Saturday, August 18, 2018
Dining

Dining Planner: Looking for a low-key NYE destination? Here are 6 new spots

Our office Christmas tree was festooned with pictures of all the beloved celebrities who died in 2016. We're a gallows-humor lot, but this year has been bumpy for many. Maybe you don't feel like whoop-di-whooping it this year with free-flowing champagne. For those of you who feel like taking the frenzy level down a few notches, here are six restaurants that opened this year where you can ring in the new year without so much fuss, with all serving regular menus during regular hours.

On Swann

This was one of the year's hottest debuts. Decor is absolutely charming, eclectic in the best sense, with long communal tables and little marble-topped rounds, rustic wood floors and bold Spanish tile in the bar area. Foodwise, it's contemporary without cliches. The menu draws broadly from exotic parts of the globe — roasted oysters get a fragrant sambal butter and scallops' sweetness is enhanced with a little curry flavor — but there are a number of items that feel squarely Italian. 1501 W Swann Ave., Tampa. (813) 251-0110.

Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu

This is part attractive sit-down restaurant, part grab-and-go traditional Vietnamese ingredients (sua dau nanh, a fresh soy milk; cha bo and cha lua, Vietnamese sausages you find in banh mi sandwiches) and part order-at-the-counter boba teas, milk slushes and novelty drinks the average 14-year-old girl would swoon over. You know, drinks with the wide straws and neon crystal pearl jellies and popping boba lurking at the bottom. A number of things set Thinh An Kitchen & Tofu apart, but at the top is seven different kinds of tofu they make every day. 8104 W Waters Ave., Tampa. (813) 249-2222.

Buya Ramen

The 2,500-square-foot space is spare but gorgeous, with old St. Pete hexagonal tile floors from the 1920s, playful murals by artist Michael Vahl (the most arresting: a heated ramen fight in a bathhouse), rustic charred wood walls and handmade wooden tables. Since its debut, the restaurant has added a chicken ramen and tuna. Their anchor tonkotsu broth is lush, unctuous and nearly opaque, blanched chicken and pork bones simmered with roasted vegetables for 22 hours before it is strained and married with noodles and toppers like bits of duck confit, fatty-edged pork belly or smoky beef brisket. 911 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 202-7010.

Sacred Pepper

Opened in April, this newcomer is adorned with elaborate chandeliers, crystal beading echoing a bubbling water wall and lapis blue accents that allude to sea and sky. The domed hall to the bathroom, with its dew-on-a-spider-web wall treatment, will cause countless dates to wonder if foul play has waylaid their partners. That hallway is prime selfie territory. Owner Candy DeBartolo (whose husband Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is a 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee) has a fondness for familiar, nurturant Italian-inflected food. There's the family marinara recipe elegantly scrawled across one mirrored wall. A trio of veal and pork meatballs in that marinara is the signature Sacred appetizer. 15405 N Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa. (813) 609-8000.

Fish Bar and Grille

It is pure Gulfport casual, a historic bungalow with wide patios, tables trailing outdoors. And the mission is clear: fresh fish and shellfish served in a convivial environment without a lot of frippery. You'll find starters like a dozen Manatee County Joe Island clams steamed with lemon, garlic, butter and wine or fat gulf oysters, shucked and sent out with cocktail sauce, horseradish and saltines. There's New England clam chowder served in a sourdough bowl, so rich and thick that when completed it may result in an inability to operate heavy machinery. Key West peel 'n' eats can be served hot or cold and feel like a mini vacation. 3038 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport. (727) 328-2720.

Drama Burger

Burgers for New Year's Eve? Why not. These are fancy Lithuanian burgers. In February, Simas Slabaciauskas and his co-owners debuted a quirky box with whimsical drawings by David Schiesser (naked armless dude giving a piggyback ride to a sailfish; martini-hefting pith-helmet guy riding a flamingo) and live plants hanging from the exposed rafters. The single best sandwich isn't a burger at all. It's the thin-sliced housemade pastrami piled onto a glossy, soft brioche bun with a spicy house mustard-mayo, thin curls of red onion with some snap and tangy herbal pickle slices. The second-best sandwich is the burger upon which that pastrami has hitched a ride. The fries and other sides are worthy of praise as well. 2420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 252-3072.

