Thursday, March 3, 2016

Rococo Steak, St. Petersburg, FL

Classic American steakhouses aren’t at the top of my dining to-do list, which may have something to do with why I’m so late to the Rococo Steak party. To me, many of them seem somewhat unimaginative and a tad stodgy (both in atmosphere and menu offerings) although I realize that they do have a broad fan base so I’ll own up to the “it’s not them, it’s me” factor. Still, my recent experience at Rococo forced me to reevaluate this position.

Located in the historic 1920s building that formerly housed the YWCA in St. Petersburg, the interior boasts a cool elegance that sets it apart from its dark-wood-and-red-velvet old school counterparts as well as the nondescript cookie-cutter ambiance of the national chains. Padded, high backed booths afford diners privacy while grey-toned walls adorned with classic painting reproductions soothe the senses, offset by the occasional pop of color from a vermilion chandelier. Service on my visit was both knowledgeable and attentive, while refraining from stuffiness or pretension (thank you, Joshua).

While carnivores will find all of their favorite traditional beef offerings on the menu (ranging in price from $34 for a 7 oz. corn fed filet mignon to $44 for a 16 oz. grass fed ribeye – and everything in between), many other selections have a more contemporary feel. Before I walk you down that path, please make this note to yourself. When the bread service is presented, make a nosedive for the raisin nut variety before your dining companions catch wind of its fabulousness and leave you bitterly weeping into your slice of respectable (if not particularly memorable by comparison) sourdough.

Starters sampled were all stellar. The $10 lobster cognac bisque is worth the investment of both dollars and calories. Silken in texture, generously portioned, boozy and crustacean-riche, Rococo’s version is a study in decadence.  I think there was originally an "R" written on top with creme fraiche, but the bowl shifted.  Now, it's hieroglyphics.

Charred cuttlefish (a cousin to squid and octopus) coupled a pleasing smoky richness with the sweetness and slight chew factor one can expect when eating cephalopod. Would I order it again?  Probably not.  It's a little too much like calamari (not unexpectedly) for my personal taste, although I welcomed the opportunity to sample it.

Steak tartare was where things started to get a little out of control on the richness barometer. The brightly fresh, soft and creamy raw beef served with horseradish sauce and toast points was beautifully offset by the crunch of pine nuts and cornichons.

At the end of the day, however, Salmon Creek brulee of pork belly stole the show. A fat slab of fork-tender bacon capped with a thin veneer of fat left our party of four all fighting for the last bite.

Steak entrees were excellently prepared and cooked to order with sizzling, caramelized exteriors. A plethora of enhancements were available, including bleu cheese butter brulee, Béarnaise, black truffle butter, au poivre, chimichurri and an Oscar-style application. I’m now a big fan of whomever decided that tempura-battering and deep-frying a lobster tail was a good idea, because I agree that it makes a truly worthy crown for a 7 oz. filet.

Who in the hell orders pasta in a steak house? I’m afraid that would be me. In the biggest misstep of the evening, I went rogue and opted for the house made tagliatelle with short rib, boar bacon, veggies, tomato ragù, Parmigiano Reggiano and salsa verde. A full-bodied dish made with fresh pasta, there was an odd juxtaposition of Italian and Latin flavors in this entrée that I didn’t find particularly appealing.

My beloved’s $38 duo of 8 oz. Colorado lamb porterhouses left him (as well as the rest of the table) swooning. Fat, fresh and pleasingly pink on the inside, he deemed these chops “the best I’ve ever had”....just when I thought those five little words were reserved just for me.

Everything is a la carte at Rococo, but side dishes are worth the extra coin. All are generous, priced in the $10 range and easily shareable by four. The artisanal mac & cheese and airy whipped potatoes are solid choices, but don’t overlook the buttery creamed corn mash (this isn’t Del Monte’s creamed corn).

Desserts are good and made in-house. Banana Bourbon Bread Pudding with brown butter anglaise and brandy caramel put a modern spin on a classic, featuring thick slices of banana bread dipped in custard and baked (as opposed to a conglomeration of bread chunks piled into a casserole dish). An apple crisp variation served cool with Szechuan cinnamon ice cream rounded out the evening.

Final word: Rococo Steak is a fresh alternative for high-end steakhouse lovers.

Rococo Steak Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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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