The Belle of Ballast Point turned another year younger yesterday. I had been advised that after a certain age women actually get younger with each passing year, and I have learned over the years not to argue with female logic. Anyhoo, to celebrate, I invited my bride to dine with me at a relatively new eatery in the Grand Central building in the heart of the vibrant Channel District of Tampa.
Cena, at 1120 East Kennedy Boulevard, is a modern, fresh restaurant serving "simple Italian food" in a contemporary and stylish setting.
Let's just pause for a minute or two right here. First, Cena's gastronomic delights were anything but simple. We found our food choices to be amazing in their complexity for taste, preparation, and presentation.
We had nothing that could be considered "simple".
Before we get around to the food, let's discuss location.
If you open the "Directions" link on Cena's website all you get is a Google map. This map is only going to get you to the general location. The address on Kennedy is also misleading. Cena is actually located on Madison Street and is easier to access from Madison.
There is also free on-street parking on Madison, but lots-o-luck finding an open space. At this point getting to Cena was becoming a challenge.
So, the question became, "Where the heck do we park?" It would have been nice if Cena had provided the following information on their website, but they didn't so the Oracle will.
Turn off Kennedy between those two buildings. You will see the West parking garage on the left and the East garage on the right. I am presuming you could use either one, but we entered the one on the right and drove up the ramp to a gate, punched a button and got a ticket. Right near the top of that ramp we found a empty parking spot, so we parked.
We noted that we were on the 3rd floor in the C-section. That sounds painful, I know, and it was a mistake. The C-section is all the way to the right of the building. We should have driven over to the A-section. This was getting to be a pain in the ass that only got worse. When we got to the ground floor there was no way to get to the restaurant other than walking all the way around the outside of the building.
See that little red arrow? That is pointing directly at Cena and across that courtyard, right next to the Pour House is the elevator that would take us to the 3rd floor, A-section after our dinner, with a short walk over to the C-section.
Holy crap, was that ever an ordeal! This had better be worth it, and it was.
The first order of business were two medicinal glasses of house white from the wine bar while we looked over the menu.
The Belle and I decided to start with a couple of appetizers - the Mussels Fra Diablo with crostini for moi, and the Italian Bacon and Eggs, pork belly, potato egg frittata, tomato vinaigrette for my bride.
There wasn't a whole lot of Diablo in those mussels which were said to be spicey. They were good, just not spectacular. The crostini and the broth were both excellent.
My dining partner fared way better with her choice. That frittata with the pork belly was absolute heaven on a plate - crispy, savory, fatty, and bursting with flavor.
She who gets younger with each passing year, also requested the Caesar Salad, with garlic, lemon, anchovy, parmesan, pecorino, and croutons that she shared with me.
I think she shared this delicious salad so that I would eat the anchovies - not one of her favorite "gifts from the sea".
To accompany our dinner, I asked our super sweet and efficient server Lucy to bring us a bottle of a Magnien Bourgogne Rose, an ideal blend of freshness and pure fruit - little Pinot Noir rosé is made in Burgundy, let alone gets shipped beyond France. This was a rare treat!
For her entree, my Lady chose the Carbonara with guanciale, peas, egg, parmesan, corn spaghetti, and black pepper.
This was a most unique carbonara, but unbelievably good with the guanciale, an Italian style of cured, dry-aged bacon made from hog jowls, and the corn spaghetti with a taste reminiscent of corn tortillas, but without the distinct taco taste.
I am still in an orgasmic quiver mode (I wouldn't dwell on that image if I were you) from my choice of an entree - Duck Confit with hen of the woods mushrooms and garganelli. Oh my!
That duck confit was cooked perfectly, tender, flavorful, juicy with a well browned, crispy skin resting in a bed of creamy polenta puree and accompanied by those divine mushrooms, micro-greens, and the garganelli - a type of egg-based pasta formed by rolling a flat, square noodle into a tubular shape.
After polishing off our entrees, we sat back in our chairs thinking that our gastronomic adventure couldn't get much better. Then, along comes Lucy with the dessert menu. She insisted that we must have the tiramisu. We both suggested that tiramisu wasn't one of our favorite desserts. Again, she insisted and we acquiesced.
Never had we experienced a tiramisu as astonishing as this to both the eyes and the receptors of taste. It was rich, creamy and adorned with ribbons of chocolate while nestled in a base of crushed chocolate and ladyfinger biscotti.
Once we got the location and parking situation worked out, our experience at Cena was memorable. Our bill for the evening came to $146.59. We added a 20% gratuity for Lucy.
One last note on parking: It is free for up to two hours.