Darwin Santa Maria is a man in a state of constant motion. Even when standing still, he exudes an energetic passion that causes the air to ripple and hum around him. He is a talented and dedicated chef, and his latest venture Darwin’s on 4th is finally the perfect showcase for his unique culinary point of view.
My first visit to Darwin’s on 4th is a blur of sensory impressions. The upstairs lounge where we are seated is dark, romantic and mysterious. The room buzzes with conversation that floats up from the bar and rains back down from the balcony. The symphony of chatter and laughter serves to make the cavernous space seem at once more and less crowded than it actually is. There are beautiful decorative touches everywhere, courtesy of Santa Maria’s wife and the rest of the opening team. An incredible art installation dominates the main dining room wall and injects a burst of warmth and color into the muted bronze and brown palette of the interior. Platters of food provide flavors and combinations that delight and impress us in turn. The blood orange juice in the ceviche, the subtle seasoning on the octopus, the juicy skirt steak, the steamy sweet plantains, the gorgeous fuchsia beet relish. I am sipping a concoction called a Buffalo Blush which contains bourbon, vanilla, strawberries, lime and ginger beer, and my taste buds are experiencing a heady rush of orgiastic bliss.
On my second visit to Darwin’s on 4th I’m tucked cozily into a half-circle booth with a group of colleagues and friends and we are debating the merits of various beers. We’ve ordered beer flights of five beers each and are happily tasting and swapping and arguing. The brewing equipment installed by the previous tenants (who shall remain unimpeached in this article thanks to my impeccable upbringing) is now lovingly and professionally tended by brewmaster Jared Barnes. Barnes is working on original beers that will complement the food and provide downtown Sarasota with access to its own brewpub, rescuing us from the trek down University in search of a good beer. In the meantime, Barnes has compiled a list of complex and interesting beers for us to choose from, my favorite of which is the Dogfish Head Raison D’être a Belgian-style Brown Ale that pairs perfectly with the aforementioned skirt steak and fuchsia beets.
I could tell you about my third, fourth and fifth visits to Darwin’s on 4th, but I urge you to experience it for yourself. Try something new or enjoy an old favorite such as Darwin’s Tuna and Watermelon; either way, I guarantee that you will be as excited as I am about this addition to downtown’s ever-expanding culinary wonderland.