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The Nibbler

How the Tampa Bay area dining season shook out

By CHRIS SHERMAN, Times Restaurant Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 23, 2003

Officially the season is over. It saw a number of recipe changes, chef comings and goings, and openings and, unfortunately, closings.

Here are a few that have floated to the top of my pot of Tampa Bay bouillabaisse:

-- Palm Harbor's royal deli family, the Mitows, knows from whitefish. Next week they'll put something new on our plate: Red Fish Blue Fish.

The restaurant (2901 Alt. U.S. 19, Palm Harbor; 727-772-7060) is unlikely to serve Louisiana's redfish or the North Atlantic bluefish themselves. It will have other fish, steak, lobster and Floribbean fare, and be the most upscale spot in the family, which includes a deli and a burger place in north Pinellas and a deli in Tampa.

RFBF will be in the former Mojo's.

-- If you haven't been out to the beach in a while, the southernmost Ballyhoo Grill has a new shingle and new owners. It's the Conch Republic (16699 Gulf Blvd., North Redington Beach; 727-320-0536) under Keith and Jennifer Hines, but the menu has remained much the same.

-- Marshall Jewell, a chef brought in from Louisville's top restaurants to fire up the Grille at Feather Sound, has left. Now in the kitchen is Parker Stafford, who moved over from Grille sibling Bellarte.

-- Miami chef Norman Van Aken, who helped raise the New World flag over South Florida in the 1990s, is expanding from Coral Gables to Kissimmee. A second Norman's will be the top restaurant at a new Ritz-Carlton in the Grande Lakes project (along with a 1,000-room JW Marriott), which opens in July.

Emeril Lagasse has two restaurants in Universal Studios, including the new Cajun-Asian Tchoup Chop. Celebrity chef Todd English from Boston's Olives has a place in the works at Disney's Swan and Dolphin hotels.

-- New management, chef and menu have taken over at Rigoletto (3603 W Gandy Blvd., Tampa (813) 837-2655), which opened two months ago with high-Tuscan specialties and wild game.

Manager Tony Montana and chef Tony Spallone, formerly of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, have added lunch and shifted the menu to more familiar Italian fare, from penne and chicken Parmesan to porcini ravioli and filet mignon. Dinner entrees run $9 to $19.50.

-- Sushi fans of Hook Atsavinh should have no problem finding his knife work. Atsavinh, formerly of No. 9 Bangkok and Sushi Rock, has opened a spot across the street from the Rock. Hook's (1210 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N, St. Petersburg; 727-898-4665) has sushi and Thai food for lunch and dinner, including relatively scarce sea urchin and the very thinly sliced fish called uzukuri. Two sushi spots on MLK? Raw fish is here to stay.

-- Look for a new face at Boulevard Bistro (8595 Seminole Blvd., Seminole; 727-399-1800), the spot that put style on the mid-Pinellas menu. Helen Garzieri, who was a familiar figure to Pepin's regulars in St. Petersburg for many years, is in negotiations to take over the bistro from Frank Chivas.

Tip of the toque

Sound a grand fanfare on the trumpets for the closing of this independent: Primadonna Trattoria on Tampa's Soho restaurant row, the last home of restaurateur Cesare Tini.

Tini, who started at Donatello, created three more restaurants, educated a family full of entrepreneurs and gave Tampa a tradition of Italian hospitality and genuine warmth. You can still find that tradition at Caffe Paradiso, owned by son Paolo, and Spartaco, owned by cousin Spartaco Giolito.

The senior Tini fought the good fight successfully for two decades, but the past three years of chain growth and a tough economy wore him down. Primadonna North in New Tampa, owned by son Stefano, closed this spring and reopened as Savino's; no plans have been announced for the first Primadonna restaurant.

Tini himself has been back to Italy to recharge and will return to Tampa, possibly in the wine business.

-- Food critic Chris Sherman writes about dining and restaurant news in the Nibbler. He can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or by e-mail at sherman@sptimes.com.

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