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report on tampa visit (long) - columbia, la teresita, frenchys, ceviche, cafe con trey

dickson d | Sep 15, 200308:37 AM

Had to spend the weekend in Tampa on family biz, but wanted to eat well, too, so went thru the board and found some recs - much thanks to all.

Started at Frenchys Saltwater, because I am a Chicagoan and I wanted fish. Grouper sandwich with Cajun spices was fresh, nicely spiced, and very good. She crab soup was also delightful - creamy, lots of crab and strong crab flavor. I also picked up a bottle of Tampa hot sauce (Jamaica Super Hot, I think) that I tried on my sandwich. Lastly, on a quiet Thursday, the waitress made me feel fussed over, but also left me space to read. Excellent. Definitely will go back.

Family biz had me over in Hyde Park, so I went wandering the next morning looking for a place to get some breakfast. Found Cafe Con Trey at 2702 W Kennedy. Cuban toast and coffee were just fine and very reasonable, so I returned for lunch. Pork Sandwich with mojo and onions was great - meaty, tender and flavorful, and very reasonable. I tried to go back on Saturday but they seem to be closed on the weekends. Nice food, nice prices, nice people.

Things went down a bit from there. I had visited the Columbia bar late one evening while strolling through Ybor, and the nice room, interesting ceramics, good jazz and drink convinced me to return to dine, despite warnings to the contrary on this board. Despite my intentions, I also was convinced to see the Flamenco show. Well, the dancing was pretty good, as was the flan. Coffee was not bad. "Shrimp" al ajillo (why not camarones, you may ask? touristos?) was okay - I ended up eating most of the garlic bits which were perfectly browned, and the pepper, because the dish was otherwise a bit bland, and the shrimp were boring and overcooked. Palomilla was pretty awful. The steak was grey and chewy, not browned or crispy at all. And, of course, I paid an absurdly high price for this experience. Oh well, mark it up as a lesson, I guess.

Ceviche, in Hyde Park, was better. For this meal, I was with a large crowd (for the others I was alone, or with one other person), which is good for tapas. So I tried lots of things and did not take notes. Here is what I remember. I found a couple of problems with the service - no extra plates and forks at the table, and no serving spoons unless asked. Not sure why, but this was unlike any other tapas restaurant I have dined at in the US, and makes little sense. I also like the small slices of baguette found elsewhere, but the bread was good, and I could work with that. The olives were good. The Ceviche was fresh and a good serving, but not as tangy as I would have liked. The meatballs were excellent, light, good tomato sauce. Cod cake was also a little bland. Marinated mushrooms were very tasty. Stuffed peppers were okay, but should have been stuffed with something else than veal and chorizo (again). Fava beans with sausage were quite creamy and tasty. Overall, a good meal, if a bit bland for my taste. It also seemed to me that they put veal and chorizo into a lot of dishes, many more than you would normally have found. Dishes where you would not normally find anything, or where cheese or seafood would often be used, particularly surprising in Tampa. Not a bad meal, but not worth going back when I want some tapas. Good service and nice room, though and it worked for the group.

For lunch on Sunday, before heading to the airport, I went to Capdevila's La Teresita. I had notes on both names from the board, and did not realize it was the same place until I arrived. Nice, simple, bustling - I was excited upon arrival, and was not disappointed. I had Puerco Asado with a salad and Sopa Gallego. My companion had the carne empanazado (breaded steak, if I did not get that right), beans and rice, and platanos. All done very well. Creamy, beany soup, heavy on beans and light on greens, excellent with or without addition of hot sauce. Iceberg salad had nice tomatos, but was otherwise of little interest (dressing came in a package). Platanos were a generous side, and quite good, though my companion would have preferred them a bit more crispy. I imagine we could and should have just requested this. Excellent yellow rice, with a generous bowl of tasty black beans to mix in yourself. The roast pork was perfectly cooked with lots of lime. A little hot sauce brought it to perfection. I am not a fan of fried steak, so I will defer to my companion's judgment - she was quite happy. And they brought us a generous bowl of chimichurri (is this the cuban name as well?) to kick up the steak. No room for desert, sadly. And the whole thing cost less than 1/4 the cost of the meal at Columbia. I will definitely go back.

One last note - I have not been that thrilled with Cuban food over the years, having had some boring over-priced meals in Chicago, and also some very mediocre stuff on Calle Oche, mostly at the Versailles. To the point that I was close to deciding it was just a cuisine that is not for me. La Teresita and Cafe con Trey have convinced me otherwise. Funny thing, too, I have visited Tampa on and off for years, and been pretty bored with the food options. This visit was a delightful surprise. Just wasn't looking in the right places, I guess.

thanks to all for your posts,

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