Review: Ophelia’s On the Bay improves with new ownership

Ophelia’s On the Bay has a new owner – and he’s a familiar face.

Executive Chef Don Olson has taken the reigns at a place he’s called home for several years. And now he can add “owner” to his title.

While Ophelia’s has been one of the best waterfront locations on the Suncoast for almost 30 years, it was time for a new, gentle hand at management.

On two recent visits we were quite impressed with the food, and the level of service – something that had been lacking a few years ago.

Let’s start with Sunday brunch, for example, since that’s a critical piece. The former owner basically plopped down a mediocre buffet and called it a day.

I admit, I was skeptical to try brunch again, but I had gotten wind of a lobster-and-shrimp garnished ultimate Bloody Mary and an all-new a la carte menu. So, on a beautiful sunny day with a slight breeze, we stopped by. The tables on the outdoor patios were full of diners, waving to kayakers and looking for the occasional dolphin sighting.

Brunch was almost spot on! The menu reads like a trip around the world with flavors from Europe to the Middle East, and good old southern hints. We began with Italian Cream Burrata Mozzarella with Roma tomatoes and white truffle pesto oil on a bed of artisan greens.

Next, as a nod to my friend Howard Teflowitz, I ordered the shakshuka. It’s an Israeli dish of eggs cooked in a spicy tomato sauce simmered with chili peppers, cumin and onion. We had enjoyed this dish together in Israel last year and Chef Dan’s version held its own.

A plate of Stone Crab from our own local Sarasota Bay was adorned with drawn butter and horseradish béarnaise, sweet and succulent, and as a lighter dish it balanced the spice from the shakshuka.

The steak and eggs is a very rich dish, offering tenderloin steak Diane medallions, poached eggs, and that addictive horseradish béarnaise. Warning, do not attempt to eat this after three other entrees. Perhaps try some peel-and-eat shrimp and a mango Mimosa, then call it a day. It is luscious and the service superb.

The new a la carte menu also offers entrees such as Faeroe Island Salmon with oregano lemon oil and a warm beurre blanc with -- wait for it -- Cream Fraiche potatoes and their legendary eggplant crepes.

If I were to change one thing, it would be the remnants of the former buffet. While it’s nice to offer a complimentary continental table for those who order entrees, the table lacked the homemade goodness that really is Ophelia’s.

I have no doubt Chef Dan will make sure, in the next few weeks, his in-house pastry chef will make everything onsite and the table will be styled like a Pinterest cookbook, with cottage chic table and cake stands.

Dinner was just as pleasant on a recent weeknight visit and, not surprisingly, I ran into some guests who had been dining at Ophelia’s since I first came to town in 1996.

The dinner menu is lavish with choices such as jumbo lump crab cakes on top of fried green tomatoes, smoked jalapeño with saffron remoulade and tzatziki sauce.

A lighter choice is the Sashimi and Tataki. Salmon Torro is such a treat, especially when the chef respects it enough to leave it with nothing more than sticky rice. The flash seared Yellowfin tuna with grilled lemon and smashed avocado is simply divine. While they also added a creamy angry (for its spice) lobster salad, I easily could have enjoyed the salmon and tuna with just a glass of champagne.

The Vermont Creamery chevre cheese and beets could win a “Best Beet Salad” contest with its Yuzu honey, pistachio oil, balsamic syrup and golden raisins. It was a sheer delight with large pieces of roasted chilled beets hosting a thick slice of the artisanal cheese. (Please note: We will be back for the Journey of Cheese and Charcuterie).

The tuna loin with tomato salsa crudo, olives, feta and saffron oil tempted us; but we opted for the special of the evening, a Chilean sea bass topped with an herb-lobster stuffing.

The U-8 New England Diver Scallops is a truly rich and flavorful dish. Ophelia’s has always been known for its perfectly executed scallop dishes. This dish, while extremely filling, is worth ordering and taking half to go. It’s served with homemade spinach and saffron infused fettucine with a blue crab bouillabaisse and an Applewood smoked bacon jam. I told you it was quite the dish for richness!

And then there is dessert -- truly homemade and delightful. A great choice for a January sweet is the brown sugar crumb cake with tartin apples, toffee sauce and a scoop of cinnamon whiskey semi done semifreddo. We’ve also enjoyed the Lemon Apricot Torte with the lightest chiffon cake, lemon meringue mouse and honey apricot glaze. 

Back to the service, I have had the good fortune of knowing both Chabbah and Dan, who have been with Ophelia’s for years, for a long time. They made our service comparable to the fine cuisine. That is what Ophelia’s used to be and, now, seems to be coming back to. Well-done Chef/owner Dan!

Address: 9105 Midnight Pass Rd, Sarasota, FL 34242

Phone:(941) 349-2212

opheliasonthebay.net

Culinary Director

As the Culinary Director for ABC 7, I whip up cooking segments on ABC 7 News at Noon, along with recipes, cooking tips, reviews and great food finds on MySuncoast Dining at www.mysuncoast.com