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Hotels shake things up
Popular hotel restaurants Armani's and Marchand's shake things up with their latest modifications.
By Laura Reiley
Published June 7, 2007
From atop the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, we watch a hundred roseate spoonbills nuzzle in the shallows far below as we begin our own dinner investigations at Armani's, one of Tampa's top special-occasion and I-need-to-clinch-this-deal restaurants.
The next weekend, we step inside the gracious lobby of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort to Marchand's Bar and Grill, St. Petersburg's grande dame of fine hotel dining.
Two meals, all about unflinching old-school constancy and time-honored tradition. Yet both hotels have undergone major changes recently, and we were curious: Is it still worth hitching that full Windsor knot or shrugging into the little black dress?
That's an affirmative. The changes - a new executive chef at the Hyatt, renovations and a menu tweak at the Vinoy - have made subtle improvements at both.
In April, Sven Ullrich arrived to head the culinary team at the Hyatt. A longtime Hyatt man, he comes from a stint as executive chef at Park Hyatt Hamburg, preceded by a couple years as chef de cuisine at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne. His chef whites have taken him to New York's Waldorf-Astoria, Los Angeles' Hotel Bel-Air, the Maui Prince Hotel and all over Australia. Now he comes to leave his imprint on Armani's, Oystercatchers, Petey Brown's and the hotel's banquet program.
The Vinoy has undergone a major makeover that includes new Presidential suites, an overhaul of the historic Plaza Ballroom and retooling of Marchand's. The restaurant's entrance now shows off the central Vinoy Bar; heavy new armchairs in sumptuous velvet have been added; and a small wine cellar room provides an enviably intimate dining space for four.
But perhaps the biggest change is the dining concept: One side used to be Marchand's, with a Mediterranean menu, the other the Terrace Room, seafood-heavy American.
Now it's all called Marchand's. Executive chef John Pivar has wisely kept the seafood focus, but dishes reflect a more stylish and still loosely Mediterranean sensibility with saucing and garniture.
On a recent evening, an appetizer of peeky toe crab cakes $10 got things started with a bang, the luxurious, no-filler cake topped with a little tangle of piquant candied apricot, accented with dabs of avocado aioli and lemony creme fraiche. Service is friendly and efficient, never officious. Our waitress steered us to a stunning antipasto salad ($9) with a crisp, wheel-like grissini rising off the plate of prosciutto, olives, artichokes and mixed greens, all kissed with a simple vinaigrette.
On the other hand, the antipasto offerings at Armani's ($16 a person) have an almost cult following: At the long bar that contains dozens of Italophile dreams (marinated eggplant, velvety roasted peppers), you point and the nice lady loads up your plate. If you don't go the antipasti route, a la carte items are equally worthwhile: a stacked tomato salad ($13) sandwiching tangy goat cheese with a high note of bright pesto; or an absolute knockout parsnip soup ($8), its nutty flavor rendered baronial with sauteed porcini mushrooms and a bit of ginger-infused cream.
At both restaurants, entree prices hover in the low $30s - pricey enough to get your attention, but still something of a bargain compared to other "celebration" restaurants in the area. Both dining rooms provide a glorious backdrop in which to sample dishes such as seared dayboat scallops on a bed of saffron couscous and with tender baby bok choy and a dollop of shallot truffle marmalade (that's at Marchand's, a deal at $26). And at Armani's, $36 seems a fair price for a delicate fillet of sea bass in a porcini crust paired with a seafood potato cake atop a seafood cream sauce dotted with parsley oil.
Both Marchand's and Armani's retain longtime servers who remind one how delightful it is to receive the careful ministrations of a pro. At Armani's, trios work as teams. Ask the main waiter to help you zero in on the perfect unoaked chardonnay to go with the veal scaloppine ($29) crowded with asparagus, artichokes and toasted pine nuts. The back waiter will remove the dishes, while a third returns with the dessert tray. Make your sweet selection and catch the setting sun from the 14th floor.
And at Marchand's, settle into one of those new armchairs with a seared rare tuna ($26) set on a delicate corn blini and strewn with bacon-laced frisee and fennel. Follow that with Marchand's six chocolate tasting ($9), savoring the lush mousse as the band begins to play, and it's tough to be troubled that nothing endures but change.
Laura Reiley dines anonymously and unannounced. The St. Petersburg Times pays all expenses. A restaurant's advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment. Reiley can be reached at (727) 892-2293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, 2900 Bayport Drive, Tampa
Hours: 6-10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Details: Amex, V, MC; reservations suggested; jackets preferred; full bar
Prices: Dinner entrees $24-$39
Marchand's Bar &Grill
Renaissance Vinoy Resort, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg