By Jane Bartnett
Kolucan, the new Mexican bar and grill in Gulf Gate, brings diners a new upscale approach to Mexican fare. In fact, chef and co-owner Gino Calleja describes Kolucan as “elevated Mexican cuisine.”
Following the restaurant’s early September opening, complete with a Mariachi band, diners have been excited to discover the many enticing dishes, small plates, desserts, wines and cocktails that celebrate the foods, wines and beverages of this melting-pot nation.
“Mexican cuisine is very diverse,” said Calleja. “Our goal is to highlight the different regions of the country and let people discover the many flavors of each area. There’s plenty of room for variety. We’ll keep innovating.”
Known for his popular Reyna Taqueria restaurants, Calleja and his business partner, chef Jose Rojas of the former Louies Modern restaurant in downtown Sarasota, have been planning for Kolucan’s opening for five years. It’s located at 6644 Gateway Ave.
“We wanted to create something different without losing the identity of our culture,” Calleja said. “Kolucan focuses on our roots, where we come from.”
Many of the dishes found on the restaurant’s menu are based on treasured family recipes that have been tested and refined.
The two restaurateurs decided to take an innovative approach to introducing Sarasota diners to Mexico’s rich cultural heritage. That is reflected in their dishes, wines and liquors.
Visitors to Kolucan will find two separate indoor and outdoor dining spaces with seating for 170 in all. The main dining room’s rich dark woods offers a sophisticated yet relaxed atmosphere with seating at tables and a spacious bar. It also features an outdoor seating area.
Frida’s Lounge, meanwhile, is more informal and relaxed.
The main dining room’s menu features an ample selection of “aperetivos” or appetizers that include Queso Fundido, made from two Mexican cheeses: Oaxaca from the south and chihuahua from the north. It is served on a skillet with chorizo and pico de Gallo, with blue corn tortillas. The many entrees include dishes from the sea including octopus, Gulf of Mexico shrimp and crab. Chicken, pork, and beef selections are also waiting to be discovered as well as a variety of salads and tortilla soup.
Tempting desserts include tres leches cake, flan, a rich chocolate cake, and a ripe mango-serrano mousse.
Celebrating a birthday? Chef Rojas has created a birthday piñata made of a handcrafted chocolate shell, filled with candy, marshmallows, and cookies.
Enjoy dessert with a cup of Cafe de Olla, Mexican coffee flavored with special house made syrup that can be ordered with or without liquor.
Kolucan’s extensive wine list is another source of pride for the two chefs.
“We are featuring delicious wines from Baja, Guadalupe and other regions of Mexico,” Calleja said. “The richness of the soil in Mexico’s different areas give the wines different flavors.”
In addition to the Mexican wines, there are also cabernets, chardonnays, and blends of red and white that have been carefully chosen from other parts of the world to complement Kolucan’s dishes. Tequilas and mescals and cocktails are also on the menu.
“To showcase our wine list, we’re going to offer wine dinners as well as tequila and mescal dinners, where we’ll pair each dish,” Calleja said.
The Frida Lounge has its own entrance. Its name pays tribute to the celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo who drew her inspiration from Mexico’s nature and history. A large, brightly colored portrait of the famous painter, created by Sarasota artist Alexis Fraser known professionally as Lipstick Lex, graces the main wall. Fraser’s artwork is also on display in the main dining room.
The small tables, booths and a separate bar make the Frida Lounge a welcoming spot to drop in for a light meal, drink or coffee and dessert. The lounge menu, separate from the main dinner menu, features a selection of small plates including nachos and shrimp cocktail.
For those looking for a meal, available are a chargrilled 8-ounce short-rib brisket blend patty with all the fixings; chicken tinga, a pulled chicken dish; and lobster or short-rib tacos, guacamole, salsa, roasted corn dip and a selection of a la carte Mexican street tacos.
There is also a full selection of coffees, cocktails and wines, along with desserts.
Kolucan’s happy hour runs from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It has its own separate menu.
Later this fall, Calleja and Rojas are planning to add brunch service on Saturday and Sunday.
Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner begins at 5 p.m. and continues until 10 p.m.
Groups of six or more are asked to call the restaurant at (941) 921-3133. Reservations may be made online at kolucan.com.