A restaurant of relaxed proportions
Owner B.T. Nguyen-Batley continues her tradition of melding good food, atmosphere and style in a new venture, Restaurant B.T.
By CHRIS SHERMAN
Published April 28, 2005
[Times photos: Melissa Lyttle]
|Bartender Audra Chapman, 26, prepares for the dinner rush behind a mesh screen that partitions off the dining room at Restaurant B.T. in Old Hyde Park Village.
||Tables at Restaurant B.T., sporting fresh linens and even fresher flowers, wait for diners on a recent Friday evening.
TAMPA - For fans of restaurateur B.T. Nguyen-Batley, me included for sure, the wait for the opening of her new place in a prime angle of Old Hyde Park Village has been an anxious time.
We had to accede as she closed each of her other restaurants, the serene Yellow Door, ended delightful lunches at Noodle Lounge and finally shuttered Cafe B.T. In place of these jewel boxes, her next restaurant would be a footlocker, a giant 150-seater with a full bar. Could she do it?
Any anxiety was unjustified - and out of place. Unless you find a full house, stress peels away as you enter, as if you were in a spa. Working with vast space this time, Nguyen-Batley has created an entre silk wardrobe, although not so shiny, at Restaurant B.T. Soft textures and edible colors of melon and tomato. What was once a huge room is now a collage of rooms in shifting sizes and shapes from curved banquettes to wait stations that look more like Shinto gates, not stashes of napkins and extra forks.
Feng shui in action? Yes, and in repose too. Sit down and you'll experience something more familiar and now rare: a common sense spacing of tables and chairs so that diners feel private and yet part of the scene. Even the full-blast socializing at the bar has its own zen.
You feel the same exquisite balance in a rectangular white plate, with a slice of lemon, a slice of grape tomato, a yellow pea shoot, a French curve of cilantro and a stack of five small lamb spareribs. Taste them and there's anise, ginger, fire and fat, a meditation on barbecue.
This is what Nguyen-Batley does and has done for 15 years or more: invest humble settings, food and custom with a whirlwind of style and energy to create tranquility, comfort and shoestring beauty. In the crudest terms, you want to shop with her, at least to find the source of those asymmetrical bud vases. While this may sound precious, it is just plain comfortable. In decor and well-trained service, Nguyen-Batley again makes the diner feel cared for and at ease.
Sure this will often be a $100 dinner for two, but it's as relaxed as your best jeans and favorite sweater. Her food is now as familiar as the handsome photos by her husband from the Noodle Lounge or the etchings from the Yellow Door. Nguyen-Batley specializes in classy presentations of once-humble dishes from a thorough search of Asia, delighting in their flavor play. For now the menu hews to her classics. Sea bass gets a tomato-pineapple sauce that mimics Vietnam's sweetly sour soups; spring rolls are traditional and lovely.
In soup, pumpkin with peanuts and onions (Laotian?) is pure excitement. Jumbo scallops get a smart trim of curry and coconut. Salad greens, cabbages meet pork, sesame chick, beef and prawns in many cooling variations on the yum-my refreshments of Thailand. There are also earthy tastes. Some like lotus root and salad and lamb stew are too subtle and need more spice; tofu stuffed with mushrooms and topped with tomato and ginger does not. This is not cheap eating if you go at it full bore, for this is not an ethnic hideaway but high modern style. Prices are, too, with entrees averaging $20 and starters and salads from $7 to $10.
Yet small helpings here are especially attractive, and you can make a light meal of two appetizers, say the featherweight crepes and hefty shrimp in lemon cream, the tuna martini with sesame oil and garlic crunchies, or the roast eel with cucumber (more barbecue!).
A bowl of rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds and you'll have a good sample of B.T. style. The more filling economy route is lunch, just as stylish but with rice plates, homemade noodles, pho and uptown banh mi sandwiches for closer to $10 a person.
Food is matched by equally smart drink. Martinis are more than sweet; they are savory with ginger, rosemary or lemongrass and kaffir lime, which looks like a dragonfly on a jungle puddle. The beer list runs from Belgium to Dunedin and wines from Alsace to Aussie rose.
Restaurant B.T. is in early days but there's no cause for worry. Eager anticipation will do.
Chris Sherman dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays for all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for a review or the assessment of its quality. He can be reached at 727 893-8585 or email@example.com
1633 W Snow Ave.
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday.
Reservations: Recommended for dinner.
Details: Credit cards accepted; full bar indoors; no smoking, wheelchair access, outdoor seating.
Prices: Lunch, $7.95 to $12.95; dinner entrees, $15.95 to $26.95.
[Last modified April 27, 2005, 10:13:08]
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