I had Mandina's (in the Mid City) cater my wedding and it was awesome (and very reasonably priced).
I haven't posted here in a while, but I wanted to give a shout-out to my new favorite restaurant in Tampa. I used to tell people that Sideburns was the tops in this town (they're closed for reservations, FYI), but now I unreservedly recommend The Rooster & the Till.
It's a tiny place (for now- they're planning an expansion soon), and the kitchen is right there in front of you behind the bar. The fact that they make such stunning food in this little space using induction hot plates, a single oven, and a sous vide circulator is remarkable in and of itself. Anyway, we prefer to sit at the kitchen bar to watch them work, and we always have lively conversations with those on the other side (including chefs Farrell and Brian, who are warm and generous with their time, even when the place is slammed).
There are always-changing raw seafood options on the chalkboard, including two different oysters, fresh clams, and one or two crudo offerings. This last time we started with both crudos: an amberjack ceviche and a beef tenderloin crudo. They were both amazing, well balanced, intricate dishes, and beautifully presented.
The charcuterie selection is awesome, and chef makes some of the best I've ever had anywhere. I could go on about that, but then this will get really long.
There's an inviting selection of small plates, and I think I've tried them all over the last few months. There's not a bad one in the bunch, but my current favorite is is the gnocchi with short ribs, smoked ricotta, san marzano's, and pickled peperonata. The cheeky deconstructed ruben dish is a close second.
The larger plates are similarly inventive and delicious. Don't expect a heaping plate of food (this is the only negative comment I've read in other reviews, but some people just don't get haute cuisine); instead expect incredible flavors that all make sense when you assemble that perfect bite. The deserts are always good too.
We usually spend around $100, including 3 or 4 glasses of wine for me (or local beers, when I'm in the mood), and we always feel like we got our money's worth, and were very well taken care of. What's more, we feel like we've had s great time, laughing it up with the chefs and staff, and eating food that reminds us what real culinary talent is.
Try Laughing Cat in Ybor City. Progressive Italian menu, delicious, and friendly. For Valentines, I'd call ahead ((813) 241-2998). This will always be my default favorite Tampa restaurant.
Or, for a more "Hip" (some would say "Hipster") V-Day, call Ella's in Seminole Heights (813-234-1000), This is one of mt favorite places to eat in Tpa, but they're doing a special V-Day thing. I don't know what that means, so call.
Or, also in Ybor, try La Terraza. It's more traditional Italian, and smaller. Call ahead ((813) 248-1326). It's less well known, and might not be booked yet. It's delicious.
Wild Card Recommendation: Wimauama in S. Tampa (at 4205 S. MacDill, 813-793-1687). You can't Google this place, because it has the same name as a local township, but the food here is great. The service is...dicey, but I think it's worth it. The Chef here has real vision.
I'm back home now, fighting though the Restaurant/alcohol withdrawal, but reliving the memories helps a lot. So here goes:
Tuesday we had breakfast at Surrey's (another CH recommendation). It was delicious. I had a South American breakfast: two eggs atop rice with fresh avocado and pico de gallo. I added a pair of fried boudin cakes (which was an excellent decision) and poured on the hot sauce. Awesome. The rice was almost like risotto-- I have no idea what kind it was, but I loved it. Fresh, fast, cheap, and tasty.
I can't remember lunch, but that night we ate at La Petite Grocery (Thank you CH). This was another delightful and impressive meal. We were greeted by name at the door, which I like, and the service throughout was friendly and professional. The food, start to finish, was beautiful. We had an amazing beet (and crab, of course) salad, a braised short-rid with a luscious wine sauce, hanger steak for her and another fish special for me. Her steak was perfect, as was my fish. The details are getting fuzzy (I should have posted sooner!) but nothing in this meal disappointed. We had an amazing desert too, and I ordered a Blood and Sand cocktail that was great.
We skipped breakfast the next day and went for lunch at Coquette (CH!). I had the 3-plate lunch special (for $20, it's a great deal on great food). My wife and another friend ordered ala carte. My friend wasn't so sure about the gumbo. I tried it and thought it was very tasty, but definitely untraditional: it was tangy and thin, with "the good stuff" sort of piled in the center. A deconstructed gumbo? I liked it. I also liked the rabbit ravioli, the duck confit, and the blackened fish that I got. The chocolate tart was a great closer too. It was busy, but the service was excellent. Between all that and the $5/glass Wednesday wine specials, I'd say this might be the best place in NOLA for a Wednesday lunch.
That night was my bachelor party, which... is a whole other story. There were some good late-night eats at Alibi. Or so I'm told ;-)
On Thursday we needed a quick bite in the Garden District for lunch and impulsively popped in to Juan's Flying Burrito. What a great place! We had nacho's and split an order of blackened redfish tacos (the portions are very, very generous). It was super fast, quite cheep, friendly, and they made me a pretty decent mojito. That was a win.
