ST. PETE BEACH — There are those stores that are like clubs. Bass Pro Shops, Ron Jon Surf Shops, even Apple stores — yes, they sell stuff, but it's more aspirational than that. These are lifestyles on offer.
The new Guy Harvey store in St. Pete Beach is like that. Angler-explorer-artist Harvey is more ruggedly mysterious than the Dos Equis dude, his saltwater game fish art attracting gravelly voiced Hemingway types and those who wish they were. The new Guy Harvey Outpost seems perfectly paired with the TradeWinds Beach Resort, and its restaurant, the recently launched RumFish Grill & Bar, more perfect still.
I'm not saying it's flawlessly executed. It's zooish, the crowded host's stand in a perennial flop sweat. Everyone wants to sit right near the 33,500-gallon aquarium built by Wayde King and Brett Raymer of Tanked, Animal Planet's hit series. "I'm sorry, sir, it will be a 90-minute wait to sit near the aquarium."
This does not seem to kill folks' enthusiasm. There are families examining the merchandise, World Cup enthusiasts three deep at the bar willing the Argentina/Netherlands game not to end in PKs, bartenders shaking up house-infused vanilla RumFishes and old-school mai tais, teenagers flouting the "no bathing suits" policy, valet parkers getting frustrated and a general air of barely controlled mayhem. In short, it's a new restaurant with buzz, its staff mostly trying to stay loose enough to catch the wave.
On a couple visits, dishes arrived too quickly or too slowly, servers going MIA as their stations ballooned. This is standard-issue new restaurant stuff, likely to be worked out swiftly, especially in light of the professional team ensconced at RumFish. General manager Aaron Radman has spent many years heading up food and beverage at local hotels as well as at Roy's in Sarasota (and if things get especially hairy, he's a wrestling coach at St. Pete High). The chef, Aaron Schweitzer, most recently came from a spate of successful restaurants in Wilmington, N.C.
The aesthetic here is beachy, big-flavored fare with a focus on seafood, swapping out Caribbean flavors for Southeast Asian ones with a deft touch. Prices are on the high side for the beaches, but the gorgeous aquarium stocked with loads of Gulf species is worth a little premium pricing. Consider it an entertainment fee.
Some of the best dishes appear on both the lunch and dinner menus: Seared ahi tuna tacos with a drizzle of tangy yuzu, a frizzle of napa cabbage and seaweed salad and a shizzle (okay, a blob) of wasabi avocado cream ($9) are a great shared small plate, as are tender Korean barbecue beef skewers accessorized by funky-tangy kimchi and a gingery sauce ($10). At dinner, an all-hands-on-deck starter included a shallow bowl packed with wine-steamed P.E.I. mussels amped with chorizo and onion ($9), its sauce a satisfying mopper with warm house rolls. Shrimp on the shrimp cocktail didn't wow (a little watery and floppy; $10), and the house blue crab cakes are very soft without that nice crispy edge ($11), although the kitchen gets style points for corn and okra salsa strewn on the plate.
Speaking of style, at dinner the showstopper seems to be a swinging pendulum of seafood brochette ($24), customers scooting the sea scallops, mahi, onion and Gulf shrimp onto a waiting bed of fried rice studded with squash. A great idea for a dish, with loads of drama, but on our visit the seafood was just slightly undercooked and the red onions fiery enough to swamp the seafood flavor. A quibble, because other seafood entrees, from a grilled swordfish with a charred tomato vinaigrette ($25) to a lemony pan-seared local grouper ($26) exhibited a sure hand in the kitchen.
A great deal of effort has gone into the RumFish bar, from the flights of rum to the very savvy (but short) wine list and even an array of after-dinner drinks. These are seriously decadent, with a chocolate-swirled bananas Foster martini ($11) with butterscotch schnapps, vanilla vodka and banana liqueur obviating the need for a lot of dessert-list scrutiny. This, of course, leaves a little extra post-prandial time to watch the sheepshead and snook flitting in the ginormous aquarium, or even to purchase that Guy Harvey fish T-shirt you had your eye on.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.