Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Haven, Tampa, FL

The metamorphosis is complete.  The restaurant formerly known as Sidebern’s broke out of its transformational chrysalis in March and a sleek new butterfly emerged in the form of the eagerly-anticipated Haven.  I won’t lie.  My sentimental side will miss Sidebern’s a little bit.  My pragmatic taste buds, however, have moved on with nary a backward glance after their romp through the fresh and exciting new menu of small plates at Haven. 

The reinvention remains under the direction of Executive Chef Chad Johnson and the wine list is still phone book-sized with 550 regional and global vintages.  Many selections are available by the glass, some of which are served on tap (Keg of Wine, where have you been all my life?).  If you’re not a Bacchante maiden like myself, choose from signature hand-made cocktails, a staggering selection of over 300 bourbons, craft beers and homemade sodas. 

The Cheese Monger Plate (a sampling of 18 domestic and imported cheeses served with fruit chutney, marcona almonds, cornichons and crostini) is a must-order for all fromage fanatics.  It shows up looking for all the world like a little treasure-studded jewelry box, complete with a Whitman’s Sampler-esque guide to help you navigate your way through the gradient (arranged from mild and mellow to strong and pungent) array of offerings.  

A selection of 60 available cheeses, many in jaw-dropping wheels the size of truck tires, are displayed in a spectacular glass cave that’ll make you wonder why you didn’t have the foresight to bring a glass-cutter and a getaway car.

The charcuterie menu reaches far beyond all the usual suspects.  Blood bologna, hog head cheese, quail galantine or boar and cherry country pate, anyone?  Our party sampled foie gras and beef tongue terrine (which is an offal lover’s dream come true) and the pistachio-studded pâté grand mere.  The latter, being much less “livery” in taste and texture than expected, would be an easy baby step for the forcemeat-ambivalent.

Veggie lovers have their share of options at Haven. The sweet corn offering (which is basically a sensory overload of all things maize) includes baby corn, corn nuts and popcorn in addition to fresh kernels accented with zamorano cheese, basil and a bright swipe of rocotto chile is summer on a plate and a must-order.  Is "ridonkulous" really a word?  I think it applies here, regardless.

Whole roasted cauliflower (which is apparently the new “it" veggie) is enhanced almost beyond recognition of its humble, cruciferous self by accoutrements of shallot, ginger, ham and goat’s milk beurre noisette.  This is how you get mommy to eat her least when she's not saving the precious real estate in her belly for pasta or bread pudding.

As you drill down into the “Hooves & Feathers” and “Fins, Scales & Shells” sections of the menu, you’ll be bitterly wishing for a second stomach because you’re going to want almost EVERYTHING you see.  Top crowd-pleasers on my visit were tender little slabs of pomegranate molasses-glazed pork belly; 

Velvety, ocean-scented tuna crudo with bright little pops of pomegranate, tomato, watermelon, radish, fresno pepper and hisbiscus interspersed; 

Fork-tender skirt steak topped with chimichurri and served with a luxe bone marrow canoe (think of it as “meat butter”).

When dessert time comes around, Haven's macarons should not be overlooked. Not your ordinary cookies, these pastel, meringue-based confections redefine the classic application and are sandwiched with fresh berry jams and complementary creamy cheeses, making them the perfect hybrid for those seeking a not-too-sweet finish.

If you need to get your “Sugar Rush” on, try the pillow-like apple fritters with Calvados and quince caramel.  Holy Muthah of want these!

Our dining foursome agreed that the Baba au Bourbon sponge cake dessert with bourbon syrup, whipped cream and an incongruous tomato "ash" component was the weakest link of our evening. Not bad, but the least sexy in our trifecta of happy endings.

Haven provides an approachable and unpretentious experience with highly professional and well-versed service personnel who seem happy to walk diners through the menu.  Don’t let the Bern’s pedigree intimidate you...prices are surprisingly moderate and ambiance is upscale-casual.  Visit and take your tongue on an expedition.

Haven Wine Bar 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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