downtown to what is arguably the prime corner of any on Main Street . . . the intersection of Main and Palm Avenue. Although we’ve been there many times, we decided we were long overdue to enjoy dinner for two at the casual-chic Clásico Cafe & Bar. Up until now we’ve always found Clásico a perfect place to meet friends and enjoy delicious appetizers over a cocktail or glass of wine. I honestly can’t count how many times we’ve stopped by Clásico during the one and a half years since they opened, so it surprises us both that we haven’t blogged on it until now.
Situated in the location of the former Palm Café, and before that it was Sarasota News & Books, and for you “old-timers,” Charlie’s News, (which dates back a total of 50 years,) Clásico builds upon the obvious testimony that Sarasota’s already vibrant dining scene keeps “growing up.” With new, high quality restaurants opening and established restaurants expanding and adding locations, and most every place staying so busy, even during the dog days of summer, well, Sarasota’s dining scene has become a tourist attraction unto itself.
We arrived on the cusp of happy hour which features a menu of small plates and feature priced wines. While many places stop offering happy hour prices the minute the clock says so (ostensibly because the computers are programmed that way), we were graciously offered those choices, as well as the dinner menu, simply for having been seated before happy hour ended. To me, this was an opportunity to sample some happy hour fare as well as those among the tempting main courses.
But our first stop, as it so often happens when it’s offered, was the escargot. If you are a fan of these delicate, savory morsels, don’t pass them up here. These were perfectly and classically prepared – seared in herb garlic butter, and served with grilled toast points. Ours were so delicious that we sent the finished plate back to the kitchen looking almost as pristine as it was before they plated it up!
After complimenting the Chef on our appetizer, and before deciding on our entrees, we learned that the kitchen runs under the guidance of Chef Guillaume, a classically trained French chef, with extensive résumé working in upscale restaurants throughout France and Boston.
Based on that information, Jill selected the Lobster Tail with Lobster Risotto from the happy hour menu. What can we say besides “a picture is worth a thousand words!” Featuring a cheesy, creamy risotto crowned with a half of a grilled lobster tail – what’s not to love! Tell me that the picture above doesn’t make your mouth water.
On the suggestion of Kim, our wonderfully attentive server, combined with the knowledge about Chef Guillaume’s roots, I was immediately drawn to the Beef Bouguignon. I learned that this recipe is from Chef Guillaume’s mother, which tastes of all the love a mother has for her family. This was truly a show-stopper. You know, the kind where you tell your dinner companion to take a snip of water, clean their palette and “taste this!” Composed of perfectly braised, you-can-cut-it-with-a-paper-knife tender beef short ribs cooked in red wine, onions, carrots, parsley, celery and mushrooms, the Beef Bouguignon was served over butter noodles that just melted in my mouth. This was a sublime example of a “peasant dish gone haute cuisine.” In American, that translates to home run!
I must mention that throughout our evening, we were attended to by more than one server, restaurant manager Joe, and the owner, Raffaele Perna, all making sure that we were well taken care of. Since we dine in anonymity for the sake of being objective, I can attest to the service standards here as being top notch as well.
Since it was so far, so great, we simply had to indulge in something from the sweet section of the menu. Again, following the lead of our friendly server Kim, we opted for the “Big Enough to Share” Napoleon. Yowza! What an understatement! Now I know first-hand that sometimes there can be “too much food” doing a blog like we do, but fortunately if we erred, at least it was on the airy side tonight. The puff pastry, pastry cream, and fresh strawberries that form this classic dessert also joined the clean plate club, and took us to, but not over, the brink of satisfaction.
While we were smitten largely by the French fare this evening, Clásico Café is reflective of classic cuisines of Spain, Italy, and of course America among others. So if you speak the language of food, put Clásico on your list to visit!