Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cru Cellars, Tampa, FL

Who misses SideBern’s?  I know I’m not the only one with my hand in the air.  Unfortunately, it’s gone bye-bye and is currently being transformed into a new Bern’s outpost, Haven Wine Bar.  Happily, however, former SideBern’s chef Brad Sobo didn’t go very far.

An oenophile’s delight, Cru Cellars has morphed from a retail wine store that happened to serve wines by the glass to a full-fledged, destination-worthy bistro with the addition of Chef Sobo who rolled out a new kitchen menu last September to augment the already existing cheese and charcuterie offerings. 

While the retail selections tend to be heavily weighted on the side of more expensive wines (most priced at $30+), there is a large table full of $13-and-under wines for those who prefer to spend less.  If you decide to drink your purchase at the bar or with your meal, a reasonable $12 corkage fee will be levied. Alternatively, a lengthy menu of wines by the glass plus over 30 craft beers is available, along with an intriguing selection of 9 ounce flights with names like “Whitey Tighties”, “Acid Trip” and “Pinot Envy” - so mix things up if you’re so inclined!  The venue interior is warm and chic with an inviting bar and several pub-style tables.  My party opted to dine al fresco in the charming “wine garden” and appreciated the fact that cozy outdoor heaters were fired up when the evening temps began to dip. 

The dinner menu, while not phone book-sized, is impressive and the $6 happy hour small plates are the deal of the century.  We tried each of the four items on the discounted early menu and each was a winner.   I practically swooned when I sank my teeth into a ball of deep-fried loaded risotto.  Its crispy exterior yielded to reveal a hot, cheesy, sour-creamy, bacon-studded cache of pasta nirvana.  Don’t even think you’re going to be okay sharing your three golden globes of bliss…just go ahead and get everyone their own order so no one with an over-eager reach finds himself pulling back a bloody stump.















The (also $6) plate of razor-thin slices of ruby-hued beef carpaccio drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with slabs of rustic bread, the pastrami pork belly Reuben sliders and the seared tuna with ginger aioli all imparted a level of quality that belied their humble price tag and were stunningly presented.

Behold the raw boeuf splendor:
Stellar seared tuna at a bargain basement price:















If you think boneless, skinless chicken breast meat is a crucial component in any delectable poultry entrĂ©e, we simply can’t be friends.  Dark meat is where it’s at (pardon my hanging preposition) and Cru’s elevated approach to Chicken and Dumplings is a classic southern food lover’s dream come true.  A juicy, braised chicken leg quarter was presented lazing in a bath of sumptuous gravy and creamy duck fat dumplings (oh, yes they DID), accented with tiny baby carrots so preciously perfect and bright that they almost looked like they were made of marzipan.  The adjective “masterful” doesn’t usually spring to mind when I contemplate the preparation of chicken and dumplings - but on this occasion, it did.















While it may be difficult for some diners to go out on a limb and give rabbit a chance, try to push the image of Thumper’s adorable whiskered face from your mind and forge onward.  Rabbit mezzaluna, little half-moon pasta purses stuffed with savory lagomorph morsels nestled atop a silken bed of butternut squash, toasted pine nuts, beech mushrooms and savory brown butter is the ultimate comfort food.  If autumn had a flavor, this is what it would probably taste like.















Not feeling quite that adventurous?  Perfectly executed duck confit with a creamy, golden-edged polenta cake, zippy cumin slaw and ancho barbecue sauce also hits it out of the ball park.
















Never fear if you've either gone totally to the dark side meatless or are simply attempting to dial down your consumption, because you will have plenty of options at Cru…including a delectable wild roasted mushroom-laden flatbread with goat cheese, house-made hummus and truffle mac ‘n cheese.

The flatbread is funghi-lover heaven.















Last but not least, there’s a hockey-puck-sized, made-from-scratch s’mores dessert that is completely diabolical (cover your eyes, Girl Scouts).  The bottom layer consists of an epically sturdy graham cracker crust, laden with a thick, intense chocolate layer of what is almost certainly Satan’s own ganache creation.  And just when you thought things couldn't get any more sinful…the entire thing is slathered in hand-torched marshmallow cream.   I've never seen six forks diving into anything at such a fast and furious level in my life (a wine-bar brawl almost ensuing as everyone jockeyed for crumbs).

















While this is not an all-encompassing report of our Saturday night feeding frenzy, I'm getting into Bible-length territory so I'll stop here, having hit the highest of the consistent high notes.

The Cru Cellars experience is a highly enjoyable one and it’s a perfect venue for date night or just relaxing with friends…either for wine and a little charcuterie, or for a complete dinner.  The scrummy small-plate options provide a welcome level of flexibility as you will find it difficult to commit to just one dish. 

www.crucellarstampa.com

Cru Cellars on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

WTFork - Tampa Tribune January 16, 2015 (Enjoy Dinner and a Show at Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium)

If you enjoy cooking (or just watching other people cook), dining, drinking wine and meeting new people, cooking demonstrations and classes at Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium are loads of fun!

