I like to stay abreast of the culinary happenings in and around Tampa Bay. As a consequence I regularly read the scribblings of friend and fellow blogger Sweet Polly. Recently she and her mighty Underdog dined regally at the newly opened Haven, 2208 West Morrison Avenue, in the old Sideberns building.
Sweet Polly's review just set my buds of taste into spasms of raging comestible desire. Haven is home to charcuterie, craft cocktails, an extensive wine list, cheeses and so many innovative tapas style dishes that I completely lost sight of the fact that Sweet Polly was writing about a Tampa dining venue. I knew I had to visit this gastronomic haven of delectable delights.
The Belle of Gulf Boulevard and I left our home on the beach yesterday to avail ourselves of the orgasmically promising tapas that we spied on the Haven on-line menu. We had reservations for 5:30, but with the traffic gods smiling upon us we arrived about 15 minutes early. We were still warmly welcomed and guided to our awaiting table and the affable Hugo, our server for the evening.
Hugo was very well versed in all aspects of the food and beverage menus, and he was more than happy to help us with food choices, wine pairings and suggestions to keep us from over-ordering and making gluttons of ourselves. Sad to admit, but that has occurred on past culinary adventures.
My bride and I began our journey with a couple of glasses of Domain Chandon 'Etoile', a refreshing Napa Valley sparkling wine. This was to be an excellent accompaniment to my first dish, a half dozen Rhode Island oysters on the half shell served with a galangal and red curry mignonette.
The oysters, while super tiny, appeared to be properly shucked. The mignonette was intensely flavorful and therein lies the rub. The mignonette totally overpowered the oysters. Galangal, a stronger cousin to the familiar ginger, was too energetic for those dainty little bivalves. I don't think I have ever had an oyster that could stand up to that mignonette, and at $3 a pop for premium oysters, I want to taste the oysters. If you are an oyster aficionado I would suggest ordering something else.
Up next was the Paleta de Jamon Iberico and the Blood Bologna with mustard seeds and apple. Paleta (shoulder) is smaller and rounder than the back leg. Because of that, it cures much more quickly. It has also a bigger fat concentration that determines its sweeter and more aromatic flavor.
The blood bologna had an understated flavor with maybe a hint of minerals. This bologna wasn't bad, it wasn't spectacular, it was just something I had to try.
Some years ago my bride and I enjoyed a serving of duck tongues at China Yuan on Armenia in Tampa. That was a very interesting and tasty dish that was just a bit off-putting because of the unexpected cartilage in each tongue. I was surprised and thrilled to see General Tso's Duck Tongues
with peanuts, red chilies, green pepper, and scorched ketchup on the Haven menu. There was no way I could pass up this dish.
Those tongues were ever so flavorful, a tiny bit chewy and devoid of any bony cartilage. Even the Belle, who is not an adventurous diner, enjoyed these chicharrones-like ducky morsels.
Speaking of the Belle; her absolute favorite dish of the evening was the Flemish Beef Rib
adorned with caramelized onions, and Chimay sour ale. The foamy topping sat on a ever-so-tender beef rib that was bursting with flavor.
One of my favorite of Poseidon's gifts from the sea is octopus, so when I spotted the Octopus with
feta, dill, candied olive, ink and pepperoncini aioli I knew that I would have my way with it ... and, I did!
That octopus, swimming in its ink, with the spicy peppers and creamy feta transcended merely good. That was the highlight of the evening for my receptors of taste.
My bride and I decided to end our orgy of innovative dining with a flight of cheese as opposed to a decadent dessert.
My favorite, starting near the cornichons, was the Cana de Cabra. Moving toward the wine we had the Queso de Mano, Zamorano, and the Vintage 5 Year Gouda. All were enhanced by the cornichons, Marcona almonds, and marinated olives.
In addition to the foods and wines we were pleasantly surprised that our total for the evening came to just $214. Of course we tacked on a well deserved gratuity for Hugo's excellent service. Valet parking is three dollars, and we were promised a vehicle upgrade if the tip was sufficient. We did offer a three dollar tip, but that obviously wasn't enough for a Bentley upgrade. Even still, Haven provided us with a unique mini-vacation dining experience in Tampa. Now we can say, "Been there, done that!" and then it's back to the beach for my baby and me.
A final comment: When I was just a tad of a lad, my mother bought me a finger painting kit. I musta enjoyed it because the urge to finger paint is still with me. Now instead of paint, I have graduated to octopus ink. Mas vino, Hugo.