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Noice's Profile

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Burrata in Tampa / St. Pete?

Whole Foods on Dale Mabry at I-275. Domestic, $13, and very good.

Jan 20, 2014
Noice in Florida

Naples for the weekend down from Tampa.

Great, thanks for the tips.

Aug 14, 2013
Noice in Florida

Visting Tampa from NYC. Recommendation please (researched)!

Your line-up sounds delicious. I would second the Bern's mention. If your goal is to get something unique to our area -- and if you drink wine, especially -- I think your "nice" dinner would have to be there. I also love Edison, but I get the impression that places like that are a dime a dozen in Brooklyn/NYC, and probably just as good. AND your meal at Bern's even with wine will likely be no more expensive than your meal at Edison. All that being said, if you have the time and dough to go to both, you'd probably enjoy both.

Ideally, though, you would be able to do your "nice" dinner on Saturday, and leave Sunday for the soul food menu at Ella's. I don't think this place get enough love around here, especially for their Sunday soul food menu (not available any other day). I think it is fantastic, from the smoked ribs, down to the fried green tomatoes. The atmosphere is really nice too, and they have folk/indie live music starting at 4pm. The whole experience is very artsy "Americana", and the beer/drinks selection is excellent. The "regular" menu on other days is good, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it coming from NYC. There will be a wait on Sunday, but not too long if you call ahead to be put on the list.

The other suggestions you received are also good.

I agree you can skip Columbia (since you've already been there) and Ceviche (used to be special, once upon a time).

I can't help with sausages/steaks, though I can't see how you wouldn't have much better up in NYC.

Lastly, since you mention coffee shop, I think a stop at Oxford Exchange is warranted, even coming from NYC. The restaurant is good, the cafe is very good, but I think the tea counter (and the afternoon tea service) is worth the stop. Ask to sit in the conservatory with the fountain, and soak in the beauty of the space. It just opened in October of last year, and is a one-of-a-kind interior in Tampa, IMHO.

Enjoy your visit and let us know what you liked.

Aug 14, 2013
Noice in Florida

Naples for the weekend down from Tampa.

Thanks for starting this thread. I was about to ask for similar input, since we are also staying at the Naples Ritz this weekend (golf not beach resort) -- probably bump into you, since I imagine it's already low season.

Not to hijack your thread, but we are bringing our well-behaved 19 month old (barely walking), so I am interested to see what other responses you get where a high-chair would be possible. The Bay House looks lovely, and I think we will just go as close to 5 as possible, since it doesn't seem they serve lunch anymore. Thank you, LilMs.

Anyone have an opinion on the restaurants at either Ritz? We might just stay in all weekend, if they are serviceable . . .

Aug 14, 2013
Noice in Florida

Edison (Tampa)

I never went to any of the pop ups, probably because many people told me the same thing. I also got the idea they might be train wrecks service-wise.

Let us know if you make it out to Edison and if you like it.

Jul 22, 2013
Noice in Florida

Bern's Steakhouse (Tampa): Where do they list their largest collection of wine in the world?

I couldn't agree more. It's only been in the last few years that I figured out that Bern's is a wine experience much more so than a steak experience. We are privileged to have something like this in Tampa.

Jul 21, 2013
Noice in Florida

Cooper's Hawk Restaurant and "Winery" (Tampa)

This place on Boy Scout Blvd. opened about two months ago to booming business. This is all you have to know: food-wise it is a gussied-up Crapcake Factory. Wine-wise, it only features its own mediocre to bad wines, and has a large tasting room which makes you feel like you are in any of the "nice" tasting areas of any Napa behemoth winery.

All I can think of when I think of this place/concept is that you can put lipstick on a pig but that pig won't know how not to have 1,232,872 items on its menu; or how to make sense of a winery in Illinois which grows 369 grape varieties; or how to spend millions on an interior that leaves you feeling cold and empty and like you are at Cracker Barrel, all at the same time.

These may all be exaggerations, but only slight exaggerations. Regarding the food: the only thing that makes this menu slightly less horrific than Crapcake's is that it is on about 6 (enormous) pages, not 15. All of the food is unbelievably expensive. These two restaurants are about the only two places which genuinely defy my business comprehension. The prices are just so incredibly high -- and the food so impossibly mediocre -- that I just can't wrap my head around the amount of business they receive. For lunch, the only mercy provided is a sandwich/salad combo for $9.99. Everything else goes way, way up from there, and while I have only been three times (it would take 9 years to get through the menu), nothing I have tasted is anything I would like to meet my palate ever again.

