Date: January 22, 2014
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist


+ Savor your time at MoZaic
Five years ago, when MoZaic, the excellent continental-with-a-Moroccan-flair restaurant on Main Street opened, we were doubly thrilled because, not only were we getting a new upscale restaurant on a par with Daniel’s in New York City, we were also celebrating a new enterprise by master chef Dylan Elhajoui, the son-in-law of my dear friends, Lynne and John Meskey.

I met Lynne when I first came to Sarasota in 2002 because she was the person to speak with about auditioning for Gloria Musicae and Key Chorale. She sang with both groups and, just speaking with her on the phone — a first conversation that lasted about an hour — made me realize I had a new best friend in my new hometown. She turned out to be not just a best friend, but also a terrific singer whom I brag about to singer friends from New York. She also loves to cook and eat. So that sealed the deal.

Dylan and his family — talented, artistic wife, Anne, and four exceptional kids — had moved here from Colorado where Dylan had cooked for thousands in one of the state’s biggest resort hotels. MoZaic opened with Dylan ruling in the kitchen just before Christmas 2008. I know because the first real date I had with Ed was Christmas Eve of that year. I sang at the candlelight service across the street at First United Methodist, and then Ed and I walked over to MoZaic, where we were seated in the window-side table for a candlelit dinner that we’ll never forget. Ed and I were married about five months later, my first marriage, and the romance of MoZaic didn’t hurt our cause.

Ever since then, when we’ve spent the holidays in Sarasota — we’ve made a practice of going on Christmas/New Year’s cruises every other year — we’ve made reservations at MoZaic for Christmas Eve and requested that very same table. This year we were here, and our celebration was a delicious treat of Dylan’s finest fare, along with a couple of special delicacies he brought just for us to taste: a cold fruit-and-herb soup and a small bite of a bastilla — a Moroccan specialty that uses succulent squab in a sort of minced pie that’s both savory and sweet.

MoZaic is that special treat place where we dine — and it is dine, not eat — when we make an evening of dinner. It must be savored, never rushed and, although we have, occasionally, gone there before an opera, we like it best when we can make an evening of it, luxuriating in every bite and taste.

+ Romancing the scone
Simply Gourmet, a local catering firm, is inviting us to, um, “Get Sconed.” Taking afternoon tea to a whole new level, it’s doing a traditional royal English tea service at 2 p.m. Tuesdays in February and March in the exclusive upstairs living room of the Powel Crosley Estate, 8374 N. Tamiami Trail.

A traditional afternoon tea is unlike your grandma’s cup of tea or anything you’ve experienced before. According to Chef Larry Barrett, “Every year, the royal family hosts an afternoon tea for about 8,000 guests at Buckingham Palace.” This tradition started in 1860 with Queen Victoria.

“It’s a grand and colorful affair. Men wear suits or military uniforms, and women wear dresses with hats and gloves. The 500-foot buffet table is set with a feast, and there’s tea, of course.”

Sometimes I’ve wondered about that because, although tea is the focus of these affairs, it can get lost amid the scones, tartlets, Devonshire cream and royal tea sandwiches. I did a so-called traditional tea at my home some years ago, and it lasted almost eight hours. Teas were poured at first but, a bit later, we switched to Veuve Cliquot and, well, I don’t remember much about who was there or when they left. (Maybe they’re still there.)

Simply Gourmet’s royal English tea has not included champagne in the past. But the teas are terrific, as are the parfaits and turkey/tomato pinwheels. So, take a Tuesday and get sconed right here in Sarasota. And remember to look around the estate while you’re there. It’s almost as spectacular as Buckingham Palace.

+ Libby's does brunch
Libby’s Café + Bar, on Osprey, has always been a great place to meet for lunch and treat for Sunday brunch. Now the restaurant has added a Saturday brunch, which includes its famous, award-winning 60-plus ingredient bloody Mary and mimosa bar.

Libby’s has always reminded me a little of a west side bistro in Manhattan, N.Y. If it weren’t across from Morton’s on Osprey, I’d think I was someplace on Broadway, sharing a meal with friends before a Lincoln Center performance. It just has that west side ambience. If you’re from NYC, you know what I mean. You can sit inside, at a table or in a plush booth, or outside, watching the parade of Morton’s (like Zabar’s) buyers and cars on their way to and from Siesta.

Oh — Libby’s also has music. Now, DJ Russ Deep is there to spin funk and Motown and take you deep into a food/music experience on weekends. It’s a great way to lay back and enjoy Sarasota.

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