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Blufigs' little plates pack big flavor into small portions in Tampa

By LAURA REILEY

Times Food Critic

CARROLLWOOD — Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame really championed the idea, but it has many avid subscribers in the food world now. Idea: taste-specific satiety.

This means that taste buds become fatigued after three bites of a particular taste. Essentially, it's another spin on the law of diminishing returns: The first bite of something tastes great, the 20th bite — eh.

Keller and other forward-thinking chefs started wondering why our meals are organized around a central entree that usually has 8 ounces or more of a single protein, topped with a single sauce and paired with a single starch and veggie.

What if meals were composed of multiple small dishes? Not tapas or shareable, bar-friendly finger foods, not appetizer mania, but several small "hold your own" dishes that add up to a meal. Sure, you're saying, like one of those chef's tasting menus resulting in unstaunchable wallet hemorrhage.

Nope.

Enter Blufigs. It opened at the beginning of June in the back of the same shopping center with Carrollwood's successful Grille One Sixteen. A tricky spot that recently housed the dark-as-a-crypt Aphrodite, it has been made over with trompe l'oeil paintings to look like a Tuscan villa. A little Disney, but it signals something about the culinary focus: F-I-G-S, that's France, Italy, Greece and Spain, a kind of loose Mediterranean palette that showcases the stand-up-and-cheer talent in the kitchen.

That talent is David Burton, a Johnson & Wales grad born and raised in Tampa, who has spent more than the last dozen years at Vail Resorts in Colorado. He's come home, and Carrollwood better make it worth his while.

Blufigs, owned by Theo Angelakos and managed by Timothy Szafranski, traffics in what they're calling petit plats. You can grab a plate of two grilled artichoke heart halves with a sliver of nutty manchego and a swoop of punchy curry aioli ($6), then maybe a salad of red and golden beets paired with tender-crisp little green beans and fluffs of fabulous Humboldt Fog, Cypress Grove's ripened goat cheese with a ribbon of ash running through it ($8).

Then you'll be in the mood for a wild river salmon with a horseradish crust paired with wilted beet greens and a tiny drizzle of gingered riesling syrup ($12). And you know what? Dessert is still sounding good, but let's share the tri-chocolate and hazelnut parfait ($6). My accountant has done the math, and with just half the dessert on my tab, that's $29, what you'd pay for an entree alone at most high-end restaurants around here.

It's not the fair-minded pricing that makes Burton's work so remarkable. It's his aesthetic. Each dish is elegantly composed, often with striking textural, color and flavor juxtapositions. He's a minimalist of sorts, with generally three vibrant flavor ideas on each plate, with no extraneous sauces, garniture or doodads. Okay, that beet and bean salad is strewn with a few salted sunflower seeds and a bit of tangy-spicy yogurt dressing. Subtle, but these things serve to pull all the other elements together.

Burton has also hit the ground running in Tampa in terms of sourcing — he's found Zellwood corn (for a stunning sauce underneath pan-seared scallops, $8), microgreens from Cahaba Club in Odessa, Bearss Grove's beets and other produce. He's interested in local and sustainable, and he cares about the details.

Young and fairly inexperienced in restaurant service, the servers have nonetheless had a crash course in the menu. They are experts in the composition of each of Burton's dishes. You want to know about the beef tenderloin ($16)? It's a 4-ounce portion with a lively pinot noir demiglace, a couple of sweet braised cippolini onions and a rosette of duchesse potatoes lifted by the creamy-sour flavor of Brie. Curious about the Blufigs namesake tartlet ($6)? It's a crunchy-chewy-nutty crust studded with dried figs, filled with tangy lemon curd and topped with locally grown blueberries. Go ahead, test these servers. They've got it cold.

Blufigs wants to be a nightspot, too, which confuses the issue. I'm dinging them on atmosphere stars for the punitive techno soundtrack. It doesn't match the food at all and will be off-putting to Tampa's serious foodies. Live music and a late-night lounge area are nice, but Burton's food is so novel in Tampa that it shouldn't play second fiddle.

The wine list also doesn't yet measure up — too short, not interesting enough, and certainly the California entries could be ditched in favor of wines from those F-I-G-S countries. Still, Blufigs, right out of the gate, is a luscious gift to Tampa diners.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.

Review

Blufigs

15463 N Dale Mabry

Highway, Tampa

(813) 963-3447; (www.

blufigs.com coming soon)

Cuisine: Mediterranean small plates

Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday to Thursday (food served until 11 p.m.), until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday (food served until 1 a.m.)

Details: Amex, V, MC; reservations accepted; full bar

Prices: Appetizers $5 to $9; petit plats $12 to $16; desserts $6 to $8

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★

Service: ★★★

Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★★

Review key:

★★★★ Extraordinary

★★★ Excellent

★★ Good

★ Fair

Thursday in Weekend:

Callaloo's Caribbean Cafe in Clearwater

Blufigs' little plates pack big flavor into small portions in Tampa 07/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 14, 2009 7:55am]

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