As if we needed another reason to love Michael's on East, a standard bearer of Sarasota fine dining since the Reagan administration, its culinary wizards are proving they're getting even more innovative and inventive. Proof positive is this month's epicurean prix fixe menu: three brazen courses of Brazilian cuisine.
Owner Michael Klauber travels the world so you don't have to, bringing back ideas and inspiration for these special month-long menus. He works with friendly chefs and winemakers in far flung corners of the globe to give Sarasota foodies a global taste of the good life.
Anyone operating under the misconception that Michael's on East is unapproachable should mark the Florida casual dress of its youthful patrons on a recent excursion — not to mention the inflation-friendly $40 price tag for three extraordinary courses that are unlike anything you'll find here.
For the appetizer, you could choose linguica sausage and spicy shrimp skewer, coated in a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce, with a bright and inviting jicama Slaw with lime vinaigrette and coriander. Or you could go with the pastel de queijo Brazilian, a cheesy empanada with a spicy mayo drizzle and salsa criolla — the two are a combo that could stand as its own appetizer. The cheese was a delightfully flavorful surprise, with a tasty finish akin to a saganaki.
If this is how Brazil does fine dining, I'm begging you to put me on the next plane. "Brazilian food is all about pops of color and flavor," Executive Chef Jamil Pineda told me, as my mind wandered back to the crackle of pork belly he had just served us as part of the carne de porco duas maneiras (pork two ways) entree. The pork belly, Pineda said, is cooked first, and a tenderloin joins the party shortly after to mix with all the wonderful things that happen in a pan when the right amount of heat is added to the pork belly.
The result is served on a bed of smoky black eyed peas and black bean hash, with a side of tostones, and topped with the same criolla salsa that elevated our empanada.
The moqueca — Brazilian fish stew — stood out for its African influence and more than a mere suggestion of coconut flavor. The shrimp was tender and the American snapper was fresh and flaky. And before you come at me with any hint of a summer-stew skepticism, know that I found it to be an ideal concoction for these balmy days (and besides, it's winter in Brazil!).
If neither of those raise an eyebrow, then perhaps picanha na grelha — or spiced grilled flat iron steak — will. Served with crispy yucca and a rosemary sprig that doubles as a skewer to a trio of heirloom tomatoes, our steak was perfectly medium rare and topped with a fried egg and a salsa that I can only describe as a marriage between the best elements of pico de gallo and chimichurri.
If it's date night, come prepared to swap dishes and know that it's OK to lick the plate clean of guava sauce after devouring the Brazilian pave. With layers of Brazil's famous Marias cookies, plus custard, all topped with chocolate curls, it alone is worth the sticker price.
Next month, Pineda will turn his sights to a Moroccan menu, but I urge you not to sleep on Brazilian fine dining. By the time this piece is published, you'll only have 19 days — 19! — to make it happen. It may sound like plenty of time, but chances are you'll want to return soon.
I know I do.
- SRQ Magazine Foodie Writer Kevin Allen