Upon domiciling in Florida after an exceptionally long career of investigation and other capering in boggy London, Watson and I chanced upon a publication early on in our retirement geared towards those with an interest in all things 'Business' in this Sunshine State: Florida Trend Magazine.
As a monthly general business publication it ingratiates itself to the many who have come to rely on it's unique specificity into doing business in this disparate territory. Yet it was not the discussions of the citrus or sugar industry, tariffs or cruise ships, politics (hanging chads), exports (perhaps TO Chad), Who's Who, (or Who is Not) and the like that caught our keen eye, No! It was the yearly commitment to the innumerable and tireless perfectionists known as 'The Restauranteurs', that brethren either breaking new ground at the table or astounding year after year throughout this state as they hone their craft and offer up these gastronomic jewels for those lucky enough to partake.
These Scrolls of Mastication started initially some 40 years ago and graciously catered most to the traveling executives and ambassadors of Florida business, its focus on providing these Captains of Capital and Policy with a reliable source of professional comfort and consistency. With our own arrival stateside in the early '90's (1890 or 1990....my recall quite spotty at times) the tome sported a mere 100 Restaurants throughout the state. Yet with continued population growth, attributed to the many seeking those most sought after life qualities as forever sunshine (some 300 days per year), forever beaches (the longest coastline of any state in this union it would appear) as well as the remarkable absence of a state income tax, it became apparent that the corresponding growth of exquisite dining made it nearly impossible to fill out ONLY a Top 100 List.
Additionally, the devotion to excellence by so many of these enclaves in the Florida peninsula thusly dictated that the list expand to the Top 200 Restaurants (broken down by region of course - Florida being almost 7-8 different 'states' within itself..or at least states of mind), an added new category named 'Best NEW Restaurants', and saw the origination of the "Hall of Fame Awards", reserved for those recipients who have won their coveted Spoons 'many, many times' (a nebulous description but whose number appears to hover near 10......years that is, or more!)
Thusly, while Watson and I traverse the asphalt corridors in this region (or float gently thru it's skies), the 'Golden Spoon Award Winners' listing is kept in close proximity for whenever an opportunity posits to sit and study or ponder a case this list rightly proves indispensable AND shows the worthy provenance of the Golden Spoon recipients.
And so it was that year after year these Golden Spoon Winners delivered unto us experience and extravagance extraordinaire (as was expected) and, very often, delivered much more than anticipated.
|Delicious Sourdough and Kalamata Pate|
And with above homage paid to 'The Golden Spoons', all justly deserved, Tampa's 2011-2014 Award Winning Pelagia Trattoria exhibits all the qualities worthy of such a list while being regrettably hidden on the lee side of Tampa's International Mall Food 'Pavillion'; that area on the west side with a plethora of ubiquitous branded offerings that while quite acceptable and even delicious at times, does not rise to the level of excellence exhibited by this Mediterranean find.
Located just inside Marriott's Renaissance Hotel (with a separate entrance as well) and almost appropriately adjacent to Neiman Marcus ('A chenille wrap m'lady?'), Watson and I squired ourselves into a window side table on a very early Saturday night with nary a soul in sight. We were both thankful for our luck as no wait was to be had and a bit forlorn at the lack of said activity for this surely was a treat sitting in plain sight!
Relishing the nearly isolated focus of our ebullient server, one Miss Katherine I noted, our libations were quickly proffered and with a glance at the 'Signature Bites' portion of the menu...the 'Charred Octopus with Chorizo Oil, Arugula, and Grapefruit' was also summoned - my desire to compare the Pelagia Octopus to those of Dodecanese Blvd. fame in Tarpon Springs, FL. - an cephalopod heaven if ever there was one!
The dance of flavors was admirable on this dish, the tart grapefruit and the slightly spicy chorizo oil offering quite the balance to the surprisingly meaty octopus...and despite Watson's hearty early commitment to sampling the dish I swiftly assumed all manner of its completion - I do admit to a predisposition to any heartily grilled and marinated octopod tentacles of the Mediterranean or Greek variety.
Pelagia Trattoria, surely espousing the beliefs of gastronomic free-will and the consumptive self-determination of the misunderstood yet highly interpretive ascetic Pelagius, has a tight menu with enough of just about everything such that no one would ever walk away without feeling there was a choice made specifically with their delight in mind. And while on a normal occasion I might venture into the 'Signature Dish' category for the verbalized melange on this occasion was nearly intoxicating.... today was a day for their house made pasta.
It must be noted that once you grow accustomed to properly made fresh pasta any other kind becomes nearly inedible....or at least insufferable, and the wide variety of deliciously fresh and sumptuous pasta at Pelagia is enough nearly in itself to prompt many return visits...which we plan on doing from this date forward.
However, it is what is done with these homemade delights that sets Pelagia apart and surely earns it their place amongst the 'Golden Spoon' chosen.
To wit, a Blue Fin Tuna Pappardelle, Potato Gnocchi with Braised Short Ribs and House Made Ricotta, Cavatelli in Porcini and Black Truffle Cream Sauce. Very heady stuff these with only the prior Grilled Octopus satiation holding back a multiple entree order.
|Squid Ink Linguini with Sea Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab ($26)|
But it was the Lobster Fra-Diavolo with Saffron Tagliatelle and the Squid Ink Linguini with Seared Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab that commanded our attention (as well as the spelling of Diavolo as Diablo on the menu.....adding credence to it's 'Spicy' sauce and not to any misspelling, that's for certain!)
|Lobster Fra-Diavolo with Saffron Tagliatelle ($26)|
These two dishes were as close to perfectly done as one can imagine with Sea Scallops, Shrimp, and Blue Crab found in plentitude along with the Ink Squid Linguini such that it neared becoming one of the finest pasta dishes eaten by my trusty partner.
The Lobster Fra-Diavolo, with chunk lobster, spicy saffron tagliatelle, and cherry tomato sauce was simply mouth wateringly delicious and had me perfectly ensconced in comfort - full but not incommodious, and yet still yearning for more!
And more there was.......
Perhaps apropos for this city built on the fortunes of the Cuban cigar industry many eons ago, a coffee and cigar with delectable and heartwarmingly good cappuccino's were next on the agenda. Tho by 'Coffee and Cigar' Pelagia had us elated again for laid upon our cloth was a Bailey's Mousse in a chocolate tuile laid upon an espresso panna cotta produced a euphoric ending to a splendid evening.... and upon our retreat it was noted that many more were discovering Pelagia's charms.......well deserved and earned, that is for certain!