Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Refinery, Tampa, FL

Oh, boy...I almost hate to even write about this experience.  I have never had such high hopes for a restaurant and been disappointed so badly.  With so much positive buzz about the place, either I am that kid who proclaims that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes, or I was just there on a really, REALLY bad night.

The Refinery supports sustainable farming and they change their menu from week to week in order to make use of the freshest ingredients available.  Okay...I'm in!  The menu for the week was short, but looked interesting.  After the fact, I feel that the dishes we tried were (for the most part) overly "cheffy" (contrived), lacking culinary cohesion and not very nicely plated. 

We were greeted by the co-owner and wife of the chef, very warmly I might add.  Service was fine in this cozy dining complaints there.  The wine list is not extensive, but I found a nice Chardonnay blend, and UD couldn't find much fault with his Lagunitas IPA beer other than the fact that it could've been a bit colder.

UD waxes optimistic:

I was excited by the sight of Vintage Pate Sampler with cornichons, grainy mustard, and warm bread on the menu.  I have never met a pate I didn't adore...until today.  A trio of pate slices were presented to us (pretty poorly, I have to say), all of which were reminiscent of chopped cold cuts pressed together in a terrine.  I didn't taste liver in a single one...not even the slab that was supposed to contain foie gras. The dish was served with three small, wan slices of French bread which were neither particularly good nor particularly warm and not plentiful enough to serve as carriers for all of the pate (not that it mattered in the long it turned out, we didn't want to eat all of the pate).  When we asked for more bread, we were told that we would be charged $1 extra.  Okay.  Does this look appetizing?  I didn't think so.  :/

Next came the Poutine.  I will admit to not having a lot of familiarity with poutine, but I was eager to try it.  It was described as Yukon Gold Fries, Pulled Pork, Chicken Gravy, and Ricotta.  I'll start out by saying that the Yukon Gold fries were out of this, crispy, golden brown on the outside and creamy on the inside.  It's too bad they had to be laden with blobs of ricotta and gravy that tasted like it came straight out of the Heinz can.  I will say that the pulled pork (what little of it there was) was tasty.
Ordering the Sloppy Josiah Sliders (described as Lentil, Tomato, Chipotle Barbecue served with Cauliflower Tots) was a mistake that I will assume responsibility for since it was done without reading/questioning enough to discern that this was a vegetarian dish (No, thank you!).  Sorry...maybe a vegan would hoover this right down, but veggies in barbecue sauce on a bun does not cut it for us carnivores.  This dish was just awful and was removed virtually untouched...but I will say that as someone who often falls back on the Atkins Diet when her food-loving ways start to pack on the pounds, the cauliflower faux-tater tots weren't all that bad.  This was solely my opinion...UD wouldn't ingest a cruciferous vegetable if his life depended on it (well, there was that ONE time at the French Laundry...but when Thomas Keller puts a brussels sprout in front of you, you eat it).  Still, I think simply using potatoes would've provided more mainstream appeal.
Last, but not least in its inability to inspire, was the Crispy Pork Belly with Braised Cabbage and Rosemary-Chile Cashew Brittle.  Okay, the brittle was tasty, but I'm not sure what it had to do with the decidedly NON-crispy  pork belly (which was basically a chunk of blubber with a thin veneer of pork at the very bottom...way too much fat-to-meat ratio) or the shredded, tasteless mess of greens that accompanied it.  Nothing really seemed to mesh in the offerings we tried here.
Hope springing eternal, we decided to try a dessert...Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream with Bacon-Peanut Butter Blondie and Chocolate Swirl.  How can that combo possibly be bad, you ask?  Well, it ordinarily wouldn't be...except for the fact that the ice cream itself was ridiculously grainy (it practically shattered on the tooth) and had a texture reminiscent of  ice milk from the '60s that had spent too much time in the freezer. 
We came, we saw, we tasted...and will not return.

The Refinery on Urbanspoon


  1. My husband and I had an amazingly similar last visit to yours, but with a different set of dishes.
    I agree the chef and owners are great, and the place is cozy, but if Mr. Chef doesn't start tasting his food they will not be there in a year. My first visit was acceptable, and my second was an abomination.
    But we agree, the Yukon Gold fries were awesome!

  2. The two important thing to remember about the Refinery. 1. The menu changes every week, the dishes you sampled are not on the menu now. 2. The menu changes on Thursday, meaning if you are adventurous go on Thursdays but for the best possible version of the dishes offered, Monday or Tuesday is a much better choice.
    I am glad to have this place as a alternative to all of the frozen, pre-fab, over-priced, chain restaurants in Tampa. And is definately worth a second chance.

  3. I agree, totally over-rated and over=priced. WE had to wait over 30 mins(with only one other couple in the rest) for our food without so much as an I'm sorry. The arrogance of the server (manager?) was unreal, like we we lucky just to be eating there. NEVER going back.

  4. I've had AMAZING food there and pretty good food there. They always have a good burger on the menu and the fries are always good (maybe sans-gravy) If a dish sounds contrived pick a different one!

  5. I met a friend for lunch there today and I have to say that I was very, very disappointed presentation of food was lousy. My plate was chipped pretty much all over,at first I thought maybe this is a part of there ambience thing they are trying to have going on. I think they really need to invest in some plates and quick. The food, terrible, almost everything that they had on the menu at the time was not available, so I settled for the worst, salty, greasy burger I have ever tasted. I am still feeling nauseous from the grease. Mind you I was giving no silverware or napkins I had to ask for one and then the waiter had to search everywhere for a napkin? I'm not even sure where he picked it up from he bent down and stood up with a few in hand. I had to ask how my food was coming a long because I thought they forgot, mind you it was not that crowded. The server seemed to be so busy zipping around everywhere, not attentive to customers at all and last he was extremely dirty looking "yuck". I am not usually this negative and I actually hoping that it would be promising, but if this is the way it always is, they have alot to learn about cooking and being restaurant owners. I know I won't be back.

  6. I can't stand this people. I heard about the place , so I wanted to give it a try but when we got there and saw the dinning room,,,( dirty, no appeal, with a soda fountain machine in the dinning room like in a fast food joint) the attitude of the waiter, and the owner manager telling me in a hostile way if " I had a problem" because I told the waiter how come they didn't" have a wine list. I just got up and left before ordering any food or drinks. I saw it coming. I'm friends with some of the best chefs in town and when I ask them what's up with this place , they all pretty much laugh and say the are wannabes and have no clue of what a real culinary restaurant is about. Can't stand this restaurant !!!! Extremely unprofessional but they think they are super cool, my theory is they simply don't know any better.

  7. I went there thinking it was like the Ravenous Pig in Orlando....ummm not! I've been a Chef for 20 years and I feel like they try too hard. Keep it fresh and simple and do it right. If you can't nail simple then let's not try to go all Top Chef with your dishes. I too had a soggy Lamb Belly served with cold yukon mashed potatoes and my vanilla bean and black pepper ice cream was definatley over churnned as well so at least they are consistant with those items...for the price of $112 for 2 people I expect a better quality of a meal.

  8. To the person (or little girl) who could only bring him/herself to personally attack me (anonymously, of course)...if you would like to counter my opinion, you are encouraged to do so. I welcome and post dissenting views as long as they are rational.

  9. Why is it that whenever this place gets a sub par review, there's always a comment stating that the new menu rolls out on Thursdays, so it's better by Monday? This is just a bad excuse. I am a chef. I put out a new menu every week, too. It's just pure unprofessionalism to knowingly put bad food on a plate. Consistency comes from testing and tasting. NEVER send food that isn't up to your stated standards.