ST. PETERSBURG — By noon Monday, there were 50 reservations on the books for the debut of Sea Salt, an upscale seafood-oriented restaurant on the second level of Sundial in downtown St. Petersburg. With 300 indoor and patio seats in 12,000 square feet, it is yet another ambitious example of restaurateurs from elsewhere parachuting into St. Petersburg's increasingly dense restaurant fray (its next-door neighbor, the celeb-owned Locale Market, launched in December; national player Ruth's Chris Steak House opens its doors Feb. 9).
Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli opened a restaurant of the same name to our south in 2009, swiftly capturing the attention of Esquire magazine for its "Venetian world cuisine," naming the Naples spot one of the nation's best new restaurants for that year.
Louie Spetrini, general manager of the St. Petersburg location, said opening night's service would include the full menu, presided over for now by Naples executive chef Jason Brunson. The 7,000-bottle wine tower will require another week to complete, and the rotating array of salts — Mayan Sun from El Salvador, Pyramid from Bali, Murray River Pink from Australia — are yet to be thoroughly displayed. But the staff has been put through its paces with a week of "friends and family" dinners, with Justin Chamoun (Annata Wine Bar) serving as chief sommelier, Philip O'Bryan (Rococo Steak) as bar manager and Jess Clausen (Castile) in the role of service manager.
The St. Petersburg location ( seasaltstpete.com) will offer live entertainment on the weekends in the lounge, with a bar menu that runs later than the dinner menu. And although not identical, the new restaurant shares many menu items with the flagship, its fish dishes in the high $30s and beef entrees inching toward $60. This is splurge territory: My one meal at the Naples location featured a memorable raw bar platter heavy on Pacific oysters (big bucks, but sharable), sophisticated braised veal ravioli and expertly grilled fish accompanied by couscous and a lush lemon thyme sauce.
The Aiellis spent an estimated $4.5 million on the project, a sum that makes sense given the sumptuousness of the buildout. But even if $120 beluga caviar service doesn't suit your budget, a stool at the bar and a lobster reuben or black truffle poached Kobe hot dog provide a heady glimpse of St. Petersburg's increasingly sophisticated dining landscape.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.