A taste of good things to come

The Parkshore Grill brings a lively atmosphere and flavorful dining to St. Petersburg's buzzing downtown .

Published January 4, 2007

The new St. Petersburg is a work in progress. High-rise condos and their prosperous tenants are adjusting the skyline and enlivening old downtown. Forget desultory days lingering on green benches. These early retirees and recent empty nesters want lively sidewalk dining and deep-dish martinis, a dash of art and some convenient shopping.

It's anyone's guess how this will play out, but Parkshore Grill, on the ground floor of the Parkshore Plaza condo complex, offers an encouraging preview.

Owner Steve Westphal has one of the condos way upstairs, so this restaurant is personal. Besides, it is his return to fine dining after a restaurant career that started at the Wine Cellar in North Redington Beach and expanded to sports bars and beach food. He recruited chef Tyson Grant from O'Bistro on Central Avenue to develop a menu of high-end comfort food in a split-level space of warm but sharp design.

Outside tables offer a view of the namesake park and shore, now slightly obscured by construction at the Museum of Fine Arts. Inside, a curving bar is flanked by a glass-encased wine closet that doubles as a design feature and includes some fine, moderately priced California cabernets and pinot noirs. Above the bar, two TVs glow through thin waterfalls; the effect can be mesmerizing but not intrusive.

Plates emerge from the open kitchen as finely crafted American cuisine with a twist. Lump crab is listed under salads but defies the definition: a stack of crab, avocado, cucumber and tomato with mixed greens floating on top and some emulsified mango dotting the plate. Delightful. So is the beef carpaccio, thin, perfectly seared slices of tenderloin with a peppery bite and a touch of truffle oil (a bit more shaved Parmesan, please).

It is comfort food but not Joe's diner: think beef Wellington, grilled lamb chops, chili-blackened yellowfin tuna, lobster pasta. Pan-seared scallops are sweet and tender, circling a mound of sauteed baby spinach with the rich smokiness of Southern greens.

Swordfish is perched atop hearty polenta, the plate swirled with roasted red pepper coulis. Filet mignon takes a rustic turn, with generous char, a slightly misshapen appearance and far more flavor and texture than this cut usually provides.

One less comforting feature: a la carte pricing for some entrees, which can add $10 to your $22 steak for a salad and side.

The restaurant opened in late November, so details are still being massaged. One menu item that hints at innovations to come was MIA for the first month: Tyson's Feature, billed as "our chef's culinary tour from start to finish," changing daily.

Dessert is something to look forward to, including lightly priced changing tastes ($2 each). One night it was a double-shot glass of peanut butter custard with amaretto cream topped with a chunk of chocolate.

Service was smooth and well-informed, an achievement for a fledgling restaurant.

Like the back wall of the restaurant - a panorama of the waterfront as seen from one of the upper floor condos - Parkshore Grill is a solid reflection of the downtown revival, a bit of bustle and warmth and the illusion that the land of pleasant living is right outside.

Tom Scherberger is an editor at the Times; he can be reached at scherberger@sptimes.com. Until a replacement for Chris Sherman is named, Weekend will feature guest restaurant critics.



Parkshore Grill

300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 896-9463

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Details: Credit cards, reservations accepted, full bar available, no smoking allowed.

Prices: $4 to $37; side dishes are a la carte.