Make us your home page
Instagram

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.

 

Haven

2208 W Morrison Ave., Tampa

(813) 258-2233;

haventampa.com

Cuisine: New American/wine bar

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, until 11 p.m. Thursday to Saturday

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; reservations suggested; full bar

Prices: $4 to $22

Rating, out of four stars:

Food: ★★★★

Service: ★★★★

Atmosphere: ★★★

Overall: ★★★½

Review: Haven, in SideBern's old spot, sets high bar from the start 04/13/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 2:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Plan your weekend: Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, MarineQuest, Florida Orchestra pops in the park, rodeo

    Events

    Plan your weekend

    Concerts

    Music weekend: Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw and Bruno Mars all in one weekend? We have a playlist of a weekend coming up. Thursday brings Bruno's sold-out 24K Magic World Tour to Amalie Arena. The next day brings the country power …

    Bill Clark and Danelle Dasouqi admire the chalk art on the side walk during the final day of the three day Chalk Art Festival in Clearwater Beach. JIM REED/STAFF
  2. Ticket window: Harry Potter movie concert, Andrea Bocelli, Ed Sheeran, Iliza Shlesinger, Alan Parsons Project on sale this week

    Music & Concerts

    Tickets for the following events go on sale this week:

    British singer Ed Sheeran performs during the Italian State RAI TV program "Che Tempo che Fa", in Milan, Italy on March 12, 2017, 
AP Photo/Antonio Calanni
  3. 13 things to do in Tampa Bay on Oct. 19

    Events

    Bruno Mars: Get your Uptown Funk on at the Grammy-winning pop star's 24K Magic World Tour. 8 p.m., Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Drive, Tampa. $41.25-$131.25. (813) 301-2500.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25:  Bruno Mars performs onstage at 2017 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET)
  4. In a world of pop queens, Bruno Mars is the king. He plays Tampa on Thursday

    Music & Concerts

    For a few years now, pop music has been completely and utterly dominated by women. Taylor! Beyoncé! Adele! Katy! Gaga! They're everywhere! And they're all goddesses, each and every one!

    NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22:  (Editorial Use Only) Bruno Mars performs onstage during Bruno Mars: 24K Magic World Tour at Madison Square Garden on September 22, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Atlantic Records)
  5. What's new in theaters: 'The Snowman,' 'Only the Brave,' 'Boo 2! A Madea Halloween'

    Movies

    OPENING FRIDAY:

    THE SNOWMAN

    Unlike Frosty, The Snowman (R) isn't a jolly, happy soul. He's a serial killer who murders after snowfalls, keeping him busy in Norway where an alcoholic detective (Michael Fassbender) specializes in — wait for it — cold cases.

    Michael Fassbender is an alcoholic detective searching for a killer in The Snowman.