Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Palace In Downtown Tampa

For many a year those of us who worked in downtown Tampa could only watch with sadness as a landmark building, the Floridan Hotel, slowly crumbled before our eyes.

Thankfully, a couple of visionarys changed that. Antonios Markopoulos, paid $6 million for the property in 2006. Angelo Markopoulos said his father fell in love with the property and viewed its restoration as a challenge. He said his father’s house in Greece is 600 years old and that he considered the Floridan a “young property.”

The 19-story former “Floridan Hotel” was built in 1926 and had been shuttered since 1987.

Last night the Belle of Ballast Point and I crossed the threshold that had at one time been crossed by Elvis Presley (and other lesser names that escape me), and we entered the re-born Floridan Palace Hotel. What a thrill! After thirty or more years in Tampa, this was the first time we set foot in the building - and what a glorious place it is!

The ceiling above our table.
Our purpose for this visit was to dine in The Crystal Dining Room, resplendent with ornate tile work and shimmering chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

We arrived in time for our 6:30 reservations after pulling up to the valet parking area on Cass Street. Valet parking is $5, but you must get your ticket validated by the restaurant.

Upon entering the hotel lobby we could see the bar area and restaurant, but no host or hostess station. We inquired at the front desk and were sent in the proper direction to the hidden station - up a short flight of stairs and to the left.

The hostess guided us to our table where we were presented with food and beverage menus, and introduced to Ashley, our server for the evening. I have no doubt that all of the servers at the Crystal are equally talented, professional and proficient, but we couldn't have asked for anyone more charming than Ashley.

While perusing the wine list I was struck by the prices. Yes, there were a few bottles in the $150 range, but there was a very good number of excellent wines priced in the high twenties to low thirties. We chose a bottle of Tamaya Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah Reserva.

The nose has a dusty Malbec character, with a little touch of floral, violet lift. The palate has good fruit, very cool and maintains a nice edge. Fine cherry skin bite and freshness. It was also only $29.

Next on my gastronomic agenda was an appetizer, and one in particular caught my eye. I was not expecting it, but there it was - Broiled Octopus! This dish turned out to be big enough for two to share. Unfortunately for her, my bride is fearful of this tasty delight, thinking that a wayward tentacle might suction-cup itself in some unseen location and never come loose.

This octopus was deliciously tender and bathed in olive oil and lemon juice. I could have made a complete meal out of this gift from the sea all by itself.

While I was enjoying my octopus, my bride was raving over the bread basket presented with fresh creamery butter and breads baked with slivered almonds. I also noticed the foursome at a table down the way had all ordered appetizers to share. I mention this because the plates seemed to be piled high with food, and later I saw these folks leave with four take-out boxes.

Diners are served with house salad and a choice of fries, baked potato, rice, or fresh veggies. Both the Belle and I were impressed with the house salad. The romaine lettuce was crisp and fresh, and the tomatoes definitely did not come from Publix. Those tomatoes were flavorful and juicy. 
Yes, it was just a house salad, but not the typical salad with iceberg lettuce and rock hard tomatoes. The feta cheese, black olives, and balsamic dressing was an added plus.

The Belle and I can be so predictable at times, and those are times when a menu lists Filet Mignon for her, and a bone-in Rib Eye for me.

My beautiful dining partner chose a fully loaded baked potato to accompany her steak which she had ordered cooked to a pink center, and that is how the steak arrived - cooked as requested, and tender and juicy with a delightful Bearnaise sauce on the side.

Her only complaint was the potato - it was served barely warm.

My bone-in Rib Eye was sheer perfection made all the more perfect with the addition of an unbelievably tasty peppercorn sauce. The veggies were crisp tender, but I could barely finish that steak, so the beans and carrots were mostly untouched.

There are six desserts listed, two of which I really wanted - the Bakalava or the Galaktobouriko, but alas after that octopus and the 20 ounce rib eye there was just no more room.

Photo by Ashley
Us two little piglets will be making another trip downtown to enjoy more of what this fantastic restaurant has to offer. And, one thing that still amazes me is that while we were both so stuffed we almost required a room for the night, we got out of the Crystal Dining Room for a mere $110.21 - and, of course, a well deserved 20% gratuity was added for Ashley.

The Crystal Dining Room on Urbanspoon

The Crystal Dining Room on Foodio54


  1. Wow...what a lovely evening! Now, I wanna go!

    1. Hi there Sweet Polly.

      You really must - go that is. Give your Underdog a little goose and make him take you.

      I will look forward to reading your review.