The place is cavernous. I think there was some other restaurant in there before. It is the same Starbucky/Seasons 52/Mid-range-corporate-hotel-chain decor I have described in other posts. It is nice in the way that a third quarter profit and loss statement in a maroon faux-leather presentation cover is nice.

But really what prevents me from every voluntarily returning to this place is the wine. I don't know much about wine. But I do know there is a reason it is not grown in certain places. I would give any wine from Illinois (or any other new area) a chance, but at bottom, it just has to be something special. From what I know about this place, it is a Chicago concept based on a winery somewhere in Illinois. So far, so good. They have a chain of restaurants throughout Illinois (and maybe other states), and they are hitting Florida hard. Apparently one is opening in Orlando this year, and another in Miami later on. This is where it gets bad. The restaurants ONLY serve the wine from the winery. None of which would be a problem if the vast majority of the wines did not taste horrible. We have done two tastings (about 16 different wines!), and I have only wanted to finish two of them. I am not a picky wine snob; this stuff just isn't well-made.

This place is close to where we live, so I want to like it, but why do they make it so hard? I'd like to hear from other people who have sampled.

Jul 21, 2013
Noice in Florida

Edison (Tampa)

MIss E - sorry to take so long to respond. I think your crticisms are all valid -- hell, I'm starting to think there are two different restaurants in there. I don't think anything I have tasted south of the "large format" line is worthy of those prices. However, almost everything I have tasted north of that line warrants the (slightly lower) prices, IMHO.

I've only been three times, but I I will be heading back soon, ensuring I only visit the "top of the line" restaurant, and I'll again report on the consistency.

I'm sorry you got shafted by the server on that fish complaint. At those prices, the only thing to do is take it off the ticket. I'm sure the rest of your bill was over (or at least approaching) $100.

Jul 21, 2013
Noice in Florida

Bern's Steakhouse (Tampa): Where do they list their largest collection of wine in the world?

Are you sure you were looking at the full list? I know that in the lounge (and I believe also in the dining room sometimes) they give you a list that contains all of their by-the-glass offerings and many bottles, and actually looks like a list you find in a normal restaurant. That is not the full list.

While I've never counted them, the actual list (book/catalog) certainly contains thousands of selections. When added to the dessert wine book/catalog (a separate beast), I wouldn't be surprised if it topped seven thousand.

I don't know if this is part of what you're asking, but I have been told that it is not posted online because it would be a gargantuan effort to keep up with all the inventory changes, since it is a very dynamic list, with all sorts of new wines ordered and discontinued continuously.

Jul 13, 2013
Noice in Florida

El Noa Noa - Mexican Grocery (Armenia Ave., Tampa)

Thanks for the report. Nice to mark the taqueria off my list.

We love the Acapulco tacos, and we are there as often as possible. I am very familiar with the place, and I like it.

Do you know the names of the mexican groceries on waters/Armenia you refer to? I've seen general Latino stores there, but never any specific Mexican places. Thanks.

Jul 05, 2013
Noice in Florida

Hot Dogs in Tampa

Thanks for responding. You both just confirmed what I had thought.

Jul 05, 2013
Noice in Florida

Edison (Tampa)

I agree. It's funny, I thought the same thing about that chicken entree ($30+?). I think that was the entree that caused me never to order entrees there again.

You hit the nail right on the head re price point. It really does verge on being overpriced as a restaurant, and if it weren't for the deliciousness of so many of those non-entrees, I'd probably never go back.

That oyster title/prep is a perfect of example of unnecessary fluff, except that this last time I had them (only time I've ordered) they were just outstanding, and they could have called them anything for all I cared.

I dropped a lot last time I was there, so it will be a while before I get back.

Jul 05, 2013
Noice in Florida

Hot Dogs in Tampa

http://www.tampatrib.com/dining/tampa...

Anyone try any of these? Maybe I'm too cynical, but I've eaten only 1-2 dogs in Tampa, and never thought they'd be any good.

Jul 05, 2013
Noice in Florida

Eddie V's (Tampa)

This "high-end" chain owned by Darden opened a Tampa outpost just a few weeks ago. It seems their hook, so to speak, is "prime" seafood in extravagant steakhouse packaging. I guess what I mean by that is that this is a place that looks like a souped-up Seasons 52 with more expensive cars parked out front, dark wood inside, lowish lighting, and seafood displayed and listed on the menu as Ruth's Chris might dry-aged portherhouses. With prices as extravagant.

