ST. PETERSBURG — The patatas bravas are still there. So is the pan con tomate. And it wouldn’t really be the same without those coveted crispy croquetas.
But there’s plenty new afoot at the revamped and relocated Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant, which opened last week at 332 Beach Drive NE following a change of address and a major cosmetic overhaul.
As owner Lee Karlins puts it, it was time for a change.
The restaurant, which opened in 1997 and once included locations in South Tampa and Orlando, vacated its longtime home on the corner of Beach Drive NE and Central Avenue in St. Petersburg earlier this year when the lease expired. Caledon Concepts, the group that owns the restaurant, searched the area for a new home, eventually landing on the Moon Under Water location nearby, which the group purchased in 2019 (the company also owns St. Petersburg’s Rococo Steak).
Karlins said his team decided to close the Moon Under Water temporarily and move Ceviche into the building while they continued their search for a new home for the long-running British tavern (they’re still looking, he said).
Those familiar with the old Moon Under Water will hardly recognize the space now, which underwent a complete renovation. The crew started construction on the 23-year-old building in March, hiring architect John Mistretta to oversee and design the space, with a buildout led by local firm Boyd Construction.
The once heavy, dark interior of the space now features blonde white oak floors, tall ceilings and dark turquoise accents. Teal fish scale tiling give the space a slight nautical touch while plush, burnt salmon banquettes hug the far right wall. A glance straight to the back reveals a partially open kitchen and a carving station where aged Iberian ham is sliced to order. To the left, a temperature-controlled wine locker with room for roughly 750 bottles sits next to a long, 12-seat bar.
Despite the massive overhaul, Ceviche still feels a lot like its former self. Karlins said he was able to bring back 32 of the restaurant’s former 50 employees, most of whom the company laid off during the pandemic, with the exception of some salaried managerial positions.
That includes executive chef Horasio Salgado, a 20-year veteran with the company who has seen the concept through several iterations. Salgado’s menu reads like a finessed revamp of its predecessor, with 14 new items for guests to explore. Most of the restaurant’s time-honored guest favorites — the albondigas, the croquettas and the pan con tomate — stayed put, but received tiny tweaks and polishing.
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The menu highlight is the revered Iberico de Bellota jamon (a ham cured for 48 months made from acorn-fed free-range pigs raised in Spain’s Iberian Peninsula), which is cut to order and served alongside toasted bread and tomato confit. At $34 per plate it’s not cheap, but Karlins is betting that Ceviche’s long-time customers — and Beach Drive regulars — won’t bat an eye at the price tag for such a luxury.
Iberian ham is also featured in a tartare, drizzled with chorizo oil and garnished with crisped chorizo bits and a quail egg to finish ($13). That dish, and several others, join the long roster of tapas-style plates, which include everything from a roasted beet salad with blue cheese and Marcona almonds ($11) to Spanish pork ribs with smoked paprika and a sherry glaze ($12) and mussels served with chorizo in a saffron broth ($12).
Other new items include raw oysters garnished with gazpacho mignonette and crispy jamon (market price); a seared hanger steak served with confit piquillo peppers and quince sherry glaze ($30): and an Iberico pork shoulder, served with roasted Brussels sprouts and romesco ($28).
For dessert, Salgado appears to have tapped straight into the modern culinary zeitgeist. A basque cheesecake ($9), a dessert that became popular at restaurants across the country this past year, is cooked at a super high temperature so that the outside gets deeply caramelized but the interior stays creamy. There’s also chocoflan ($9), a Mexican dessert that’s seen a recent uptick in popularity online and features a thick, creamy chocolate cake layered with flan and a caramel top ($9).
Helming the beverage program is sommelier and beverage director Jackie Eash, who has curated a wine list of roughly 80 wines by the bottle and 12 by the glass. Though heavy on Spanish varieties, the list also includes a healthy mix of other wines from across the globe.
Ceviche loyalists will be happy to hear that the restaurant’s popular sangria (red, white or made with cava) still anchors the drink menu, which also includes a selection of new cocktails and a list of beers include the Spanish Estrella as well as a mix of domestic and local brews, including 3 Daughters’ Bimini IPA.
Another returning favorite for longtime Ceviche fans? On weekends, flamenco guitarist Javier Hinojosa will hold court once again at the restaurant — this time on the balcony outside, overlooking Beach Drive.
Eventually, Karlins said, the restaurant will serve weekend brunch. For now, Ceviche is open for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.