Thanks to all who made dinner, brunch, and laid back dining suggestions for my Florida trip. I had a terrific time relaxing in the sun and watching spring training baseball.
Overall dining experience was pretty miserable. Unfortunately the brunches I had hope to catch (either Don Cesar or Ren Vinoy were booked up). There really weren't many options on St. Pete Beach that seemed good and interesting. Wound up at the Tradewinds and thought the buffet was pretty lackluster and not a real value at $30/head.
Ate one night at the Mangrove Grill at the Sirata. I had read several reviews (not here) that were very positive. The conch chowder was pretty bland, glorified veggie soup with some conch thrown in. The idea of pick a meat or fish and sauces and toppings was somewheat interesting so I went with the grouper, which was cooked perfectly but was drowning in a sauce with way too much cumin. My BFs grouper was served with a different sauce but was also swimming in it. But both dishes turned perfectly cooked grouper. Got a bottle of sauvignon blanc that was presented without ice and it warmed up pretty quickly as we were sitting outside. Server also told us veggie served with the fish was something different than what we got on the plate. Essentially we both got grouper loaded with sauce stuff and a giant pile of overcooked broccoli. I love broccoli but the aroma of overcooked broccoli actually took away from the fish. It wasn't really working. I got a piece of chocolate cake that was the size of a sliver and half of it was icing for $6.99. When the server asked how it was I told him it was "just okay, had hoped for something a bit more decadent" and he just walked off. But early in our meal he told us that he was really tired after working a double so I figured it was pointless to follow up with any of the issues we were having.
Grabbed a surprisingly good Cuban sandwich at Bella Habana. Heard lots of raves locally for Crabby's Bill's fried oysters. Went over and managed to snag two seats at the bar inside. We got two margaritas that were mostly sour mix. The bartender described the lobster tail to the person next to us and it sounded terrific. 25 minutes went and the bartender still hadn't returned to take that person's order, or ours, so we left...
Sadly that was kind of the theme for the trip. We attempted to eat a 1/2 dozen places and just never got the attention of a hostess or bartender so we opted out. Most places were busy but not obscenely so. We just had rotten service everywhere. I kept an open mind since spring break was ending and I figured most service folks were probably beat but it was almost comical toward the end of our stay.
We got a little tired of looking for good dining options and decided to grab steaks at Durango's one night. I'm thinking this must be an Outback, T-Bones type of chain. Steaks were actually decent and a good value. Again, service again was lackluster at best.
The trip did end on a high note though. We had time to kill in Tampa before our flight and I was dying for a good cheeseburger, which I think isn't always easy to find. I was in dire need of reliable comfort food. We went to GrillSmith on Dale Mabry. I understand it's somewhat new. It was immaculate inside, the service was outstanding, and the burger was amazing. Sat at the bar again and the bartender was terrific, attentive, and even made certain that I understood my medium rare burger would be pretty pink. I was thrilled. My applewood bacon swiss mushroom burger was cooked perfectly and seasoned well. My BFs BBQ bacon burger was also great. This place was also an unbelievable deal - $33 for two huge perfect burgers, a salad, and three beers.
Fortunately the gorgeous weather more than made up for our bland chow. The Sirata was also a surprisingly good place to stay. I got a pretty good rate on Orbitz and had a beach front room. Staff were friendly and the accomodations were simple, clean, and well situated. If only they could get the Mangrove Grill kinks worked out there would be little reason to leave the resort.