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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Jun. 2, 2022 1 month ago

Savor Sarasota sets the table for fine dining

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For two weeks, dozens of local restaurants will be putting their best meals forward at fixed prices.
by: Spencer Fordin A+E Editor

You may have seen the quaint 100-year-old cottages resting on the side of Tamiami Trail, just beckoning you in for a bite to eat or a glass of wine. And now you’ve got the perfect reason to make a reservation.

The Reserve Retreat, housed in two buildings from the old Ringling Estate, is one of dozens of restaurants taking part in Savor Sarasota, a two-week extravaganza that takes local restaurants and puts them in the forefront of the consciousness of the local consumer.

Savor, which runs from June 1 to June 14, will give restaurant customers a chance to sample a prix-fixe multi-course menu for lunch and dinner at affordable prices.

Lunch at any of the participating restaurants will cost just $20, and dinner will cost $35.

“It’s just as much for the locals as it is for the visitors,” says Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County. “There’s that chance to try restaurants you really haven’t gone out to try in the last couple years. It’s important for us because if locals know more about our restaurants, when they bump into a visitor, they’re able to give good recommendations.”

And it’s equally important for the restaurant community to get their names in circulation.

For the Reserve, it’s a chance to introduce themselves to the public in a new capacity. Jessica Simmons, owner of the Reserve, says the last couple years have been a time of reinvention. The eatery opened in 2017 as more of a boutique hotel with a coffee and wine bar. The hotel is still part of the business, but in February of 2020, Simmons hired Chef Richard Smith, who had previously worked in Sarasota restaurants like Quay and the Bayou Tavern.

Chef Richard Smith's Asian Delight is one of the highlights at The Reserve Retreat. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

Smith helped design a new menu, and the restaurant did very well upon its opening. But then came COVID, and the Reserve had to figure out how to get customers through the door. Simmons and general manager Sarah Edwards had to temporarily shelve the reinvented menu and do whatever they could to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“The team was amazing,” says Simmons. “We didn’t close; we were able to do barbecue and delivery. Customers and people in the neighborhood were so supportive. They kept calling.

"That’s really when we learned that the brand we have here at the Reserve is higher quality. Instead of having a lot of people and volume going through, we learned that it’s better to have beautiful food and a much smaller menu. It really handed us an opportunity to figure out what would work and what could be special to make people want to come here.”

Smith, born and raised in Sarasota, operates a one-man kitchen, and he makes everything at the restaurant from scratch. 

Simmons says the interior of the Reserve is meant to evoke a living room, and she wants customers to get comfortable while they wait for Smith’s creations to come out of the kitchen.

“We had been on Savor a while ago, but it was with a much smaller lunch menu,” says Simmons. “Now we have the chef and we can be proud of every meal that comes out the door. Savor has always been terrific to the community.

Chef Richard Smith's Ringling Salad brings lots of classic ingredients. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

"I’ve been a part of the community for many years, and as a consumer, I love when Savor comes out. I go to all the restaurants in town. So when I saw the opportunity, I said, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s showcase what we can do.’”

Smith’s Savor dinner menu has given plenty of options to its hungry guests. Visitors can choose between the Ringling Salad, Pesto Pasta with Chicken, the Asian Delight or the Chicken Marsala as their main courses; Smith said that the Ringling Salad is a classic, with mixed greens topped with candied walnuts, bacon, strawberries and bleu cheese crumbles.

But his Asian Delight is something that comes straight out of his own mind.

It’s a choice of blackened salmon or seared tuna served with Asian veggies and fried rice.

“I tweaked it here and there with spices to give it that Asian flair,” says Smith. “I enjoy garnishing my plates. That’s always going to be a highlight of my dishes. With the salmon, you don’t want to overcook it and dry it out.

"It’s probably one of the easier fish to cook. You can get away with the cooking time on it if you’re not a skilled cooker. Just a little spice; it absorbs spice. Salmon is a great dish no matter what you’re doing with it.”

Another newcomer to the Savor game is Tripletail Seafood and Spirits, a new offering from the team that brought you the Gecko’s Grill & Pub franchise. Tripletail opened last February, right before COVID, and it didn’t have an opportunity to showcase itself in 2021.

Executive chef Trae Peavey, who worked as a kitchen manager at Gecko’s for 10 years, has been presiding over the development of Tripletail. He said much of the menu is an elevated take on its sister restaurant Dry Dock, and the restaurant is housed in the original location of Gecko’s at The Landings Plaza.

Chef Trae Peavey of Tripletail is excited for the Savor crowds. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

“It’s really fun to see people that have been to Gecko’s come here,” he says. “They walk in for the first time and see the change and you can see their eyes light up at how different it is.”

Peavey, who has been working in kitchens since he was 16 years old, says that the restaurant got its name from one of the area’s most delicious offerings.

The Atlantic tripletail is a fish known to local fisherman as one of the most plentiful and tasty in the Sarasota sea.

All of Tripletail’s fish comes from Lockhart Seafood in Tarpon Springs, and Peavey said his servers are quizzed on how many tails the tripletail actually has. It’s a trick question; the fish only has one tail, but it has two fins that appear to be tails.

“They don’t congregate like tuna or snapper would,” says Peavey of the top-feeding fish. “You can’t just go to a hole and pull out a bunch of tripletail. People often overlook them because it looks like a plastic bag. They like to hang out around buoys and crap traps; crab season is the heavier season for Tripletail because there are crab traps everywhere.”

The tripletail dinner, of course, is one of the signature offerings on the restaurant’s menu. Peavey also added a seafood pasta, a chicken marsala, a bourbon-glazed salmon and a coconut shrimp dinner. The shrimp, he says, comes with a Pina colada sauce so good that he’s seen bar patrons ask for extra sauce and then tell the bartender to make it a drink.

But it’s the tripletail, the fish that lent its name to the restaurant, that stands out. Peavey says the dish by itself represents 12 percent of his restaurant’s sales, which makes it a perfect thing to put on the menu and attract new customers.

“We put it over our yellow rice,” says Peavey. “It has a lot of umami; that savory, slightly sweet and slightly salty flavor. It’s a turmeric yellow rice, not saffron. The tripletail gets a light coating of flour, pan-seared. Then it goes on top of the rice and it gets a lemon beurre-blanc on top. We use a citrus syrup; it has lemon juice, orange juice and pineapple juice.

"Then we reduce that with sugar and white wine. We take that, mix it with heavy cream and add butter to it.”

Haley, who has seen Savor grow and mature over the years, said that this year is special because it makes a return to a full capacity. In 2020, Savor was switched last-minute to Carry Out only, and last year it was a blend of sitting down and taking food to go. This year, she hopes that restaurants return to full dining rooms at a time of year that used to be pretty barren.

Haley says that the best part of restaurant week is trying new dishes and new restaurants, and she says she revels in hearing positive feedback from diners.

“My favorite was a couple probably 10 years ago who emailed us,” she says.

“They said they think of this as being on Cruise Ship Sarasota, and they tried a different one every night. They loved it and looked forward to it every year, and I love that image.”

 

 

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