“It’s my responsibility to bring new concepts back to Sarasota, to introduce the community to great wines by the glass–great wines paired with great food.”
Meet Michael Klauber, co-proprietor with Phil Mancini, of Michael’s On East and notice his near perfect teeth. He owes that to his father, a former dentist who switched career paths midlife to become a hotelier when he moved his family from New York to Longboat Key to take ownership of The Colony Resort. Michael fell right into his footsteps. Perhaps by chance, perhaps by an innate gift for the hospitality industry. Whichever it was, it was a path well-chosen, one with success that followed suit.
Klauber’s first job was washing windows and housekeeping at the hotel, he had a hand in just about everything. He recalls the Sunday evening cocktail receptions they’d host and it was then Klauber realized, “It was in my blood, I love the people part of it, that draws me in the most.” He broadened his knowledge by attending Cornell University, well known for its exceptional hospitality program. There’s an actual hotel on the University’s campus where students do work-studies, he loved that aspect of his schooling.
After graduation he went to New Orleans to enhance his skills and began working at the iconic Arnaud’s–that’s where he caught the wine bug. With the influence from Archie Casbarian–Arnaud’s owner and mentor to Klauber–he built Arnaud’s wine list from scratch. He returned to Longboat Key and reinvented The Colony’s food and beverage program. In 1982, he earned The Colony the prestigious Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list. The Colony was the first establishment to serve Dom Perignon by the glass. It’s rare that a restaurant will serve something of that caliber by the glass because they risk opening finer bottles and having to throw the rest away if it does not sell. Today, an equally impressive Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut 2007 Champagne is offered by the glass at Michael’s on East.
At around age 30, Klauber handed the hotel reigns over to his brother and sister and he and Phil (a Colony employee since 1980) ventured out on their own to open Michael’s On East, still in its original location, the former Sears Roebuck building with an adjacent atrium that availed itself the perfect banquet space. The original menu was influenced by California cuisine and a chef from Napa Valley initiated the kitchen. For the past 11 years, Executive Chef Jamil Pineda holds the kitchen reigns, also a former employee of The Colony. “He’s family to Phil and me,” says Klauber. “There are chefs that can follow a recipe and chefs that have a palette, Jamil is one that has a palette.” One a recent afternoon, Klauber came in for lunch after a trip overseas and told Jamil about the cuisine and one dish in particular. “I ordered from the menu and he brought out something completely different. He replicated that dish we spoke about to near perfection. He has an innate ability to taste and a commitment to quality.”
Inspired by Klauber’s world travels, the menu continues to reinvent itself. “My travels are epicurean adventures and result in new menu items, these new ideas keep the chefs engaged.” Recent travels where inspiration was stirred was in South Africa. “I fell in love with South African cuisine because it is a melting pot of spices.”
A special section on the menu is called Epicurean Adventures, three-course dinner and two-course lunch menus with optional wine parings. Recent adventures have included Italy, Spain, Israel, and Indonesia. Menu items include Spanish La Sartén Black Cod and Paprika-rubbed Grilled Skirt Steak, and Indonesian dishes like Gulai Ayam, a spicy padang-style chicken curry and Macassar Konro Bakar, spiced short ribs with star anise sweet potato purée.
He also hosts exquisite monthly wine dinners in the wine shop, Michael’s Wine Cellar, adjacent to the restaurant, as well as tastings that are an event in themselves. The shop is transformed into an event space with an urban feel–a loft-like space with brick walls lined with stylishly displayed bottles of wine and fine liquors. Here, Chef Jamil gets creative with the menu, pairing items to match the wines being served.
Most recently, Klauber and Mancini have reinvented the Great Room at Selby Gardens into Michael’s on the Bay, an event space that holds about 350 guests outfitted with wood-beamed ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows with a bird’s eye view of the sailboat-dotted bay, Bird Key, and the John Ringling Bridge–stunning! Michael’s on the Bay at Selby Gardens proves what an evolution Michael’s has taken. “It’s a dream,” says Klauber. “It was a dream for Phil and I to have a property on the water.” He points out it’s the only bay-front event space in Sarasota, and it’s an exceptional one at that. The ample-sized terrace and lush lawn, surrounded by the Garden’s beautiful grounds make this space none other than magical.
What’s next for Klauber and Mancini? His simple answer, “To be continued.”
Top Wine Picks from Michael’s Cellar
Graham Beck “The Game Reserve” 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Africa, Robertson
Wines from South Africa are a favorite with Michael Klauber for their taste and excellent value. You’ll find a fine selection of these wines both on the restaurant’s wine list and at the wine shop. This wine has a great complexity of black berry fruit, plums, and tobacco spice on the nose. Experience a rich, juicy entry supported by a dense fruit core and firm tannins. An elegant creamy palate leads to a long lingering finish.
Sparkling Brut, Graham Beck, Robertson, ZA, NV
It would be a disservice to keep this gem to ourselves. This sparkler has been the celebratory selection for notable political leader inaugurations and it’s priced under $20 a bottle. True to its Méthode Cap Classique, experience light yeasty aromas, limey fresh fruit on the nose, and a rich creamy complexity. This stunner will be sure to delight the palettes of even the most refined wine enthusiasts.
Dalla Valle 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, California, Napa Valley
File this in the special occasion category and one well worth the price tag. Power, density, and verve can describe this Napa red, considered a cult wine–meaning small production and not readily available. Taste cassis, cacao beans, burning sage, and baking spices in this almost opaque complex wine.
Furmint “Allegro,” La Favorita, Tokaji, HU, 2015
The Tokaj wine region, found in northeast Hungary, produces its signature grape, furmint. Light and elegant, this is a perfect springtime and summer sipper. Fresh with a lemon-green hue and stoney notes balancing ripe fruit, walnut, pear, and zestiness. An approachable wine with a voluptuous, round finish.