My report is limited to the lounge/drinks experience, as we went there for the first time last week specifically to have a drink and move to the next place. We ate nothing. We sat at the bar in the lounge, and took it all in. It was around 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night, and the place was about to hit "poppin'" status. Almost all the tables in the lounge area were full, and the main dining room all seemed to be full as well. I had heard this was an instantly popular place in Tampa, and everyone was right -- the Tampa cougars and their men were in the house. By the time we left, it would have been tough to find two seats at the bar.

We bellied up to the bar, and eyaballing the bartenders and barmaid, I knew I was just going to order a martini, and make it easy on the staff (and myself). Wife made the mistake of asking the bartender if he could make something for her "with St. Germain in it". I usually love to do that at places where I know I am in good hands. I am an omakase type of guy in Japan. But I cringed when those words left her mouth. Silence and blank stare from the barman. Very awkward. My wife being the sweetheart that she is, tried to ease the awkwardness by suggesting that anything would be fine. And so he made anything. This concoction must have been at least half a bottle of St. Germain and a couple of rasperries and tonic. Terrible. Serves her right, but at the same time, when being asked to pay $10 - $15 a cocktail, a place should have someone who knows what the hell they're doing, or has the courage to say they don't know what the hell they're doing.

My Tanq#10 was very good, although the barman did shove the open shaker into another patron's face for a sniff, for reasons I didn't hear (other end of bar). He didn't spit in it, but the whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. Again, at $30 for two drinks (with tip), I expect different.

Atmosphere was very nice and soulless, in that Starbucky/Seasons 52/Corporate Hotel-y kind of way. Beautiful lighting, lots of browns, dark wood -- I'm sure you get the picture. Decor did have an edge to it; sometimes too sharp an edge. There is a large see-through reach-through gap above the sinks and below the mirror in the men's and women's restrooms that allow complete views (and arm extensions) into one restroom from the other. Lighting is so low, it is not noticeable right away. The gap is about 18" high and 7 feet across. I heard my wife's voice as I was washing my hands, bent down, and saw not only her, but straight into one of the women's stalls. A woman walked in, shut the door, and I could still see her sit down on the throne through the white glass of the stall door. I've seen this kind of thing at clubs and the like, but just doesn't seem quite right here.

Hands down the best thing going for this place is the three piece band in the lounge. Upright bass, piano, and jazz drummer. Outstanding jazz, very high quality. These old-timers could have been flown in from New Orleans, for all I could tell. The space seemed to be set up for just that type of group, so I'm thinking they have a regular gig there. So good, I'd go back just for them.

I eyed the menu and wine list. The wine list, again, is exactly what you'd expect from a "fancy" American steakhouse. HUGE on big California cabs, and not really deep anywhere else. Very little old world. I don't remember seeing many interesting wines by the glass. All were expensive.

Menu read like a fish catalog. Fish were listed like steaks on Bern's menu. I'll need to hear many good things about the food here before dropping a couple of bills on dinner.

But we'll likely be back soon for maritinis and that band. Anyone eaten at this place yet?

Jul 04, 2013
Noice in Florida

Edison (Tampa)

The one that I come back to in my mind is the tuna with chile pepper sorbet. It has about three other distinct elements, none of which I can ever remember, but the whole thing just leaps off the plate, it is so good.

We also like the bone marrow and the foie gras. Really excellent with several of the reds on their list (very well chosen, btw).

We had the raw oysters small plate, and they were the best we have had in Tampa. They were a small, briny variety, and perfectly dressed with some type of vinegary vinaigrette with green herbs. Not cheap, as I recall, for 4-5 oysters, but absolutely exquisite.

Burrata was also very good.

Note well: the menu on the website is quite different from what they are serving now.

Not to be overlooked are the desserts. Pastry chef knows what s/he is doing. Every dessert I've had there is as-good or better than any other dessert I've had in Tampa. This last time I was blown away by the chocolate ice cream. Very deep flavors, beautiful presentation.

Vacuum pot coffee is also more than a mere gimmick. Delicious.

I guess what impresses me about this place is not only the creativity, but that the kitchen pulls it off. Everything about the place reeks of "trying too hard" until you taste that dang food.

