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Best boutique restaurants around Tampa Bay

Pan seared diver scallops at Chez Bryce.

Brian Cassella | Times

Pan seared diver scallops at Chez Bryce.

Good things come in small packages, no doubt about it. These are all diminutive, but each delivers big time.

Hillsborough

Six Tables: This is loosely affiliated with a group of restaurants of the same name, linked by their chef/owners' passion for dining the way it should be. As the name suggests, each restaurant has only six tables. The first one opened ten years ago in Dunedin, followed shortly by one in Largo and then in Gulfport. From there the concept was explored in Boca Raton, Seattle, Charleston and even Las Vegas. The idea is this: The chef comes out, introduces himself and his staff, discusses the culinary possibilities — likes, dislikes, gastronomic flights of fancy — and then tailors the evening's luxurious six-course menu ($80/person) to suit the guests. There's no printed menu. And a single seating at 7 p.m. means that one of six tables in the stunning dining room is yours for the night. The far-reaching, Wine Spectator award-winning wine list ensures your menu will be elegantly matched with an unusual bottling, maybe a lesser-known varietal or a boutique wine from Hungary or South Africa. 4267 Henderson Blvd., Tampa. (813) 207-0527.

Chez Bryce: Tampa native Bryce Whittlesey opened his own restaurant in 2007 in quirky space with a fountained courtyard that is the height of romance in sweet weather. Inside, the dining room is oddly shaped, resulting in a small and intimate number of tables. You might aim for the utterly fabulous house smoked salmon salad fragrant at five paces with the scents of Meyer lemon and fresh tarragon, a perfect vinaigrette napping endive and watercress, and plush swaths of salmon. Iced stone crab claws beckon from the raw bar, and individual Puckish (Wolfgang, not Shakespeare) pizzas come gussied with thoughtful toppings (fennel, goat cheese and more of that smoked salmon. The single certainty is dessert, as in must have it. Whittlesey goes classic French, with vacherins, tartes Tatin, and pots de crème. 238 E Davis Blvd., Tampa. (813) 258-8100.

Bamboozle Café: Downtown Tampa is smitten — most impressively, even those who wouldn't know pho from bun are lining up. It's Vietnamese quick-service in all its vibrant, punchy glory, but served up in a way that's accessible and not intimidating. Step in line and order from the board. Fresh rolls are customized to suit, a water-moistened rice paper round cradling vermicelli, green leaf lettuce, chives and mint, and then whatever you point to. Three rolls add up to a meal at lunch, but then you'd miss the vermicelli bowls, the same roundup of veggies, fresh herbs and meat choices, sprinkled with tiny salted shrimp and roasted peanuts, over which you pour a bit of fish sauce-spiked nuoc mam. Lunch only, but dinner is in the works. 516 N Tampa St., Tampa. (813) 223-7320.

Cafe Kita: Flavors from China, Malaysia, India and Indonesia coalesce in the cuisine of Singapore, which can be spicy, homey, sweet, bright and sometimes even zany. And darn it, there's far too little of it around these parts. That's why Henrique Budiman's unassuming cafe is a jewel. Born in Brazil, Budiman grew up in Singapore and Indonesia and splits his increasingly ambitious menu between these two linked cuisines. Originally open just for breakfast (fairly traditional American) and lunch (more exotic), he has just embarked on Friday and Saturday night dinners that push the envelope further still. This is exciting food, heady with fish sauce and Kaffir lime leaf. It's a cuisine of texture and color contrasts, crunchy with soft-snappy veggies paired with an egg over easy. Palm Plaza Shopping Center, 1155 S Dale Mabry Highway, Suite 22, Tampa. (813) 286-8187.

Pinellas

Pincho y Pincho: Younger sibling to the larger Ceviche, Pincho y Pincho offers Spanish-style breakfast, lunch and dinner in a teeny, casual bistro within eyesight of its flagship dinner-only restaurant. It seems plucked right off the streets of Barcelona, an any-time-of-the-day hangout where you can linger over a big bowl of milky coffee or wrestle with an open-face ham and manchego sandwich while watching pedestrians amble by. It's not good for groups (the largest table may accommodate three people), but a tiny table crammed with tapas and a pitcher of sangria seems the height of romance para dos. Breakfast may be its biggest gift to downtown. 10 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg. (727) 209-2302.

L'Olivier: The dream of Olivier Cuevas, it's realized beautifully in the courtyard of the Tower Plaza adjacent to BayWalk. The intimate cafe has one of the most romantic, candlelit patios around, the menu an equally romantic greatest-hits list of classic bistro fare. Coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, quiche Lorraine — but the stars of the show are the crepes. Dinner crepes, made of one-quarter tangy buckwheat flour, are filled with things like slow-cooked ratatouille, Brie, spinach, walnut and honey or ham, Emmenthal, mushroom and diced tomato, all of which are served with a scoop of luxurious potato gratin. One crepe is plenty, especially if your aim is to finish with a classic Suzette (flambeed with Grand Marnier) or a homey banana and Nutella crepe and a good coffee or glass of Champagne. 111 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 821-3846.

Black Pearl: Owner Kathleen LaRoche has been overseeing amorous assignations in the little town of Dunedin for more than 20 years. It's one of those rarefied places that embody the outre word "nouvelle," meaning fairly steep prices and aesthetic aspirations, fairly small quantity on each plate. It's a combination that doesn't work for everyone, but somehow it manages to kindle romance. The space is tiny, with plush decor and posh service. The food ranges from top-dollar classics to clever contemporary fare among the specials, all with first-rate vegetables. Try the cedar-planked salmon or the crab imperial. 315 S Main St., Dunedin. (727) 734-3463.

Best boutique restaurants around Tampa Bay 12/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:24pm]

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