April is a pretty amazing month to be in Sarasota, whether you’re visiting or lucky enough to live here. There is simply SO much to do!
The first weekend of April kicks off The Sarasota Film Festival, where you may bump into big name movie stars and directors. Sarasota’s famous Sailor Circus celebrated their 60th anniversary this April, with local teens performing amazing circus acts in the Big Top near downtown Sarasota. There are sporting events as well, with the top college rowing teams in the southeast competing for the Florida Intercollegiate Rowing Association (FIRA) Championship trophy, and the Fiesta on Siesta College Sand Volleyball Tournament. Later in the month is the Sarasota Open Tennis Championship Tournament, which brings a number of tennis stars to our area — though a number of athletes already own homes or do their winter training here.
On the foodie side, your choices seem endless. This past weekend we had to pick between the 8th Annual Gulf Coast Rhythm and Ribfest, at the Manatee County Fairgrounds, and the 24th Annual Florida Wine Fest & Auction. Being that we’re planning to attend the Florida Bar-B-Que Association championships next weekend in Venice, we opt for the Winefest — with absolutely no arm twisting needed.
Wine Fest has always been a perennial favorite for foodies and wine connoisseurs alike. The event turns food, wine and entertainment into funding for charities serving disadvantaged children in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Boutique wine vineyards from throughout the USA, South America and Europe attend a 4-day family friendly festival that includes events featuring wine, food, live music, auctions and dinners with the winemakers. Some of the most popular events in 2014 included a bayside dinner on the Van Wezel’s back lawn featuring music from the 65-piece Sarasota Pops Orchestra, and the newly chic Banquet on the Block – which closed down Lemon Avenue for a block long table featuring a fabulous selection of wines from participating wineries and cuisine prepared by five of Sarasota’s culinary masterminds. Naturally, I didn’t buy tickets fast enough to attend either of these sold out events.
Not to worry! Mart and I did score tickets to the Bayfront Showcase Lunch-Tasting event, on this Friday afternoon event that had us taking off early from work — if only for a few hours for the tasting and another two or so for the siesta that followed after an afternoon of fine wines and delicious food in the warm, Florida sun. Aaah! (Like we needed a reason to play hooky from work on a perfect mid-April afternoon to sample incredible wine and food anyway?)
Wine Fest, no matter which event you attend, is always a great “see and be seen” event. We ran into any number of friends from the food and wine industry, folks we met at last year’s events, and winemakers we’d follow anywhere. Shortly after our arrival we bumped into Paul Mattison — always a sweetheart with a kiss on the cheek for me, and a handshake for Mart – and it’s never anything less than a pleasure to run into local media darling, the always perfectly charming Joey Panek (#manabouttown.)
It was interesting hearing Paul share recipes and serving suggestions with the chefs at the event, and we weren’t shy asking which vineyards he was scoping out. With a couple restaurants under his belt, Paul knows more about food and wine than I’ll ever know – no matter how many tastings I attend.
Like Chef Paul, I’m always looking for new ideas for enjoying food at home or entertaining, like the pastrami smoked salmon. One of the more popular, and oh-so-simple ideas is the mashed potato bar. I’ve seen this concept several times before, including our wedding, and it’s essentially this. . . prepare a large dish of mashed potatoes, or maybe a selection of regular mashed, sweet potato mashed and garlic butter mashed potatoes, and set out a variety of toppings to compliment the potatoes.
The mashed potato bar at Wine Fest included the standard toppings like butter, sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese, as well as bacon, blue cheese, chives, and grated parmesan. You can add other toppings like candied walnuts, cinnamon sugar, maple syrup, ranch dressing, capers, lemon butter, hot peppers, mushrooms, olives . . . let your imagination fly.
While the food choices were many, the selection of wines were over-the-moon good. I can’t count how many really good wines we tried, but I knew quickly that we’d have to temper our tastings with repeat visits for a bite or two of food.
At the end of our visit, we were total fans of John Monnich’s Satin and Silk Petite Sirah from Silkwood Vineyards in Modesto, California. We’d sampled their wine at last year’s festival, and, like many of the guests, recognized the fuzzy red and gold label. These wine’s labels are adorned with a dazzling array of medals and awards from a number of competitions and wine magazines. The retail price for each bottle is over $120, so we felt a bit spoiled with every sip.
Other favorites were the Late Harvest Pinot Noir dessert wine from Carneros Della Notte and the red meritage wine from Quintessa.
And since I mentioned the dessert wine, I have to talk about the Triple Chocolate Mousse and Raspberry Mont Blanc served by the French Patisserie from San Francisco. While Mart was happy to request more than one tasting of the Triple Chocolate Mousse, I was stealth at taking three samples of the Raspberry Mont Blanc. The raspberry dessert is actually a white chocolate mousse with kirsch-soaked raspberries on a vanilla sponge cake with a white and red marble pyramid shell. Best of all, both were served slightly frozen!
The dessert selection, like the wine, cheese and protein courses, seemed endless. You simply could not try everything – but boy, oh boy, was it fun to try!
Later this month you can attend the Suncoast Boat Show, hosted at Sarasota’s Bayfront Marina, the Golden Eagles Air Fair featuring radio controlled airplanes with wingspans of 80 inches or larger, any number of Easter Egg hunts, and more than a few art fairs.
You can call it luck, or circumstance, but it’s no wonder that we wake up everyday and thank our lucky stars that we call Sarasota our home!
P.S. Put this on your calendar for next year – it will be impossible to be disappointed no matter which event you attend, and we’ll see you then!