Saturday, April 6, 2013

Z Grille, St. Petersburg, FL

Z Grille has been on my wishlist for some time now.  I love downtown St. Pete and have had a vague awareness that Chef Zack Gross has been a James Beard Award Nominee (kind of like the Academy Awards for chefs), which gives one a certain level of bragging rights in the culinary world...and I left feeling like this guy probably deserved it.  While everything wasn't perfect, "delightful" trumped "okay" for the most part.

I will start with what didn't appeal to me.  The venue itself has an urban and somewhat chilly sterility that didn't turn me on all that much...stainless steel tables in a diner-esque environment with too-loud piped in music.  Music has its place in restaurants, but do we (especially "we" introverts) really want to shout over our meals?.  Unwarrantedly noisy restaurants send me spiraling into rabid-dining-bitch mode almost faster than foil-wrapped butter pats.  No was a beautiful day, so we dined on the sidewalk.  Service, while getting it done, fell into the "meh" category...adequate (but barely) and hardly what I would categorize as "enthusiastic".

Let's go ahead and wrap up the negatives with my entrée. Chicken and Waffles is my favorite veggie, so there was no way I couldn't order it at Z Grille. "Cornflake & Sage Fried Chicken with Nueske Bacon, Caramelized Onion Waffle, Pink Peppercorn Butter, Bacon Maple Syrup & Applewood Smoked Cheddar Grits" thrilled on paper but fell short on the plate.  The dish was served at room temp with a just-this-side-of-burnt rock-hard waffle, downright cold and decidedly unspecial grits with barely a hint of cheddar ("Quaker" was actually brought to mind) and a slab of dry, overcooked chicken breast.  This did not begin to hold a candle to the benchmark set by the Chicken and Waffles offering served at Café Dufrain.  For your viewing pleasure:

Things drastically improved when what was basically the Best Burger on the Planet was placed before UD...a house-ground Half Pound Ground Ribeye and Brisket Burger with Grilled Red Onion, Nueske Bacon, a generous slab of La Belle Farms Foie Gras, Roasted Garlic Tomatoes, Mayo and Truffle Fries...presented medium rare.  I'm not a huge burger girl, but I almost lost consciousness from ecstasy when I took a bite. This was one foodgasmic concoction.
While we're on the subject of fries, Z Grille's aptly named "WTF Fries" with black truffle, manchego and chives pretty much left everyone's heads and taste buds reeling.  They were some of the tastiest fries I've ever eaten.  I think ruffies might be the "secret ingredient".
Tim's "Dr. Pepper Fried Baby Back Ribs" provided a well-appreciated and inventive Southern U.S./Asian fusion moment.  Who knew there was even a culinary movement in that direction?  The sticky, tender ribs were most yummily enhanced by their sweet chili glaze and sesame slaw accompaniment.  A little bit of a brawl broke out since there weren't enough of them to go around, but the po-po settled us all down with the threat of tasering.
Our pal Rhonda gave high praise to her Chili Infused Shrimp Quesadilla...although it might be a tad spicy for the wimpier palate.  The roasted tomatoes, garlic, applewood smoked cheddar, plump shrimp and cilantro melded beautifully and the Poblano Cream Sauce was a perfect accoutrement which worked well to deliciously and effectively dial down the heat factor.  Oh...and isn't Ravishing Rhonda's bracelet to die for?  Everyone who tasted this gave two thumbs up.
Last, but not least, Spicy Jumbo Shrimp Lettuce Wraps with sambal butter, garlic, jicama slaw and baby iceberg.  I can't comment on the taste, but it looked pretty.  Definitely a menu selection for someone who has the willpower to forgo epicurean decadence in exchange for a closetful of Junior-sized clothing.  I think it's pretty much been established that I'll keep shoehorning bread pudding down my pie hole no matter how wide a ride I become. Kudos to Paula (aka Lettuce Wrap Gurl). 

Overall, our group really enjoyed Z Grille.  Most menu items we tried were well above average in taste, creativity and quality of ingredients...and the price structure was surprisingly reasonable.  While it wasn't foodie nirvana in every respect, it came pretty damned close in a few.

Oh...and the icing on the cake of this day was getting to feed the pelicans on the St. Pete Pier.  Maybe you haven't gotten the memo yet, but I was proclaimed their new Queen (at least until the next feeder threw down a five-spot).  I wish a bucket of slimy bait fish had the same influential effect on humans.
Z Grille on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

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