Siesta Key Oyster Bar SmallSiesta Key Oyster Bar Beth Keith Cipielewski Owners
Being true to her eatery’s name, Siesta Key Oyster Bar restaurateur Beth Owen-Cipielewski served up a shucked specialty at the Grand Tasting in January: Grilled Oysters Casino. Insider Perspective: At an annual event in Southwest Florida that draws a trove of tourists, this oyster dish was a prime seafood introduction to coastal Sarasota.

Siesta Key Oyster Bar’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: Prep enough food so you have enough until the end. Plan a nice table-scape that represents the style of your restaurant. Bring a dolly to load and unload. Bring something to give to the patrons that will remind them of you later and bring them back to your restaurant. 
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: Something fun and bubbly is a good start, like Chardonnay-based bubbles or Moscato. Sauvignon Blanc is good for the classic wine drinker. For the beer lover, a stout like Guinness would also be great.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: Make sure you bring enough food. You do not want to run out early. This is a fun event and your opportunity to shine.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: We were flattered by the compliments we received, and we had quite a few people come back for seconds or thirds. We always love hearing that we are their favorite place to come for food, fun, live music and oysters.
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: This is one of our favorite events. We are always excited to showcase one of our specialties, and we really enjoy checking out what the other great restaurants have to offer.
 
Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) | 5238 Ocean Boulevard, Sarasota | 941-346-5443 | skob.com

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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pier 22 21 10 SmallPier 22 Chef Greg Campell Manager
 
Executive Chef Greg Campbell and Pastry Chef Felipe Silva of Pier 22 have a dual strategy for making the annual Forks & Corks Grand Tasting a success. In January, they served their Short Rib En Croute, and the signature dish was an instant hit. Insider Perspective: A perfect little package of short rib, wrapped up in a savory crust with a creamy white sauce on the side.

PIER 22’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: We decide on the dish well in advance. A few days before the Grand Tasting, we prepare the portions and get ready to serve plenty of guests, Silva says.
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: The Short Rib En Croute stands out all on its own. But when you pair it with the Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi 2014, from Michael David Winery, something magical happens. We enjoyed having the winegrower/owner, Michael Phillips, by the restaurant for a Forks & Corks winemaker dinner. His wines complemented the hearty, protein-rich dishes from our menu better than we ever could have imagined, Campbell says.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: To plan the menu way ahead of time, Silva says.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: While Pier 22 is known for award-winning seafood dishes, we often like to switch it up for the Grand Tasting. The guests seem to enjoy something savory and different from what they might have come to expect. People cheer for a dish with quality protein, and we are constantly being asked for the recipe, Campbell says.
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: The event brings together many of the best restaurants from the Sarasota-Manatee area. It is a celebration of great food and great wine, and honestly, great people. As an Originals restaurant, it is always a wonderful day spent outdoors with people from the community, Campbell says.
 
PIER 22 | 1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton | 941-748-8087 | pier22dining.com
 
Photo Credit: dineSarasota.com | www.dinesarasota.com

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Sandbar 01 smallSandbar Ed Chiles Proprietor
 
Erik Walker, the culinary director for the Chiles Restaurant Group, introduced guests to a refreshing signature dish from The Sandbar at the Grand Tasting in January: Locally-sourced Mackerel Crudo with House-made Pickled Vegetable Escabeche. Insider Perspective: At an event like the Grand Tasting, with its bevy of hearty samples that leave guests quickly stuffed, The Sandbar’s light mackerel mixed with pickled veggies was a welcome respite for the palate

The Sandbar’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: Go big or go home. You never want to run out. Bring your A game. 
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served at the 2017 event?
A: Of course, a dry Riesling such as the Lola Riesling has enough acidity to enhance the flavors brought forth by the escabeche. Further, the flavor profile of the mackerel (minerals) is complemented by the Riesling, which is traditionally an old-world, mineral-forward wine.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: You need to push the envelope to get noticed. Some restaurants bring the same dish every year, and that is fine if that is what works for them. But we always try to outdo ourselves and be better than the last year.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: We heard that it was the most creative and the most unique. We also heard that it was delicious but also edgy and forward-thinking. And that is representative of what we are doing with our menus at the restaurants. 
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: Interacting with the locals and treating them to something new and exciting.
 
