Mise en Place

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times np_356682_vrag_blackpearl_03 of 4 (7/12/12 Dunedin) A view of the dining room in The Black Pearl in Dunedin. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times]
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times np_356682_vrag_blackpearl_03 of 4 (7/12/12 Dunedin) A view of the dining room in The Black Pearl in Dunedin. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times]

Which question? I don’t know, a big one. “Can you pass the salt?” is fine. What do you want in a restaurant for the uncorking of significant inquiries? Assured service like Maryann Ferenc’s team has been doling out for more than 30 years, marked by proper pacing but also by deep and wide knowledge like that of beverage director Katie Glenz that turns a meal into something entertaining and edifying. You want a setting that is luxurious but calm, white tablecloths and flattering lighting, the time and space to linger over a delicious cocktail. And food? You want dishes that are lively and engaging and visually arresting but not too heavy or too huge or too garlicky.

CHRIS URSO | Times Signature chocolate pecan toffee mousse with crme anglaise and toffee sauce ($9.31) is seen Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at The Cafe by Mise en Place at Tampa International Airport's Airside F terminal.
CHRIS URSO | Times Signature chocolate pecan toffee mousse with crme anglaise and toffee sauce ($9.31) is seen Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at The Cafe by Mise en Place at Tampa International Airport's Airside F terminal.

Marty Blitz had a busy year in 2018 with the opening of a cafe at Tampa International Airport and Spanish-inflected Montados by Mise en Place at Sparkman Wharf, plus Berkeley Beach Club in Pass-a-Grille on the horizon for him and Ferenc. But food at the flagship continues to push forward. Blitz is doing a whole bunch of house-made charcuterie these days (I went to a charcuterie class there at the end of the year - great stuff, but above my pay grade), and I’m still a fan of his ceviches and hamachi, as well as salads, from the current Brick Street Farms little gem Caesar to mixed beets with honey thyme grilled pears and candied pecans. miseonline.com

Address: 442 W Kennedy Blvd., No. 110, Tampa

Phone: (813) 254-5373

Price: $$$

Caretta on the Gulf

Oyster BLT at Caretta on the Gulf. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Oyster BLT at Caretta on the Gulf. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

This top dog at Sandpearl has been on my annual list, then off, on, etc., not because it has ever been bad, but because this is fancy, expensive hotel food - if you can’t make a $54 cowboy ribeye knock my socks off, then you’re doing something wrong. Nearly at the end of 2018 there was a shakeup, with Eric Neri coming on board as executive chef. I was a big fan during his 20-year tenure at the Don CeSar, after which he stepped away from this life to do consulting for a while. I hopped in the car to find out how Caretta is faring under his leadership. While there, I had one of the best entrees I’ve had in months. It was a fillet of Ora King salmon, to my mind the world’s best sustainably farmed salmon, perfectly cooked with a little soft pinkness at its center and a just-crunchy edge, dappled with a caramelized shallot and Dijon vinaigrette. It was paired with roasted fingerlings, still-snappy haricots verts with good bacon lardons and a slick of brown butter, a few oily marcona almonds as garnish and just a hint of dill to the whole thing. It was $32, worth every penny and preceded by a solid baby romaine Caesar with interesting blue corn croutons and a half-dozen satiny, mild Blue Point oysters with all the trimmings. Caretta is one of the most elegantly appointed dining rooms in Clearwater Beach, with expert use of its view. Oh, and valet is free with validation, a rarity in Clearwater Beach. sandpearl.com/dining

Address: Sandpearl Resort, 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach

Phone: (727) 674-4171

Price: $$$

Black Pearl

Chilean Sea Bass Lyonnaise, served with chopped salad, goat cheese, pine nuts, lemon butter, and creamy polenta at The Black Pearl. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times]
Chilean Sea Bass Lyonnaise, served with chopped salad, goat cheese, pine nuts, lemon butter, and creamy polenta at The Black Pearl. [WILL VRAGOVIC, Times]

I don’t know this for sure, but I’m betting if you want to hide a ring in an entree or a fancy dessert, chef Christopher Artrip is going to put his back into it. He is a stickler for dramatic plate presentations in all their squeeze-bottle and Jackson Pollock-splatter glory. And the setting: There are red roses. There are white tablecloths. It is intimate and not too loud. It has been the go-to romantic place in Dunedin for decades, first as Sabals, then, since 1996, as Black Pearl under the LaRoche family and since 2014 owned by Zach Feinstein. It is splurge territory, but prices seem fair-minded to me (for example, you get a salad with your entree, very old school). Top offerings include appetizers like white truffle lobster risotto (it’s also offered as an entree for $54, but it’s so rich I think the smaller option is better) and the maple-glazed pork belly with cheese grits and a high contrapuntal note of blueberry demiglace. For entrees, the rack of lamb and filet mignon are unswervingly perfect. theblackpearldunedin.com

Address: 315 Main St., Dunedin

Phone: (727) 734-3463

Price: $$$