After my friends at Tasting Tampa bestowed the coveted Sangria Gold, Nibbles Gold and Overall Gold Medals on Terra Sur after their Sangria Showdown last weekend, obviously I couldn't wait to hightail it over to the other side of the county and get in on some of that south-of-the-equator action. Some of the best food I've ever eaten was consumed in Argentina, so I had high hopes for this Peruvian eatery...and they didn't let me down.
First of all, it's a cool space with a warm Latin vibe (despite its strip mall location). Gold and terra cotta walls are lined with racks of wine from all over the world and vibrant works of art. My dubious photography skills failed me here, but you'll catch my drift:
The place was full and had a nice, convivial buzz going on when we arrived at around 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon. Every patron within earshot of us was speaking Spanish, which we took as a positive sign. We got warm and friendly service from Italo, who was very helpful with menu suggestions and seemed more than happy to answer our questions. That said, food was quite slow to come of the kitchen (just shy of being unacceptably so). Still, our server was apologetic about it and they were quite busy, so I'm not going to dwell on that fact since the food proved to be worth waiting for.
In addition to the large and veryfine pitcher of classic red sangria we ordered (mellow, fruity and slightly spicy while refraining from being too sweet), UD opted to start with this gorgeous order of large, tender mussels and chorizo. We were sorry we'd snorted the bread basket so hurriedly before the appetizers came out, because the broth in this bowl was seriously mop-worthy.
My Tostones con Carne (fried green plantains topped with seasoned minced beef, sauteed onions and red peppers) were also muy rico. The patacones made the perfect starchy carrier for their spicy toppings, with everything converging to create a bona fide Latin American combo of flavor and texture that I have long adored. So what if you need a breath mint afterwards?
The spousal unit's Terra Sur Paella was off the chain...a little more heartily seasoned that others I've tried and literally crammed with beef tenderloin, chicken, shrimp, chorizo and mussels. Columbia...who? This could've easily fed two people and we wound up bringing half of it home.
When I attempted to tackle my entree, Pescado a lo Macho (lightly fried red snapper with shrimp, mussels and calamari served in a seriously rich tomato and coconut milk sauce), I immediately began experiencing flashbacks of the protein overload we experienced when we dined all over Buenos Aires a few years back. South American peeps lubs them some animal flesh...and who can blame them? (PETA, that question was not directed at YOU, so please refrain from comment.) The entree was truly amazing...the perfectly fried snapper tasted fresh and delicate, and had a breading so light it was barely discernible. The approximately 12 oz. serving of it was piled high with the other seafood ingredients. I can seriously put some food away, but I'm no Adam Richman and this proved to be a challenge I wasn't up for. I managed to eat roughly a third of it, and I think the fact that I didn't have the rest of it boxed up made Italo feel as though he'd steered me in the wrong direction with his recs. Not so! Truth is, I have a batcrapcrazy idiosyncrasy when it comes to eating leftovers and reheating food in general. Can't do it...especially when it comes to seafood. Hopefully, there was richly deserving stray cat in the back alley.
Now that I'm all grown up, I can have dessert whether I finish all my dinner or not...so I always do. Besides...having already left fingerprints and drool stains on the windows of the dessert case just inside the entrance while we waited to be seated, it only seemed right to make some sort of restitution. The Pear William cake was beautiful and its moniker enchanted me, so what could I do but order it? Vanilla chiffon cake was layered with pear slices and pear Bavarian mousse, then topped with caramel miroir glaze and toasted almonds. So what if it's more French than Peruvian? A little internet research revealed that it was most likely of the prefab variety, but it was tasty nonetheless.
Still, it paled in comparison to Dogboy's more bona fide Tres Leches Cake. Dense, moist and not any sweeter than it needed to be, it was a noteworthy rendition of one of our favorite desserts.
Terra Sur is a great place to take your taste buds out on a limb in a beautiful, cozy setting. I couldn't help but compare it favorably to El Puerto in Ybor, which also offers South American continental flavors without the ambience, plating, wine selection or overall quality for about the same price (right at $100 with a pitcher of sangria, two apps, two mammoth entrees and two desserts). If you like that place, you'll love this one.