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St. Petersburg's Venue combines dining, drinking and dancing

ST. PETERSBURG

You walk through one spritz of perfume, Love's Baby Soft. Your makeup is careful, bubble gum Lip Smackers gleaming. You're 16 and you're wearing your new jeans. You're going out with your friends, and for the next four hours anything is possible.

You grow up. You still go out with your friends, get dolled up, wear new jeans. But that feeling of endless possibility eludes you. You're divorced, you're married, your heart's been broken. You expect less of four hours.

Enter the Venue.

• • •

Its 27,000 square feet of bars and restaurants are tucked, warrenlike, into the Feather Sound space that used to be Storman's Palace. Ultra lounge, martini bar, deck bar, champagne lounge, private wine room, cabana deck, VIP rooms, sushi bar, tapas restaurant — even the initial press release required stamina from readers. This playground is aimed at making four hours young again, heady with options and high expectations.

I went expecting Girls Gone Wild: The Next Generation, where all the carousing had to be completed in time to relieve the babysitter. What I found was a rollicking good time, a giant petri dish of pheromones and cleavage and thundering beats. Oh, and dinner. The Venue's two restaurants are way better than they have to be.

• • •

I'm dressed all wrong. A suit, much too buttoned up. I walk the periphery of the deck bar, shades of Bahama Breeze, on my way to the front door. I'm confused. In front of me a blues band perches on an elevated stage in back of a wide bar, running through a spicy version of Mustang Sally.

A hostess guides me through heavy glass doors and into Viaggio, the tapas restaurant, to meet the rest of my party. We begin with a martini, icy cold and expertly made, while our waiter speaks of free-range chicken, Harris Ranch beef, Maple Leaf duck, as much organic and local produce as is available. This chef Robert Uzzillia seems serious. Plates emerge, architectural and carefully sauced. Three perfectly seared diver scallops ($13) showcased on roasted corn and black beans, a swirl of smoky tomato coulis finishing it elegantly. Two skewers of tamarind-sweet chicken ($8) are married with a spirited, cumin-scented jicama slaw.

Dishes are thoughtful and stylishly executed, certainly not traditional Spanish tapas, but pan-global in a chic way. A martini glass of lobster salad ($14) gets a jaunty capper of peppery microgreens from nearby Odessa and a chip of fried lotus root.

I mop up from profiteroles ($8), waggling vanilla ice cream and crisp pastry through hot fudge and a sprinkling of macadamia nuts, and watch the rest of the club fill up beyond the glass. There's a rising tide of excitement, packs of businessmen in collar knits looking on as women enter in little posses, many showing off surgical enhancements to best effect.

Paying the bill, I'm not sure what to do next. We wander, edging past another fun-loving band on the outdoor deck, heading up to take in the balmy night air on the cabana deck.

Club V is just heating up as we head back downstairs, intent on investigating Takara, the sushi bar. As with all of the Venue, decor is handsome and dramatic. Here it's red, white and black, somehow reminiscent of a Tokyo subway. Driving this train is sushi chef Tada "Yoshi" Kohazama, recently of Rengetsu in Orlando. You'll find familiar hand rolls, nigiri and maki, but his best work seems to be more luxurious combo rolls: California wagyu flanked by asparagus and cucumber ($18) or lobster tempura ($15) balanced with velvety avocado and sweet eel sauce. Presentations are pretty, fish is fresh — this is no late-night, post-partying snarf.

It gets later and we keep wandering, alighting here to listen, there for maximum people-watching. The Venue is nothing if not full of possibility. I should have worn my new jeans.

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found 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.

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The Venue

2675 Ulmerton Road,
St. Petersburg; (727) 571-2222

www.thevenueclub.com

Cuisine: Sushi and tapas

Hours: Takara 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. daily; Viaggio 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday, until 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; Club V opens at 10 p.m.

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

Prices: Viaggio tapas $6-$24, Takara rolls and sashimi $5-$18

St. Petersburg's Venue combines dining, drinking and dancing 04/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 12:10pm]

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