Libby’s Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL, Restaurant Review

Quick Summary:
Libby’s is a Sarasota staple for restaurants. With their hip location, ever-changing menu and imaginative creations, there’s something for everyone here! My cloaked reviewer’s had an amazing time — their ratings were practically off the charts!

Libby’s Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL
1917 S Osprey Ave  Sarasota, FL 34236, 941-487-7300

Cuisine: Seafood, Steakhouse, American
Price Rating:  Entrees $15-$25$15 to $25 entrees
Review Date:
January 13 and January 26, 2012


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Background Info on the Review

I’ve been to Libby’s now probably about 5 or 6 times to dine for various reasons: business meetings, French-language get-togethers, friends from out of town, etc. And every time I have been very pleased with my experience. This restaurant has been here since 2008 and I wanted to give you some fun facts and info about the menu and pricing, because they have a lot of ways you can save money on your visit:

Libby’s debuts new menus two times per year — one is tailored toward summer/fall and the toward other winter/spring. The focus of the menu is on an extensive variety of small and large plates — ranging from $3 to $38.  They try to source as many local products as possible — menu features Florida Grouper, Shrimp, Snapper, local Caviar — and all dressings are house made.  Many of the menu items are adaptations from the owner childhoods as well as the Chef’s, who brings an Italian-American heritage plus some other ethnic twists to the restaurant’s Modern American Cuisine.

Inside tips for  best dining values/days include:

Daily Happy Hour — 4-7 pm 50% of bar plates 13 different selections — and hearty enough for a real meal — Burgers, Katsu Salad, Libbstacker (all things sandwich in one!), Seoul Kitchen Chicken Lettuce Cups, Double Dragon Flash Fry, Meatloaf Sliders (at discount, cost is $4-$7.50); also 2 for one egg rolls (drool over the pics below) — house wine is $4.50 a glass, Signature Drinks and Cocktails, $6, plus beer specials.

There is a Tuesday Handheld Special — sandwich of the week plus side and craft beer, house wine or non-alcoholic drink of choice — all for $10. Wine Wednesdays, 50% off top tier special wine list of premium bottles of wine — Silver Oak, Far Niente, Duckhorn and more. Early Dining Prix Fixe – 3 courses with 7-10 options for 1st and 2nd course and 3 dessert options, plus glass of house wine or beer for $15 per person, 4-6 pm daily (order must be placed by 6 pm). And the best way to stay informed and get additional specials for dining: Libby’s L-Club — member only notices and offers. Sign up on-line at www.libbyscafebar.com.

Let’s get on with the review, shall we?

From across the street, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Looking at Libby’s from across the street at Morton’s.

Exterior, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

The outdoor seating at Libby’s.

Interior, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Indoor view of the main dining room.

Cheri’s Food Review

APPETIZERS

Starter biscuits, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

These are the scrumptious little biscuits you get served with dinner. As a self-proclaimed carb-aholic, I look forward to these biscuits with every visit. Check out the next picture to see the awesome, imaginative accompaniments that come with the biscuits.

Starter biscuits spreads, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

This is the little dish that comes with the biscuits — there’s some liqueur cherries, truffle butter and roasted garlic in oil. How could you go wrong with this decadence? Trust me, this is so good and so out of the ordinary. (Pro tip: rub some garlic on the bread and add a cherry: you’ll be in heaven!)

Wholesome Farms Deviled Eggs, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

These are the Wholesome Farms Deviled Eggs. They are sweet and spicy with a pretty complex flavor for a deviled egg. This isn’t your holiday party deviled egg! And with local caviar on top, it’s not something you’d normally see as an appetizer, but boy does it work! Just the right amount of food to get your tummy working…

Egg Rolls, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

And onto the stars of the show. We were served a course of 5 EGG ROLLS! If you want to win someone over right away, serve them some amazing fried food and see how quickly they warm up to you. There were a lot of choices here, and there is definitely something for every tastebud. What you have here from back to front is a Grilled Vegetable Eggroll, a Jersey Boardwalk (meatballs and marinara) like a meatball sandwich!, The Citizens Bank Park Cheesesteak Eggroll (just what it sounds like – a Philly Cheesesteak! with shaved ribeye, caramelized onion, cheez whiz and srirach catsup! THIS was easily my favorite), the Ybor City (veal chorizo, grilled ham, melted Manchego cheese, banana peppers, cilantro and tomatillo aioli – Dad’s absolute favorite, after much deliberating) and finally a Reuben Eggroll (a deep-fried reuben — what could be better?!).

Jersey Boardwalk Eggroll, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

 So. Good. *drooling*

Ybor City Eggroll, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

The Ybor City Eggroll. Look at all that melted cheese in there!

Grilled Vegetable Eggroll, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

The Grilled Vegetable Eggroll. One of our waitress’ all-time favorite. Not my favorite, but like I said, something for everyone!

