TAMPA — Benito D'Azzo is willing to go to great lengths. When the Straz hosted Come Fly Away in 2012, he hunted down a cook from Patsy's Restaurant in Midtown Manhattan to get recipes for Frank Sinatra's favorite dishes. When Jersey Boys played, it was a crazy spin on cheesesteaks (Amoroso rolls turned into bread pudding and a ribeye strewn with mushrooms, onion straws and Cheez Whiz hollandaise).
For the last five years, the chef at Maestro's Restaurant at the Straz Center has brought new meaning to dinner and a show, staging show-themed dinners before each Broadway series performance.
"We get them in and out. Our record is 152 people in 45 minutes."
On Tuesday evening I zipped in before A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, wondering how the chef and his crew would interpret this romantic comedy set in aristocratic 1907 England.
"I wasn't familiar with the show," D'Azzo said. "But it's like a dysfunctional Downton Abbey."
And, as such, after a serve-yourself salad and antipasti bar (nice grilled veggies, a far-reaching cheese and charcuterie array), there was an oh-so-British salmon poached in court bouillon (still lushly pink centered and very tender), napped with a cucumber cream and paired with a pouf of greens and Israeli couscous (main character Monty Navarro would have been mystified by this part, but it was tasty).
With dishes like Tully's Passionate Duck, paired with confit of potato and skinny French green beans, or Collette's lamb chops (grass-fed, herd-raised, yada yada) with roasted rosemary potato hash, it's as D'Azzo says: "We've turned this into the first act of the show."
He's got his work cut out for him. What's an appropriate Kinky Boots dish? But Lion King is all figured out: Guests will enjoy a fillet of lionfish, a delicious but problematic invasive. That's a different kind of king of the sea.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.