Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elevating your palate

"Awaken Appetites Unknown" is a fantastic trademark of the upcoming Epicurean Hotel.
How do you elevate your dining experience... ? Send your regular foodie haunts on vacation and try something new, short-lived and unique - a pop-up restaurant!

Pop-ups have been around for a handful of years and are gone before you can blink.  Pop-up restaurants allow chefs to create their own venues and test a concept and menu without formal commitment.  They are held everywhere from art galleries, warehouses, farms, public areas, and even in private homes. Top Chef's Stephanie Izard (of Girl and the Goat in Chicago) was able to preview her menu and generate publicity for her concept with a pop-up by starting out with an "underground" place called Wandering Goat.  Last night we were lucky to experience the opening night of  an extremely well organized and 'elevated' production of only five nights of this fun dining experience.

Elevage is going to be the signature restaurant of the Epicurean Hotel opening later this year in the hip So-Ho area near downtown Tampa.  Executives from Bern's Steak House and Mainsail Lodging and Development will open the venue in mid-December and it will join Marriott's Autograph Collection of luxury hotels.  You can check out their website here and be sure to peruse the amazing culinary theater courses including Champagne 101, Sustainable Wine making and Seafood and even a Superbowl Party Prep class! The Elevage pop-up restaurant is open this week only (Oct. 15-19).

The Epicurean's brilliant marketing team has put together a series of these ideas and events to get the locals buzzing about the wondrous world of all things indulgent and culinary.  You may have readabout the upcoming Epicurean Hotel earlier in my post about their contest where I was thrilled to win the grand prize for my photo of my outing around Tampa with their bicycles -soon to be a huge hit for those lucky enough to stay overnight.  Per the Marriott Hotel site where you can reserve your hotel room, they are, "Crafting a foodie’s paradise, a wine lover’s dream, a place for connoisseurs of life to come and indulge their appetite because there is no greater homage to life than to indulge in and explore all the flavors that it has to offer. When something is made right it’s experienced by the soul. And that sensory moment, though here and gone in an instant, echoes in the heart for a lifetime"

This week the owners have converted the locally impressive Side Berns restaurant space into a temporary version of Elevage (check out #epicpopup).  The carefully thought out menu was touted by local food editors with teasers about dishes promising to be comforting yet inspiring, sexy and approachable.  Take a moment to view this very brief video shot by Jeff Houck of "Prepping for Elevage" just the day before opening and more details from Executive Chef Chad Johnson

Reservations are nearly sold out for this dining experience but they mentioned there are a couple of tables still available if you act fast and give them a call at Side Berns or try your luck with a bar seat serving the full menu and a ring-side seat for some dreamy concoctions.  We were delighted by our opening round of cocktails including a pisco sour and a white lady - expertly crafted by Dean Hurst- Director of Spirits (talk about a FUN job to have!)

 We were enthralled by the menu released only the day before -my friends and I had such a hard time choosing and decided to order each course from the extensive menu one by one. 

You would think the wait staff had worked here for years with their knowledge, friendly smiles and excitement about the menu.   We were also delighted to meet the General Manger of the Epicurean, Tom Haines who worked the room throughout the evening answering questions about the Epicurean and spread the word about the experiences awaiting all of us. The pop-up also has an extensive wine list and are happy to share some specialities from Bern's famous wine cellar. 

We began with some inspiring small dishes like country ham with pear butter and biscuits.

Bikini sandwiches were a hit with ham, manchego cheese and savory truffles.
The portions were nothing to shake a stick at either.... but more about that later.....
The hit by far for this course was the melt in your mouth..... no-I-really-mean-to-die-for Rabbit Rillette with Foie Gras and Cornichons.... my friend from Gerardo Luna Photographs was literally licking the mason jar sized portion of this treat!  We also tasted the Escargot Tortellini which had a unique pairing of raisins and pine nuts in a rich cheesy parmesan sauce. 

 I could not resist ordering the German Potato Soup which was rich in bacon and a leek flavor that would knock your socks off.  Presentation was fun and beautiful.

My soup was stock full of lardons, cubeb peppers and lovage.  Now, I will easily admit I had to ask what some these ingredients were and without hesitation our server described them with ease.  Lardons are small cubes of pork fat (read:bacon!!!); lovage is a sweet herb with a flavor somewhat similar to celery -perfect for this soup!

What I truly loved about each dish served was one or two surprise ingredients upon presentation, like the crispy homemade potato chips delicately placed on top of my soup.. can't you just taste the savory morsels!

My friends also dined on quail cordon bleu - look at those colors pop as quick as your taste buds can almost savor the zippy mustard painted on the platter along with ham and creamy gruyere. 

As I mentioned earlier, the portions were very generous - there was a lamb lasagna with spinach, tallegio cheese and chestnuts served in a beautiful half casserole dish (a container that I really wanted to take home to use for making dinners!) 
The Chicken Paprikash was a flavor winner for this round served with wax peppers, kale and potato dumplings.  A lot of seasoning and comfort went into this beauty.

The "Sunday Supper" was an homage to the south with vinegar glazed country pork ribs and the lightest, sweet cornbread madeleine's you could not get enough of. 

The play on names was adorable with the "Duck, Duck, Goose" bursting with foie gras and goose confit stuffed into a duck burger..... if we could only get the recipe for the currant ketchup served with those fries I would be a very happy camper.  We couldn't take our foodie photos fast enough so we could dig into the flavors!

Only because we had to take the dueling macaroni challenge -we ordered the macaroni au gratin AND the truffle laden macaroni and cheese to top it all off. 

Dessert was nothing short of fantastic.... we were delighted by the continually amusing menu entitled Chocolate Pi  (no typo here folks, this p is one of the many clever little touches that this place will embrace). This too will be the name of the hotel's onsite bakery with  Bern's pastry chef Kim Yelvington running the French-style patisserie. 

The chocolate praline pave was a perfect combination of sweet hazelnut dacquise praline creme and and savory dark chocolate and an amazing cookie fresh out of the oven. 
 Even the ice cream was divine with macadamia and dark chocolate freshly churned. 
Not ever dropping the ball on completing the experience- we were excited to receive some swag bags tempting us for the Evangeline Spa that will be located in the Epicurean Hotel as well.  The spa will fuse relaxing treatments along with the food theme -check out the candy cane champagne pedicure or perhaps the red velvet pedi is more your taste.

Not to be outdone by the Quintessential Cabernet Massage! 

If the Elevage pop-up is a sign of things to come from the Epicurean Hotel and its upcoming treasures we are all in for more treats than a kid on Halloween!