Jul 04, 2013
Noice in Florida

Edison (Tampa)

I hope the reviews are useful to you. I don't know when you were last in the area, but there is increasingly more yumminess in the area.

I am embarrassed I don't remember if there is a bar area at Edison, but I'm betting there is. The space is really well put together and "casual", so I guess that is just one of the individual elements I never noticed. Either way, I wouldn't feel awkward there at one of the regular tables dining solo. Hope you enjoy.

Jul 03, 2013
Noice in Florida

El Noa Noa - Mexican Grocery (Armenia Ave., Tampa)

I've been by that place many times, but never stopped. Do you know the hours?

Jul 02, 2013
Noice in Florida

El Noa Noa - Mexican Grocery (Armenia Ave., Tampa)

This place deserves recognition. Tampa doesn't have many straight-up Mexican groceries (Acapulco is the only other one I know of in the central/West Tampa area), but the Noa Noa really fills that void well.

In addition to having the largest selection of dried chiles I have seen anywhere in the area (and many in bulk bins, for small purchases), the produce section, while small, is clean, well-stocked, well-lit, and carries many vegetables. My latest obsession are the ALWAYS RIPE Haas avocados bin. The bin is clearly marked, in Spanish: "RIPE avocados, please do not over-handle". They always rotate through the eat-today, not-too-soft/not-too-firm black avocados that are simply *PERFECT* for that days' guacamole, or for eating in wedges with salt. And they're only $1.19 each. I can't tell you how impatient I get when I crave that creamy Haas, only to go to the store and see that I will have to wait 3 days. NEVER a problem at el Noa Noa. Instant gratification, and not squishy or overripe.

To be sure, I have seen other Latino groceries have separate bins for eat-today-ripe avocados, but never for Haas avocados (the only kind worth eating, IMHO).

Additionally, their nopales always look fresh, and they even had the most beautiful watercress I've ever seen a few weeks ago. Like the Acapulco grocery, they also have fresh, warm tortillas, but the Noa Noa has house-made chicharrones, which I don't think the Acapulco has.

There is a small make-shift taqueria in the parking lot which feeds the masses, but it has not been there every time I've gone. I don't know what that schedule is.

Either way, the Noa Noa has entered our weekly rotation, if only for those avocados, but if you haven't gone, it's also worth the trip all the other Mexican goodies in stock.

Jul 01, 2013
Noice in Florida
1

Edison (Tampa)

Just had my third dinner at this place, and I'm ready to declare it pretty close to at the top of the Tampa heap of solid restaurants. I dare say my mind has been blown on more than one occasion.

I see little to no mention of Edison in the year (?) it has been open, and I wonder why. Everything I have read here and elsewhere about the Refinery seems to fit better when applied to this gem. So many different, off-the-wall preparations and combinations, and so many of them really sing -- unlike what I've experienced at the Refinery. Yet few mentions of this place.

It is nowhere near anything approaching affordable, but I've never felt ripped off. The entrees at that price point do verge on ridiculous, but the apps, small plates, "large" plates, etc., are worth those prices, IMHO.

I haven't been to SideBern's in a while, but that is another place that to my mind aims to be what Edison is, but doesn't quite get there. I'd like to hear other opinions, though. Anyone eat at Edison lately?

Jul 01, 2013
Noice in Florida

Trader Joe's - Tampa!

Thanks for your response. I have read/heard way too many glowing reviews to dismiss TJ out of hand. Especially here on CH, when I read the critical mass universally lauding anything, I am more apt to think *I* am the one who is blind, even if I previously held a different view!

I look forward to having one close, and I will spend some time in there combing it over to discover some deliciousness for myself. Thanks.

Jun 15, 2013
Noice in Florida

Datz Dough (South Tampa)

Went to Dough for the first time today and have mixed feelings. Anyone with a pulse in Tampa is aware of the media blitz leading up to this bakery/cafe's opening earlier this year. Their marketing team knows what it's doing.

It's next to the mothership restaurant, Datz, and just as it is there, parking is tough. I don't much mind it if the chow's up to snuff, but when it's not, it starts to figure into my should-I-go-back equation.

So, the good: place is well appointed, nice music, comfortable seating, imaginative decor in general. Display of all items is beautiful and attractive. Staff is friendly and helpful. Savory items I tried were good. Items are served on real plates with real silverware and cloth napkins, although there is no table service.

