Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mise en Place -Tampa

In my time writing this blog, I’ve tried to write about meals that we all could enjoy. Mostly, I’ve stuck to recipes with ingredients that can easily be bought at any old grocery store and eateries where the whole family can gather for a delicious and reasonable meal. I am ever irritated when I read recipes in Bon Appétit or Gourmet and at the bottom (in fine italic print) there is a statement about an ingredient that says something like “Hikko whale eggs can be bought at some Asian markets or ordered from http://superf**ckingexpensivehikkowhaleggsonline.com” (OK, so there is no Hikko whale and if there was, it would not lay eggs –but you get my point). In numerous recent posts though, I’ve written about some high end restaurants in Washington DC, Tampa, New Orleans and Philadelphia that are really not for the every day dinner experience. They are haughty, expensive and really special fine dining meals. I’m not sure the everyday food blog reader gets a kick out of hearing how good the rabbit roulades were or how buttery the 1 pound filet of beef was. It doesn’t take a creative mind to write about food so decadent that the words flow easily. Still, I must be fair. If I happen to go to an outstanding restaurant either on business or personally, I feel very compelled to share that experience. Therefore, if you tire of hearing about unbelievably unusual and higher priced outings, please read no further. I promise to return to normalcy and make a great burger or something equally as enjoyable in the coming weeks but today I must speak about Mise en Place in Tampa.

Back in 1986, a couple of Motor City transplants named Maryann Frenec and Marty Blitz started a small catering business in Tampa. Marty had worked his way up through the culinary community in other cities and it was time to set out with his own venture. What started as a little business has blossomed into one of the most successful and stalwart restaurant operations in Tampa Bay. As the proprietors of multiple restaurants and gathering numerous local and national accolades along the way, their reputation in Tampa is second to none. Taylor Eason, wine editor for Creative Loafing, commented to me recently that Maryann is “The food god of Tampa Bay.” The menu is creative, playful and quite adventurous. The food is so perfectly prepared that as each bite passes my palate, I can’t think of a way to improve anything. Brittany, my daughter, and I arrived early on an absolutely miserable Wednesday afternoon. It had been raining for days. The streets were flooded and I was sure there would be no one dining but us. While it was a bit slow at 6:30, I was surprised to see how many people were gathered in the bar area and by the time I left there were many others enjoying meals at the tables around the restaurant. That is true testament to any establishment.

Our server went over the menu in detail and answered all our questions. He made some recommendations and we set out to order. My first course was Pacu ribs with a plum barbeque sauce (Photo at the top). This was one of the most creative dishes I have ever had and I don’t say that lightly. Pacu is a large South American fresh water fish that can grow up to 60 lbs. I’ve heard of it but never eaten it before and I’ve certainly never heard of anyone using the ribs of a fish as a menu item. I had to try it. The preparation was Asian. Lightly battered and drizzled with the plum sauce, I was immediately reminded of flavors that I have only experienced in China. The Pacu was beyond exquisite and I could have had several plates of this and called it a night. It was suggested by Taylor, who I mentioned above, that we try the wild mushroom salad as a second course. Again superb, the Earthy natural flavors of the mushrooms were married with a vinaigrette. How simple. How elegant. How delicious.

My entrée was a pecan and mustard crusted rack of lamb served atop tarragon and cheddar grits. Ordering rare lamb takes a brave soul because it is so hard to make lamb perfectly rare. While medium rare is the most common way to enjoy this meat, a rare order is often cold and just raw. This, however, was just right. Straddling that line between slightly cool to just warm, the inner chops were exactly what I was hoping for. The twist on the grits was an unexpected and pleasant experience. Leave it to a southern chef to take a plain and boring staple and do something extraordinary with it. You can bet I will try to create something like this in my own kitchen.

Brittany ordered the Scottish Salmon that came over some grilled vegetables (eggplant, roasted pepper, squash) with a cardamom and saffron vinaigrette. Most notably, pairing a bite of salmon with the grilled eggplant in the vegetables was a bit of heaven that is difficult to describe. I can’t think of an eggplant or salmon dish that I haven’t enjoyed but together they rocked.

As a blogger it is my prerogative to write about experiences that have already been overwritten. Mise en Place is not a secret to the South Tampa dinner crowd but it bears mentioning that if you are passing through the area to attend any downtown event, a dinner here could only put an exclamation point on any special evening. With a view of the signature minarets of the University of Tampa directly across the street, your experience will be memorable. Bon Appétit.

Mise en Place is located at 442 West Kennedy Blvd in Downtown.

As always, you can find me on facebook at Louislovesfood@facebook.com or drop me a line at louistjr@gmail.com.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yummm...might even draw me down there! As always, your writing captures the experience beautifully. Luvya!