I so wish I could lavish 100% of my unconditional love without being able to identify any fault whatsoever in every dining experience I share here...but, because I pay full price for every meal I blog about (unlike others in a swelling number of Tampa Bay food bloggers who adore every morsel they take in...especially because each is free), I feel quite comfortable relaying the good, the bad and the ugly after having just dropped $200+ at 717 South for two after gratuity (having met up with our foodie pals JR, author of the SOG City Oracle and his lovely bride, the BOBP) for an early dinner. Okay...there's really no "ugly" here to report, but I did think there were a couple of misses.
First off, the venue is very chic. Booths were super-tight, however...almost to the point of being uncomfortable for diners of relatively normal weight. Honestly, if your BMI is higher than 24, you might want ask for a table.
Liz was as stellar a server as one could ask for. Spunky and cute, she stayed on top of us, kept our wine glasses filled and helpfully guided us through the menu.
The four of us decided to share the generous $44 Pu Pu Platter (menu says it serves two to four, but it's almost more than enough for four unless the said four are lumberjacks). It was a beautiful presentation although there was nothing going on here that isn't already being done all over town. Fried calamari was standard chain resto issue; Havana short rib spring rolls with almond guava spread, Peruvian pepper aioli sounded precious on the menu but were nothing particularly out of the ordinary on the plate; Polenta fries rawked, but the crab wontons were just strange. Heavily breaded and deep fried, these crispy balls squirted a watered-down cream cheese filling minimally integrated with crab meat immediately upon applying fork pressure. It vaguely brought to mind that Freshen-Up gum of the '70s with the liquid center...but I'm dating myself now. The seared yellow-fin tuna was the best thing on this plate in my opinion...fresh-tasting and liberally adorned with ginger and wasabi (and sushi-type stuff is not generally high on my list of food faves).
Feeling a tad dainty on this particular evening (I must be coming down with something, right?), I ordered a cup of the crab bisque and a small plate of shrimp and grits...both of which I felt were the low points of the evening.
I can't complain about the amount lump crab in the bisque (described on the menu as lump crab, sherry, "creme"...which I think translates to "cream" in ordinary speak...and leeks), but there was something strange and overpowering going on in this soup and I think it was curry (which may have contributed to its unusual yellow hue). It was unlike any other crab bisque I've ever tasted and I don't mean that in a good way. I only took a couple of bites.
Similarly, my Shrimp and Grits (sauteed shrimp, roma tomatoes, portabella mushrooms, served over Romano grits) were also difficult to enjoy. I order this dish almost every time I see it on a menu and this is first version ever placed before me that I have disliked. The shrimp were nicely cooked, but there was serious dearth of grits and the entire plate was awash in a heavy, dark gravy that completely overwhelmed the main ingredients.
Now that THAT'S out of the way, it's pretty much all uphill from here.
The Belle of Ballast Point went with the Chicken Calabria (lightly breaded and sauteed pounded chicken breasts topped with parma prosciutto, spinach, swiss and marsala demi-glace with four cheese macaroni and chef’s vegetables). While anything "chicken breast" would be verylast thing I would ever order for myself, this was remarkably juicy and tasty...an upscale version of Chicken Cordon Bleu. And that Mac 'n Cheese sidecar? It was decadence personified. I daresay Kraft had no hand in this whatsoever.
My Underdog opted for one of the specials of the evening...a NY strip (perfectly cooked to order) and served with chimichurri sauce, Swiss chard (accented with duck bacon, no less...which proved to be a most fine ingredient) and corn flan...which was sweet and tres delish, but we just called it "corn pudding" when I was growing up in Nashville.
JR ordered the Lollipop Pork Chop (lightly smoked and grilled in Jim Beam and sweet onion sauce). What the chop lacked in tenderness, it made up for in its luscious, smoky flavor. Plus, another mound of that orgasmic mac 'n cheese accompanied it.
UD, the only one who wanted dessert after all the massive portions were consumed (JR and the BOBP opting for after-dinner specialty coffees), zeroed right in on the Apple Pie which, after the fact, seems like lowly moniker for such a stellar creation. Crust was thick and flaky, apples were tender and perfectly spiced, and a simple scoop of high-quality vanilla ice cream served as the ideal accoutrement.
I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a bite of your apple pie today.
Just in case the pie didn't give you cavities, behold the ultimate "sweet finish".
Final word: While this was a pleasant experience overall, 717 South's mission seems to be to appealing to the masses (which they do a decent job of). At $200 per couple, however, it's not a place to which we'll be chomping at the bit to return. Too many more exciting dining experiences are available in the Tampa Bay area for this kind of coin.
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.