Saturday, June 23, 2018
Dining

Review: Castile at Hotel Zamora is a new culinary star in St. Pete Beach

ST. PETE BEACH

Restaurant chefs are often wanderers, staying in a kitchen a year or two before moving on. For this reason, reviewing restaurants gets tricky. You say glowing things about a restaurant and, poof, the chef is promptly off somewhere new. I've been watching Ted Dorsey for a while, but I took my eye off the prize seven months ago when he left Gordon Davis and Kevin Enderle's SoHo Hospitality group (Boca, Ciro's, CopperFish) to head to St. Pete Beach.

Having started his career under the tutelage of Marty Blitz at Mise en Place in Tampa and then in the kitchen of Davis Islands' now-defunct Chez Bryce, he has a vibrant palette drawn from sultry Mediterranean countries, South America and even Asia, but with clearly classical underpinnings. Which is why it seemed like a head-scratcher when I heard he was heading up the kitchen at the brand-new Hotel Zamora and its marquee restaurant, Castile. With the exception of Maritana Grille and a couple of others, St. Pete Beach isn't known for its cutting-edge or rigorously executed food. With a largely transient tourist customer base, a lot of restaurants fall into a "turn and burn" complacency.

Right out of the gate, Hotel Zamora, a stylish 50-room boutique, seems to be doing things its own way. It's not on the beach side of Gulf Boulevard, but uses its bayou-side setting to best effect with a ravishing waterside pool and patio (and it's constructing a full rooftop bar and restaurant that will have water views on both sides). The color scheme is a vivacious deep mango and teal with lots of natural woods and design elements reminiscent of Bermuda or Antigua. It feels exotic, and what Dorsey is doing at Castile follows suit.

I'm calling the cuisine New American, but that's a bit of a cop-out. The menu has strong ties to Spain, with a small plate/tapas approach and lots of smoked paprika and cheeses like Cabrales. But then you encounter Latin elements like a zappy Argentine chimichurri sauce on a tender culotte steak ($21) or house-smoked chicharrons ($12); and if you're paying attention coconut lemongrass sticky rice ($7) or the tomatillo lychee salsa on a tuna poke ($15) will take you in a different direction entirely.

What stays consistent is Dorsey's attention to detail and commitment to making just about everything in-house (okay, not the serrano ham, but all the other cured meats, breads, pickles and other elements). As at Boca, he sources quite a bit from area farms, with a special emphasis on spear-caught fish from the gulf. All right already, but how does this all come together in dishes?

Envision paper-thin slices of black grouper dotted with tiny nuggets of candied chicharrons and bits of micro cilantro, with a scoop of supremes of blood orange flecked with cilantro and lemony marigold ($15), an appetizer in the truest sense, perfect when segueing into a bowl of sambuca-fragrant steamed mussels with more blood orange and chopped tomato ($17) with a pair of deeply grilled baguette rusks, or, one of the best dishes, a bowl of fresh lobster meat cradled in a buttery tomato sauce with a garlic and smoked paprika edge ($11), served with more grilled bread for mopping.

Salads are especially good (although large, so maybe share one for the table), with artisan greens from 3 Boys in Ruskin, tiny peppery watercress from Homestead and velvety limestone and gem lettuces from a nearby hydroponic farm. But it's the accessories that make it all sing, as with an arugula salad studded with Bing cherry halves, fresh figs and crunchy/salty bits of ham ($14).

Dorsey and chef de cuisine Zach West's entree work is equally impressive, especially the seafood. A trio of perfectly seared sea scallops sits on a puddle of creamed sweet corn with a candied pancetta foil, a fluff of microgreens and a swirl of jalapeno prosecco cream ($26); a passel of grouper cheeks ($24) comes adjacent to a kicky pile of heirloom tomato salad (not really the advertised caponata, which I think of as a cooked dish), a wide smear of sumptuous avocado cream and a limey vinaigrette.