TBO.com Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Rusty Pelican, Tampa, FL

AKA:  The Lamest Brunch Buffet in the History of ALL Brunch Buffets

What in the hell happened to you, TRP?  I reviewed your buffet favorably on Urbanspoon a few years back.  I'm not a buffet fan to begin with, but I thought you were doing a respectable job with it.  My visit today ranks high on my list of WTF? dining moments.  

For $35 per person with unlimited mimosas, my expectations weren't horribly lofty, but I did expect more than a sad little buffet that has been rivaled by a few free Embassy Suites breakfasts in my past. Okay, so there were some scrawny chilled shrimp and crab legs...the only saving graces.













Smoked salmon and ahi tuna platters that had been sitting out for hours were a little more dubious. Stale bagels were a nice touch, however.














The remainder of the buffet line consisted of sausage and bacon, cheese grits and hash browns, and a couple of creepy looking cold salads (turkey and broccoli and a southwestern combo of corn, red peppers and black beans), rounded out by a table filled with pre-fab desserts. The "chef station" featured omelets made to order and (try to maintain your composure) carved ham.  














A selection of "small plates" were available to be ordered via our mimosa server and included Belgian waffles, tortilla crusted chicken and mojo marinated pork.  Not wanting to wait in line for an omelet and with no other egg options available, I requested what turned out to be a wan and bland slice of breakfast quiche with spinach, goat cheese and spinach cream sauce.  

The Rusty Pelican deserves every sun-blocking bit of the level of shade I'm throwing on it...and probably more.  It was nothing short of a dining disaster.

http://tampa.therustypelican.com/rustypelicantampa/default.aspx

Rusty Pelican on Urbanspoon
My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Annata, St. Petersburg, FL

Scooch over, everyone, and make room for my new crush du jour!  Annata, brought to you by the folks at Mazzaro's, is a wine-and-small-plates lover's dream come true.  The interior is chic, warm and cozy with loads of brick, steel, dark wood and comfy-looking throw pillows lining the booths. Allow yourself plenty of time because you'll want to stay there all night...sipping, nibbling and being coddled by the exceptional staff.

I'm movin' in...you'd better get used to seeing me!




















The wine list is extensive with a fantastic by-the-glass selection, and all we tried were generously poured for us and not grossly marked up.  We began our feast with a stunning charcuterie platter (you may order three, five or seven components from a wide range of meats, cheeses and pates).  We opted for bleu cheese, prosciutto, dry salami, silken duck cognac pate and a more rustic pheasant rosemary version.  The protein elements were beautifully complemented by local honey, fig jam, cornichons, olives, dried apricots, Marcona almonds and quince paste.  Party on a plank, anyone?















My resident caveman almost wept at the sight of bone marrow on the menu.











This gelatinous umami bomb had a primal, fire-roasted depth of flavor that incited a serious knuckle-dragging response in UD, who clung tightly to the caramelized femurs with his Neanderpaws until every drop was licked (or sopped) clean.  That's my boy!















We then shared a luxurious Lobster Newburg fondue (and who can resist anything that shows up in its own little cast-iron pan...especially if there are large chunks of lobster lolling in it?) accompanied by slabs of toasted Italian bread and pleasingly charred-around-the-edges pita points for dipping.

Butter...cream...sherry...crustacean...life doesn't really get much better than this.





















We liked the Truffled Gnocchi Mac 'n Cheese, but it was almost too rich to endure after flailing our way though the protein-intense offerings that preceded it.  Gnocchi was texturally perfect, but the intense truffle infusion almost triggered sensory overload.  We had to take most of this home with us.















Orange Torta proved to be the perfect palate cleansing dessert for a citrus junkie like me. A thin and crispy orange flavored "cookie" (for lack of a better word) was drizzled in zesty key lime cream and topped with a silky scoop of salted caramel gelato.  It was pretty remarkable.
















Blah, Annata.  How am I supposed to obtain my New Year weight goal. with you around?  I guess we'll have to settle for a love-hate relationship.

http://annatawine.com/

Annata on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Locale Market, St. Petersburg, FL

Holy Shiznit, foodies!  Get thee to the recently opened Locale at warp speed.  This visually stunning, two-story food and wine mecca on steroids will set your senses to reeling.

While flailing your way upstream through a broad and slowly plodding swathe of humanity (which is what Locale is covered up in right now) might sound daunting, it will be worth it...just this once.  I screamed on the inside more than a couple of times.  Look for the wine and tapas bar on the second floor for salvation (where foie gras is served - but don't tell PETA). Whole...Trader...Fresh...WHO???

Behold the richly-hued splendor of organic produce:














The seafood counter is nothing short of jaw-dropping.














View delectable delights being prepared before your very eyes - either for enjoying on the dining patio with a bottle of wine from the cooler or taking home and pretending that it was hand-crafted by you.  Dust yourself with flour to retain credibility should you opt for the latter.













Carb junkies, beware.














Locale is a wonderland for all palates...from the dry-aged steaks to the luxe bakery and coffee bar to the liquid nitrogen ice cream, house made pastas and beyond. Please, just get out of my way if you see me.  I'll be the tall blonde with the bad disposition.  TIA





















More to come as I chomp my way through this beast.

https://www.facebook.com/LocaleMarketStPete

Locale Market on Urbanspoon