It's official, y'all. I've suspected it for some time now and after last night's exquisite meal at Cafe Luna Bistro, I must announce that (for the most part) the independent restaurant cuisine of Pinellas County trumps that of Hillsborough County. So what if it doesn't have a Bern's or an Edison Food + Drink Lab? There are a plethora of often unsung culinary rawkstars on the left coast...Cafe Ponte, Middle Grounds Grill, Black Pearl of Dunedin, Black Palm, Pearl, Fetishes, and now, Cafe Luna Bistro...just to name a few.
Cafe Luna is a small, romantic bistro tucked away in a strip mall on St. Pete Beach. You won't find a phone book-sized menu here, but you will still have a difficult time making your selection from its short list of delectable-sounding offerings. The well-rounded wine list offers something to please every palate and many of the bottles are priced at $30 or less. Indeed, entrees also pack quite a punch for their price tag (about half of them cost under $25) and are generous enough that you really don't need to order appetizers or dessert...but you'll want to anyway.
On this fine occasion, UD and I converged with another local restaurant blogger, JR of the SOG City Oracle and his charming spouse, The Belle of Ballast Point (who is recently retired in case you haven't yet heard her singing it from the rooftops...all the reason we needed to indulge in a celebratory meal).
Our warm and professional server promptly dispensed some crispy and airily-light fresh bread and better-than-average olive oil with herbs for dipping.
Our group started with an order of Smoked Fish Spread (fresh smoked grouper and snapper mixed in a chipotle, onion and mayonnaise spread served with warmed crostinis), which was the second best I've ever eaten in Florida. It was close, but Waltz' Fish Shak's smoked fish spread has an almost addictive quality that I can't ever seem to get off of my mind (I'm pretty sure it's laced with crack). I digress, however; this was ONE FINE smoked fish spread...chunky, smoky and mayo-light. The accompanying Cholula Chipotle Hot Sauce and warm toast points only served to enhance the delightful, just-pulled-from-the-Gulf flavor profile of this combo of two of the best locally caught fish in Florida.
Thai Spring Rolls were crispy, golden brown and stuffed with beef and Asian veggies. SO good, and everyone loved the sweet chili dipping sauce that came with. Not a morsel remained of either app.
Are you noticing a pattern yet as it applies to plating? I believe the best dining experiences are the ones that provide a feast for all of the senses (not just the taste buds) and have a huge appreciation of visual stimuli when I dine. Everything we ordered at Cafe Luna Bistro was as gorgeous as it was delicious.
JR's $29.90 Filet Mignon Napoleon was almost obscene in its off-the-chain decadence factor. The buttery slab of beef tenderloin was perfectly cooked and topped with a grilled colossal crab cake, sliced portobello mushroom, a honey dijon horseradish cream sauce and sweet balsamic reduction. Ummm...*thud*. The included side of Loaded Mashed Potatoes with sour cream, green onion and Applewood smoked bacon were almost rich and heinous enough to double as dessert. Unfortunately, we were on our way to seriously trashing the table in the throes of our feeding frenzy by the time the entrees came out. Try to ignore the spots on the butcher paper and focus on what's important.
My $22.50 panko-crusted crispy snapper in a Thai red coconut sauce with mixed vegetables and jasmine rice was perfection on a plate. Everything was hot, the fish tasted like it had been swimming earlier in the day and THAT SAUCE walked the perfect line between sweet and heat. I've eaten at Thai restaurants that didn't nail it so perfectly. I haz a new drug.
BOBP took our lovely server's advice and ordered the Chicken Marsala. While I'll admit that next-to-never will I order chicken in a restaurant (especially not breast meat) because I generally don't think it's all that special, I may have to change my mind after tasting this dish. Anytime a chef manages to keep white meat moist and juicy, they earn my respect...and this was all of that and more. The generous slabs yielded easily to the fork, the sweet and creamy Marsala sauce was almost candy-like and I loved the thick, earthy slices of fresh mushrooms. At $14.50 with well-above-average sides of mashed potatoes and a veggie, this may be the deal of the century on St. Pete Beach.
I was only able to NOT order the $19.90 Shrimp and Andouille with Grits (jumbo shrimp and andouille sausage sautéed with bell peppers, onions and celery in a port wine demi-glace, Cajun seasoning and chives, served with three cheese grits) because my better half pledged to. OMG...I love grits almost more than life itself and these did not disappoint.
It would be so fun to have something to bitch about...but since that plate never came, I am forced to be uncharacteristically syrupy. I love Cafe Luna Bistro. I'm ever-so-impressed by the quality of their cuisine and service, the aforementioned beauty and care of their plating, and also the fact that while the menu offerings encompass a broad swath of both regional and multi-national favorites, everything is so wonderfully executed.
While we really didn't have room for dessert, that's never stopped us from ordering it so we forged ahead. Bread Pudding is my Achilles Heel, so once I heard "Apple Cinnamon Bread Pudding" it was a foregone conclusion that I would have it. This proved to be an excellent rendition...dense, moist, crusty around the edges and chock-full of cinnamon spice and apples.
Most chocolate desserts fail to thrill me, but the BOBP's double chocolate brownie with berries and vanilla ice cream had me double-dipping my spoon into it.
Café Luna Bistro is an excellent (and affordable) fine dining destination on the Pinellas Beaches. 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.