Bern's is a Tampa (and National) icon and now I know why. I immediately fell in love with the over-the-top kitschy "opulence" of the place. The red velvet...the gilt...the faux marble reproductions...Aux My! I knew right away this would be a one-of-a-kind experience.
UD and I enjoyed a cocktail at the bar while we waited for our friends under the uber-professional eye of Marco (possibly the best bartender on the planet) who was very forthcoming with wine and food suggestions. Once everyone arrived, our party of four was led promptly to one of the smaller, cozy dining rooms. No need to fear stuffy, imperious service at Bern's...our server was knowledgeable, friendly, professional and very informative as she led us through the telephone-book-sized menu. We were also made aware that sommaliers were on duty to assist us in identifying appropriate wines to accompany our dinner selections, tastes and budget if we needed help...so don't be skeered if you're a wine novice but want to order something complementary to go with your dinner.
As it turned out, this bunch of winos didn't need no stinkin' sommalier...we knew exactly what we wanted. The guys zeroed right in on a bottle of Earthquake Zinfandel while the white-wine-loving gurlz went rogue and flew in the face of wine pairing propriety by
Enough of this mindless prattle...let's get on to the food. As usual, my heart was set aflutter at the sight of Foie Gras on the menu...served not just one, but TWO ways. Decisions, decisions. UD and I opted for the Foie Gras Torchon (pate style) with toasted brioche, pickled pineapple, roasted macadamias and candied ginger. The BEST foie gras pate outside of Paris (or at least in Florida). Everything we ordered was great, but this was my favorite taste of the evening.
Markus and Lois decided to share the Tuna Tartare (Sushi quality tuna, hand-diced and dressed with Asian spices, wasabi soy sauce, wasabi tobiko and wonton crisps). I'll be the first to admit that I don't have a great love for uncooked seafood, but I did take a bite and it tasted just like the ocean. I actually might've even gone in for a second forkful, but Markus turned out to be the possessive type.
One of the things I really appreciated about Bern's was that, although the price structure is on the hefty side, you're not nickel-and-dimed to death on the accoutrements. A ton of food is included with every entree: French onion soup, house salad, veggies, baked potato with a wide assortment of available toppings and freshly fried onion straws. I wanted the lobster bisque instead of the French onion soup, but it was not available as an upcharge (I had to skip the included soup and order an a la carte bowl of the bisque...but it was so worth it!). It was an $11.50 bowl of pure, creamy, lobsteriffic heaven and uniquely adorned with golden mushrooms, roasted corn, bacon and a little chervil oil. No...you may not have a spoonful.
The French onion soup au gratin was also beautiful, redolent with veal stock and very well received by the rest of the group. Dogboy is an onion soup aficionado who pretty much orders it every time it pops up on a menu, and he proclaimed this one the richest and deepest in flavor he's ever experienced.
The House Salad was probably the most special of that moniker that's ever been placed before me. Greens and garnishes tasted incredibly crisp and fresh (Bern's has their own organic farm right down the road from the restaurant and were actually growing their own sprouts hydroponically in little trays in the kitchen). There was a lot going on it this little salad, including avocado, butter lettuce, black olive, red pepper, carrots and ruby-red heirloom tomato slices. I selected the Maple Dijon dressing, which was delightful (all of Bern's salad dressings are made in house).
Steak time! While I don't think Filet Mignon is the most flavorful cut of beef, I do tend to order it in the nicer steakhouses...especially when it's been well-aged and an Oscar-style topping is available (as was the case here). My perfect 8 oz. slab of heaven was topped with lump crabmeat, asparagus and a perfectly creamy, lemony hollandaise sauce. All of this also came with a large baked potato loaded with butter, sour cream, bacon, butter and chives on the side in addition to the tasty fried onion straws and fairly forgettable offerings of candied carrots and grilled squash (as if anyone wants to waste precious stomach space on veggies in this situation). And, no...I did NOT step on the scale this morning because I knew I'd have to pitch that lying SOB into the pool if I did.
UD ordered the 14 oz. Delmonico and elected the Truffled Fried Potatoes instead of the baked potato that came with the entree (+ $9.95). His steak was insanely good and perfectly prepared (as was everyone's at our table).
Our dining companions both went with the Filet Mignon served "Chateaubriand style". I've never seen individual servings of beef tenderloin presented in this manner before and thought it was pretty cool. This piece of steak was broiled laying down with the grain running horizontally against the heat, which resulted in a really nice crust. Markus also had a side of beautiful little steakhouse mushrooms to accompany his cow chop.
Are you full yet? We were. By now it was time to take a brief tour of the kitchen, which looked like a small city and was run like a machine. I loved seeing every dish created by hand, with nary a Sysco can or pre-fab product in sight. We also got to check out part of Bern's 1,000,000 bottle wine cellar (yes, I said One Meeelllion!). Even the four of us coudn't put much of a dent in that, despite our heroic attempt.
We were then directed upstairs to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, which was most precious in its cozy nooks and retro feel. I felt like food was coming out of my ears by this point, but it would've been wrong not to at least taste something, so we decided to share two. I let Underdog make our final selection, which was King Midas...a rich, dense slab of carrot cake topped with Bern's house-made macadamia nut ice cream and warm dark chocolate sauce. Swoonworthy!
Markus and Lois shared the ridiculously heavy and creamy Cheesecake Gert...a decadent wedge of tangy, slightly lemony heaven served atop a praline crust and adorned with strawberries, whipped cream and strawberry coulis.
Such an amazing evening! I was shocked when we left the restaurant and I realized we'd been there for over four hours...and in a "where did the time go" and not a "what in the hell is taking my food so long to come out" way. Everything was perfectly paced to allow for an evening of conversation and relaxation. Dinner at Bern's is not merely a meal...it's an experience. And Bern's is not simply a restaurant...it's a destination. A mini vacation from the real world, you will leave this place feeling fat and pampered. A must-do in Tampa!