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Bern's among businesses at Epicurean Hotel

Published Aug. 14, 2013

PALMA CEIA — The reservation book is wide open at the Epicurean Hotel, four months before opening the doors of the upscale collaboration among Bern's Steak House, Marriott's Autograph Collection and Mainsail Lodging & Development.

Collaboration is the operative word.

Six businesses share the hotel brand at 1207 S Howard Ave., across the street from the renowned steak shrine and a few blocks north of Bayshore Boulevard.

David Laxer, son of restaurant icon Bern Laxer, oversees the food and beverage operations. That includes Elevage, the 80-plus-seat restaurant designed with executive chef Chad Johnson, and Edge, the rooftop bar above it, where director of spirits Dean Hurst plans edgy cocktails to go with small plates and cheese boards.

Laxer also guides the patisserie, Chocolate Pi, where pastry chef Kim Yelvington will sell confections, handcrafted chocolates, macarons and wedding cakes.

"No bread, no bagels. It's not Panera or Pane Rustica," said Yelvington, who has worked at Bern's off and on since she was a teenager.

Moving Bern's Fine Wines & Spirits inventory from SideBern's to a space adjacent to Elevage, said Laxer, "is by far the easiest project."

Mainsail, led by CEO Joe Collier, manages the 137-room property and amenities, including five suites, Grand Cru ballroom, fitness center, swimming pool, urban garden and a full-service spa, Evangeline.

Booking culinary demonstrations and private events in the 32-seat Epicurean Theatre, equipped with Viking kitchen appliances, will be a joint effort.

"Opening six businesses at once is an extreme learning experience," Laxer said.

"There are so many moving pieces. You don't know how difficult until you get into the development, financial and construction . . . It's challenging but fun."

Restaurant honors Bern's philosophy

Elevage anchors the southern corner of the ground floor.

More casual than Bern's and SideBern's, it will cultivate locals stopping by as well as hotel guests.

"We don't think of it as a special occasion restaurant," said Johnson, who retains his executive chef role at SideBern's. "Think of it as a weekday hangout for classics, from coq au vin potpie to my grandmother's meatloaf."

His intention is to evoke memories, perhaps "Sunday suppers of pork ribs, white beans and corn bread. And old-school desserts . . . root beer floats to baba au rhum."

"I want people to read the menu and say, 'I haven't had this since my childhood.' "

Dinner prices will average $25; lunch should be under $15 and breakfast around $10. Breakfast options range from buckwheat crepes to lobster and bacon hash and unusual omelet fixings. Lunchtime offerings include lobster roll and Rockefeller risotto.

"We will pay homage to Bern," Johnson said, "with the same obsession to quality." Indeed, one entree, a beef tenderloin sandwich, is named Homage to Bern.

Other dinners range from swordfish Wellington to lamb shoulder lasagna to a $60 strip steak, dry-aged for 100 days at Bern's. Soups include split pea and foie gras matzo ball; salad standouts are rock shrimp Waldorf and a beet panzanella with pistachio croutons.

Side dishes are just as creative, such as Velveeta Mac 'n' Cheese with black truffle and chive and crushed sweet potatoes with lavender marshmallow.

Expect about one-third of the menu to change every few months, Johnson said.

Do you know something that should be Everybody's Business? Call (813) 226-3332 or email ascherzer@tampabay.com.

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