The Sandbar Restaurant | 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria | 941-778-0444 | sandbar.groupersandwich.com.

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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PlatedModernKitchenPlated Modern Kitchen

Chef/restaurateur Lesley Harb introduced her new dining concept, Plated Modern Kitchen, to guests at the Grand Tasting in January (patrons had already known and loved her Fast N Fresh eatery). Harb’s Plated dish for the Forks & Corks event: Marinated Grilled Chicken with Mediterranean Salsa Fresca and Greek Farro Salad. Insider Perspective: The refreshing farro salad (with chick peas, onions, and bits of crunchy red and green veggies) flavorfully popped alongside the salsa’s vibrant tomatoes—crisp and colorful.

Plated Modern Kitchen's Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?

A: Plan, plan and plan. We start about two weeks prior to the event, calculating the number of portions and all of the components that comprise the dishes. We coordinate with our food purveyors to bring in extra products and then start prepping about 48 hours in advance so everything is fresh. 

Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served at the 2017 event?

A: Fortuitously, our booth this year was next to that of my favorite winery, Hook & Ladder. The dish paired beautifully with their 2014 Estate Chardonnay.  

Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?

A: We have participated in Forks & Corks for the last six years, so we have learned to prepare for the unexpected. I always have a “crash kit” with tape, scissors, clips, ponchos and snacks (that’s the mom in me). I always plan on a cool start with warmer weather in the afternoon. This year was a little cooler but, once the rain clouds cleared away, it was a spectacular day.

Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?

A: We received a lot of great feedback. With so many of the dishes at the Grand Tasting being a little heavier, we are a nice departure to the lighter side.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?

A: Having participated for so many years, I love reconnecting with the winemakers we have gotten to know. It is always great to be able to visit with our fellow Sarasota-Manatee Originals members and sample their delicious food.

Plated Modern Kitchen | 8105 Cooper Creek Boulevard | University Park | 941-315-4500 | platedmodernkitchen.com

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Amore 16 small

Amore Restaurant—a fine-dining Italian fusion eatery on Longboat Key—is the collective passion of real estate mogul Howard Rooks, managers Tito and Liana Vitorino, and chef Angel Torres.

Together, the team provides patrons with a sophisticated culinary experience, in both the menu offerings and the ambiance.

“I’m primarily a real estate investor and broker, so I’ve hired experienced people who know the business. Tito and Liana are doing a masterful job. They graciously greet the guests, and they are wonderful examples of how important experience is in successfully operating a restaurant,” Rooks says. “Angel was previously a chef at the Colony and the Sarasota Bay Club. In addition to his incredible culinary talents, his personality and sensitivity in dealing with all his staff have contributed to his becoming a talented and very effective leader.”

Torres serves such beloved dishes as Crab Stuffed Flounder with garlic aioli, Roasted Beet Napoleon with goat cheese and candied walnuts, Pork Tenderloin with apples and figs in bourbon-mustard sauce, and Delmonico Steak with tomato chimichurri sauce and saffron risotto. When the Longboat Key residents and tourists are in town for high season, Amore becomes a family-like gathering spot.

“We have built such a loyal customer base. We love getting to know our guests and hearing their generous comments concerning the food, the beautiful facility, the top entertainment provided nightly in the lounge and the reasonably priced menu,” Rooks says.

Being an “Original,” for Rooks, is about running an independent restaurant with invested, like-minded people.

“I am blessed to have such a talented and caring staff,” he says. “They all work together with pride and respect for the importance of teamwork.”

Amore Restaurant | 555 Bay Isles Parkway, Longboat Key | 941-383-1111| amorelbk.com

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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