Wasabi Seared Yellowfin Tuna, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

This is the Wasabi Seared Yellowfin Tuna appetizer. I expected this to be a lot more spicy and was really pleased to find it had just the right level of kick and flavor. From the calm softness of the tuna to the crunchy wasabi pea tempura coating to the ginger Thai chili sauce, and even to the crisp, ocean fresh tasting cucumber salad, I thought this appetizer hit the mark in a subtle, pleasant, yet complex way.

"Karubi" Pork Belly Ribs, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

“Karubi” Pork Belly Ribs were served with a honey wasabi barbecue sauce and a sweet apple kimchi. Kimchi is a typical Korean food of fermented vegetables often served with meat at a Korean barbecue. But this kimchi of apple was a nice surprise and complemented the pork belly in a great, sort of deconstructed pork-chops-and-apple-sauce kind of way. The sweet flavor of the apple complemented the sweet, spicy, smoky barbecue. The pork belly itself was absolutely perfectly tender, moist and juicy with a sauce that didn’t overpower the flavor of the pork at all. This would be a great way to start any meal.

ENTREES

Four Cheese and Pear Tortelloni, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

My favorite entree of the tasting came out first and it was the Four Cheese and Pear Tortelloni. Yep, you read that right: cheese and pear pasta. I’ve never had something like this before: it was such a great surprise. The tortelloni is served in a white truffle crema which can be prepared without the truffle if you prefer. We could definitely spot the truffle taste, but it was a really wonderful complement to the sweetness of the pear. And fruit inside pasta? That totally works! I loved biting into the soft pasta and getting the familiar taste and texture of pear. A must-try if you like different kinds of pasta!

Four Cheese and Pear Tortelloni, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

See the pear in there?

Blackened Local Grouper, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Next up was the Blackened Local Red Grouper. This was served over a bed of shaved brussel sprouts, chunks of applewood smoked bacon and a citrus sweet butter. I have to say, the first thing you’ll notice about this fish is the kick! Man, that’s a lot of blackening spice! A bit too much for me; you’ve gotta be into spicy blackening to get into this dish, but the butter sauce and lemon juice tone it down a bit. We loved the way the fish was cooked — perfectly moist and tender. And I thought the brussel sprouts were so delicious, I made some at home just days later because I missed the taste!

Grilled Veggie Chop Salad, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Just look at this dish — how gorgeous! This is the Grilled Veggie Chop Salad — truffle roasted seasonal vegetables, lemon and shaved reggiano with a simple olive oil and balsamic dressing. This is the dish for those veggie lovers – they were cooked perfectly, retaining their individual levels of crunch and brightness and that parmesan didn’t hurt either! And the presentation was so beautiful, I just fell in love with it immediately. I added a little salt to my bites because I felt it could have used a bit more, but this is a great, fresh option for vegetarians.

Center Cut Boneless Shortrib, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

This dish made my knees weak; can you tell I’m a meat eater? This is the Center Cut Boneless Short Rib with shallot barollo braising jus, shepards pie fritter, white truffle honey and gorgonzola mashed cauliflower. I’ll let your imagination run wild until the next photograph, but just imagine the meat just falling apart and being so tender and juicy — it reminds you of dinnertime back home when you were a kid — the world becomes bathed in a soft glow, the lights dim….okay, sorry I’m getting carried away. This meat is splendid; just wait till the next picture!

Detail, Center Cut Boneless Shortrib, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The flavor here is incredible and the garlic mashed potato cauliflower served along side is a perfect hearty companion to the shortribs. Eat your heart out.

DESSERTS

Warm Drunked Peach Crostata, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Dad and I absolutely thanked our lucky stars that they only planned one dessert for us at the tasting. This is the Warm Drunken Peach Crostata. Whomever plans this menu has a way with names, because everything sounds just so splendid! This tasted great too. You’ve got almond paste, amaretti crunch, vanilla bean ice cream and honey-caramel on top. This was somehow perfectly sweet, as in not overly sweet, very satisfying! The crostata is doughy and crisp at the same time in different places. You can tell the caramel is housemade because it hardens on the cold parts, creating a soft yet toothy texture. What a perfect way to end a meal of this magnitude.

Cloaked Restaurant Review

This is the part where I have an anonymous review done to critique the entire restaurant experience in a undercover way so that you can get a good idea of what it’s like for the typical restaurant-goer like yourself! It keeps us all honest!! Here’s what they said:

Initial Impression

It’s easy to think of the Hillview area of Sarasota as a ‘downtown away from downtown’ with its line of high-level restaurants, variety of bars and specialty shops and stores. Where it exceeds its more metropolitan relative is at Libby’s, an upper-middle end steak restaurant that offers excellent cuisine in an upscale setting. The restaurant itself, with its dark but comfortable interior, elegant adjacent bar and outdoor seating that is just as comfortable as dining indoors was more than we expected. On a busy Friday night, it was a 30 minute wait to be seated, but it seemed closer to 20 as we spent the time in the beautiful bar off the dining room. The drink menu there was expansive, with a ton of specialty martinis and cocktails that did not disappoint (the Espresso Martini was a particular hit at our table). Note: we took the best pics we could, but with the dim lighting and it being 8 pm, it proved a bit much for our meager iPhone cameras.

