ST. PETERSBURG — Tonight at 5 o'clock, Rococo Steak debuts in the historic 1920s YWCA building in St. Petersburg in a soft opening, cementing what most of us already knew: Downtown St. Pete is red hot these days. The grand opening is Tuesday.
The name alone signals its intention to set itself apart from the many traditional steakhouses on the other side of Tampa Bay (Charley's, Ruth's Chris, Shula's and, the granddaddy, Bern's). Rococo alludes to the playful art movement in the early part of the 18th century, a reaction to the Baroque period's grandeur and strict regulations.
What does this mean in a steakhouse?
"The overall idea was something chic and contemporary," says chef Richard Potts, 31. "The idea was something that wasn't gender-specific like your grandfather's steakhouse with the giant knife. The aim was doing something that was revolutionary."
Potts, who cut his teeth in his parents' restaurant in Daytona Beach, has spent the past 10 years crisscrossing the country with his knife kit, spending time at Old Hickory Steakhouse at Orlando's Gaylord Palms and then doing something entirely different presiding over the kitchen at Sorrel River Ranch, a 10-acre sustainable farm resort in Moab, Utah. In his new digs at 655 Second Ave. S, he's been given room to roam, with a charbroiler for steaks, wood-burning oven and a 40-foot kitchen line and staff of up to 20.
The resulting menu is, as Joe Orsino, chief executive officer of Caledon Concept Partners, says, something equally appealing to men and women, with some smaller-sized steak options and a range of side dishes that are anything but status quo (crispy kale chips! Incan red quinoa with candied walnuts!). Kale chips not floating your boat? How about a flight of artisanal bacon.
Orsino also says the traditional paradigm of dark wood and "old boys' club" atmosphere has been retired.
"At Rococo the bar and lounge is central to the concept so the energy emanates from there." Despite the lack of water view, the bar just might rival the popular Canopy at the Birchwood Inn on Beach Drive NE. Tonight is the soft launch with a grand opening planned for later.
Still, the core of the menu is beef, both corn-fed and grass fed.
"We saw this as an opportunity to operate a restaurant and a type of cuisine that didn't exist in St. Pete," says Orsino. "I think there should be a great steakhouse in every great city."
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.