Have you ever seen the Kissing Statue? It’s really called Unconditional Surrender and it’s soooooo cute! The statue is two or three stories tall and is of that famous picture of the sailor kissing the nurse after World War II when the sailors came home. Well on a recent visit to Sarasota Fl. I came across this statue for the first time. The statue is so cute and unexpected at the same time. I was driving on the main road in town from the airport to my accommodations and when you get to the downtown area you round a bend and there it is, as big as the palm trees. The kissing statue was the first of many charming unexpected surprises in Sarasota. Like the great restaurants, beautiful shopping areas, an opera house, farmers market and did I mention they have a Wholefoods! What can I say I’m an organic foodie.
There is a little stretch of road that bends around downtown, where the kissing statue is, and it does not feel like Florida at all. As a matter of fact, I kept thinking the same thing every time we pass by there… this is Florida? It felt reminiscent of another place I have visited, Cannes France. Ok it’s definitely not France, but the palm trees lining the road on both sides and in the center with all the beautiful flowers blooming, the curved road and the sunsets on the water.
It felt very reminiscent of the stretch of beach in Cannes in front of the Ritz Carlton hotel, the water, palm trees, flowers and the memorable sunsets. By the way the beaches are great, but there is one in particular that you must see, the Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota. I guess the biggest surprise was when I saw the bright white sand; it’s 99% pure quartz and is always cool to the touch. So you never burn your feet.
The beach is also very big and there is a refreshment stand and restrooms. It made for a very pleasurable afternoon. Downtown Siesta Key is adorable! The downtown area has a few shops and restaurants. This little area reminds me of Key West; same style restaurants (out door seating and live music). The atmosphere is relaxed but fun, and everyone is very friendly. By the way, you can check out a few of the area restaurants on Man Vs. Food (Travel Channel), they shot an episode in The Old Salty Dog Restaurant, Yoders, and Munchies 4:20 Cafe. You can watch the show here:
The Ringling Circus Museum is in Sarasota too. Evidently this is where Mr. & Mrs. Ringling lived, go figure! They were very wealthy. The couple loved Italy, Italian art and design. This is evidently clear when you see their mansion!
The mansion is overlooking the water, so of course they had a boat dock made only of the finest Italian marble. They literally had marble steps built going right down into the water. Also one can only assume, by the grandness of the marble terrace, they loved to entertain guests. Which by the way is a beautiful backdrop for a wedding or a fabulous party!
I felt like I was in Epcot!
Check out the website for details, there are also different places on the grounds you can rent, but the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion and the Bayfront is my favorite! The museum, which is on the mansion property, is split up into different buildings and you can walk to each one or take a golf cart mini bus. It’s quite impressive to see the history of the circus and the enormous task it was to set up then to break it down in each city. This is shown to the public in the most amazing way, miniature models. All of the equipment, people, tents, animals (work and show), food, costumes, make-up, bathrooms, wagons and even the trains! This unbelievable model is mind-blowing ly detailed. It shows exactly how much work went into setting up the circus from start to finish. The model is so big it takes at least 30 minutes to walk around and see all the details, every ten minutes the lights dim and you get to see how the whole thing would look at night. It’s really cool to see. And by the way they are having a food and wine festival in January. It is called Forks and Corks; the dates are January 28–31, 2011. For more information see the link below.
While I was in Sarasota I visited quite a few memorable restaurants:
Tommy Bahamas - Tropical menu.
for making reservations on vacation or anywhere for that matter). I had lunch and dinner here. Lunch on the deck upstairs outside, very fun. I ordered the Big Island Goat Cheese and it didn’t disappoint. For dinner I went light, I ate the Bungalow Salad. The combination of the blue cheese and the hickory-smoked bacon was to die for.
Columbia - Spanish, (Open Table participant)
I ate lunch here, best mojitos I ever had they put a piece of real sugar cane in the glass, soooooo YUMMY!
The portions are huge, so go there hungry. I really enjoyed the Cuban Black Bean Soup served over a bed of white rice and topped with diced raw Spanish onions. Also the Ropa Vieja is very, very good. Choice beef is shredded, sauteéd and simmered with onions, green peppers and tomatoes. Served with platanos and white rice.
Chart House - American cuisine
I went to this restaurant at night but the views of the water and the lights at night were beautiful, I hear they are just as beautiful during the day. The wait staff was so attentive and polite. The food was presented in a precise and elegant manner not only on the plate but also by the way it was served. The staff is like a well-oiled machine, bringing everyone’s plate out to serve us all at the same time. It was as if I was watching a beautiful ballet. It was just a lovely evening with great food and friends. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Oh by the way, I ordered the Steamed Mussels with shallots, tomato, basil, garlic & white wine and it was fabulous!
15 South - Italian/wine bar on the main floor/ Latin dancing up stairs
Live entertainment is always fun and here they have a piano player every night. There are actually two piano players that alternate nights, Luigi and Benny. Both are very talented musicians and take request. Luigi also plays the trumpet and the accordion quite well. Luigi is actually a well known musician in Italy who came here to start a new life with his family, and Benny, a former restaurant proprietor in New York, now retired to Sarasota but still working and keeping busy. Oh, did I mention Benny is in his 90’s! So back to the food, I ordered Calamari Fritti (Tender fried Squid served with Marinara sauce), which was cooked perfectly! And my entree was Tagliolini Neri con Aragosta e Pomodoro (Black pasta with Slipper Tail Lobster & fresh Tomatoes) which was simply divine.
First Street Chop House — American cuisine
The food is great but you must check out the entertainment! They have a singing
bartender that sings on and off all evening while he is making your drinks, walking in and out of the kitchen and around the dinning room. The atmosphere is romantic but it can also be very fitting for a girl’s night out. I really enjoyed eating here. I ordered the Wild Blueberry Salmon with horseradish sauce. It was perfect. When you make reservations ask to sit upstairs, that’s where the bartender sings.
Shopping was fun in Saint Armands Circle; it’s a circular treasure trove of shops. Many of the little stores are unique to the area. I definitely filled up my suitcase with little gems! This is where I found the “The Tea and Spice Exchange” *. The farmers market is open every Saturday in the center of downtown Sarasota. There are wonderful food venders on the street with breakfast and lunch items. There are great artist that sell oil paintings of the city and landmarks, wonderful arts and crafts, live music, fresh organic produce, fish and meat. One of my great finds was Rosie Lou Designs. They make unique artistic kitchen items and more. I bought a great set of cheese knives with a matching salt cellar and salt and pepper shaker. They make great gifts!
There is a store on State Street called European Focus that you must check out if you like old world antiques. The store is unique because the owners really run a travel business but through their travels they find interesting little antiques to bring home and sell in their Sarasota store front. Not everything is antique they also have some new items for the home and garden, French table linens, aprons, postcards, etc.
Over all, the trip was unexpectedly delightful. I will definitely be returning to Sarasota Florida in the near future to explore some more and continue my quest for fantastic food, great wine, and enjoy it all with wonderful friends. Who knows, maybe I will run into you at Forks and Corks?
* Read more about The Tea and Spice Exchange in my blog entry “Yummy Salt”