Frankly, all that would be enough to bring me back if it weren't for the prices. The sweet/pastry items are all high (doughnuts start at $3 and rest of sweet items go up to $7, excluding small things like macarons, which didn't show a price, interestingly, and since I wasn't given itemized receipt, don't know anything about). That's not to say I wouldn't pay twice what they're charging if these items were delicious, just that the taste doesn't justify the price.

The coffee is nothing special, and was adequate for the setting. Double espresso was ok, but served in a huge paper cup, sbux-style, even though we were eating in. Cold brew coffee was ok, if a bit high at $4. I looked, and it seems they do serve other coffee drinks in the old panera-size vat-with-a-handle mugs. An espresso, even a doppio, would look a little silly in that, even though I was told they normally serve them in those for people eating in.

Food-wise, the good: vegetable quiche was above average, and worth the five-ish dollars, as was the "hole in one" breakfast pastry (fried egg, wrapped in bacon, topped with cheese, all nestled in savory pastry). Not extraordinary, but tasty and ungreasy enough to enjoy over a chat.

But I was really looking forward to the sweets, and I couldn't take more than one bite of either the salt caramel macaron or the chocolate cake glazed doughnut. Does the American palate know no limit to cloying sweetness? Maybe I'm just an old man. But if I can't take more than one bite (and even my wife was struggling), yet the people keep pouring in, I really start to wonder whether I'm the one with the problem.

At $22 out the door for all described so far with counter service only, I'm not inclined to go back. I laud their effort and the decor/graphic design/branding of the whole place, but I can't help but feel that it's a chic Panera and nothing more. If they tightened up the food -- which is why we're all here -- this place could soar.

Noice

Jun 15, 2013
Noice in Florida

Cru Cellars (South Tampa)

You're welcome. I have been taking too much from CH and not giving enough back. I particularly enjoy your input, gfr1111.

Despite the generally deplorable eating-out scene in Tampa, there are multiple stellar places I feel an obligation to support in any way possible, they're just that good. I'd also like to think that restaurant-industry folks read this board and see that there are people that are paying attention.

All in hopes of one day eliminating slop and proliferating deliciousness.

Jun 15, 2013
Noice in Florida

Trader Joe's - Tampa!

Thanks for posting -- I hadn't heard.

I've only been a few times to their stores, and I think I need to re-align my expectations. I think I go there expecting a dean and deluca-type store, but then end up seeing all the packaged food and wonder what the fuss is all about.

I'm sure there are some winners in there at good prices, I just need to be steered toward them as Robert R has done.

Do all the stores carry just about all the same stuff? E.g., if I read about someone in Cali raving about some crazy TJ bread, should I expect it in Tampa? Thanks.

Jun 15, 2013
Noice in Florida

Tampa Bay means Father's Day!! Where to go??

You're probably thinking of Yummy House.

Have you been to Ella's for their soul food menu on Sundays? I'll be there tomorrow with a Bloody Mary in hand, rib included!

http://www.ellasfolkartcafe.com/soulf...

Jun 15, 2013
Noice in Florida

Cru Cellars (South Tampa)

I think you'd really like it. I forgot to mention that there is a nice bar, which is actually central to the whole place, and it's been manned by Lucius, the wine director, every time I've gone. He's a helluva teacher, and really nice to be around. Solo diners -- and groups, even -- would do well at the bar, right in the middle of the action.

Jun 13, 2013
Noice in Florida

Cru Cellars (South Tampa)

I have needed to write this place up for a while. The experience is so special, I really would have thought I would have been beaten to the punch, but I searched, and there was but one passing mention of Cru in February of this year as a rec for Valentine's Day. I didn't see anything else.

Part of the reason may be that it suffers from negative name association (dissociation?). There are so many pretenders in the "wine bar" category in Tampa, that every time my wife kept bringing it up, I assumed it was yet another Wine Exchange-y/Taps-y trendy of-the-moment place jumping on the bandwagon, and trying to sell me substandard drinks and eats at a premium. Or, I thought she may have been referring to a wine store that had tastings, probably not even seated, with "snacks". Or, I thought she was probably still thinking of our memorable meal at Cru in Ft. Myers six years ago (I see that's what all but one of the Cru mentions on this board have referred to).

But boy-oh-boy am I glad she dragged me to Cru earlier this year. We have gone four times in the last three months, with all kinds of groups (even with my mom). My experience has been incredibly consistent, and I fall in love with this place the more I go.