     
 
Comments
Dining events: Bolts Brew Fest, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month

Dining events: Bolts Brew Fest, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month

BOLTS: BREW FESTI was going to list all the craft brewers whose wares will be on offer at 7 p.m. Friday at this year’s Bolts Brew Fest, a Tampa Bay Lightning benefit for the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. But with 50 local breweries alone, and another ...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18
Asian-inspired Chop Chop Shop takes over Nicko’s in Seminole Heights

Asian-inspired Chop Chop Shop takes over Nicko’s in Seminole Heights

Folks around Seminole Heights will soon be able to eat Asian-inspired food with the spirit of the King.Nicko’s Fine Foods , one of the last standing classic American-style diners in Tampa Bay and the spot where Elvis Presley ate after his 1956 concer...
Published: 08/14/18
Amalie Arena tries to lure millenials to its Firestick Grill

Amalie Arena tries to lure millenials to its Firestick Grill

TAMPA — How to attract the cool kids? This is the mantra for so many restaurants these days: That huge generation of millennials eats differently, thinks differently and spends differently than their parents. So how do you reel them in and make them ...
Published: 08/14/18
Restaurant review: Oak & Stone brings a lot to an already thriving downtown St. Petersburg dining and beer scene

Restaurant review: Oak & Stone brings a lot to an already thriving downtown St. Petersburg dining and beer scene

ST. PETERSBURG You stand up. You show your ID and get a wristband. A server walks you to the wall and through the options: more than 50 taps, grouped by style, mostly local (Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Green Bench, 3 Daughters, etc.) and regional cra...
Published: 08/13/18
Restaurants closing and changing hands: Silas Dent’s, Salty Rim Grill and more

Restaurants closing and changing hands: Silas Dent’s, Salty Rim Grill and more

SILAS DENT’SAfter 39 years of business, Silas Dent’s Steakhouse at 5501 Gulf Blvd. in St. Pete Beach has been sold to the owners of Caddy’s on the Beach. It will be retrofitted and reopened as the boat-up Caddy’s St. Pete.In 1978, Ted Stambaugh, Rob...
Published: 08/08/18
TeBella founder Abigail StClair talks tea facts you may not know

TeBella founder Abigail StClair talks tea facts you may not know

When Abigail StClair studied at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., she set her sights on preveterinary classes, specifically marine mammals. Why? Because it was the hardest curriculum. A postcollege stint as a whale trainer at the Mystic A...
Published: 08/08/18
Restaurant review: Alsace Bistro is doing a solid job bringing the foods of northeast France to Tierra Verde

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

TIERRA VERDEIt 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 aft...
Published: 08/06/18
Rooster and the Till owners will open a taqueria in Sparkman Wharf

Rooster and the Till owners will open a taqueria in Sparkman Wharf

TAMPA — Sparkman Wharf, a part of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa neighborhood, has revealed the first major restaurant of its promised ten regional chefs and restaurateurs to join the lineup of culinary concepts.Two of Tampa’s most celebrated rest...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant openings: Left Bank Bistro, Nekter, Mekenita Cantina

Restaurant openings: Left Bank Bistro, Nekter, Mekenita Cantina

NOW OPEN: MEKENITA CANTINAOne of my favorite Mexican spots has pulled up stakes in Lutz, changed its name from Mekenita Mexican Grille to Mekenita Cantina and moved to a central spot at 6707 N Florida Ave. in Seminole Heights. Bodega and Mandarin Hei...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: Frank Chivas’ new Belleair Bluffs spot Seaweed is a revelation with fresh fish and an interesting menu

Restaurant review: Frank Chivas’ new Belleair Bluffs spot Seaweed is a revelation with fresh fish and an interesting menu

BELLEAIR BLUFFSI’ve been writing about Baystar Restaurant Group since I started at the Times 10 years ago. I’ve been writing about its founders Frank Chivas and the late, larger-than-life Tom Pritchard for just as long. I’ve reviewed most of their re...
Updated one month ago