Friday, January 19, 2018
Restaurants

Dining planner: Loquat Festival of fuzzy, sweet-tart fruit, our dining suggestions

SWEET TREATS: LOQUAT FESTIVAL

It's the third year for the Florida Loquat Festival celebrating the fuzzy, sweet-tart fruit, and there will be samplings, preserves and other loquat products for sale. You can learn how to cultivate, can and cook with the tiny tropical fruit (with trees for sale). And join the "O Loquat" open mic session, with readings of poetry and short prose using loquat as a subject. Hosted by Friendship Farms & Fare and Ecology Florida. Volunteers are needed to help harvest loquats prior to festival. Free admission. 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Frances Avenue Park, 5580 Frances Ave., New Port Richey. (727) 849-1626.

On our list

Most entrees less than $10

BurgerMonger

Cuisine: American casual, Burgers.

Take high quality beef, give it a coarse grind and form it gently into a patty without compressing it and you get a burger that's worth getting out of the car for. They offer a number of toppings, but the burger is good enough that it's best to keep it simple. Multiple locations including 10412 N Dale Mabry in Tampa, and 1656 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. in Wesley Chapel. See more at burgermonger.com

Ha Long Bay

Cuisine: Chinese, Dim Sum, Vietnamese.

It has an expansive Chinese menu with a smattering of Vietnamese dishes. At lunch look for well-formed har gau (shrimp dumplings), pillowy pork buns, slithery rice noodle rolls and shu mai (crimped dough blossoms with ground pork jutting out the top). And in the evenings you'll find stylish spins on garlic-kissed water spinach and kung pao chicken. 5944 34th St. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 522-9988.

Stella's Deli

Cuisine: Breakfast or brunch, Casual Dining, Deli.

It's a different kind of mug shot. Along one whole wall of Stella's Deli hang coffee mugs. Maybe 60 of them, regulars' coffee vessels. Stella's isn't just breakfast. Lunch was added a while back, but it's with morning foods that Stella's hits its stride: Kahwa coffee, crisp-but-not-too-crisp bacon, corned beef hash that's clearly made in-house and served with a couple of eggs and toast from local Giovanni's Bakery in Largo (go over easy or poached on the eggs, a little yolk adding the perfect lushness to the cubes of flavorful hash). A lineup of Benedicts is memorable, whether the Florentine with its flurry of fresh spinach wilted just so under a cap of lemony Hollandaise, or the lox version, thin-sliced Bermuda onion and tomato accompanying generous swaths of Pacific smoked salmon, the kind of assemblage that can make a pair of English muffins seem like a party. 3119 Beach Blvd. S, Gulfport. (727) 498-8950. stellasingulfport.com

Most entrees $10 to $20

The Pub

Cuisine: American casual, British, Pub.

An outpost of a small chain of English gastropubs clustered in Ohio, Kentucky and Florida, it took over the Bamboo Club space at International Plaza, with great outdoor tables, cozy leather booths and lots of bar seating. It's a sprawling place, emphasis on what's on tap, with a menu that is fittingly pub grub (bangers and mash, shepherd's pie). Drink deals throughout the week. 2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa. (813) 443-5642. experiencethepub.com/tampa-bay

Vino E Pasta

Cuisine: Italian.

Not glamorous from the outside, Vino E Pasta is a little square house set off by itself adjacent to a Publix-anchored strip mall. A few cafe tables on the front porch and a cozy, close-set dining room inside, it's the kind of place that collects devoted regulars. With well-seasoned accents and wry senses of humor, the waiters treat everyone like family, or at least in-laws. A plate of tomato bruschetta welcomes guests, a ramekin of basil oil adding a punchy dab to the garlicky toasts. The rest of the menu you could predict. Caesar salad, gnocchi, tortellini, veal Marsala. Vino E Pasta is not reinventing the wheel, it's just rolling along with proven favorites. Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday. 3603 W Gandy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 902-8466. vinoepasta.net

Most entrees $20 or more

Dulcet Restaurant and Lounge

Cuisine: New American.

Dulcet is equal parts restaurant and nightclub, the brainchild of local pharmacist Nelson Ohihoin. He was nonplussed by the area's lack of nightlife, importing, with partner David Hall Jr., innovative technology to the 6,200-square-foot property. There is a constellation of more than 40 Bose speakers up high, one whole wall given over to a videotaped music system called 4K Atmosphere, a waterfall wall rimmed with LED lights and a living garden wall opposite from which greens and herbs are clipped. Chef Paul Syms, who worked for Wolfgang Puck in Orlando for years, put together a New American menu that says luxury. Many dishes are composed carefully on long rectangular plates, such as a Lincoln-log fresh hearts of palm salad set atop lettuces and zebra-stripe heirloom tomatoes, the portion size enormously generous. There's an opulent dish of butter poached lobster, its meat arrayed on velvety pappardelle with sweet oven-dried tomato, mild nutty rounds of garlic and little fillips of fresh basil.

Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Dinner 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., until 9:30 p.m. Sun. Sunday Brunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Ultra Lounge, 10 p.m.-midnight Sun., and Tues.-Thur., until 2 a.m. Fri.-Sat. 6220 Grand Blvd., New Port Richey. (727) 494-7654. thedulcet.com

Il Ritorno

Cuisine: Italian.

"Italian" is the kind of description that can get you into trouble, encompassing dozens of cuisines as it does. David Benstock's version is not fancy Northern Italian cream sauces, nor Sicily's big ol' bowls of meatballs. What he's doing is sensible portions at moderate prices (precisely halfway between Carrabba's and Donatello), relying as often as possible on local products and plating dishes attractively and rigorously. They make their own crisp-topped focaccia and little salt-flecked ciabatta rolls, served on a stylish swath of black slate with a jewel-green basil oil. They make all their pastas and have a ton of their andouille, pancetta and guanciale. And housemade desserts are booming, from a coconut cake accessorized by candied local kumquat, toasted coconut and a quenelle of tangerine gelato, to a trio of tiny lemon panna cottas with a pool of lemon curd, strawberry coulis and fresh strawberries. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thur., until midnight Fri. and Sat. 449 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 897-5900. ilritornodowntown.com

Roux

Cuisine: Cajun/Creole.

Suzanne and Roger Perry (Datz, Dough) announced in early 2014 they were turning the defunct Wimauma space on MacDill Avenue into the Creole/Cajun-inspired Roux. They brought in gleaming pressed-tin ceilings and loads of wrought iron, but more importantly they consulted with folks in Louisiana and did some major dine-arounds, brought on ex-Rococo chef Richard Potts as the launch chef, and enlisted the help of Dazzle chef Laura Schmalhorst in getting the doors open at Roux. It's a tight, one-page menu that splits between straight-up New Orleans standards and some more whimsical interpolations of the glories of the Big Easy. In that latter category, dishes like quail and waffles charm: Two moist, crisp-skinned birds recline against fluffy sweet-but-not-too-sweet sweet potato waffles, spicy praline pecans and a puddle of Barq's root beer reduction, and in the former there are two textbook gumbos that should silence any authenticity grumblers. 4205 S MacDill Ave., Tampa. (813) 443-5255. rouxtampa.com

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