Chefs Rosana Rivera and Ricardo Castro have shown vision. Years ago, Hyde Park Village bustled, anchored by notable restaurants like Restaurant B.T. Some stalwarts have endured (Timpano, Wine Exchange), but since then, the shopping center has had a troubling number of retail and restaurant vacancies. The restaurant that was once B.T. limped along for a while as Sophie's Bakery before being relaunched as Piquant by Rivera and Castro in January 2013.
At first it offered only breakfast and lunch with an emphasis on classical French pastries (digression: they started tinkering with their own version of New York City's cult "Cronuts" last summer and things got seriously crazy for a bit). But this January, commemorating their first anniversary, they launched dinner. It's only Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, but it says one thing loud and clear: Hyde Park Village looks to be once again on the ascent.
In the past six months I've heard rumors of several exciting restaurant concepts considering space in the Village, and additions like West Elm and Lululemon have brought new vitality to the shopping experience. On the weekends, Piquant rocks it with brunch (best items: banana bread french toast, the chorizo and goat cheese omelet and, yes, the Nutella cronut), while dinner has been a little slower to pick up steam. Still, the timing seems right: On recent Friday nights, the free parking lots are jammed; CineBistro is furiously popping corn; and the streets of Hyde Park Village are crowded again.
Puerto Rican born, Rivera and Castro met at the Art Institute of Tampa, where he was director of culinary arts and she taught culinary classes. The dinner menu at Piquant reflects how they grew up and the way they like to eat when traveling. They like options, the dinner menu heavy on French-inflected small plates and shareables, but with enough app-then-entree options to satisfy the traditionalist. A full bar added recently provides sophisticated beverage choices as well (e.g., the "New Fangled" featuring Bulleit bourbon, bitters, elderflower, a "drunk cherry" and lemon twist). One small caveat: Patio sitters are technically not allowed to drink alcohol outdoors.
The owners' Latin roots crop up in unexpected ways, as with the crunchy yucca croquettes ($10) with cilantro aioli, but the lion's share of menu items seem straight from the Escoffier canon. There's a lovely small white bean cassoulet ($12) studded with duck confit, sausage and other meaty bits and a rich short rib beef bourguignon ($14) in a rustic crock with a lively red wine sauce fragrant with mushroom and sweet pearl onions.
Perhaps the ultimate Francophile indulgence is the basket of perfect, thin fries, their centers creamy, their exteriors crisp and greaseless ($3). To really gild the lily, you can opt for them with parsley, Parmesan and truffle oil ($6), but they are irresistible plain, the legions of Spandex-clad folks entering L.A. Fitness across the street a gentle rebuke as you empty the basket.
Still, Castro is a pastry chef at heart, the kind of sweets savant who can rattle off the recipe for a princess cake or dacquoise without a hitch. The short dessert menu is sumptuous and classical, with a chocolate-tile-edged Maxine torte ($11) and a buttercream-and-ganache-layered opera cake ($10). With the lights down low and a live jazz band swaggering through the standards, Piquant's classic caramelized pear tarte Tatin ($9) seems just about right. But then you glance over at the illuminated pastry cases stacked with cookies, tiny fruit tartlets and scones for the next day's breakfast and lunch crowd, and decisions get muzzy. No matter which way the choice goes, Piquant has brought a great new dinnertime option to Hyde Park Village.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.