ST. PETERSBURG — There’s a tiny trend happening in St. Petersburg restaurants, and Calida, a globally inspired concept now open in the Crescent Heights neighborhood, is the latest to jump aboard.
The petite spot at 2909 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N seats just 25 people and more closely resembles a European wine bar than a traditional restaurant, said owner Dayna Bennett.
The concept comes on the heels St. Pete newcomers Bin 6 South and Barbouni, two restaurants where small footprints are coupled with creative menus and limited seating capacity.
For Bennett, the diminutive space felt like the perfect size for her first brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Bennett, who is originally from California, worked in restaurants when she was younger and later worked in advertising and solar energy before moving to St. Petersburg in 2014.
“I wanted a change and I wanted to live in Florida,” Bennett said. “I fell in love with St. Pete.”
Bennett worked at renowned St. Petersburg restaurants Z Grille and later Il Ritorno and said she formed a strong affection for the local clientele.
“People love food here — people love wine,” she said.
Calida (named for both California and Florida) launched a series of soft-opening dinners in late February and officially opened in early March.
Bennett’s partner, Ian Florence, is helming the kitchen at the new restaurant. Originally from St. Pete, Florence worked in kitchens at restaurants like Bella Brava and the since-shuttered The Edge as well several high-end California spots.
Both Bennett and Florence have traveled extensively (together, they’ve visited more than 30 countries), and the food and wine menus are largely inspired by their treks across the globe.
“When we created the menu we really wanted it to be exciting flavors — memorable flavors,” Bennett said. “I love when I go out to eat and I remember the food afterwards.”
Dishes on the dinner menu might employ Middle Eastern spice blends and condiments including shatta (a spicy chile and oil condiment) and berbere (a spice medley), as well as Spanish, French and Italian influences, among others.
Smaller dishes on some of the opening menus have included pan-fried potatoes with herbs, garlic and a lemon chile aioli ($11); empanadas with beef and chorizo served with a French salsa verde and lemon creme ($14); and a shareable charcuterie and cheese board ($18) served with port fig jam, baguette and other accoutrements.
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Larger, entree-style dishes have included chicken thighs served with mushrooms, greens, potatoes and a pan sauce ($24); branzino served with carrot soubise, grilled palm hearts, vegetables and chile oil ($32); and baked polenta with mushroom ragu, greens and beans ($21).
The restaurant serves beer and wine, but leans more heavily toward the latter, Bennett sad. The menu will focus on an international selection heavy on European wines with some lesser-known grape varieties. There will also be a strong focus on sherry and vermouth.
Calida is currently open Thursday through Saturday for dinner, starting at 5:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended.