Downtown Sarasota has a plethora of wonderful restaurants and types of cuisine. Not only was the evening full of perfect bites and sips — it was actually hard to leave each restaurant without the feeling of wanting more. Gather your friends and follow this progressive dinner for a culinary treat. Bon appetit!
Editor’s note: We will return to the downtown area again to continue the culinary tour and hit the restaurants we didn’t profile this time.
1 DRINK & APPETIZER: Selva Grill
The bar at Selva Grill (Pisco Bar + Lounge) is a great place to socialize with quality libations and bites, which are so tantalizing to the tongue, it’s hard to choose what to order. The happy-hour menu is available from 5 to 7 p.m. and offers $4 to $7 appetizers and drinks. My dining companion and I sampled pescado ($5 during happy hour), ceviche with a tasty blend of white fish, lime and cilantro flavors; as well as Aji Gallin spring roll ($9), classic Peruvian creamy, spicy pulled chicken with avocado aioli that is so delicious sometimes two rolls are not enough. The light bites were happily washed down with the always-favorite Bellini martini ($10).
2 ENTRÉE: MoZaic
Our first experience at MoZaic had us wanting to come back for more — and soon. Right out of the gate, the chilled soup amuse-bouche was a to-die-for beginning to our stop for entrées. The winning dish of the evening was the trio of lamb chops, duck breast and blue-crab flan with savoyarde gratin potatoes ($32). My dining companion practically licked his plate. The atmosphere at MoZaic is comfortable and sophisticated at the same time and a great place to enjoy a relaxing dinner with friends.
3 DESSERT: Zoria
On our dessert stop we had the pleasure of being waited on by charming co-owner Arthur Lopes, who helped us decide on the indulgent endings to this progressive dinner. He chose the blackberry-and-raspberry cobbler ($8), a refreshing cobbler with ice cream, and the hot-chocolate pudding cake ($10), which was rich and addicting. Lopes explained that they improved the pudding cake by cooking it in a ramekin and adding chocolate ganache to the center to keep it moist, unlike some chocolate lava cakes. The stories Lopes told of his famous banana cream pie, which is only served on the weekends, had us planning our return.
4 DRINK & ENTERTAINMENT: Café Epicure
Although there isn’t live entertainment at Epicure’s chic bar in the space that Jolly used to occupy, watching the bartenders muddle herbs and concoct perfectly paired martinis proves to be entertaining. The menu of martinis is an artistic work of flavors, and the one that has the town talking: the strawberry-and-basil martini ($10) — who’d have thought it would be such a winning combination? The lit wall behind the bar is pleasing to the eye, and the hip atmosphere of the newer space has really brought Epicure up a notch. Luckily, the scrumptious gelato is still available, too.