The Food

Jersey Boardwalk Eggroll, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant ReviewWe started with the Jersey Boardwalk eggrolls ($8), an interesting combination of a traditional eggroll wrapped around a meatball, cheese and basil filling. The result was an appetizer that was delicious and full of italian flavor not at all at odds with the eggroll. It was executed more as a mini stromboli, but the crisp flaky crust made it stand out. We also opened with the Double Dragon Flash fry, a mixture of shrimp and calamari batter-fried and served with a sweet and spicy Thai chili glaze that was one of the best accompanying sauces we’ve ever tasted. It was rich without being heavy, spicy without burning the mouth, sweet without being overly sugary or syrup-based. The shrimp and calamari were perfectly cooked and the breading was the perfect level of crispiness, but the sauce really brought it to life above and beyond what we expected.

Double Dragon Flash Fry, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant ReviewI usually tend to steer away from hamburgers as a food to base a main-course review on, but for once I felt like I had to try the Half Pound Prime Burger ($12), and I wasn’t disappointed. This burger was full of beef flavor that didn’t rely on overly cooking the outside or using the obvious seasonings that would otherwise mask it. It was cooked well, it was very filling, and the truffle fries (which seem to be becoming more en vogue these days) were an excellent side. They were well done and, like the burger, didn’t rely on truffle seasoning to mask the rich natural flavor of the potato, but only used a little to accent it. My dining companion chose (or let me choose) the Pan Roasted Chicken Breast Roulade ($17), and it was easily the star of the table.

cloaked review libbys cafe and bar sarasota fl restaurant review-0438

It wasn’t just that the flavors of the spinach and gorgonzola topping and the gorgonzola mashed cauliflower somehow managed to not get in each other’s way. It wasn’t just that the blood orange balsamic and mushroom sauces somehow blended together to find a tangy yet rich way to compliment the dish. The chicken was so perfectly cooked, it made me realize that every chicken I’ve had in other restaurants had been stringy or over/underdone by comparision. The texture of the chicken was so perfect, it defies a true description, and deserves its own dining experience. Everything on the menu looks appealing, but this is the dish that I would keep coming back for and recommend to someone else.

After such a fantastic dinner, we had grand plans to try more than one dessert, but ended up settling on the Molten Chocolate Chip Cookie ($8), because we simply couldn’t fit anything else after it, and it looked fantastic when it was served to a nearby table. Again, our choice was a good one, and the traditional cookie and ice cream combination was executed in a way that made other attempts seem amateurish by comparison. It was soft without being underdone, and stayed firm through the course despite being mixed with ice cream on the plate, which is a more difficult feat than it sounds.

Molten Chocolate Chip Cookie, Libby's Cafe and Bar, Sarasota, FL Restaurant Review

Overall Impressions

Our entire experience at Libby’s was fantastic. Our bartenders and servers were friendly and knowledgeable, and they never kept us waiting on anything. The food was absolutely perfect, and if Libby’s delivers it the same way every single night, it’s an excellent excuse to skip downtown and spend an evening there.

Cloaked Review Ratings

Service Four and a Half Star Rating
Friendliness Four and a Half Star Rating
Cleanliness Four and a Half Star Rating
Value Five Star Rating
Food Quality & Menu Five Star Rating
Overall Rating Five Star Rating

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Read my review on: Libby's on Urbanspoon

 

Review Disclaimer: This review is part of a series of restaurant reviews that follows The Watering Mouth’s restaurant review guidelines. My Tasting photographs may not show the true portion of a meal a typical customer would receive. These reviews are based on two visits to a restaurant, one open Tasting where I taste and photograph a restaurant’s best dishes, and one full, anonymous review (like the typical restaurant-goer would experience) found at the bottom. We are honest with our reviews, and assume that each restaurant is consistently performing to the standards we experienced!

About cheri

Cheri Alberts writes about super healthy, super tasty food...PLUS cocktails!! Find her on social media and subscribe to the email newsletter to hear more! Subscribe here.

One comment

  1. Hi Cheri!

    I too love Libby’s. We have breakfast there every Thursday [not open to public] and eat there for lunch or dinner twice per month. Never had a bad expereince. Always pleasant. After 30 years in the San Francisco Bay Area it can be a challenge to meet the cusine of Sonoma or Napa. Libbys is one of our favorites. Love the tuna appetizer

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