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TAMPA -- Chow Crawl -- thanks, boss!

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TAMPA -- Chow Crawl -- thanks, boss!

ConsApi | Mar 2, 2012 09:33 AM

Courtesy of my boss, who sent me down to Tampa a couple of weeks ago to cover a trade show. (Ain't expense accounts grand?)

My limitations were that I was staying in Ybor city and I didn't have a car.

First meal of the trip wasn't too auspicious, it was on the train down, and it was packed, so I wasn't able to get a rez in the dining car. Thus I had a microwaved pizza and a half bottle of cab in the lounge car. The wine was actually pretty good, Amtrak does a good job of picking wines, the less said about the pizza, the better. But this was in Richmond, VA, anyway.

After arriving in Tampa, I had lunch at King Corona's on 7th Ave., mainly so I could smoke a cigar, but I had their cuban sandwich. It was good, but I don't know whether it was the best, as I didn't have a whole lot for comparison.

Dinner was at Columbia. I don't know whether it was because I wasn't dressed right, or whether it was just because I was dining alone, but they stuck me in the bar, which is attractive enough, but not the same atmosphere as their main dining room. Very busy for a Sunday night. I had the Spanish bean soup and a Cuban combo platter, to try the various Cuban specialties. I liked them all, but way too much food. Maybe I should have ordered tapas. I had a mojito, the house sangria, and a cocktail they called the "Silver Meteor," basically champagne with some liqueurs. Flan for dessert.

The next night was a reception at the trade show, where they fed us enough I didn't need dinner. But I did go to Gaspar's Grotto for some rum and tried out a "deviled crab," which I was led to believe is a local specialty. It was OK, but I think I'll still prefer Maryland crabcakes.

The third night, I went to Bern's Steak House with some colleagues who had a car. I had some concern that this was going to be one of those overpriced places for old white guys on expense accounts, and it is, but I was pleasantly surprised by the excellent steaks that weren't as expensive as I feared. I got a 12 oz. Chateaubriand for about $45, which included soup, salad, and sides. The wine list is like an encyclopedia, my host ordered a Spanish red that was perfectly suitable. Afterward, they gave us a tour of the kitchen, showed us their humongous wine celler, and took us up to the dessert room, where I had an excellend apple pie with calvados. (Their brandy list was only slightly shorter than the wine list.) Very old-school, a trip, and the best steak I've had in a long time.

The next night, I was on my own, and went to Bernini's on 7th avenue in Ybor City. I had the Cinzano de Pesce, which was various seafood sauteed in a vermouth marinara sauce. Not quite as good as the squid ink pasta with calamari I had at the Daily Catch in Boston's North End, but pretty good in its own right.

Finally, on my day of departure, I went to El Tropicano on 7th Ave. for lunch and decided to give deviled crab a second chance. While edible, I think that one at Gaspar's was better, mainly because it was served hot.

Fortunately, I had a sleeper booked for my trip north, so I had no problems with dinner reservations in the dining car. The New York strip steak I had was one of the better steaks I've had with Amtrak. This was washed down with a nice half bottle of merlot. The rest of the meal was preplated, but serviceable. My lunch the next day was a chicken pot pie that was a dud, I should have just had the hamburger.

I got home just in time to cook dinner.

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