Sunday, August 19, 2018
Dining

Restaurant review: Alsace Bistro is doing a solid job bringing the foods of northeast France to Tierra Verde

TIERRA VERDE

It has always been a charming restaurant space, tucked at the back of the little shopping center adjacent to Billy’s Stone Crab on the way to Fort De Soto Park. I reviewed it when it was the German Crepe House, and maybe again shortly after that when it turned into the Black Forest Cottage. But German food has always been a bit of a niche market in the Tampa Bay area, perhaps because of the climate. (There are some sweltering months of the year when spaezle, schnitzel and bratkartoffeln seem like a hard sell.) Both of those restaurants tended to attract former military, folks who had been stationed abroad and developed a taste for this rib-sticking central European cuisine.

On July 1, 2016, David Weiss and Jean-Sebastien Kappler took over the space and shifted its geographic focus. Not by a zillion miles (fine, kilometers), just west to Alsace, where the boeuf bourguignons of France canoodle with the roulades of Germany. The duo (they met while doing hospitality jobs at Europa-Park, a theme park in southwest Germany) came to the United States four years ago and lived a couple of chilly winters in Madison, Wis., before looking southward. When they opened Alsace Bistro, Weiss (from Strasbourg, France) was in the kitchen, Kappler (from Colmar, France) in the dining room. As the warm and inviting little restaurant took off, Kappler hopped back in the kitchen and they hired more folks.

Even in August, frequently a slow time in the Pinellas restaurant world, Alsace Bistro (which they called Cordon Bleu for a while at the start) seems to have found its groove and its audience. Service is personal and nurturing, both German and French spoken behind the small bar in the front room. It sports red-and-white checkered tablecloths, sunny yellow walls and dark wood wainscoting, white eyelet curtains and an archipelago of framed pictures on the wall: homey and a little old-fashioned.

I’m just going to say it. I’m a stone-cold Francophile, especially when it comes to food. In a couple of visits, I gravitated to the pate plate ($10), which featured wedges of a rustic pate de campagne as well as a buttery smooth foie gras (offered with zingy mustard and commercial crackers, but better when paired with the baguette slices from the bread basket), worked my way through a bowl of dusky French onion soup ($7.50) with its mantle of blistery cheese, and dove into the plush meat of a crackly-skinned duck a l’orange ($25), its crusty roasted potatoes nearly as big an enticement.

There’s a short beer and wine list, nothing particularly noteworthy but fairly priced (plenty of bottles in the $32 range). The restaurant’s strongest offerings are crepes, both savory and sweet, the flour in each case white (as opposed to the nutty buckwheat flour employed for savory Breton-style crepes — Weiss said he tried them but they didn’t fly in Tierra Verde), their texture bouncy and pliant, thin enough that they’re not gummy.

The lunch menu is anchored by the savory crepes (in addition to those ultimate indulgences, the croque monsieur and its sassier mistress, the croque madame with the egg on top), as is the weekend brunch menu. At dinner, steaks are also a major draw ($27), offered pepper-crusted or with a garlicky herbal compound butter that slowly glosses the top charry cap of filet mignon. (I don’t know what this style is called in France, but they do a good Pittsburgh where the steak exterior is deeply caramelized and the center is still blood rare). Many dinner entrees come with a tiny pouf of side salad — nice, but it obviates the need to begin proceedings with a salad, like the pleasant but oddly sweet salade chevre chaud, its rusks smeared with fresh goat cheese ($8 small, $15 large).

Servings are quite generous, which may necessitate a to-go box sloshing around in your backseat, because you are certainly getting dessert. The signature is a lavender-infused creme brulee ($7), its sugar cap perfectly thin and shatterable, its custard smooth and rich with just enough lavender to make it interesting, not like a Yankee Candle bomb. I read crepe Suzette, I must get crepe Suzette, Pavlov can explain it. Alsace Bistro’s version ($8) is textbook, a whiff of boozy oomph and a filling of sweet-bitter orange rindy marmalade that has a nice little chew on it.

There are so few restaurants in the Tampa Bay area that feature the foods of this region in northeast France (choucroute, bacon and onion tart, etc.). Weiss and Kappler are the standard bearers, doing just fine in their little corner of Tierra Verde.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines unannounced and the Times pays all expenses.

     
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