Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pane Rustica - Add to the Best Of Tampa List!

Pane Rustica Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

When the occasion arises where 'Royalty' comes to visit with us in the Tampa Bay area, and said occasion allows Watson and I to entertain in splendid fashion, most undoubtedly the two restaurant names that come to mind immediately include Bern's Steakhouse on S. Howard Ave. and The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City for only locations such as these  offer one an iconic, uniquely Tampa, perhaps even a 'historic-in-their-own-way' opportunity to please both the seriously reverent visitors as well as the party-goer's from near and far; tourists, visiting family, dignitaries, and many more of that very impressionable set - at least upon their primary visit to the area will these two suffice.

But for those incumbents already living here in the splendid western Gulf Coast, and having partaken in each of the two (Bern's and The Columbia) more times than we can remember, it becomes a bit more of an effort to hit the right high notes required to host such exalted visitors and NOT feel like you're being subjected to the gastronomic equivalent of 'another Disney-Visit' after your own children have long since flown the coop. 

Armani's, atop the Hyatt at Rocky Point, is one such location albeit a tad on the 'special occasion' side; Mise En Place is another, with a bend more towards the finer dining and quiet ambiance aura but always delivering the goods in fine fashion time and time again.

These are unique 'Tampa based' offerings that are not part of a 'chain' of restaurants and that by being so 'say' something about this area specifically that cannot ALSO be said elsewhere. Such definition thereby also eliminates such upstanding (and sometimes overly pretentious) edifices such as Roy's, The Capital Grille, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Flemings, and countless others up and down the gastronomic scale (despite both Roy's and Fleming's being part of the Outback family...ironically a Bloomin Brands Tampa-based enterprise unto itself!)

Thus, venturing out on a limb to try a relatively 'NEW' restaurant (new perhaps to the patrons - US, tho not necessarily 'new' to the neighborhood) is sometimes fraught with peril. Yet using our time honored and honed investigative skills, deductive reasoning, and astute powers of observation (ahem - and the voiced approvals of over 700 other previously satisfied patrons from Urbanspoon.com) we elected to put our collective hopes on 'Pane Rustica' in the Palma Ceia area of Tampa to host our esteemed guests, Lady Marlene and Contessa Koutsis, well-traveled dignitaries who were in town on official tho clandestine business. 

Remarkably hidden in plain sight in the most basic of strip shopping centers on S. Macdill Ave., one might form an opinion about how such a world class restaurant could possibly be found between a haberdashery and a beauty supply purveyor.....and such an opinion began to form on our collective lips almost immediately......yet with brave face we ventured forth!
 
Seated very efficiently  on a Thursday evening, our alcohol choices arrived quickly (and thankfully often!) as Watson, our two guests, and I  were soon joined by one Lord Schindelholz of Charlotte, an associate from the northern regions, and our own Lady Kimberly, a wonderfully delicate creature from Scotland Yard with the instincts of a feline and the good graces of someone at the highest social circles of our society to know when to claw and when to purr.......

Despite the darkness of the environs, a characteristic that wreaked havoc on my surreptitious picture taking abilities, the atmosphere inside was quite lively and exciting with the hustle and bustle of this emporium seeping thru our consciousness as the night continued.

Now, whether it was due to the company we were keeping or the sudden onset of famishment I am unsure but with receipt of the menu I detected the definite start of a mouth water from us all for once we began reading the choice selections we knew, just KNEW, that this was going to be unlike any other experience we had had to date. 
 
Chicken Scallopini Pumpkin Pappardelle
Pane Rustica, with the written instincts that only a few establishments seem to grasp, tacitly understands that the simple anticipation of a special selection, pleasant to both the ear with it's aural description and mouthwatering to the palate BY such a description, is half the battle in wooing a diner's olfactory senses. And here they began immediately with a soft and delectable tap-tap-tap dancing in our minds with entree descriptions such as ........ "Tangerine Chili-Glazed Native Cobia with Shitake Tempura, Cashews, and Wasabi Lump Crab Mashed Potato's".......or...."Chicken Scallopini Pumpkin Pappardelle with Slivered Figs, Wilted Arugula, and Almond Slivers"........or even the more blunt sounding "Braised Hog Snapper on Broccoli Rabe with Wild Rice Quinoa".
Braised Hog Snapper with Wild Rice Quinoa
 
From small plate listings such as the Pan Roasted Backfin Crab Cakes with avocado, tomato, mango, and cilantro lime butter to the  Savory Braised Kurobuta Pork Cheeks with roasted butternut puree and cranberry sage au jus to Flatbreads of Wild Game Sausage with roasted acorn squash, arugula, candied nuts, fontina, ricotta salata and a white balsamic cranberry gastrique. ALL were simply tantalyzing!

In all seriousness, these selections had us panting in anticipation from the onset and they certainly did not disappoint. The volume of dialogue amongst us had dropped so precipitously after we were served that our lovely hostess, who did a wonderful job of keeping our vocal chords well lubricated, had come to see if we were all still alive and satisfactory for she could hear no sound emanating from our table! A cause for certain alarm in her estimation!

With deserts and after dinner apertif's including Flourless Chocolate Decadence with chocolate ganache and berries (simply criminal in it's deliciousness), Strawberry Gelato with Chocolate Chip (I actually saw Lady Marlene swoon at the mere mention), and a Fall Flavored Gelato Java with Salted Caramel (Contessa Koutsis had to be revived 2x right at the table), along with a healthy dose of Irish Coffee topped with Jameson Whiskey and a wonderful Port selection..........it is now in our collective estimation that 'Pane Rustica' has easily earned it's own well deserved place in the pantheon of wonderful, eclectic, and thoroughly Tampa-based and unique gifts for the Palate Intense! And one that we will be visiting again soon and OFTEN!
Flourless Chocolate Decadence....