At this point, tons of friends and family were in town for our wedding, and the focus of the trip shifted away from food. We still had some great meals, but group-considerations dominated, and we strayed from the CH-beaten path, with predictable results. Bad news first: We had an awful meal at Tujaque's. As much as I love having cocktails at the cool, old bar downstairs, I won't ever eat there again, and I'll encourage anyone who asks to steer clear. We took a huge group to Jaques Imo's too, and here the review is much better, but still mixed. Some things were delicious: the Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake (Wow!), the Fried grits with shrimp, and the fried chicken (add a leg to any meal for $3? Why not!). Other things were just OK, and most of the sides were disappointing. I was also pretty hung over, though, so take that into consideration.
Our wedding was Friday, and it was beautiful, especially because we chose Mandina's to do the food. I'm so glad we did. We had red beans and rice (which were much better than Jaques-Imo's), shrimp-salad po'boys, roast beef po'boys, and muffalettas (which were delicious, even on the wrong bread- they made them on French, to make them "party-sized"). We also had lots and lots of Zapps chips, which everyone loved.
That night we ate with friends at Felix's Oyster bar, which was pretty good. The raw oysters were fresh and tasted great. The chargrilled ones were nice too, though I found that the smothering of grated parmesan cheese got old after the 2nd dozen. On Sunday we went to Drago's in the Hilton near Riverwalk, and their chargrilled oysters were much better.
On Saturday we made it out to Parkway Bakery & Tavern in Mid City for Po'boys, and I'm really glad we did. I ordered the fried shrimp, but I also sampled the Caprese, the Surf & Turf (probably the best, because of the gravy), and the corned beef, and all were delicious.
I also tried po'boys from Johnny's (good) and Verti Mart (great!) before we left, and Monday morning on our way out of town we grabbed beignet's from Cafe Beignet, which my foodie friend swears are superior to Cafe Du Monde. I'm on the fence on that: they are softer, and lighter inside, but then that makes them seem a little doughier, and Cafe Du Monde's are crispier outside. We'll just have to go back and keep sampling until we're sure. Our final NOLA treat was a muffaletta from Verti Mart that we ate in the car, halfway home- so good it almost made me cry, because I know it will be about a year before I can go back for more.
Thanks again to all the Hounds who take the time to report their experiences. We found many of these great places thanks to you!
Parkway Bakery & Tavern
La Petite Grocery
Juan's Flying Burrito
Second for Three Muses! That's our favorite spot for music and cocktails at night (though they were shut last night- Tuesday).
We're planning on Coquette for lunch today. Thanks for the tip!
Good tip. I love the way they do them at Tujaques: crisp, dry, and just a hint of sugar. The whiskey should be the star, always.
I've been lurking for years, but this is my first post. I couldn't go another day without saying THANK YOU to all the true food lovers here who take the time to share their experiences and (often strong) opinions. Thanks to all of you, I'm having the food-vacation of my life here in New Orleans right now. My bride to be and I are here 6 more days, so there is much more to come, but already we've had some amazing food:
Dinner at Nola--I know it's let others down, but I loved everything except my Sazurac (too much simple syrup). My black drum (one of the specials) was divine, and so was her steak.
We also stopped for oysters at Royal House (not a CH recommendation) and were pleasantly surprised. They were delicious and fairly priced.
Dinner was at Galitorie's-- Here I have to share a little disappointment (I know it won't do much to damage this place's storied reputation). Everything I ordered was great (though I wish I had made more adventurous choices). My Black Drum with crab Yvonne was perfectly cooked, fresh, and delicious. But... my fiance had to send back her steak. She asked for the Filet medium rare, and it was definitely medium. Maybe a tad passed medium, even. The second one was perfect, but not huge on flavor. We both agreed that she needs to stop ordering steak in NOLA, and get on the seafood bandwagon. I closed with a great cocktail here: the Vieux Carré. It was like a better Sazurac than the Sazurac. Delicious, and warming.
For Lunch we split a fried shrimp Po-boy at Tracey's, down on Magazine-- without wading into the intense Po-Boy battle too far, I'll just say THANK YOU again to the Hounds who recommended this place. It was great.
Dinner at Herbsaint-- this was another major WOW. We covered the table with small plates and shared everything and it was such a great meal. Braised short rib (with a little fried potato cake I'll be dreaming of for the rest of my life), dirty rice, collard greens, a Lump crab and turnip salad, butter-poached tuna with salsa verde, and red fish with cornmeal breading and yukon gold mashed potatoes. Every bite was better than the last. The deserts we tried were unbelievably good too. If you haven't tried this little gem, add it to your list for your next visit.
Now it's the morning of day four, three days from our wedding day. We have many more great meals ahead of us (La Petit Grocery tonight!) thanks to the reviews and tips here. Thank you again, and stay tuned!
Coffee Pot Restaurant