By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
A surefire way to ruin a dress: Affix a corsage to the bosom. Mothers of the bride, add 10 years and 20 pounds. Promgoer, that's exponential nervousness and discomfort for you.
The last time I was at Bon Appetit, young men fussed at cummerbunds, their dates surreptitiously glancing down for wardrobe malfunctions and to see how the dang carnation and baby's breath were holding up.
It was that kind of place. The gorgeous marina view, the fancy-pants waiters and continental cuisine (e.g., cream sauces) — it was that old-world gravitas which made it a natural for rehearsal dinners, anniversaries and pre-prom comestibles.
As Bob Dylan would say, it's younger than that now. Like so many restaurants these days, it has tinkered with its formula. There are new small portions of the most popular dishes; a daily "comfort food" special rings in at $11.95; and a three-course prix fixe menu sells for $18.95.
On the Terrace Cafe, one can watch the boats come in amid the traffic of low-flying pelicans; inside there's a dance floor and live music Wednesday through Saturday. Bon Appetit seems to be all about choices these days. Thus, it takes a while to consult the menu.
One night's gulf shrimp with artichokes and mushrooms was a great choice, part of the prix fixe offerings ($18.95), the shrimp gorgeously fresh and set off ably with a beurre blanc and its veggies, along with a delicious roasted butternut squash. It was preceded by a very competent house salad and followed by a cup of pleasant chocolate mousse (the other dessert offering, a raspberry "pudding" seemed more like thickened coulis marred with too many bitter raspberry seeds).
The evening's comfort food special was also a good one: a duck confit leg with slow-simmered French lentils, a scoop of white rice and more of that butternut squash, all for a very reasonable $11.95 — hearty and sophisticated, although the duck meat was a tad over-crunchy.
Bon Appetit may still be a pick for the prom-bound, but the menu breadth is a comfort: a lovely lump crab cake ($9.95), moist centered and crisp-edged, paired with an elegant cucumber dill sauce, but also an open-face Maine lobster roll ($14.95) and a very solid hamburger ($9.95), but go light on the condiments if you're in a rented tux.
Most nights, the restaurant does a good business, servers businesslike but occasionally brusque when they're in the weeds (restaurant speak for way too busy). Still, they know the menu and can guide diners to suitable selections from among the many pages. An affordable wine selection for the couple over there, the beef stroganoff for these guys and definitely something in a cream sauce for the girl wrestling the carnation.
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.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.