Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Carne Chophouse, Tampa, FL

I couldn't wait to try Carne since its sister resto, Bernini, is one of my fave spots in Ybor...not to mention the fact that new blood is always welcome in East Tampa (plus, Ybor needed a steak restaurant).  We gave it a couple of weeks to "get its groove on" and hit it last weekend for an early dinner. 

Built in 1912 as the El Centro EspaƱol Building, the resto still exudes its original charm...and I love the fact that the colorful Spanish tile floors have been preserved despite a few worn spots.  The high ceilings keep things from getting too loud and there's plenty of brocade, velvet and dark wood around to enhance the "old-school" steakhouse experience echoed by Carne's delightfully pleasing traditional menu.  Sort of a "Bern's Ultra Light"...with equally light pricing. 

Underdog was already salivating in anticipation of sinking his pearly whites into a bloody chow chop....

...but after a few beers and a coma-inducing movie (The Raven) experience beforehand, he couldn't resist test-driving one of the comfy-looking chaise longues in the cozy adjacent sitting area before the food started coming out.

We got attentive and well-informed service from Mortimer (aka Marty) who helpfully walked us through the menu.  While UD enjoyed a glass of Steele Shooting Star Syrah and I sipped on Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay, we bickered our way through the enticing selection of apps which included classic favorites like Deviled Eggs, Escargot, Carne's spin on Oysters Rockefeller and Bacon Fried Chicken Livers (my first choice).  In a last ditch effort to keep us out of marriage counseling, I succumbed to my better half's raging desire for the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzerella.  We both love prosciutto and cheese, but I feel safe reporting that I probably would've personally enjoyed one of the aforementioned starters a little more.  I adore salt in a way that should've given me a heart attack long ago (which is one of the reasons I so appreciate cured hams), but the saltiness of this starter proved to be a bit much for my palate and I couldn't really put my finger on its origin.  That said, I've seen several other online reviewers give it two thumbs up, so take my opinion with a grain of...well, you know.

One of the things I really like about Carne is the surprisingly reasonable price structure coupled with quality cuisine and the plethora of extras that are delivered with every entree. A la carte "nickle-and-diming" is virtually non-existent here, although you may pay a dollar or two extra for the occasional upgrade. Every entree includes bread, soup or salad and a side dish of your choice.  Dogboy, being a split pea soup lover from way back, zeroed right in on Jason's Split Pea and Smoked Ham Hock Soup with Truffled Parmesan Crouton.  He was thrilled with what showed up...and even I liked it, despite the fact that pea soup is generally relatively low on my list of turn-ons.  It was silkier and somewhat thinner than most I've tasted with a nutty, smoky ham flavor. 
I selected the Iceberg Wedge Salad to accompany my entree and it was the best restaurant salad I've enjoyed in long time (high praise coming from one whose heart is not ordinarily set aflutter by iceberg lettuce).  A textbook  cold and crunchy wedge was presented on a chilled plate, adorned generously with red onion, meaty applewood smoked bacon cumbles and an amazing cheesily-chunky and somewhat spicy roquefort dressing.  This thing has truly addictive qualities, so please...enjoy responsibly!
In addition to God's Own Salad, my entree...a tender and juicy 10 oz. slab of Prime Rib...also came with crispy onion straws, a loaded baked potato (one of the many side dish selections) and crusty bread with herb-infused butter...for $17.  WTF?   I almost felt like I was stealing.
Underdog opted for the 18 oz. Cowboy Ribeye with the $2 Bleu Cheese Crust add-on.  It was carnivore's dream, despite maybe being a degree or two warmer than the medium rare temp requested. 
His side dish of Green Beans, Onions, Crispy Bacon and Toasted Almonds almost brought a tear to the eye of this southern girl. 

The dessert menu held nothing terribly out of the ordinary, with choices limited to Strawberry Shortcake, Chocolate Cream Pie, Rum Caramel Flan, Baked Alaska (well, I guess that actually is somewhat out of the ordinary) and New York Style Cheesecake.  While I catch the retro drift here, I need more exciting temptations if I'm going to barter my caloric chips for more workouts and post-binge carrot-and-celery-stick purging.  Maybe Bananas Foster or Bread Pudding would help (hint).  The Chocolate Cream Pie we shared a few nibbles of was rich and creamy, but not especially memorable.  To be fair, heavy chocolate desserts are not my favorites to begin with...but Dogboy argued against the Strawberry Shortcake (which was highly recommended by our server) that I was leaning toward and I was too full to put up up a good fight at that point.   I think Carne needs to bring Satan in as a Sweet Ending Consultant.
It's tough to find an upscale place in Tampa where two steak dinners with all the trimmings, an appetizer, a shared dessert and cocktails will only set you back around $100...which is what this meal cost with two nicer glasses of wine apiece (before tip).  While it's quite new and almost certainly still working out a few kinks, Carne Chophouse is nonetheless definitely worth a visit right now.

Carne ChopHouse on Urbanspoon

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