Lather your palms and give yourself an appraising look in the mirror. Sneer like an angry bonobo. Any spinach shrapnel in the teeth? Now look down. What's this? The wrists of the opposite sex, their own lathering in progress. Glance underneath the sinks and you see their shoes lined up with yours, nearly toe to toe. If there is more than one person at the opposite-sex sinks, they might be chatty. They may discuss their meal or they may even discuss those things you always worry they discuss when they leave the table.
And so goes a visit to the restroom at the brand-new, mega-swanky Eddie V's. It's not that they're co-ed restrooms, it's that they're restrooms with a discreet peep into each other's worlds.
Once you get your head out of the loo, this newcomer will seem mostly familiar. Opened at the beginning of April across from International Plaza, it is the ninth Eddie V's nationwide and the first east of Texas. Orlando-based Darden (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52) bought the chain in 2011 and this is the first one opened on their watch.
It's fancier than a Capital Grille or Seasons 52, with a seafood and prime steaks menu that is clearly gunning for Ocean Prime. Low lighting, a glamorous bar and live jazz nightly — it feels utterly appropriate on Boy Scout Boulevard alongside Roy's, Fleming's, Kona Grill and the also-new Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant. With entree prices that creep right up to $50, Eddie V's is an expense-account or special occasion destination (and, evidently, the new playground for Bucs and Rays players).
Any time I write about a place with $17 crab cake appetizers and $48 New York strips, I hear from incensed readers. "No steak is worth that!" To that I say, it is worth it if you feel comfortable paying that price and the steak in question meets or exceeds your expectations.
And it will probably do one or the other at Eddie V's. First off, managers poached waiters from many of the Tampa Bay area's top restaurants, such as Ocean Prime, Roy's and Bern's Steak House. These servers are polished, knowledgeable and suave, able to detect if you are a diner who prefers lots of hand-holding or sleight-of-hand invisibility (you know, where the water glass stays full as if by magic). Fine, so the service is good — how does this make the steaks worth steep prices?
A good restaurant meal, like comedy, is all about timing. At Eddie V's, finished appetizer plates are whisked away, tables crumbed swiftly and restocked with appropriate silverware, and entrees delivered on plates so hot your cheeks might pink up. Nothing is languishing in the kitchen where cognac sauce gets a gossamer skin; beverages are replenished so you're never eying an empty highball glass.
Service is seamless at Eddie V's so the kitchen's best intentions are never thwarted. This means a quartet of huge chilled shrimp ($14) are at their most alluring when they arrive with a netted lemon half, a spicy mustard and a sinus-clearing horseradish sauce. This means a half dozen oysters (market price depending on species) come just-shucked and briny with a perfect, shallot-spiked mignonette, and even thin swaths of yellowtail ($15) are refreshing atop their puddle of citrusy ponzu with a few potent loops of red chile on top.
Seafood selections are not always local or politically correct (you'll see species like Chilean sea bass and Pacific swordfish, which concern sustainability experts), but this is pristine fresh fish, often served center plate with a nuanced sauce, vinaigrette or bed of veggies (don't count on lots of vegetables, though, because side dishes are a la carte, from Brussels sprouts with bacon to roasted baby beets with candied walnuts, all $6 small, $9 large).
And then there are the steaks: a 22-ounce bone-in prime ribeye ($46) comes lushly marbled with velvety fat, the beef clearly corn finished but with a nice chew. The bone itself adds an extra depth of flavor to the rosy meat that goes so well with a sturdy, tannic California cab (the one-page wine list is surprisingly not shoot-the-works expensive, with lots of cabs in the $50-$60 range per bottle).
By-the-glass options can ratchet up to a gulp-worthy $20, so buying a bottle is more prudent. But then you might miss out on the smart cocktail list that competes ably with the others along Boy Scout Boulevard.
However you pace your meal at Eddie V's, the disk of hot bananas Foster butter cake ($9) paired with butter pecan ice cream is not to be missed. Unique and deeply decadent, it's easily shared in a flash of warring spoons. And then, while you wait for your (sizable) check, slip back to the restroom to powder your nose and to check if those guys in the other room are saying anything interesting.
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.