A few months ago, I somehow got on the email list of Tampa restaurant Terra Sur, which specializes in Peruvian cuisine. In my experience, this cuisine tends to be seafood-centric and, as a vegan, I pay it much attention.
Several emails later, I decided to take a closer look. There was a photo of a drink called an El Misti Volcano. It seemed different: Fontana pisco (pisco is the national spirit of Peru), passion fruit purée, citrus, lime and a salted rim, garnished with a slice of house-pickled ahi amarillo pepper — a large, red chili pepper imported from Peru.
Several other cocktails incorporated some Peruvian flair, which struck me as unique for the area, especially because the other, original location of Terra Sur did not serve liquor. Add to that a monstrous wine list, and a trip to Terra Sur was clearly in order.
To my surprise, the new Terra Sur is located in the space that formerly was the Fox Jazz Club, which I'd written about a few years ago. The Fox logo is still in the cement walkway to the entrance, perhaps a memento of the swanky jazz club.
Inside, Terra Sur looks pretty much identical to the Fox. That's not a criticism. Many of the Fox's fixtures would be impractical to replace, such as the slatted, porthole-style vents below the ceiling, the small stage in the main dining room (a pianist performs there Thursday through Saturday) and the winding granite bar that catches the eye upon entering.
The large outdoor terrace remains, giving guests a choice between breezy outdoor seating or an intimate vibe inside. Abstract and expressionist oil paintings adorn the walls. Oak barrels and cork displays serve as accents and give a hint as to the bar's specialty. The back room is no longer a separate music venue and bar. Now it's a second dining area, soon be home to a dedicated wine cellar.
Why a dedicated wine cellar?
Because Terra Sur stocks more than 300 wines. These range from affordable house wines to premium Champagne, with selections hailing from nearly every continent. The beer selection is admittedly small, but there are a few winners, such as brews from Chimay and Sierra Nevada, as well as Goose Island's Pepe Nero, a black farmhouse ale that's part of the brewery's well-received Vintage collection.
The cocktails are what I came for, though, and they didn't disappoint. Bar co-manager Bryan Petrich said the cocktail list was developed just for this location, using its Peruvian menu as inspiration. Many of the ingredients are house-made, from the thyme-infused simple syrup used in the refreshing Lemon-Thyme Mojito, to the pickled ahi amarillo peppers used in the aforementioned El Misti Volcano, all the way to the chica morada used in the Cholito cocktail.
This last one was truly unusual, and very good. Chica morada, if you don't know (and I didn't), is basically juice from Peruvian purple corn, cooked with pineapple and spices like cinnamon and clove. It was pretty plain in the sample offered to us by Petrich, but in the Cholito — which also contains pisco and citrus — it added a really fantastic subtlety (and a bright, purple color). The skewered jumbo corn kernels as garnish really made the whole thing pop.
And El Misti Volcano? It was even better than it looked in the email — salty, sour, spicy, savory and, well, explosive.
If these cocktails don't seem like your kind of thing, Terra Sur also stocks a very nice spirit selection, ranging from boutique tequilas and, of course, Peruvian pisco, to 21-year old Glenlivet and top-shelf rum. I could certainly see myself sipping a nice Scotch under the silver lamps at the bar.
Terra Sur looks great, the wine list is absolutely voluminous and the cocktails are great.
I hope it sticks around.