Wow. I have clearly been away from the Pinellas Gulf Coast for too long (12 years now). Back in the late 90's and early 00's, the Gold Standard for a "special" dining experience on the beaches was Salt Rock Grill...and, while I still wouldn't turn my nose up at a meal there despite the fact that the menu offerings (while pricey and fairly consistent) do not even remotely begin to "go out on a limb", we now have honest to gawd exciting epicurean options on the 20 mile waterfront strip from Dunedin to Pass-a-Grille. It was sad to see you go, Leverock's and Shells. Okay...not really.
Cases in point (in varying price ranges): The Black Pearl in Dunedin; Slyce Pizza Bar in Indian Rocks Beach (who else in town is doing a Pear, Proscuitto, Gorgonzola and Mozzarella pizza?); Tapas Garden on Indian Rocks beach (a little inconsistent on our past couple of visits, but will hopefully reclaim the glory of its past); Gulf Bistro on Madiera Beach which has to be some of the best French cuisine to be found in Tampa Bay); Middle Grounds Grill on Treasure Island (all the usual seafood resto crowd-pleasers and then some...but ratcheted up several notches by way of freshness, creative twists and professional servers); Chill on St. Pete Beach...and now, I will unveil my latest crush. Black Palm Restaurant on Pass-A-Grille.
Nestled at the southern-most tip of this upscale beach community, the uber-chic Black Palm is surrounded by water, boutiques and cute little art galleries. If you're very sweet and get your date liquored up a bit, you might wind up with a pretty new bracelet from the Paradiso boutique across the street after dinner. Don't ask me how I know. I digress...let's get this train back on the track. Check out the charming interior of Black Palm. Its beautiful, relaxing and the service we experienced throughout the course of our meal was friendly, attentive and courteous. Of course we arrived the moment the doors opened at 5:00 PM because we had spicily scintillating post-dinner plans for the remainder of our date night and I simply couldn't WAIT to get home to (yes, you guessed it) a "Mad Men" marathon on the couch.
The entire menu looked amazing, but we wanted to try several things and the tapas offering were particularly enticing. Arepa Royal (fresh corn griddle cakes, topped with smoked
salmon, queso fresco, sour cream, caviar and green onions) proved to be impossible for me to resist. The universe was clearly on my side when I insisted on this. The arepas were moist and tender on the inside while presenting a lovely, caramelized crispness on the outside. My inner redneck could've cheerfully snarfed a pile of them drenched in molasses and butter...but the luxurious toppings reminded me to maintain a proper Stepford wife demeanor and nibble daintily. These babies were sheer decadence.
Ricanachos (two banana tostones with black beans, one with pulled brisket and one with seasoned
chicken, topped with cheese and tomatillo sauce) were also outstanding. I adore tostones and these were perfect renditions, each loaded with generous and juicy portions of meat.
The simple-sounding Salchicon con Asiago (Grilled South American Salami served
with Asiago cheese and white corn cakes) exceeded expectations. The corn cakes were hot and crunchy, serving as the perfect carrier for the thick, grilled slabs of spicy salami and creamy Asiago cheese. Honey, are you sure we're not back in Buenos Aires?
I liked our Beef Empanada. While it was densely meaty and enrobed in a beautifully crispy pastry crust, I personally prefer a more picadillo-esque filling in my empanadas (which was the version I learned to love in South America). Green olives, simmered tomatoes and a little more heat would've gone further to tingle my taste buds, but it was a tasty and respectable offering nonetheless.
About this time, Underdog switched from a Blue Moon brewski to what was decidedly the most stunning mojito on the planet (with taste to match).
Why should he be the only one to get a "pretty" drink? Feeling competitive, I promptly ordered up a creamy, key lime pie martini with a graham cracker crusted rim. I know...you're bitterly wishing you wuz me right about now and you haven't even seen the heinous desserts we applied directly to our love handles, yet.
After exhibiting a highly notable level of consumption restraint considering the fact that our tapas repast was limited to four small plates, we decided that our extraordinary righteousness entitled us to three desserts. Yep...we're back on the Atkin's diet today, but let's not dwell on such unpleasantness. The desserts, each of them, were remarkable in their own right. I, for one, am sick of the mass-appeal "cheesecake, molten chocolate cake and key lime pie" standard issue post-dinner sweet offerings found in most Tampa Bay restaurants. That's why I found myself virtually reeling in ecstasy after trying Black Palm's Cheesecake. This is not your run-of-the-mill Sara Lee version, my friends. I've never had one like it. The thick, almond cookie crust could've been a dessert in and of itself. It was slathered in guava preserves and blanketed in a not-too-thick layer of dense cheesecake batter. The entire thing was drizzled with dulce de leche. You need this. It's one of the finest desserts I've ever eaten in the greater Tampa Bay area.
Competing neck and neck with the superb cheesecake offering was Natilla Grand Marnier...a creamy, booze-infused citrus custard with a magnificently torched crunchy and caramelized sugar crown. This will make you want to flush standard issue creme brulee right down the toilet. It seems hackneyed to use the adjective "orgasmic" as much as I do when I write about food...but, if the shoe fits, what else can I do?
We couldn't exactly leave without a least a taste of one our mutually fave desserts...tres leches cake! I feel safe in reporting that while we both loved it, it was eclipsed by the two aforementioned sweet offerings. Certainly provided nothing to complain about, however.
Final word: I love Black Palm! It's been too long since I could add a local restaurant to my "Favorites" list on Urbanspoon. Thanks for a wonderful evening...can't wait to return.
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.