1. Feel like a culinary stroll in an octopus’ garden? At Café Epicure, Chef Stefano Sasso’s Insalata Di Polpo features tender raw octopus, potatoes and green olives. It’s light, satisfying and looks great, too. 1298 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941) 366-5648.
2. Slow-braised beef short ribs are the ultimate comfort food. Chef Stephen Phelps of the Bijou Cafe just reinvented this traditional dish as a bracing offering of succulent ribs bathed in a soy bordelaise and served with glazed parsnips, carrots, and herb mashed potatoes. We’d come out of the cold for this meal all winter long. 1287 First St., Sarasota (941) 366-8111.
3. Enough with recession and privation! Start 2011 with grand indulgence—Bistro at The Concession’s Bistro pan roast, a luxe, aromatic affair of saffron-infused poached oysters joining forces with a butter-poached lobster tail, and a raft of seared foie gras atop crispy focaccia. Accompany with a glass of champagne. 2011 is looking better and better. 7700 Lindrick Lane, Bradenton (941) 907-0511.
4. You prefer to drop a few pounds? J-Pan Restaurant & Sushi Bar offers a variety of calorie-light lettuce wraps, served with a creative mix of sauces and fillings. The riotously flavorful beef lettuce wraps are packed with sliced beef (marinated in a soy-garlic sauce), chopped peanuts, watercress, cucumber, onions and carrots. Eat as many as you like! 3800 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 954-5726.
5. When is a quiche more than a quiche? When it’s made at Savory Street from treasured family recipes from Brazil and Spain. Savory new selections include a tangy chicken and red pepper quiche, plus three all-veggie creations, including the Sorrento, with broccoli, roasted tomato and Parmesan cheese. The secret’s in the flaky crust, creamy filling, and a proprietary blend of spices. 411 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota (941) 312-4027.
6. Harry’s Continental Kitchens specializes in fresh Florida seafood—fresh, as in caught locally, usually the same day it’s served. Their newest star is a simple pan-seared grouper bathed in a vigorous mango gastrique and served with a kiwi and mango-infused risotto for a zing that’s both sweet and pungent. 525 Saint Judes Drive, Longboat Key (941) 383-0777.
7. Derek’s offers a new spin on the banh mi sandwich, a Vietnamese sammy inspired by the years of French colonial rule. Derek’s version substitutes grilled chicken for pork, accompanied by shallots, pickled carrot, cucumber and daikon, and perked up with chili sauce and cilantro. Don’t worry about pronunciation; the meaning will be right on the tip of your tongue. 514 Central Ave., Sarasota (941) 366-6565.
8. Ash Shukla and Denise May of Chutney’s say customers are clamoring for more vegetarian fare. So they’ve rolled out a line of tofu rolls—curried tofu lightly fried in a wonton wrapper and served with a mint chutney and plum sauce. Think tangy, colorful, surprising, seductive—it takes tofu to a whole new level. 1944 Hillview St., Sarasota (941) 954-4444.
9. Libby’s hacked chicken salad is a creative take on the traditional Hunan recipe. Chef Fran Casciato starts with miso-rotisserie chicken, “hacks” it to a fare-thee-well, and then pulls it all together with organic veggies, crispy noodles and an orange-miso vinaigrette. Then he presents it in a Chinese restaurant to-go box. It’s too cute to eat—almost. 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota (941) 487-7300.
10. The new Kobe beef burger at Bonefish Grill is the Holy Grail of burgers. This succulent, tender beef is grilled to mathematical perfection and then served on a soft brioche bun with every trapping you could desire. American ingenuity meets Japanese perfectionism? You bet. 3971 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 924-9090.