I'm not quite sure, but it seems it has been open between one to two years (the intensity on the face of Jennifer, one of the owners, suggests less than three years, at any rate!). They are knocking it out of the park. It is a small place in an odd location on Macdill, and half of it is retail (with some very interesting, curated, bottles), and the other half reminds me of a minimalistic minute black-box theater in soothing shades of taupe, greys, and natural wood, with flattering halogen lighting. Beautiful space, super pared down, as if to underline the fact that you are there for the wine and the food.

The wine list is among the best I've ever seen. There is something for everyone -- high, low, old world, new world, equal emphasis on reds and whites -- and perhaps most significantly, with a bent toward the off-beat, or lesser-known varieties. I had never had a priorat. Now I have it every time I go. It's just one example, but I guess the most important thing to note is that these people from the owners down to the "lowly" servers KNOW this list, and have a solid understanding of wine, and CAN COMMUNICATE IT. Of the four people I have engaged on my visits, none of them were haughty. None of them condescending. ALL of them gave a damn about their product. ALL of them actually wanted to teach me something. I cannot remember ever having an experience like this, on this level, in Florida.

Yes, I know we have Bern's, Mise en Place, and so many other restos with impressive lists, but I can't remember ever being presented with equal parts ENTHUSIASM and KNOWLEDGE about wine from a restaurant's personnel in Florida. Of course the experience at Cru is nothing like at a full restaurant, but I don't think that's what they aim for (and I respect that). The tiny place maybe seats 45 (65 with outdoor seating?), and the menu while well-thought-out and downright delicious is limited (I respect that also).

At the risk of overstatement, however, I have felt every time I have interacted with the staff as if I were in an important wine region of the world. I guess I would expect this level of passion/knowledge at any joint in Sonoma or in the Loire valley or in Piedmont. But to find it in Tampa is borderline scary.

All of the bottles are also sold by the glass, and most of them appear as part of carefully-thought-out wine flight on the menu, which allow you to sample without much commitment. This is the list, although I think it has changed a bit since this was posted:

http://www.crucellarstampa.com/pdf/wi...

I feel that with the flights especially, they are tailoring the experience to the taster, and furthering wine education. Every time a flight has been brought to our table (whether just the two of us, or in larger groups), the wines have been marked, explained, and contrasted for us. By EVERY single server. And not in a power-point-y way. And EVERY single wine on the list has been fabulous. I have not yet identified a weak one. Of course, not all work with every item on the menu (staff again MORE than happy to help), but every one I have had (and I have tried well more than half, including the sherries) has stood strongly on its own.

I haven't even gotten to the food. I believe they have a chef. I believe s/he actually cares. I believe people actually cook in the kitchen. Need I say more? Ok: they have the best burger I have ever had in Tampa (and it has been consistently outstanding over 3 different visits). I do not profess to be a Tampa burger hound -- I am too disillusioned -- but of those I've had, this is head and shoulders above the rest. I better stop; I'm getting hungry again! The meat has a deep, rich flavor -- I'd be surprised if they didn't use any marrow or lamb trimmings. The bun is not a lame grocery-store one, as it actually has bite; sops up juice; and never comes close to falling apart. And they have house-made slightly spicy pickle spears on the side. Another AND! AND you may pick from any of the "premium" cheeses on their list! Sottocenere! Aritisanal cheddar! Real bleu cheese! (I must disclose -- heretically, perhaps -- that there is no mention of fries or chips, or any other distractions. This burger is the main event, the only event, and with good reason.)

We've had a half dozen other items, including the marrow, with the same results. Very, very special. This kitchen knows what it's doing.

So in the interest of promoting all that is chow-worthy, I offer to you that Cru -- menu-wide and winelist-wide -- has been among the top three most consistently bodacious dining experiences I have ever had in Tampa Bay.

Noice

Jun 10, 2013
Noice in Florida

Mercel's Bake Shop (Pinellas Park)

Bring an extra dose of patience with you. Like most Filipinos, they are exceedingly kind and warm, but the situation will test your limits. I guess I would think of it like going to grandma's, not like going to a restaurant.

Again, I've only gone on Sundays, but I can't imagine it being much better on the weekdays.

But this level of quality of Pinoy food is definitely unique. Enjoy.

Jun 10, 2013
Noice in Florida

Mercel's Bake Shop (Pinellas Park)

I've concluded I've taken too much from this board and not given enough back. Other than complaints about heavy-handed mods, I don't know why posting about Tampa Bay area places has dropped off precipitously, but I resolve to post more often; maybe others will follow. The way I see it, despite the scores of offensive establishments in our area, there really are some gems, and they deserve our praise, support, and attention.

