Could the food culture of Tampa Bay be on the verge of casting aside the hackneyed menus that are so ubiquitous in restaurants on both sides of the bay? I think that we may have to answer yes to that question. The Oracle has experienced a few cutting edge restaurants on the Pinellas side of Tampa Bay that have impressed us with their originality and creativity. We have experienced less of that culinary innovation on the Tampa side, but the times, "...they are a-changin'."
Yesterday evening my bride and I journeyed from downtown Tampa north on Florida Avenue in search of a new dining spot I had read about and was anxious to try, the Rooster & the Till at 6500 C, North Florida. The Rooster is on the left as we drove north, and if you don't have a good navigator on board it is an easy place to miss. The building is in a small strip mall structure and the Rooster is nestled between a couple of other businesses.
We were to meet our dear friends Under Dog and Sweet Polly at the Rooster for our occasional blogger convergence. We arrived a little earlier than the 5 o'clock opening time, but to our surprise the door was unlocked and when we stepped inside we were greeted by our friends and welcoming staff members. While the restaurant was not quite ready to start dinner service we were invited to make ourselves at home and enjoy an adult beverage. That in itself is a refreshing change from gruff greetings we have received at other venues.
Since we were the first guests to arrive at this intimate 37 seat restaurant, we were invited to sit where we pleased. Megan, our delightful server for the evening, suggested we sit under the rooster...actually, a picture of the rooster, not the real bird. So, we did!
The dining area consists of table seating as well as bar seating. The interior of the Rooster has a charming rusticity and, according to the web site, "...was built by local craftsmen using reclaimed materials whenever possible."
Once seated, the next order of business was to order wines to accompany dinner. The ladies chose a refreshing Talley Vineyards Bishop's Peak Chardonnay with the subtle flavors of sweet tangerine leading to delicate notes of melon and minerals.
For us manly men only a 2010 Napa Valley Petite Sirah would do. This T-Vine Cellars wine is nearly black in color, with extracted flavors of blueberry cheesecake, cocoa powder and blackberry cobbler. This wine is mellowed for 11 months in about 35% New American oak and 65% once used French oak barrels. After barrel aging the wine is allowed to mature for an additional year in the bottle. Megan said we would not be disappointed, and she was correct. This was a spectacular wine.
Our menus suggested for raw and cured oysters, clams, crudos and such that we should take a gander at the chalk board toward the back of the dining room. Raw oysters you say? Why, heavens to Murgatroyd, I believe I will.
The Barnstable, Massachusetts oysters are farmed by a small family run operation harvesting briny, firm fleshed oysters with a sweetness at the center. The
Next up were the smokey portobello mushrooms with savory burnt onions, green tomato, and Point Reyes blue cheese. Even my bride, the Belle of Ballast Point, who doesn't normally eat fungus, said these mushrooms were really good. I thought so, too.
The next dish served was the duck confit with smoked eggplant, acidic fennel and warm foie gras emulsion. This was one of only two only dishes of the evening that was not well received. It looked good, but for some at our table it was too vinegary, too acidic. The shaved black radish was a nice touch, though.
After tasting the small plates, our table decided to try the "slightly larger" plates starting with the rabbit ballotine with chicken liver, raisins, and unbelievably good porky kale on soft polenta. Even those in our party who were hesitant at the thought of rabbit seemed pleased with this innovative delight.
Another tentative plate was the squash orecchiette with braised goat, stewed tomatoes, hazelnuts and smoked butter. I think goat might be a little foreign to American taste buds, but this was some pretty good goat. It wasn't strong or gamey like some that I have consumed in the islands.
For me, one of the very best plates of the evening, besides the oysters, was the duck breast with charred carrots, spiced granola, black lentils, and duck demi-glace. The duck was cooked to perfection, and the lentils were tender and loaded with flavor. I don't remember other comments, but I was in water fowl heaven.
Dessert? You have to be kidding! I was stuffed, but when Megan described the parfait: orange spice custard with salted caramel, hazelnut granola, and rosemary creme fraiche I knew I had to at least have a taste. I was glad that I did.
I was totally impressed with Rooster & the Till - delightful, innovative food, great service, and reasonable prices. Our party of four split the bill, so dinner and wine for two, including gratuity came to $167.24.
The Rooster menu changes based upon availability from nearby farms and gardens. This is a "must do" dining venue.