It used to be that Oystercatchers at the Grand Hyatt had one of those more-is-more, stack-your-plate-to-the-rafters kinds of Sunday brunch buffets. The Key West-inspired room had the best bay view around, rendered all the more picturesque when seen over the top of a teetering stack of flapjacks.
It was due for an update, though. The restaurant closed, underwent a $4-million renovation and some rethinking. The results?
It barely looks like the same restaurant. The side room (formerly the bar) is now for private dining. Front and center in the main dining room, a sleek new bar gives the whole space a clubby sophistication. Colors are simple, clean and masculine. Stunning new glassware and dining room artwork lend the space glamor. But the biggest changes at Oystercatchers are on the plate.
Chef Kenny Hunsberger has been here for ages, but his new brunch and dinner menus reflect a dynamism that seems all new. At brunch, which is a splurge at $45 (but that includes flowing champagne and Bloody Marys), walk around the room and plan your attack.
Over there a woman gets a forearm workout stirring three different risottos at the pasta and risotto bar (one example: shrimp with roasted fennel and lemon thyme). A little farther along, men in white serve plates of just-shucked Eastern oysters, perfect shrimp cocktails, snow crab claw and salmon poke. Run the gantlet of cold salads (one with roasted hearts of palm; another a Thai shrimp salad zipped up with pickled ginger and marinated cukes; a balanced salad Nicoise), maybe stopping for a nibble at the make-your-own guacamole bar.
Stay focused. You've got the eggs Benedict station to think about, and that carver over there is slicing off rosy tenderloin with a dab of horseradish cream or a sweet-spicy pepper sauce.
Don't be hasty. There's still an array of sushi, seafood salads, muffins and pancakes, the list goes on. It's a cornucopia, but unlike a lot of brunches, attention has been paid to each offering as if it were being served individually.
Then, when you've congratulated yourself on your forbearance, you remember the dessert room off to the side. Delicious marzipan petit fours, miscellaneous cakes - but the best thing are the apple beignets made on the spot and drizzled with spunky Calvados creme anglaise. You'll wish you hadn't eaten all those shrimp.
That's brunch. Dinners start like this: a warm, crusty loaf of sourdough, sweet butter and a little bowl of alderwood smoked sea salt. The salt seems pretentious, or weird. But then you sprinkle a little on the sweet butter and it's a revelation. Then comes a plate of Fanny Bay oysters ($3 each), briny and cucumbery and perfect. A salad of spry, peppery baby arugula ($12) with Maytag blue cheese and juicy bosc pear will get your mind off the salt.
Fish is the main attraction, with many entrees offered simply grilled or sauteed (sides are separate, steakhouse-style, but they're seafood-friendly sides: braised bok choy with sesame oil or caramelized fennel, both $6). There's variety, from meaty, mild grilled black grouper ($22) to more assertive pompano in parchment ($31). Both excellent. Still, the Hereford filet ($39) is a lovely piece of meat, sitting on a chic lineup of roasted veggies.
Food and beverage director Brooke Burnett has pared the wine list to include a thoughtful number of bottles and something for everyone by the glass in terms of price and varietal. A new list of house cocktails - Floridian martini, mango mojito - make Oystercatchers a great place to just hang out with friends.
And Hunsberger's revamped dessert menu embodies what the restaurant is all about. A star anise-cinnamon creme brulee ($6) with berry compote is an old favorite given a successful makeover.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Her blog, the Mouth of Tampa Bay, can be found at www.blogs.tampabay.com/dining. Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, 2900 Bayport Drive, Tampa
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday; lounge 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Details: Amex, V, MC; reservations accepted; full bar.
Prices: Brunch $45, half price for kids 4 to 11; dinner entrees $20-$42.