It appears there's a new epicurean rawkstar on the scene in Tampa Bay and I'm thrilled to report on the wonderfulness of it all!
Located in Seminole Heights (which may not be the most desirable dining destination in Hillsborough County but is definitely "getting there" a la Ybor City), it's got it all goin' on...from sleek-meets-rustic venue, excellent waitstaff and cutting edge cuisine.
We met up with my favorite fellow blogger, JR, editor of the SOG City Oracle and his beautiful spouse, the Belle of Ballast Pointe, to see what all the fuss was about. We deemed the "fuss" not unfounded.
UD and I arrived a good 20 minutes before opening time, but were warmly welcomed to enjoy a beverage at the bar while we waited for our dining companions to arrive and dinner service to begin. While seated at the bar, we had a 360 degree view of the pristinely clean kitchen as well as the clearly professional and amazingly synchronistic dance pattern of the culinary staff...especially considering they've only been open for a few weeks. After reading today that the three resto partners are all Mise en Place alumni, the fact that they got their act together so quickly in this game became a little less surprising. Let's get this party started!
The gurlz shared a $25 bottle of Bishop's Peak Chardonnay (yep, we're cheap dates) while the spoiled boyz split a $65 bottle of juicy T-Vine Petite Sirah. Food sharing is highly encouraged at Rooster, which our group appreciated as we have no problem incestuously digging our forks into one another's dishes. We received plenty of extra plates along with stellar service, both at the bar and from our darling of the evening, Meagan, who knew the menu like the back of her hand and granted our every wish. In addition to the regular menu, there was a chalkboard listing the raw oysters and other crudos of the evening (priced per piece). While the BOBP and I are not super-fans of raw seafood and UD must avoid them due to dietary restrictions, JR was in bivalve heaven as he heartily slurped three each of the two available Oysters du Jour...fresh, briny and each adorned with kumquat mint vinegar and pickled chili peppers for a little extra "kick". He deemed them some of the freshest and most delish he's ever tasted...and this boy has known an oyster or 5,000 in his day.
The $22 Charcuterie and Cheese Slate was one of the most beautiful and original that we've ever had placed before us. Point Reyes Original Bleu with Honeycomb, Piccollo Crontonese with Golden Raisin Chutney, Flat Creek Cheddar with Pepper Jelly, Chicken Liver Pate with Candied Walnut Crumble, Pork Shoulder Tasso with Apple Coffee Butter and (mostespecially) Smoky Duck Rillette with Orange Black Pepper Marmalade were all off the chain.
We wanted to try so many things that we concentrated on a few of the small plates we all wanted a bite of and finished up with a couple of the "slightly larger" offerings. First up, Smoked Mushrooms with Burnt Onion, Green Tomato and Pointe Reyes Bleu. I'm a funghi fan from way back and loved the taste and texture of these babies. Despite the fact that green tomato is not high on my list of food faves, this accoutrement was applied with a light hand and in no way deterred me from snorting more than my fair share of the 'shrooms. Sorry, guys!
Pork Belly with Cornbread, Pickled Apple and Peppercorn Honey was a table favorite. The pork belly was lean, meaty and tender and the honey and moist little slabs of cornbread perfection (and being a native Tennessean, I'm obviously a cornbread expert) were the perfect foils for the delectable chunks of porcine goodness.
I wasn't as thrilled with the Duck Confit with Smoked Eggplant, Acidic Fennel and Foie Gras Emulsion as I expected to be, which I attribute more to personal taste than dish execution. Firstly, I wasn't anticipating a chilled offering (which this is). Secondly, I love the earthy flavor of duck and thought it was a little overpowered by the fennel's acidity on this plate.
The boyz were ready to get adventurous via a couple of the larger plates featuring rabbit and goat. I'll be the first to admit that I'd be a vegetarian if I had to kill my own food and there are more than a few species that surpass my comfort level in the culinary world. Here's one: Rabbit Ballotine with Chicken Liver, Porky Kale and Soft Polenta. Chicken liver, porky kale, polenta....love, love, love. Knowing I was taking a bite of Thumper was tough pill to swallow, however. I bit the bullet and, while I can't say the morsel I tried wasn't tasty, I would've preferred that someone had told me it was chicken. Fingers in ears...la-la-la-la-la.
Goat is a meat I will never touch after a traumatic experience with said protein source growing up in Redneckland, so I can't fairly report on the Squash Orechiette with Braised Goat, Stewed Tomatoes, Hazlenuts and Smoked Butter other than to say the house-made Orechiette pasta (aka "little ears") was sheer, al dente perfection. It was hoovered down by my dining companions in veryshortorder.
Let's get back to something that's about ME. My "Larger Plate" (and somewhat more mainstream) selection of Duck Breast with Charred Carrots, Spiced Granola, Lentils and Duck Demi may never be forgotten. Sofa King amazing!
Are you as bored with Chocolate Lava Cake, Cheesecake, Tiramisu and Key Lime Pie as I am? Here's your antidote. Rooster's dessert "Parfait" with layers of Orange Spice Custard, Salted Caramel, Hazelnut Granola and Rosemary Creme Fraiche is probably the little-known 8th day creation of God. Hand it over, UD...or else.
Wonderful meal, wonderful service and wonderful friends made this a dining experience we won't soon forget. Tampa is finally beginning to become a grown-up "real" food town, and places like Rooster need and deserve local foodie support. Check it out...you won't be sorry!
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.