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Restaurants & Bars 28

Thanks, Tampa-area 'Hounds!

cinghiale | Apr 23, 200401:13 PM

Just back from 5-day stay in Redington Beach for family reunion/Mom's 70th bday: 6 adults, 1 5-YO, 2 3-YOs, 2 3-MOs. I was tasked with finding suitable dining arrangements. Thanks to y'all, all the meals were good, fun, and, emmm, manageable:

1. Sea Critters, St. Pete's Beach (thank you Joan). Although they had a bit of difficulty organizing a table large enough, we all pitched in to arrange seating. (Despite generous seating al fresco, BIL thought it too risky w/kids.) The food was terrific: the seafood was very fresh, well-prepared and -sauced. Great service. Laid-back, funky atmosphere, with a CH-like credo: "You have only one life to live -- stop wasting it and live it." FYI: catfish feeding (a plus for kids) is permitted only after sundown.

2. Columbia (Downtown St. Pete's branch) (thanks e-ster): As advertised, great views. Suitably upscale for Mom's bday lunch. Great table, terrific service. I wasn't that impressed with the food, though. I had skirt steak that was overcooked and dry. Empanadas were so-so. Ropa viejas was bland. The sangria (with Spanish cava sparking wine), on the other hand, was delicious. Afterwards, the kiddies could get icecream cones downstairs, and we could stroll the pier.

3. Carmine's, Ybor City: Yikes! This area caters quite apparently to the drinking and clubbing crowd, without that much emphasis on restaurants and boutiques. Sort of a faux "Old City" that makes South Street here in Philadelphia seem positively swank by comparison. Glad Mom and I went on our own and left Bro & Sis with their kids back at the beach. Went for lunch to Carmine's and was sorely disappointed. I had an abysmal Cuban sandwich, whose main event was a thick piling of processed ham. Closer inspection revealed that, yes, those flecks in the middle were in fact roasted pork. The sandwich was barely grilled and cold in the middle. Mom had a "seafood" salad composed of iceberg lettuce and that fake crab stuff. Having read the glowing reports on Carmine's, I was really bummed at wasting my destination Cuban sandwich opportunity here.

4. Dockside Dave's, Madeira Beach (thanks Tandoori Girl & e-ster). This place is a true CH locale. For starters, it looks somewhat, um, unimpressive from the outside. And it has attitude to go along with it (inquiring about getting a reservation for 9 people, the person who answered the phone replied, "Honey, if you were the Pope, you couldn't reserve a table."). We went early and got seated immediately at an 8-top. I had a great blackened grouper sandwich (their menu claims that their grouper is fresh daily and filetted twice daily). We all shared a big basket of terrific onion rings (one of their specialties). Everyone loved the food and the ambience here. My sis told me afterward that when she walked in, she immediately thought "Alright, local!"

5. Hilton, Redington Beach. I mention this only for the fact that I had cobia for the first time, which I was told is a local, seasonal fish. It's a firm-fleshed fish with a meaty taste, similar to dolphin, to which cobia is apparently related. Gotta keep my eyes out for this guy.

6. Mis en Place, Tampa. Couldn't get into Bern's before 9, so Mom and I had dinner here instead, which has gotten solid reviews here and on eGullet. Very warm atmosphere, solid, friendly service. I had the tasting menu, Mom had the veggie tasting menu, and we both had the wine pairings. Mine was grilled shrimp w/Serrano ham, peas, "paella broth"; mixed greens with Maytab blue and a mustard/walnut vinaigrette; Moroccan spice-rubbed sea bass on saffron couscous and Swiss chard; and a chocalate pecan mousse tort. Excellent all. Of the wines (3-oz. pours, including for dessert), the Robert Sinskey white (can't remember the grape) stood out. At $51 ($32 for veggie), an absolute steal.

So, thanks again to the CHs in Tampa for helping to make memorable dining for a difficult group. The kids really enjoyed their meals, too. I look forward to my next visit and to exploring more of your local favs (including those of Andy -- Antojito's(!)).

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