First of all, thanks to everyone who gave me suggestions. I hate to say how few of the reccomendations I actually was able to visit. Between a wedding, boating in Clearwater and a side day trip to Disney, plus a decidedly non chowish extended family, hitting them all was not possible! By the way, I arrived with pages of printouts from the Florida board much to the amusement of my relatives. Their take was that their vacation was about family and the beach , not about food. I tried to explain that it could be about all three . You understand.
Father's day dinner at Bern's in Tampa. Where do I start and how much bandwidth may I have? Suffice to say we loved it. All of it, from the funky decor to the nutty dessert rooms upstairs. My sweet wife had a $100.00 gift certificate waiting for me upon arrival. What a great start. We were seated in the dining room to the left, the one with the red walls with the four busts on each wall. We started with a glass each of Tattinger "La Francaise" Brut. We savored that while we looked at the menu. For me this was just for fun as I had printed it out weeks ago and knew it by heart. We decided to have an appetizer and ordered the yellowfin tuna tartare. It was wonderful. I could have eaten multiple orders. My wife , who is not a raw fish fan at all, loved it too.
Next course was the lobster bisque along with a glass each of Cakebread chardonnay. You could have shot me on the spot and I would have died a happy man! That bisque may have truly been the best thing to ever cross my lips. We split one order and it was a good thing the waiter seperated it into 2 bowls as it prevented bloodshed.
Next, we had a Caesar salad made tableside. It was very good and made correctly, but did we need it? Not really.
Now, on to the steak. Oh yea, the wine too. I had a glass of Merryvale Profile 2000 Meritage cab. and my wife had a glass of Archery Summit 2002 pinot noir. I had long ago decided I wanted the porterhouse, 30 oz, 2 inches thick, medimum rare.
However, I had a long discussion with the waiter as to the wisdom of this - my wife and I planned on splitting one steak and I thought the ribeye (their Delmonico) may be a better choice, as did he, but I went ahead and ordered the porterhouse anyway. I just could not make myself not do it. The waiter suggested cooking it just under medium rare, which we agreed to.
It was comical when the steak arrived, it was HUGE. It had been cut in half and the waiter deboned the balance. Drumroll moment for me. Did this steak change my life? No. Was it the best steak I have ever had? I don't think so. Was it good? Very. Would I do it again, absolutely, but it will be the ribeye next time. We also had their french onion soup ( one bowl for two- just ok ) and one baked potato. We could not eat it all. WE sat down at 6:20 and got up at 10:00 and the time flew by. The waiter did a terrific job, he was an excellent server, friendly and knowledgeable. I turned him on to Chowhound, BTW.
The total bill, including the waiter's salary plus an additional 8 % came to $256.66.
We took the kitchen and wine cellar tour after the meal. I highly reccomend it. We went up to the dessert room and had sorbet, blackberry for my wife (hers was better)and mango/banana for me and we split one decaf.
I live in NC but I will eat there again the next time I am anywhere near Tampa.
Second place: Habana Cafe in Gulfport. I actually went twice, one lunch and one dinner. Lunch was with my wife, sister and mother and the dinner was with a group of my cousins and wives, 12 in all. The papas rellenas appetizer ( mashed potato balls stuffed with picadillo and pork, and deep fried ) was great. Don't fail to try it. The Cuban sandwiches are good too as are the black beans. I had the Lechon Asado Oriente region style ( roasted pork with garlic, oregano, white wine, laurel leaves and onions )and I loved it. The Chuletas de Puerco (pork chops) were good too. The Camarones Borracho (shrimp in olive oil, white wine, onions, garlic and mojo sauce) was , well, ok.
I will return here too.
Also ran - Sea Critters in Pass-a-Grille. Fun for my 7 year old, we sat outside and could feed the fish (very few as it turns out due to the red tide, what a mess on the beach) but the food was ok.
Disappointing: Columbia (on the pier in St. Petersburg) I had fond memories of this place and the origional in Ybor City. Our meal was so poor that I won't bore you with the details but I knew we were in trouble when the signature 1905 (is that the right year?) salad came with what looked like Sargento cheese, not grated RP. The view was as good as ever, we had a great table and watched a regatta during our meal - beautiful- and the highlight of the evening. I won't go back.
Just plain awful: Woody's
My mom had to have a grouper sandwich, as did my wife and niece so I ordered 4 to go at lunch (our hotel was very close) and spicy fries, forty plus bucks worth of rock hard planks of very fishy "grouper" and limp fries. Never again.
Regrets: We never made it to Mangia or Mid Peninsula.
Thanks again to all!