This format precludes granting master celebrity chef Sol Shenker his full due regarding helping make the H20 Bistro at the Hotel Indigo Sarasota (see companion article) a destination restaurant. You must see and taste his savory entrees and literally to-die-for cheesecake to fully appreciate those culinary delights. This is not to mention watching the steam coming off the food on its way to the table.
Indigo Girl hotel General Manager Melody Odell deserves much of the credit for Shenker being at H20. She recruited him back after the restaurant faltered under his successor and after his Sol's NYC Delicatessen in Sarasota fell victim to the statistics regarding new restaurants.
Shenker gushed about Odell to the extent that she has no worries if she ever needs a kidney donor. Our Man for All Seasons also described his job as "its like owning my own restaurant without the bills."
This righteous dude extends his blend of humor and his mad kitchen skills to appearing on the Sarasota ABC affiliate; he notes that he cracks jokes and that he is "the culinary Rodney" in reference to not getting no respect.
This man had me at cheesecake but sealed the deal on answering a question about his thoughts regarding people obsessing over things such as gluten-free. His hilarious response was "People want to eat healthy, great. But when you go out, what do you want from me?" He further endeared himself to "tvdvdguy" in adding "Keep the 'Pulp Fiction' pen in your pocket" when you come to his restaurant. That, of course, made me crave his versions of a milkshake and of a Royale with cheese.
TALES OF THE CITY
Shenker also entertained in sharing his experiences in New York before moving to Florida after his parents relocated to The Sunshine State. He confirmed that the depictions of gleeful illegal and immoral behavior in the Anthony Bourdain book and Fox failedcom "Kitchen Confidential" are accurate. We also heard about 22-hour work days that required some of the most popular 80s-era stimulants. It further seemed that 4:20 was the standard break time.
The best of the other numerous stories from those days related to how Shenker obtained the basis for his apple strudel recipe. He explained that he was outside the New York restaurant that served the best strudel in the city when a minion who just quit stormed out. That disgruntled ex-employee accepted the offer of Shenker for $100 to take a photo of the recipe.
The rest of the story was that Shenker improved the recipe in a manner that solved a problem related to that dessert. Austrian-born Indigo Girl hotel Assistant General Manager (whose hotel career dates back to working at the Munich Hilton in 1985) Sandra Hyland stated regarding the strudel of Shenker that "Absolutely, as a Viennese, I approve of it."
On a more serious note, Shenker discussed beginning his restaurant career washing dishes at the age of 14. Another piece of the puzzle was his high-school guidance counselor steering him toward Vo-Tech school in response to Shenker being far from the head of the class. Vo-Tech instructor John Wish hiring his apt pupil at his Sewawrd Dining restaurant in violation of child-labor laws led to our man with a license to cook beginning his CIA training.
The rest is history that brings us to the present.
BEST MEAL OF YOUR LIFE
It is impossible that his Culinary Institute of America training is behind the perfect instinct that Shenker has for seasoning. The same is true regarding mixing tech. and cooking skills to develop an induction cooking system that he teaches to his inferiors all over the country. This is not to mention entrees that do not sacrifice quality in providing quantities that easily are enough for two meals. The only problem is that selecting just one is a true Sophie's Choice.
As much as I enjoyed my perfect 14-ounce steak and incredible seasoned roasted potatoes (the tasty seasonal vegetables were left behind ONLY because of the amount of food), a taste of the homemade pasta with tomato cream sauce of my highly significant other made me covet that meal. If I had ordered that one, I likely would have not cared about embarrassment related to licking all the sauce out of the bowl.
The insidious part of all this is that EVERY cheesecake, which can be shipped for $50 plus postage, in the repertoire of Shenker makes dessert mandatory; it is heartbreaking that a photo of the artistically presented peanut-butter chocolate-chip cheesecake of that evening got accidentally deleted. You truly have never seen anything like it.
One piece easily is large enough to share. However, neither of you will be polite enough to even pretend to be cool with the other person having the final bite. This is especially true that regarding the superb espresso cheesecake that Shenker is graciously renaming The Matt Nelson.
PLAY ME THAT WHITE-HOT JAZZ BRUNCH BABY
A Sunday Jazz Brunch with bottomless Bloody Marys and Mimosas as well as the musical stylings of The Vintage Jazz Band duo is one of the latest innovations of H20. Food highlights during the second run of this successful experiment included Shenker manning a carving station where he served tender and juicy prime rib with the best rub ever.
We also enjoyed a very tasty Monte Cristo, crisp bacon, and a fresh batch of roasted potatoes, We passed on the waffles, the pastries, etc.
The power of the press netted us a big piece of plain (but far from ordinary) cheesecake. Other diners marveled at it but had absolutely no chance of getting a taste.
A wise man once said that strong pride is not arrogance if you skills justify your actions; although this guy does not know Shenker from Adam Richman, this statement applies to America's true top chef.