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A restaurant and mojito bar will add spark near Bella Brava and the Emerald Bar.
Published Jul. 31, 2007

A new restaurant on Central Avenue is adding momentum to the influx of hip, eclectic offerings west of downtown's core.

"We wanted to be a little off downtown in an area with a lot of potential," said Dan Clark, general manager of the Table, a trendy Sarasota spot that is making its way north in October with a location in the Alexander Building at 535 Central.

The area holds possibilities with new condominiums planned along Central, but it got a boost two years ago when Bella Brava opened its contemporary Italian restaurant. Clark said he's eager to be just two doors down from that successful business because of what he sees as their complementary nature.

"They would never be competition," he said. "Our aim is to make that area a destination with places like Bella Brava and the Emerald Bar. We like the synergy."

The original Table is also off-center in Sarasota, in an area just south of Selby Gardens. Clark said its "Atlantic Rim cuisine" fits right in with a neighborhood tavern, a sushi bar and a Peruvian restaurant.

The Table will be paired with Mesa Lounge, a nightclub for live entertainment and dancing. The restaurant will occupy the space that was O Pescador, with Mesa opening across the Alexander's lobby in an empty storefront. After renovations, the pair will have 160 seats and 5,000 square feet that connect at the back of the house.

Table/Mesa is the brainchild of chef-owners Rafael Manzano and Pedro Flores, both from South Florida and former executive chefs for Starwood, Disney and Marriott hotels. Manzano will focus on St. Petersburg, and Clark is moving here to run the new place (he moved from South Florida to help the chefs open the original Table).

The menu will include dishes influenced by the Caribbean, South America and even Spain, Clark said. Items like sea bass in sofrito, short ribs in root beer barbecue sauce, and annato coriander crusted lamb chops will be served in both spaces until 10:30 p.m., when the Table will close and Mesa becomes a mojito bar.

"Everyone was starting martini bars, so we didn't want to do that," Clark said. Mesa will offer authentic mojitos, but also flavor them with watermelon, cherry, peach, even chocolate and toasted coconut. The bar will also serve the mojito's Brazilian cousin, the caipirinha.

Clark said he's excited about the move to St. Petersburg because he sees great restaurants here but not enough to serve a rapidly growing market. The location he took two months to choose is also converting to a younger, nocturnal crowd.

"It's young and hip, kind of a raw bar," said Crissy Gerow, manager of the Emerald Bar, once a daytime watering hole but now more a spot for bands and wee-hours partying.

"We don't put up with pretentious," she said, but "any new business that opens up is great because it brings more people down here."

Bella Brava manager-owner Michael Venturo said he's learning about Table and hopes to visit soon, but feels the addition will only help the area grow.

"I think our restaurant helped put Central back on the map, and I welcome any new businesses to continue that," he said. "I think it's exciting to see this city grow."

Clark said he's eager to get his ventures open and enjoy what feels like the Fort Lauderdale of his youth: vibrant and eclectic but not overgrown. "This reminds me of a smaller Fort Lauderdale, but much friendlier than South Florida."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or