ST. PETE BEACH — The words "supper club" are evocative but confusing. If you're from Wisconsin, it means a certain kind of place on the outskirts of town where you camp out on a chair for the evening, come what may. In the UK, it means a cabaret-ish kind of joint. If your memory goes long, you're thinking about those sneaky speakeasy places with hooch on the down low. But urban hipsters might just think of a supper club as an antirestaurant, a pop-up affair someone tweeted the address and details of in 140 characters or less.
So when Riviera Supper Club opened in St. Pete Beach in October in the original Max & Sam's space, I gave it a little head-scratch. Marina Greenwood and Kevin O'Malley have gussied up a slightly tired space, adding white and burgundy linens, appealing dark wood and warm, amber light throughout. Nice, but still inviting and unfussy, date-night-appropriate, but nothing with a corsage or a ring box.
Greenwood and O'Malley are clearly of the get-your-hands-dirty school of restaurant management. They are all over the place, adjusting tables here, explicating a dish there and, above all, making sure you're having a good time. And you probably will be. There's live music — one night an amateurish keyboard endeavor, another night a full band and even a few intrepid souls inching on to a dance floor. Following O'Malley and Greenwood's lead, service is efficient and attentive.
To my mind, the menu doesn't exactly scream "supper club"; nor does it shout "Riviera." It's in fact a slight hodgepodge, with what I think of as Continental classics from escargots en croute to chateaubriand for two, as well as Korean bulgogi and Japanese negimaki. Oh, and Latvian pelmeni (little veal-stuffed dumplings, very tasty, $7.50, swaddled in a tangy cream) and Middle Eastern-inspired kebabs. Eclectic is one way of describing the assembled dishes, but "a little kooky" is another.
Truth is, despite the kitchen-sink approach to the menu, there's a lot of solid cooking going on. There are a couple of clunkers (the blueberry chipotle pulled pork nachos, $7.50, just drag the vibe down-market), but lots to commend. I'd saute the crab cake a little longer to crisp up the edge so it provides contrast to the tender, all-crab interior, and maybe I'd add a dollop of some kind of sauce, but it's a fundamentally well-made cake ($11.90 as an app, $23.90 as an entree). And the plush, thin-pounded beef carpaccio ($12.90) came accessorized with something unusual but complementary: a spoonful of eggplanty caponata, which added some razzle-dazzle to the beef with its subtle truffle oil drizzle (the waiter's suggestion).
Entree plates might benefit from a slightly more spare aesthetic — there's very little white space on those plates, and many proteins (like the gorgeous piece of balsamic-glazed snapper, $18.90) are obscured by a whole lot of topping, in the case of the snapper a tangy tomato, onion, carrot saute.
Very commendable is Riviera's wide range of options for vegetarians, from an attractive and flavorful eggplant roulade ($7.50) with a filling of ricotta and Parmesan, to a veggie napoleon ($13.90) and gingery Asian veggies stir-fried with tofu.
A rarity at the beach, Riviera's kitchen makes all its own desserts, from a strawberry shortcake on a cornmeal-grainy biscuit ($6) to the Josephine, a puff pastry hootenanny with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream and syrupy candied walnuts and raisins ($7.90), a combination that is both homey and sophisticated. The wine list is mostly familiar offerings at fairly standard markups, and with such a breadth of flavor profiles in the dishes it's nice to see a range of varietals as well.
I'm not sure Riviera Supper Club fits my image of a supper club, and its kitchen certainly ranges far from the Riviera, but it's a welcome upscale newcomer in St. Pete Beach.
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.
ST. PETE BEACH
The words "supper club" are evocative but confusing. If you're from Wisconsin, it means a certain kind of place on the outskirts of town where you camp out on a chair for the evening, come what may. In the UK, it means a cabaret-ish kind of joint. If your memory goes long, you're thinking about those sneaky speakeasy places with hooch on the down low. But urban hipsters might just think of a supper club as an antirestaurant, a pop-up affair someone tweeted the address and details of in 140 characters or less.