ST. PETERSBURG — Rococo Steak's efforts paid off.
On Wednesday, the Wine Spectator announced its much-coveted restaurant awards, honoring places around the globe with the best wine selections. This year, 3,748 restaurants from all 50 states and 80 other countries and territories were award winners — including St. Petersburg's youngest steak house which took the coveted the Best of Award.
In February, Rococo's management team put together its application, poring over the wine list for spelling errors, omissions or anything that might diminish the restaurant's chances. Last year, of an estimated 990,000 restaurants in the country, there were 2,869 winners of the regular Award of Excellence, 850 winners of the Best of Award of Excellence, and 72 winners of the Grand Award. Although a restaurant does not apply for a particular level of award, the Rococo team set their sights on the Best of Award, ambitious for a new restaurant.
"We feel we're in that sweet spot for 'Best of,'" said Chris Prachar earlier this year, who serves as co-general manager with Josh Fan. "And we'll be very disappointed if we don't get that."
They were not disappointed.
Rococo, which opened in October 2013 in the refurbished YWCA downtown, was one of eight Tampa Bay area restaurants to receive the Best of Award this year. Fellow winners Alfano's Restaurant, Beaune's Wine Bar, Bob Heilman's Beachcomber, Charley's Steakhouse, Columbia Restaurant, Forlini's Restaurant and SideBern's were all previous winners of this award. In fact, this year's awards saw very few changes or new entries from our area. In addition to newcomer Rococo's Best of award, the list welcomed Eddie V's in Tampa and Tapping the Vine in Safety Harbor to the regular Award of Excellence.
Bern's Steak House, with more than 6,800 wine selections, is the only restaurant in the Tampa Bay area to receive the Grand Award. Elsewhere in the country six new destinations were added to this top designation, joining the 68 other winners who maintained their status as a top destination for wine drinkers.
What was it about Rococo's list that allowed it to leapfrog over the lowest tier of the awards, making it the only restaurant in St. Petersburg with such a designation? Their list featured 650 selections, with 34 wines by the glass ranging form $8 to $19. The most expensive bottling on the list was a 1906 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, offered at $11,890, with rare wines such as 1976 and 1993 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet (the most expensive white wine in the world; only about 250 cases produced each year). Rococo also showcased a range of large-format bottles as well as a tremendous champagne selection.
According to Thomas Matthews, executive editor of Wine Spectator, this year's awards represent forward momentum among restaurateurs and customers alike.
"As wine consumers' knowledge and interest continue to expand, wine directors are taking advantage of new opportunities to develop inventive programs that put the world's most interesting wines on the table. We've been delighted to see the emergence of a growing number of bold, diverse wine lists, both large and small."
The full list of award winners is featured in the Aug. 31 issue of Wine Spectator, available on newsstands July 22.
Contact Laura Reiley at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.