—Robert Orben (comedy writer)
I am feeling relaxed and happy today. Alabama did the right thing and proved that sexual harassment and abuse aren’t acceptable, the White House corrected their mistake and withdrew their nomination of two inept and/or dangerous lifetime judges, and Arthur and I are on our way home from our mini-vacation. Truth be told I didn’t pay much attention to the news these past few days, but those items caught my attention. That and the fact that Mario Batali has joined the legion of well known men who have disappointed me. Ah Mario...your recipes are so yummy and easy to follow. Who will I turn to for risotto recipes now?
When you live in South Florida and want to go away for two or three nights, you are pretty much relegated to a Florida vacation. After all, it takes about six hours to cross the state line, and unless you intend to vacation in Valdosta, Georgia, you still have a ways to go. We decided to take a ride across the state and spend three nights in Sarasota, Florida. There are a few touristy things to experience there, and we decided to spend a full day at the John and Mable Ringling Museum. The Museum is filled with all sorts of circus props, posters and wardrobes. The Howard Bros. Circus building was truly fascinating. At seven years of age Howard Tibbals became fascinated with the circus. He began working on model-building in earnest when he turned thirteen, and still tinkers at it now (he is in his eighties). Wikipedia gives some interesting facts about the display that takes over much of one of the buildings on the Ringling campus:
“ It contains 42,143 items, not including small pieces such as thousands of railroad stakes.
- It consists of eight large tents, 152 circus wagons, 1,500 workers and performers, 7,000 folding chairs and more than 500 hand-carved animals.
- Everything can be packed up into the 55 train cars, also individually hand-crafted.
- The display includes seven miniature video stations positioned in various tents with documentary footage of circus life from the 1920s and 1930s. “
The grounds themselves are worth the trip, and the Art Museum kept us busy for a good part of the afternoon.
Our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, had several strong points and a few disappointments. The staff was friendly and attentive, and most importantly, the room was clean. We were upgraded to a room overlooking the marina, with Sarasota Bay sparkling in the background. I spent quite a bit of time on the terrace, reading today’s reviewed book and enjoying the crisp winter air. I found that the bathroom needed some updating (I hate climbing into a tub to take a shower) and the headboard emitted a strange odor that permeated the sheets.
Speaking of odors, I am not sure why some hotels and restaurants feel the need to saturate their lobbies with a strong smell of incense. Even if you like your air quality hampered with a chemically manufactured smell, not everyone enjoys the same scent. Most of us like to believe that the places we are staying at or eating in don’t need to mask their natural odor. In this instance, the smell was so strong that we couldn’t linger in the lobby or restaurant area at all.
We did enjoy several superb meals in Sarasota. The restaurant MADE (modern American delicious eats) came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. My meal consisting of cast iron seared house cured salmon with a sun dried tomato-tarragon gravy and country style green beans was perhaps one of the best salmon preps that I ever experienced. It is usually served over Jalapeño Pesto-Parmesan mashers, but I substituted their amazing herbed steak fries. Wow!
Art’s 15 spice rubbed slow roasted pork belly, country collards and jalapeño-cheddar grits kept him smiling, and our side order of cast iron corn bread rounded out a perfect meal. The staff was attentive and made us feel as though we were regulars, and we will surely be back on our next visit.
One other restaurant of note was The Shore on St Armand’s Circle (the food and touristy shopping area of Sarasota). We walked through a trendy clothing store, and found an elevator that took us up to a rustic looking restaurant. We ate outside, in one of the most charming outdoor spaces we’ve ever dined in. Our servers, Rebecca and Michael, were terrific, always there when needed but never hovering uncomfortably. We first shared a beet, goat cheese, citrus and walnut salad. It was supposed to come on mixed greens, but they gladly substituted kale when I mentioned an allergy to the greens. Then my fish dish on a bed of grilled veggies and smashed fingerling potatoes with a beet coolie and pomegranate butter was perfectly cooked and presented. Art’s lobster, crab and shrimp Cobb was towered with bacon, tomato, lettuce and egg. It was a clever presentation that was gone before I could take a taste.
So yes we ate well, spent time sight seeing like true tourists, relaxed, and of course read. Jake Harrison’s novel, State of Vengeance, while well written, was probably not the book to promote peace of mind. The terrorist aspect of it made it difficult, but the quality of writing kept me coming back. Worth the read.
As always, a complete review of this book follows this blog.