By LAURA Reiley
Times Food Critic
Two Frenchmen meet in a foreign land and pool their collective je ne sais quoi. The story goes something like that.
Olivier Cuevas owned the charming creperie L'Olivier in St. Petersburg, then took on a larger project with L'Olivier Cabaret in Ybor City. Meanwhile, Sidney Sakho and then-partner Sam Brownell move from Washington, D.C., to launch the tiny but ambitious Nest in Ybor City. Time goes by. Ybor City, tricky in the best of times for new restaurateurs, proves even thornier in this economy. L'Olivier Cabaret persists, the Nest sits empty.
Cuevas and Sakho join forces, Cuevas focusing on the cabaret, Sakho turning his attentions to reinvent the flagship L'Olivier in St. Petersburg in the eerily empty Tower Plaza adjacent to BayWalk. Changing its name to Oasis, he has kept the fundamentals (French crepes and quiches, a smattering of hearty brasserie staples like cheese and charcuterie plates and a decadent croque monsieur) but aims for a hipper lounge vibe.
Outdoor seating is in the prettiest courtyard in downtown, twinkling candles and low couches hinting at Miami-style glamor. The soundtrack is driven by Sakho's whimsy, one night classic disco, another DJ-provided house music. In truth, it's Sakho's grace and charm that will help this new concept hold on until BayWalk is booming again and the Ovation tower looming overhead is fully occupied.
The menu is short and fairly simple, the best options the work of imported Krampouz machines, the Cadillac of crepe griddles. From a vegetarian version ($8 at lunch, $15.50 at dinner), to a lush chicken medallions in mushroom cream ($9 lunch, $16 dinner), the big crepe corners are folded over the fillings, crispy at the edges, plush in the middle. My favorite dish, however, is a massive, warm cheese tray ($18, but feeds two to four people as an appetizer), a mix of Brie, blue and Emmenthaler, all molten, with a drizzle of honey, a scattering of toasted walnuts and grapes. Dip crusty bread through the variegated goo, the flavors of the three cheeses melding beautifully.
Croque Madame and Monsieur ($10 and $9, respectively) are more molten cheese extravaganzas, the madame getting a sunny-side-up egg added to the ham, bechamel and Emmenthaler. I'd say the only bobbles on the menu are the newly introduced pizzas ($9.95 lunch, $11.95 dinner), which have too many wet ingredients (and then plated with a chiffonade of dressed lettuce), so that crusts aren't very crisp and the dough seems underbaked. Downtown St. Petersburg has a number of better pizza options.
This French collaboration seems like one of the area's best-kept secrets. But now that the cat's out of the bag, perhaps Sakho's considerable hosting skills will be put to the test by new visitors seeking an oasis.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, is at 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.