The new restaurant, which seats 168 on two levels, has ample parking at the back of the building and does dinner only. Live entertainment on weekends in the upstairs lounge. Late night bar menu.
Darwin Santa Maria is the founder of Selva Grill, a Sarasota restaurant that gave him a stage to present to the public authentic Peruvian specialties such as Darwin’s ceviche menu and his special techniques with seafood and beef. Many of those recipes have made the transition to Darwin’s on 4th along with a new concept he’s excited about.
“People today are well traveled and they have a taste for global cuisine that they expect to be exciting, new and delicious,” said Santa Maria. “Many travelers have discovered urban street foods in major cities around the world and have found these small plates to be a wonderful way to experience different cultures and cuisine styles. In my travels around the world, I always felt that street foods express the essence of a place. In my new restaurant I’m bringing those varied and original flavors and presentations back from the four corners of the earth for all of us to enjoy.”
But the young chef is not Abandoning his personal culinary history, which evolved in his mother’s restaurant in Peru. “The specialty dishes that made my repertory unique at Selva Grill are still with me and many will appear on the Darwin’s on 4th menu,” he continued. “The foods of my childhood will always be important to me and to my children as they grow.”
After graduating from high school, Mendez initially followed in his father's footsteps to pursue a career in business administration. However, Mendez decided the gastronomic arts would be a better route and, at 19, went to France to enroll in culinary. When he completed his formal education he commenced hands-on training, doing stages at kitchens throughout France, including the one Michelin star Au Qui des Ormes.
When he returned to the United States, Mendez was recruited by Dominque's the celebrated restaurant in Miami Beach's famed Alexander hotel, where he continued his French culinary training with experienced chefs who also proved be valuable mentors. Subsequently joined the Continental Hotel Company, where he worked for nine years overseeing restaurant openings from Mexico to Key Biscayne.
In 1990, Mendez was recruited by The Fish Market in the Omni Hotel to take charge of all restaurant and banquet operations. There he first encountered Barton G. Weiss, who had designed the restaurant's décor. During his seven years at The Fish Market, Mendez received the prestigious Chef of the Year Award from the National Executive Chefs Association.
Mendez resigned in 1997 to head for Puerto Rico and the establishment of his own restaurant, Starfish, in the El San Juan Hotel. At Starfish, he enjoyed experimenting with an innovative menu that blended traditional Caribbean cuisine with pan Asian influences.
A year later Mendez was back in Florida, rather ironically due to Starfish's success, which had an unsolicited offer from an eager purchaser, an offer neither Mendez nor his investors could refuse. Back in Miami, he reconnected with Fish Market pal Weiss, who proposed that start a catering division for his five year old Barton G. event production company.
A decade later, between overseeing the kitchens at Barton G. The Restaurant, Prelude By Barton G. and The Villa By Barton G., and coordinating the food for all catering events, Mendez maintains there is still never a dull moment.
Mendez describes the culinary creations he crafts for Barton G. as "design driven cuisine" - an amalgamation of "50 percent flavor and 50 percent ‘wow factor.'" Barton G. cuisine is extremely visual, presented in a novel, unexpected manner, but Mendez makes a point of keeping the food true to classic recipes and techniques.
By age 17, Oudin received the prestigious "Best Apprentice Chef Award" in France. This top distinction allowed him to continue his education in the legendary kitchens of France under the masters of haute French cuisine. Alain Ducasse, of the acclaims Louix in Monaco, gave him his first real break at the Les Terrace restaurant in the Juan Les Pins hotel, teaching him about the importance of seasonal cooking and the chemistry of food. PAscal undertook his chef's training under 3-star Michelin luminaries Roger Verge and Joseph Rostang. Gaston Lenotre, of Lenotre in Paris, taught him how to work with pastry and Jean-Louis Palladin of Jean-Louis in Washington. D.C., served as his mentor when he first came to America in 1982.
Relocating to Miami in1984, he began this leg of his career as the executive chef of Dominique's Restaurant at the Alexander Hotel, on Miami Beach and held that title at many of South Florida's highest ranked hotel restaurants for 14years. In 1989, Chef Oudin won the prestigious 'Florida Chef of the Year Award" from Chefs in America Foundation, at the Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables. In 1995, while at Grand Cafe, Oudin was cited by Food & Wine Magazine as "Best New Chefs" and by Esquire Magazine as "Best New Chef in Florida." In 1997, Oudin helped create the concept for the new defunct Sweet Donna's Country Store in South Miami, where he created his own gourmet product line of dressings and sauces.
In 2000, Oudin realized a lifelong dream and opened Pascal's on Ponce, an intimate 55-seat French restaurant with sublime contemporary French cuisine, featuring local ingredients, prepared fresh when ordered, utilizing the classical French techniques Oudin gleaned from the masters. It was immediately recognized by food writer John Mariani, in Esquire Magazine, who named Pascal's on Ponce restaurant as Best New Restaurant in America for 2000. Gourmet magazine called Pascal's a Neighborhood Gem in 2002 and the New York Times recognized Pascal's as a top new restaurant in 2003.
Mariani says of Pascal's on Ponce: "Every flavor is utterly natural and intense…Pascal's is that rare thing in the Miami area: a restaurant empty of pretension and full of good taste."
“I thought about opening a restaurant in Peru,” said Santa Maria. “But, most of my family is here and frankly, my heart is in Sarasota. This town is where I want to cook and to gather friends new and old to my table. I know I’ve found the right place at Darwin’s on 4th. We have room to grown and flexible spaces to have private parties, wine dinners, all sorts of exciting events built around delicious foods from all over the world.”