Sunday, June 24, 2018
Dining

Review: Haven, in SideBern's old spot, sets high bar from the start

TAMPA

David Laxer reached way back when naming Haven, alluding to his parents' long-ago Beer Haven in what is now the Bordeaux Room of Bern's Steak House. This homage to Gert and Bern Laxer makes one wonder what the family patriarch would think of this newcomer, which opened in March at the site of SideBern's. It's certainly less old-school fancy than Bern's, and less expensive than SideBern's, but I'm guessing Bern Laxer, who died in 2002, would be over-the-moon in love with the new project. As am I.

First off, Bern was wild for gadgets and seemed perpetually ahead of the curve. At Haven, he would likely sit riveted as a bartender administered the Coravin program, a curious device that works with a fat surgical needle to extract wine from an unopened bottle, replacing the empty space with inert argon gas. Thus, a bottle of the good stuff remains safe from oxidation, continuing to age as if undisturbed.

And he might be charmed by the edgy house-aged cocktails and concoctions like the Haven Sour ($9), made with Haven's own bourbon produced by Winter Park Distillery via the solera method — although it's possible that Bern Laxer might scratch his head at the list of more than 300 whisk(e)ys. Laxer just missed the American whiskey explosion, but director of spirits Dean Hurst is clearly in the thick of it.

And Bern Laxer, an unapologetic veggie enthusiast and grower, would likely be gaga over many of the playful and stylish small plates. There's something described simply as sweet corn ($9), which marries corn in every guise from ears of caramelized baby corn to corn sprouts, roasted corn niblets, corn nuts and popcorn brought together with grassy-caramely Zamorano cheese and a hint of chile heat. And then there's a pot into which a whole roasted head of cauliflower ($13) has been dramatically wedged, its burnished crown shampooed with a goat's milk brown butter and festooned with crunchy ham, ginger and shallot.

But it's over in the corner of the new dining room, the part that used to be Bern's Fine Wines, where Mr. Laxer might swoon and need smelling salts. It's a glass-fronted cheese cave, its contents arrayed beautifully and architecturally in tall columns and fat pyramids.

It is without a doubt the area's most encyclopedic and ambitious cheese program, best sampled in a $47 ceramic deviled egg tray containing 18 different cheeses. Sounds like a lot, but among three people was about 90 minutes of moaning bliss. On our visit, the acme was a tiny wedge of Point Reyes Bay Blue, mellow and crumbly at the edge, with a softer center and a salted-caramel note. But we were also fans of the Bleu Sunshine (from Winter Park, finally some great Florida cheese!) and the buttery, mushroomy lusciousness of Vermont Farmstead's Lillé Coulommiers, like a Brie in texture but with a fudgy grassiness that is magical.

I could go on about the cheeses — served at the right temperatures and levels of ripeness, with crusty bread, cornichons, fruit compote and Marcona almonds — but I've got miles to go in order to touch on all that Haven has to offer. Executive chef Chad Johnson and chef de cuisine Courtney Orwig have taken a number of their SideBern's preoccupations and blown them up big. Charcuterie, which will eventually be almost all housemade, for now features a number of lovely terrines, sausages, torchons and pates. And cheeses crop up all over the menu, from a trio of stunning savory housemade macarons ($9; I think I liked the creamy, buttery Délice de Bourgogne one best) to a changing mac and cheese offering ($12).

I know Bern's Steak House is fabled for its rigorous server training, and surely the Epicurean Hotel across the street aims high, but it was always at SideBern's where I had those memorable service experiences that meld professionalism with keen food knowledge. This is even more the case at Haven: From bartenders to the girl behind the cheese counter in the white pillbox cheesemonger cap, these folks know their stuff and are happy to kibitz.

With decor that is pretty but comfortable, and dishes that seldom scoot over $20, Haven adheres to the growing "casualization" trend. That said, few newcomers in the increasingly dense playing field have set the bar so high right from the start. Surely Gert and Bern Laxer would be tickled by what their little Beer Haven has wrought.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. 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