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DINING OUT

The City Times dining guide is an alphabetical listing of Tampa restaurants recommended by St. Petersburg Times food critic Chris Sherman.

Price: Cost of a dinner for two with tax and tip is indicated by the number of dollar signs: $ _ Inexpensive (less than $25); $$ _ Moderate ($25 to $50); $$$ _ Expensive ($60 and up).

Armani's $$$

The Hyatt's rooftop temple of Italian is once again on top. No longer content with Big Bucks veal in cream, chef Massimo Patano can make simple salads of fennel and parmesan or pasta with clams and rapini or stretch out with risotto and foie gras or dress sweetbreads with crawfish. The wine list includes some bargain bottles; dining above the twinkling city is still a luxury. 6200 Courtney Campbell Parkway, Tampa; (813) 281-9165.

Ashley Street Grille $$$

Come to this quiet room with a view of river and minarets for the kind of secrets discreet hotels keep: some of the best modern cuisine in town, all subtlety, no flash. The menu sounds simple, but the chefs get the best seafood, heirloom vegetables and fine cheeses and design ways for them to shine, including good service and bargain wines. Baking is first-rate, from peasant bread to pastry. Radisson Riverwalk Hotel, 200 N Ashley Drive, Tampa; (813) 223-2222.

Bacchus Sushi & Noodles $$

It's almost blinding how many gimmicks have been crammed into this sushi-and-noodle bar and entertainment dome. Yet service is user-friendly, and food is a mild-mannered fusion: Japanese and Asian in spirit but with an accent on fun and indulgence. You can get big steaks here and pork tenderloin (yakitori), but most of the menu is small dishes and bowls designed for nibbling. 720 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 254-0004

Bamboo Flute $

Straight ahead Vietnamese cooking, dressed up with uptown decor of polished metals and of course, bamboo. Menu has more pho than bun, plus short ribs, chops and oxtail and a full year of rolls. Good taste in food and art. 2307 S Dale Mabry, Tampa; (813) 258-2858).

Bern's Steak House $$ to $$$

Owner Bern Laxer has passed the torch, but his passion for quality still brings connoisseurs of red wine and red meat to his legendary steakhouse and cellars. A new generation is adding subtle innovations in desserts and trimmings. Steak haters can have fish fresh from the tank, tour the kitchen, sample the caviar, marvel at the wine list and luxuriate in the dessert room. Red velvet alert: The taste that counts is in food, not decor, although revamping is under way. Full bar. 1208 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-2421.

Le Bordeaux $$$

A bungalow-bistro with French food and American jazz (and a pinch of Piaf). Chalkboard menu is country French, with house-made pates and desserts, great salads and full choice of meat, poultry and seafood in traditional garnish. Wine includes reasonable choices, and food is hearty, not frilly or silly. 1502 S Howard Ave., Tampa; (813) 254-4387.

Bread & Butter Gourmet Deli $

The most unusual touches here are from the Middle East _ hummus, tabbouleh, baklava _ but the menu covers traditional deli sandwiches and salads and all-American takeout entrees, too. All are fixed with freshness, spice and style. 1880 Alt. U.S. 19 S, Tarpon Springs, (727) 934-9003; 507 Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 301-0505.

Bernini $$ to $$$

Italian-style innovation, big-city hustle and flash made this old bank a glam spot where the people-watching is choice and the food is, too. Classy appetizers, rich soups, bright salads, wood-oven pizzas, creative risottos and raviolis. Plus half-order options, martini madness and a fine cigar. Full bar. 1702 E Seventh Ave., Tampa; (813) 248-0099.

Big City Tavern $$

This is the grandest space in Ybor, the top floor of the 1912 Centro Espanol. In it, Big City serves straightforward modern American classics. Ask for a pork chop, and you get a thick one, juicy pink as ordered. Pasta? Linguine with clam sauce or whole wheat penne with porcini mushrooms. Or you can have a big burger (with hand-cut fries) or tuna salad (with basil and capers). Centro Ybor, 1600 Eighth Ave., Ybor City; (813) 247-3000.

Blue Gardenia $$-$$$

Tom and Emily Golden uprooted Safety Harbor's favorite and replanted it in hallowed ground, the oddball building where Mise en Place was born in the '80s. New proprietors are channeling New American ghosts with elaborate combinations of exotic ingredients, but simple tastes lurk underneath: crusty softshell crab, delicate shellfish soup and very nutty pecan pie. 1809 W Platt St., Tampa; (813) 250-1595.

Cafe B.T. $$$

Every dish in this graceful contemporary restaurant, a blend of Vietnamese and French cuisine, is a surprise party of flavors. Look for specials such as yellowtail cooked whole with a crust of coconut and ginger on a salad of basil, cilantro, mint and cabbage. On the French side, the dishes are more classic and the sauces rich and smooth, yet hints of originality and exotic flavors peek through. 3324 Gandy Blvd., Tampa; (813) 831-9254.

Caffe Paradiso $$ to $$$

You may dine next to big shots, but fine dining Italian-style in this tiny hideaway is casual and comfortable. Veal is at its best here; salmon-stuffed ravioli is exquisite; linguine with clam sauce is perfect. All are set off by crisp salads, fresh vegetables and first-rate service. Beer, wine. 4205 S MacDill Ave., Tampa; (813) 835-6622.

Samba Room $$

Tampa gets a taste of the nuevo Cubano fashion, food, drinks, dance and music thanks to a slick chain that recreates the suave and sexy of high-rolling Havana before Castro. A delicious crowd goes back to the future with a Latin beat, prancing with caipirinhas and minty mojitos. Eats aren't so sexy, but hot arepas, whole sea bass or flashy desserts are best. 1610 W Swann Ave., Tampa; (813) 254-5870

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