Desserts are a bit more pedestrian than the rest of the menu (a "choco taco," tropical panna cotta), but the wine list, cocktail lineup and service staff are equal to the task of supporting such an ambitious new concept.

Castile was a historical region in Spain; Zamora is a province in Spain and the name of cities in Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela. I'm not sure which ones hotel owner Henry Suarez is alluding to, but it's clear that St. Pete Beach has caught a big fish with this globe-trotting newcomer.

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

 
Comments
See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

See Datz pastry chef Alicia Wolding on Netflix’s Sugar Rush

When Alicia Wolding joined Datz as the new executive pastry chef last year her hair was rainbow — pretty much the whole ROY G BIV spectrum in cascading tresses. More recently, it’s bright purple, somewhere between iris and lilac. This is the color yo...
Published: 06/22/18
Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

Wine dinners, beer projects and more will wet your whistle this summer

FILIPINO FOOD: WELCOME CHISMISHave you been to the Heights Public Market at the 73,000-square-foot Armature Works yet? It’s the buzzy food market in Tampa Heights with more than a dozen vendors offering up everything from rolled ice cream to Cuban sa...
Published: 06/20/18
Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

Restaurant review: Chile Verde is serving up very solid tacos in an unlikely spot

ST. PETERSBURGThere are a lot of decommissioned gas stations across the country. Some have been reinvented, cleverly made over as upscale restaurants. There’s Big Star in Chicago, Elaia & Olio in St. Louis, Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, Va., even Bi...
Published: 06/18/18
From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

From soft serve to ice pops, 12 places to get frozen treats

I know we have three more months or so of hot-as-dog-breath Tampa Bay summer, but let’s start things off on the right foot with some frozen treats. Ice cream is on my mind after a recent visit to Disney Springs, when I found love in a perfect scoop o...
Published: 06/13/18
Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

Five restaurants worth checking out at Disney Springs in Orlando (w/video)

LAKE BUENA VISTA Disney Springs has swiftly become a playground or trial balloon for the country?s celebrity chefs. Art Smith, Masaharu Morimoto, Rick Bayless, Guy Fieri, Tony Mantuano, Wolfgang Puck and others are already on board, with names like ...
Published: 06/13/18
A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

A hook-to-table food experience in Tampa Bay

Going fishing is like doing your taxes. If it’s something you dive into just once a year you end up relearning the whole thing every time. Jake Whitfield eyed me, no judgment, and decided to cast for me the first time, my little wriggling greenback z...
Published: 06/11/18
Ceviche closing in South Tampa

Ceviche closing in South Tampa

TAMPA – The Ceviche restaurant at 2500 W Azeele St. is closing.Caledon Concepts, which operates Ceviche restaurants in Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg, said the restaurant’s last day at that location will be June 16."The expiration of the lease for...
Updated one month ago
Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

Deal alert: Hard Rock Cafe has 71 cent burgers for its birthday

SAVE THE DATE: HARD ROCK B-DAYOn June 14, 1971, the founders opened their own American-style diner in an old Rolls-Royce dealership and called it Hard Rock Cafe. They had a vision to combine music, memorabilia and all-American fare. Here’s a tip: To ...
Updated one month ago
Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

Restaurant review: El Chapo Taco fills a need with fun, friendly Mexican spot in Gulfport

GULFPORTWhat do we know about El Chapo, a.k.a. Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán? He ran the Sinaloa Cartel, even from prison, and first appeared on Forbes’ billionaires list in 2009. He’s 5 feet 6. He’s the father of 12 or 13 children. He has a talen...
Updated one month ago
National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

National Doughnut Day is back. Where to get free doughnuts, doughnut beers and more

Believe it or not, Friday is already June 1, which means National Doughnut Day is back with sweet deals.The day was created to celebrate the Salvation Army’s "Doughnut Lassies," who served the treats to American soldiers on the front lines during Wor...
Updated one month ago