TAMPA — Tampa’s historic Le Meridien hotel has said goodbye to Bizou Brasserie and hello to Sal Rosa.
The restaurant on the second floor of the downtown hotel debuted its new Latin-Caribbean focus in September after a renovation that updated everything from the menu to the furniture to the flooring and added a new cafe and expanded bar/lounge area.
Helming the kitchen is executive chef Jennifer Salhoff, who came to the hotel in 2022 and also oversaw the menu at Bizou Brasserie.
The shift to a Latin-inspired menu was very intentional, said Andrew Spicknall, general manager of the hotel. His team at Sal Rosa partnered with Streetsense, a creative consulting agency that came to the Tampa Bay area and assessed what was missing in the nearby culinary scene, he said.
“They really helped us identify where there was a gap and an opportunity,” Spicknall said. “So we went with the Caribbean/Latin cuisine. Downtown didn’t really have that concept.”
Salhoff got to work revamping the menu, from the cocktails to the lunch entrees to even the ice cream flavors in the new Cafe + Scoops cafe located right outside the restaurant. Sal Rosa is open every day for every meal, beginning at 6:30 a.m. on weekdays and offering distinct breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
Salhoff developed new recipes over the course of five months, tweaking, adding, subtracting and leading tastings with her kitchen team of about 10 people to make sure they knew the new menu inside and out.
“I’ve probably plated these dishes 12 different ways,” she said. “I’ve made these recipes over and over again.”
She was determined to make it cohesive.
“It’s definitely challenging for our chef to have the menus be unique in their own regard,” said Spicknall. “But she does a great job making sure that the concept does flow. Even our breakfast menu has a lot of Latin flair to it.”
Salhoff has been a chef for 25 years and an executive chef for 15. She got her start in Manhattan, she said, and worked for as many chefs as she could. She rattled off a list of names that would make a modern foodie’s head spin: Tom Coliccio, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, Masaharu Morimoto.
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“I would go over to Del Posto, Mario Batali’s restaurant, on my days off,” she said. “You could stage wherever back in those days. I learned a lot.”
From there, she moved to Philadelphia and worked at a Cuban restaurant for five years before getting into the hotel business. In Tampa Bay, she worked as a chef at the Don CeSar and the Sarasota Modern before Spicknall recruited her to come work at Tampa’s Le Meridien.
In less than two years, she’s designed two completely different menus. She enjoys the challenge.
“I’ve done Latin cuisine,” she said. “I’m pretty familiar with that style of cuisine and flavor profiles. But I’m also big into research. I didn’t want to mimic them completely and replicate them, but I tried to take inspiration from their flavor profiles and reinterpret them with different proteins.”
The menu is full of familiar Latin dishes that Salhoff has put her stamp on, like the ceviche featuring sous vide octopus that’s been diced and marinated. It’s served with avocado mash, an orange citrus sauce and pressed Cuban bread topped with a sun-dried tomato spread. The refreshing charred hamachi and raw scallop crudo is another light appetizer option, served with a pineapple yuzu cardamom granita, chile salt and pickled fresnos.
In keeping with the Caribbean theme, the menu is fish-heavy. There’s a seafood paella, a deconstructed version of the classic dish in which shrimp, clams, mussels and poached lobster tail surround a mound of rice. It’s served with a punchy saffron lobster broth. The whole yellowtail snapper is a stunner, the fried fish sitting upright on the plate with its tail curled around a bed of coconut rice and mango coconut curry sauce.
The Jamaican jerk drumettes, which are fried until crispy and served with a spicy jerk sauce and mango salsa, are popular with diners, said Salhoff. And the mole short ribs are a hearty and flavorful option, served with polenta cakes, a guajillo pepper gel, almond chimichurri and mole sauce.
To freshen up the restaurant space itself, the hotel partnered with Ash, a design firm from New York City. They removed a wine wall and shelves that used to make up part of the lounge area, opening it up to allow more light from the windows that line the second floor of the hotel, which used to be a courthouse.
“We basically just took everything out to make it a bigger, brighter space,” said Spicknall. “It was more steakhouseish, very dark and heavy. We wanted to lighten it up with our Caribbean and Latin theme.”
The team at Sal Rosa is eager to draw diners beyond hotel guests. There are a couple new “Sal Rosa” signs outside facing busy Florida Avenue, letting passersby know the restaurant awaits inside.
“The goal is to draw people in from the outside. We definitely want a lot of local involvement,” said Spicknall. “There’s so much new housing where there wasn’t before. ... We could cater to both hotel guests and folks from the outside.”
If you go to Sal Rosa in Tampa
Sal Rosa is open 6:30 a.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday-Sunday. It’s located on the second floor of Le Meridien hotel, 601 N. Florida Ave., Tampa. 813-999-8214. salrosatampa.com.