ST. PETERSBURG — For Russell Andrade, life is like a work of art.
At the helm of Iberian Rooster, the Portuguese fusion eatery and speakeasy that's currently taking shape on the 400 block of Central Avenue, the professional opera singer is channeling this ideology into every facet of his "roosteraunt." From the cuisine to the decor to the music, Andrade believes that everything should work together as art.
"Gesamtkunstwerk," he said, citing the German term for "total artwork" used by opera composer Richard Wagner. "The cuisine is an art form. The drinks are an art form. The cakes are an art form. The music is an art form. The decor, to me, is an art form."
With roots in Portugal, India and Tanzania, Andrade's idea for the concept came from a hunger for his grandmother's cooking. A self-proclaimed bad cook, he turned to chef Ed Lowery to refine his family's rustic recipes for the American palate. Together, the two created a menu that showcases a fusion of cultures from former Portuguese colonies like Brazil; Goa, India; Mozambique in Africa; and Macau in China. While there are some traditional Portuguese dishes on the menu like bacalhau, a pan-seared salted cod filet drenched in mango chutney and saffron oil atop a bed of coriander lemon beurre blanc and purple potato puree, the small plates and entrees, which are nut-free and contain vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, showcase a wide range of street fare.
Offerings include Goan patties, puff pastries stuffed with beef or potato and green pea, mango chutney and balsamic glace; Macanese pan-seared duck, with shrimp paste and tamarind reduction, pickled chu chu, shoestring potatoes and basmati rice; and hotchee dogs, beef franks topped with Cheddar cheese, mashed potatoes, sweet corn, beef chili, onions, shoestring potatoes and a sunny side-up egg.
It's a cuisine founded on the backbone of regional spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric and cardamom, and you won't find it anywhere else in St. Petersburg — or, according to Lowery, former executive chef at Skipper's Smokehouse and a musician like Andrade, anywhere else in the country.
The 5,850-square-foot space at 475 Central Ave., once occupied by Moscato's Bella Cucina, is inviting and cool. The restaurant, which has a bar, scattered tables and a dessert case manned by pastry chef Tyler Rose, was painted by the Vitale Brothers. Rose, who will also be the pastry chef at the forthcoming Proper Kitchen & Cocktails, stocks the case with creations like matcha crepe cakes, tamarind mousse bombs and Basmati arroz doce, a sweet and creamy rice pudding with cinnamon and lemon zest. Like Andrade, Rose is inspired by her grandmother.
A lounge takes up a back corner of Rooster's two-story space, which can seat 250, with velvet wingback chairs and plush benches accompanied by dining tables. At the back of the restaurant, a wide staircase descends to a speakeasy dubbed Subcentral; it will serve craft cocktails, small plates and desserts starting Friday. The basement bar, currently kept under lock and key, will be multipurpose: It will show family-friendly movies on Tuesdays, host a burlesque show on Saturdays and eventually showcase individual art exhibits.
In traditional speakeasy form, it can be accessed after the restaurant closes at 11 p.m., according to general manager Derrick Harmel. By entering a hallway to the right of the restaurant, currently marked by Crossfit signs, and descending a flight of stairs, guests can gain entry to the lounge, which will be open until 3 a.m. on the weekends.
Harmel said the eatery is set to operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
The restaurant is holding a grand opening at 9 p.m. Nov. 18 in the speakeasy. Gloria West and the Gents, a local swing jazz band, will perform and kick off a weekend of live entertainment including local acts like Panamory, a synth-pop band; Lillith, from the witch house electronica genre; and Opera on Tap, a grassroots gathering of local opera singers.