This beet and goat cheese salad is truly a beautiful creation!
The restaurant is Meliora and is one of three new restaurants that I wanted to try this season. We chose Meliora first as they have bar seating, serve the same menu at the bar as the dining room, and do not require reservations for bar seating.
They open at 5 p.m., but I phoned to confirm the bar seating arrangement and asked whether this seating filled early. In response, it was suggested that we arrive sooner than later, as the bar was busy, and it was where their regulars preferred to sit.
Meliora is located west of trail and in a prime location, meaning that parking is difficult to find. We were lucky, no complaints.
The restaurant is larger than I expected. The bar had four customers when we arrived at 5:45 p.m. I think the bar probably seats 16-20, so there was ample room. In fact, when we left well after 7 p.m., the bar had only one additional customer, so we could have arrived later.
The dining room was similarly sparsely seated, although by 7 p.m. there was a good crowd, but there were still tables available. Maybe Thursdays are not particularly busy.
We waited for everything…
Cocktails were the preferred drink by most customers, but we are wine drinkers, so we ordered a bottle of Nuit St. George and waited, and waited. After chatting with another couple at the bar, and after a considerable amount of time, the bartender said that the delay in getting our wine was because the sommelier had to go to the cellar to get the wine.
The sommelier turned out to be the very busy person behind the bar making some kind of custom drinks (in a quantity) and it seemed like he had to tear himself away from these duties to get our wine.
But sure in enough, in due time, he returned, brandishing our bottle of wine.
Having our glass of wine in hand, we started to concentrate on the restaurant and the menu. I thought I would try to chat with the bartender to get some background on the two owners just to round out our experience. I had forgotten where they came from and how they wound up in Sarasota.
I thought chatting with the bartender was a good bet as most bartenders are happy to chat with their customers. But this bartender’s comments were limited. He confirmed that yes, the restaurant was owned by two gentlemen, they came from Washington D.C., and he really liked working for them. Not much information.
I also asked if there were any specials we should know about, and other than a single serving of one special, everything else was on the menu. It seems that all the dishes that we chose were the bartender’s personal favorites, so we thought we had made some great selections.
So, we ordered. I ordered a beet salad and Rohan Duck and my husband ordered fried potatoes and a New York strip. Nothing uncommon about this as many restaurants now list sides separately from the main course.
There was quite a wait again, and after maybe a half hour, the bar tender said that our dinners would be arriving soon.
Sure enough, within five minutes, our fried potatoes topped with shaved raw mushrooms over a velouté and marsala sauce was served.
This was a small dish, very pretty, but it appeared to be served as a sharing dish. A little confusing as there was no mention of this style of service, but we were hungry, so it didn’t take long for the little side dish to disappear.
Then we waited again. After another while, the bar tender indicated that the beets take longer to prepare but we would be served soon. And we were, again as a sharing dish (the picture above). It was listed on their hot menu section, (there is also a cold section) but the beets were room temperature at best, but delicious for both the eyes and the pallet, but tiny.
The Rohan Duck was next to arrive sometime after we finished the beets, but there was no sign of the New York strip. We couldn’t imagine that these were separate sharing dishes, but maybe we were wrong. The duck came with bao buns so it could have easily been a sharing platter.
But if you are sharing (family style) wouldn’t you serve all the sharing platters all at once so that everyone could try some of everything?
Eventually the New York strip arrived. Both dishes were lukewarm, but both dishes tasted good. The confit of duck leg was crispy, to being dry, and breast was not rare, but tasty. The pears on the side were pears, and bao bun was soft and fluffy.
Style or Substance?
Overall, I found the place a little confusing, not traditional service, but also not sharing service. The couple next to us ordered four dishes, two from the hot menu section, two from the cold. In their case, all dishes arrived at the same time.
My advice would be to ask or specify your preference if you go.
I was also ambivalent about the food. In my mind it was somewhere between fine dining, and an attempt to be trend setting by combining flavors and textures for new creations.
For instance, the fried potatoes had a very strong raw garlic presence, and I’m not certain what shaved raw mushrooms on top of velouté sauce on of top of diced deep fried potatoes had to do with each other. Not bad, but to me, it seemed as if the chef was struggling to make a statement, and not necessarily create flavor.
Meliora opened last year, perhaps they are still working on their identity, only my opinion. They have received a lot of good press, one of the reasons that we went there, but overall, we were underwhelmed.
Would we go again?
Perhaps, and maybe we would order two or three dishes from their hot/cold menu selections, have a cocktail, and go somewhere for dinner. Again, only my opinion.