Enter Mercel's Bake Shop. I love Filipino food, but more often than not, restaurant Filipino food does not leave me happy. Mercel's is quite a different story. We have visited twice over the last three months, and I can now really say this place is worth the drive. It has been written up here previously http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/809087 , but I think it merits another mention.

I have had lechon kawali and lumpiang shangha (on both visits), lechon paksiw, pinakbet, and bicol express. All have been outstanding. Filipino food is not glamorous at all, but when that perfect balance of brininess, sourness, and fat comes together, underlined by white rice, you can experience quite a party in your mouth. I recommend Mercel's particularly because it seems all is cooked to order. This is what makes it wonderful to eat here; but this is partly what makes it a test of patience.

On both occasions I have visited, there has been a staff of exactly two. That's right: two people to cook for multiple tables, ring up groceries, take orders, serve rice, and everything else. You will wait. You will have to go up to door of the kitchen to see if there is life. You will not have water until you go up and ask for it. You will feel hot and probably break a sweat in the lightly-air conditioned space. But you will also lick your plates clean when the food finally comes out, and likely forgive the lack of staff.

Now all of that being said, I am already looking forward to my next trip back. Everything tastes incredibly simple and straightforward, without the usual restaurant unnecessary heaviness, greasiness, or saltiness. Vegetables are fresh, crisp, succulent, and flavorful. Not dead, limp, or overly cooked. The lechon has been delicious both times, crispy and non-greasy, with plenty of sauce.

MIL bought some pandesal -- homemade "dinnerish" rolls, although that description doesn't do them justice. OUTSTANDING! Mercel's is foremost a bakery, and this is the first baked good I've tried there. If this is any indication, I am sure the cakes are excellent. The pandesal was perfect: fluffy, light, barely sweet, barely savory. Very, very elegant bread. I'm already craving more.

I don't know of any other Filipino restaurants open in the area, but I don't know if I much care, given the quality of the chow at Mercel's.

http://www.mercelsbakeshop.com/

Jun 09, 2013
Noice in Florida
1

Multicourse Italian Menu - Your Input/Ideas, Please

I have been feeling guilty for having taken advantage of ALL of your divine input, and then not even reporting on the meal. For shame, NOICE! That’s what I’d been telling myself, but I’d just been so dadgum busy since March (when the meal was had), I hadn’t had time to dig up the pictures to post and write a proper report. I will be the first to say that I HATE when I read/contribute to a thread and then the OP disappears. And now I was the one guilty of it. Please allow me to redeem myself:

I must begin here: This was the single greatest meal I have ever cooked in my life. Period. I may have had a few restaurant meals better than what I prepared, but I have never had a better “high-grade” meal cooked in a home set-up. IT WAS EXQUISITE. Forgive the horn-tooting, but this was just that one time where all the stars were aligned, and with my fellow CH’ers’ help really shot for the moon, and damn well got there. All of the flavors, textures, heaviness – all of it just ended up being so well-balanced. Thank you, thank you, thank you all! My wife was hating her existence in the weeks leading up to the meal, what with all the planning, trips to the stores, dirty dishes, my stressing, etc. And believe me, she would ALWAYS be the first to say, despite her sweetness: “It was really good, Honey, but do you really think it was worth all the effort?” But no such words were uttered that night. In fact, despite the fact that it took 7.5 hours (!) to consume this meal – nevermind the days of active prep preceding the meal – before we went to bed that night she asked when I could replicate the exact meal all over again. Of course, most importantly it allowed to really share special moments with dear friends, and they also thought it was phenomenal.

It’s been a few months, but I will do my best to recreate the final menu.

AMUSE – I ended up doing very tiny slabs of halibut, patted dry and lightly breaded with seasoned very fine corn meal. I put those on right as the guests arrived on CI skillet. Then I topped them with the black truffle sauce I brought back from Piedmont and a tiny piece of baby artichoke. I served each individually on small plates and garnished with snipped chives. This was a winner. Picture is attached. I opened up a nice prosecco and I also made Aperol spritzes to go with this (I used really nice olives, as someone suggested) and it was heavenly.

