Chef Rolf Zahnd’s name is very familiar along the Suncoast.

For 22 years, his parents owned the Saltwater Cafe in Nokomis, and he was the restaurant’s chef. Six months ago, however, his parents decided to shut down their place and move back to Switzerland, where the family is originally from.

But Chef Rolf is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. He recently opened up his own restaurant in Sarasota, on Siesta Drive, called Chef Rolf’s New Florida Kitchen.

“In December, we had the opportunity to take this new space on,” he said. “This has about 160 seats, and is mainly a seafood restaurant. What we’re using is mostly products from local fishermen, vendors and businesses like the Venice Olive Oil Company and Ciao Gelato.”

Chef Rolf describes the feel of his new restaurant, which is in space previously occupied by Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, as “nice, casual,” and the decor reflects that. Soft woods and warm tones are perfect complements to the lovely shell pieces of art on the walls, created by Chef Rolf’s wife Barry.

Besides the specially-priced menus that regular visitors to the Saltwater Cafe have come to expect, like the 10 (entrees) before 6 p.m. for $20, and the three course dinner specials, Chef Rolf has also begun hosting his Fusion Wine Dinners. At the New Florida Kitchen, these are held the first Thursday of the month, at 5:30 p.m.

He says that even though he initially started doing them at the new restaurant a couple of months ago, he already has customers traveling from Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte to attend.

“We serve six courses and six glasses of wine,” Chef Rolf said. “We always invite the wine companies to come in and make a presentation, and we post what the menu will be two to three weeks before on our website.”

Depending on the entrees, the cost per person for the Fusion Wine Dinner is $69 to $89. The courses and accompanying wines will be from the same region of the world, though each course may be from a different area. For instance, on the November menu, when you are served the Paella Valencia, you will also get a taste of Bodegas Faustino, a Spanish wine. The USDA Prime New York Strip and Shrimp Scampi will be accompanied by an American wine, a cabernet from California.

Chef Rolf said that he’s excited about the possibilities for his New Florida Kitchen, but he’s also happy to be seeing so many familiar faces from his years at the Saltwater Cafe.

“We still live in Venice,” he said. “I’m now involved with the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, but I’m still very much involved with Venice MainStreet, and my church in Venice. Coming up, we will also be at the Venice Seafood Festival, just as we have always been.”

Chef Rolf’s New Florida Kitchen is located at 2001 Siesta Drive, in Sarasota. It’s open Monday though Saturday, from 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Brunch is served on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The dining room also can be separated with portable walls for private functions. For more information about the restaurant or the Fusion Wine Dinners, visit the website at www.chefrolf.us or call 941-806-6820.

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