Best Bites: Tampa Christmas 2009

Here's my lineup of favorite dishes from my Christmas visit to Tampa, Florida:

Flash Fried Oysters at Bin 27 Bistro
2702 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33609
Of all of the places I dined the week I was home, this was my favorite Tampa contender. Creative menu, attentive & fun staff, new cuisine, but with a nod to Tampa historical cuisine. I *loved* my starter of flash fried oysters with boniato potatoes, tamarind chorizo BBQ, and chipotle aioli. They are presented in the shell with dramatic flair, but more importantly, the taste.

Check out the oyster photos and more at Tampa Tribune food writer, Jeff Houck's Bin 27 Flickr from our lunch.
I went for the Ropa Vieja, a nod to childhood meals at Latams, and it delivered. Bin 27 Bistro served the slow cooked pulled brisket with sofrito rice, sweet plantains, cuban black beans, and a cilantro-lime crema.

Finally, I capped the meal (how could I stop there when it was my last full day in town to eat) with the special dessert - a Chocolate Torte with Roasted Marshmellow and Graham Cracker Ice Cream.

I know it's trendy to reinvent an old favorite, in this case s'mores, but the graham cracker ice cream was so shockingly good, I begged them to send me home with a pint. (I know what you're thinking, but I assure you, TRY IT)

Crunchy Olives with Three Meats at Pelagia Trattoria
4200 Jim Walter Boulevard, Tampa, FL

I really liked this new restaurant tucked into the Renaissance Hotel. There wasn't a menu miss in our group of seven picky girls. I thought the standouts were anything recommended by Chef Fabrizio on the menu. While he wasn't there the night we dined, I'd been told to follow his lead and that served us well. My favorite were the crunchy fried olives stuffed with three meats and served with lemon.

BBQ Ribs with Mac-n-Cheese with Green Pepper Salsa
Smoke Barbeque & Grill

901 West Platt Street, Tampa, FL 33606

Despite my attempts to eat more veggie, I'll always be a BBQ aficianado. Smoke's got solid Q, but I *might* be more obsessed with the firey green pepper mac-n-cheese. Next time, I'm begging for a recipe!

Cuban Toast & Cafe Con Leche
La Cubanita Cafe

3240 Lithia Pinecrest Road, Valrico, FL 33596-5680
Phone (813) 655-6499

This is our neighborhood Cuban joint. They know my parents by name, the owner gives my dad shit, and the food is always good. My favorite breakfast when in Tampa is a simple Cuban toast and Cafe con Leche. It's important that it's perfect, and theirs always is.

Roberto's Farm Salad & Floribbean Grouper at Beach Bistro on Anna Maria Island, FL
OK, I'm a terrible blogger, because I let my Blackberry die and didn't have my camera with me to take pics of the gorgeous meal at Beach Bistro on Anna Maria Island. In my defense, I thought we were just going to The Sand Bar (which I also love, in a different way) for fruity frozen sunset drinks. Instead, we ended up at this Gulf beach side culinary mecca. Everything everyone had was amazing, but my two favorites were the Roberto's Farm Salad which was served with a punchy sorbet on top of fresh vegetables, cheese and fruits... and the Floribbean Grouper which was local Gulf grouper with a toasted coconut and cashew crust, Pan seared, oven finished and "caressed with a red pepper papaya jam". [PS. The amuse bouche of "One Helluva Soup", "lobstercargot" (Florida spiny lobster tails served up in butter and spinach in an escargot pan) and the Key Lime Pie ("has won prizes" lol) were also worth the price of admission. One last rave, this is one of the most creative, amusing and well written menus I have ever seen. Not only are the dishes delightful, but the writing and descriptions make you want to try everything! Ok, more last raves, they have smaller plates and half options which make it fun to try a variety of dishes and manage a budget... James the server and the whole team were fantastic... they fit us in without a reservation... And the view... sigh.]

(Photo from TasteWeb.net)

Cuban Sandwich at Hugo's Spanish Restaurant
931 South Howard Avenue, Tampa, FL

Next trip, I'm going on a quest to find the Best Cuban Sandwich in Tampa... but this trip, I knew I could count on Hugo's (since 1955) for a hit of one of my favorite Tampa tastes. I like 'em pressed and dressed...

And, the list wouldn't be complete without Mom's Fresh Squeezed OJ, picked with oranges from the neighbor's tree each morning:

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