Okay...I'd ordinarily rather be struck by lightning than enter the coma-inducing confines of an art museum (the St. Pete Dali museum being a rare exception). However, after sipping a few (or more) beers at the Gasparilla Art Festival a couple of weeks ago (which is more my kind of art), I was feeling tolerant and sorely in need of a palate cleanser to mitigate the shameful aftertaste of corn dog and funnel cake. I'd read that the museum's cafe was run by one of my favorite restaurants in town, Mise en Place, and figured it might be worth overcoming my trepidation.
When Dogboy, our companions and I entered, my heart sank a little. I was expecting something a little more restaurant-like and little less snack bar-esque. Still, we were already there...plus, I could see a nice wall cooler full of interesting beers and half-bottles of white wine, the view overlooking the Hillsborough River and University of Tampa was gorgeous AND I badly needed a respite from the art festival crowd. The decor is fairly minimalistic with sleek aluminum tables and chairs, but once I sat down and relaxed the ambience quickly grew on me thanks to tasty Italian-inspired treats, water views, excellent service and a more civilized noise level than I expected.
The menu was short, sweet and light (mostly charcuterie, cheeses, paninis and salads). The boys ordered a couple of microbrews while the gurlz started with our first of three half-bottles of Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay. Our pals were going elsewhere for a more substantial dinner later (having abstained from the rabid elephant ear and fried Oreo feeding frenzy that UD and I had succumbed to) so they simply drank and observed.
First up, a delightful little salumi plate (Capicola, Mortadella and Prosciutto with figs and crispy flatbread). Cured Italian meats are always a crowd pleaser for us and we were on this like Charlie Sheen on a porn star. Winning!
We also tried the cheese plate which was fairly basic but nice. I wish I could remember what types of cheese were on it, but by then Beth and I were on our second half-bottle of wine. Plus, it took me 10 days to post this and I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning when NO alcohol was involved. I was counting on the online menu to "remember" for me, but the cheese and salumi plates aren't listed on it. Grrr. Thanks for embarrassing me, Sono. :p
Since we had been snacking all afternoon, the hubster and I decided to share the Speck Ham, Gorgonzola, Dried Fig, Red Onion and Arugula Pressed Panini. I'll preface this by saying that I'm not really much of a sandwich fan and they seldom impress me, but this one did. I loved the fine combination of fresh, extremely complementary ingredients (the dried fig and toasty Italian bread really took it to a higher plane). Don't let the simplicity of the photo fool you...it was a beautiful thing.
We were no longer hungry at this point, but then we hadn't really been when we started. The gelato case had caught my eye on our way in, though...and what's another 300 or so calories when you're having a 4,000 calorie day? I'm glad we took the plunge because I say with a clear conscience that this was the best gelato I've ever had in Tampa. UD went for the Cookies and Cream and I opted for the Blood Orange (finally ready to cleanse my palate for real). Both were cold, creamy, flavor-intense perfection.
Final word: I liked it a lot. We got surpisingly excellent (well, maybe not so surprisingly since Mise en Place runs the joint) service and the quality of the food far exceeded my expectations based on first glance at the menu. Maybe not a good choice if you're extremely hungry, but definitely an enjoyable spot for lunch or a light bite...an all-around pleasant experience!
Can we go home now? I am getting verrrrrrryyyyy sleeeeepyyyy. Not sure why. Carbo-crash, too much sun and excessive alcohol consumption so seldom affect me this way.
"Perhaps you should follow our lead and exercise a little more restraint next time. Gluttony is a sin, you know." Love you guys! :)