ANTIPASTI – I made three: 1. “Heirloom” (not sure if true, but they are the kind sold at our WF that are consistently flavorful and outstanding) tomatoes with prime EVOO and aged balsamic with basil chiffonade; 2. Burrata with EVOO and a touch of pepper; 3. Belgian endive leaves with salt-packed anchovies and roasted red pepper strips, drizzled with EVOO; and 4. No-knead bread, which turned out exceptionally crusty and crispy, and just perfect for the burrata. What an elegant cheese! I served a Dolcetto with this and it was outstanding. Picture of bottle is attached. Turns out I probably should have decanted the Dolcetto and not the Amarone, given all the sediment in the Dolcetto – more on this later. I thought I made too much, but everyone cleaned up everything, even my MIL!

PRIMO -- I made my deep tomato sauce with Andouille sausage the day before, refrigerated, and then gently re-heated earlier in the day. Worked great. The fusilli took it very well, and topped with P-R, of course it was perfect. This really made that Dolcetto sing. I was starting to wish I had bought a second bottle of that!

SECONDO – Hats off to Mr. Batali. That lamb shank recipe was unbelievable. Proportions, instructions are dead on. The oranges work so well to cut into so much of the fattiness of the dish. Of course the olives also go a long way toward that as well. Just a really, round, full flavor throughout. I did serve it in a pool of polenta as the picture shows, and it was simply amazing. My polenta was a bulk-bin type I bought a looong time ago, and I actually next time might by something higher quality by Anson Mills or some other such purveyor. Don’t know if anyone has any suggestions for that. We served the Amarone with this, decanted (my first time), and really savored it. I have to admit that the Amarone didn’t give me the fireworks in the mouth I was expecting with the lamb, but it was still very, very good.

INSALATA – All that looked decent at WF were the dandelion greens, and boy am I glad I got them. This is about the only thing I can find these days that is close to mature arugula, which I never see sold anymore! I took a super-ripe mango, and tossed the greens with some slivers, and made a simple balsamic vinaigrette. This salad, perhaps more than any other that night, really brought home the importance of just using damn good ingredients. The greens were pristine. The mango was at its peak ripeness (and was the small, yellow variety, which I think is best). The balsamic was premium stuff, as well as the EVOO. I shaved just a touch of P-R on the salads and off they went to the table. And WOW! The Amarone acheieved lift-off! I couldn’t believe it! My wife also agred! How could such a fancy wine taste sublime with a salad and not a meat dish? We are still in awe. I would make that same salad again and spend all the dough for the wine, just for that singular taste. This was the biggest surprise of the evening, and really really showed me, again, how ingredients can make some good, extraordinary.

FORMAGGI – I served the sottocenere, the cacio di roma, a third cheese that escapes me at the moment, and the P-R. We opened up the mostarda, and some honey I had also brought back, and finshed up the Amarone. Delicious. The mostarda is something I had never had before but just so unique and unlike the flavor patterns one experiences state-side. It is genius: the sweetness of those fruits is concentrated and then wholly underlined with the sharpness/bitterness of mustard. It seems to simple, but it is so complex in the fullness of the flavors and the texture of the fruit. We were loving this for a long time. I do not excel at all in pairing wine/drinks with cheeses, and I wished I had purchased something additional to have with these. These pairings are always really difficult for me. Even as I’m eating the cheeses, for whatever reason I can’t visualize/conceptualize what type of beverage I’d like to be having. This rarely happens to me . . .

DOLCE – Panna cotta. I think we made the Lebovitz recipe. THANK YOU CH’ERS! This was an excellent suggestion, as we were able to make it ahead of time, it was still light but not too light, and so easy to serve. My wife wanted to keep it in those “cute” red ramekins, but I think next time I’d take them out and serve them free-standing on a flat plate. I think it look prettier, and I like being able to cut into it with a fork, instead of scooping it out with a spoon.

DIGESTIVO – I found a grappa di dolcetto at Total Wine which was not cheap, but not too expensive. Very nice aft er the caffe. At this point, the guests were sprawled out on the couch/living room floor. I think I nearly killed them with pleasure.

Thank you again to everyone for all your help and encouragement. I really feel I took several steps forward in my cooking ability throughout the evolution of the prep of this meal, and I am grateful to all of you for your input. Chowhound is such an incredible resource, and I am constantly bowled over by your kindness and generosity with your time.

Noice

Jun 06, 2013
Noice in Home Cooking

Thomas Keller's Fried Chicken

Thank you very much. I will heed appropriately!

Apr 28, 2013
Noice in Home Cooking