The sad fact is, there aren’t many fine dining destinations in the Tampa Bay area. Orlando has more to choose from in that department due to the many high-end resorts at Disney and the surrounding area.
My wife and I recently planned our 11 year anniversary dinner, but didn’t give ourselves much time to make a reservation. I started doing my patent pending research to find an available table around 2 PM the day of our dinner, needless to say, it was slim pickens. My secret process of “putting things in place,” always starts by looking at the menu. The menu is king. If I don’t see something I am positive my wife will love, it’s time to move on. After narrowing down the choices to a couple possible champions, I begin naming off menu items and descriptions out loud, while my wife was doing her hair and make-up. After seeing at least 30 menu items I would order in a heartbeat, Mise en Place won the menu war. I placed a phone call to reserve a table, and thankfully, they had one left for dinner service.
Mise en Place is not new to me, or the Bay area for that matter. They’ve been around for over 25 years. I first had my taste buds shaken about 5 years ago, when we were celebrating a work related milestone. It was the first time one of my best friends tried foie gras. I can still remember the smile on his face as the luxuriant offal overtook his senses. That’s what you should be looking for in a special meal. Something that will last forever. Mise en Place didn’t disappoint back then and they certainly haven’t lowered their standards since.
They tout themselves as “modern American” with an imaginative twist. The head chef Marty Blitz is always striving to create inventive new dishes for his diners. Look at their menu and tell me you wouldn’t agree with that mission statement. They seem to take on all the current food trends, and elevate them to such great heights. For example, take my amuse bouche, if you were to put a traditional bahn mi on a plate, no matter how luxurious the taste, it would look pedestrian. But when you break down the flavors and reconstruct them, starting with sous vide lobster, pickled vegetables and lime aioli, and then reuniting everything on paper-thin char-grilled slices of baguette, you’ve got something inspiring.
For starters, my spouse ordered a warm wild mushroom salad, with shaved parmesan and black truffle. Simple enough, however when you focus on how all these complex flavors manage to sing together perfectly, you begin to appreciate the attention to detail and flavor crafting that “Mise” exhibits. I thought, while prying a bite from her cold mushroom-wielding hands, that this dish was like a walk through a forest that leads into a lush garden. My only taste was at first earthy and rich from the mushroom and sweated onions. The taste transitioned as my teeth sank into the tender flesh of the hen-of-the-woods and porcini, I was simultaneously hit with the sherry vinaigrette which had touches of lavender. Finally the truffle took over and reverberated until the next course.
I should say now that I chose not to order a main. There were so many starters catching my attention, that a main course just wasnt going to fit in my budget or gullet. My wife did though, so it was her time to sit and watch the degustation process unfold.
Next up was Korean spiced scallops with a mango mint salad and lemongrass BBQ sauce, lounging atop a pillowy nest of edamame puree and a few drops of miso vinaigrette. The star was the one lightly fried duck dumpling flavored with pickled plum that found its way on the plate. I wish I could have had an entire plate of those with the lemongrass BBQ sauce. I’ve never been the biggest scallop fan, and I went for a bit of a stretch with ordering this dish but it was a winner and swayed me a bit toward the pro-scallop crowd. I know there are plenty of you out there.
As soon as the first appetizer was devoured, and a new one appeared. That’s my mantra. Like I said, Mise en Place identifies food trends quite well, and what could be a better example of what hip, non-prescription eyeglass wearing beardos love eating than poutine. Mise offered two preparations. One with an oxtail gravy and fresh cheese curds, the other with lobster and brandy gravy. I chose the oxtail, to avoid lobster psychosis (uncharacteristic of me I know). The poutine was presented in a crescent-shaped bowl, which is the way poutine should from now on, always be served. Traditionally the base is frites, with all the toppings dumped on top. This version used a roasted fingerling potato quartered lengthwise, intermingled with the gravy, shreds of oxtail and globes of cheese curds to create a stew. The end result was a fine dish any Québécois would proudly enjoy.
My wife rejoined the party when her spice rubbed duck breast appeared, along with swiss chard that had little strands of duck leg confit and minced mushrooms, finished off with a touch of blood orange and sherry jus. The duck was beautifully cooked and had the most amazingly crisp skin to boot. Underneath it all, hid a nicely sized cannelloni of foie gras mousse. It was a grand surprise to me since I overlooked it while perusing the menu. Nothing beats homemade pasta. Nothing except shoving duck liver mousse inside a tube of fresh pasta and then nestling it beneath a supple breast…of duck.
My last savory dish was porcini dusted foie gras with a ramp, bacon, and corn brick, this was topped with the tiniest slivers of pickled shallot. Of course the foie gras was fantastic. It was everything you want when ordering foie. Rich, buttery, nutty with a the slightest mineral tinge. The one item on the plate that messed with my mind was that brick! It played tricks on me. As I took that first bite, all I could do was giggle like a little kid, because that’s how it made me feel. Of course I knew I was eating at a fine dining establishment, but that took me back to sitting at the kitchen table on a summer afternoon eating lunch with my dad and brother. The only thing I thought of was that it tasted like the first time you grabbed a handful a sour cream and onion chips, and shoved them in your mouth. Just one of those familiarities that make you shake your head and smile. Anytime food can transport you to another time or place, it’s a success.
Finally dessert was served. She ordered chocolate peanut dacquoise, with salted peanut brittle and caramel. To describe the flavor, think snickers bar turned on its head. Something the pastry chef for Marie Antoinette would have thought up.
I chose a goat cheesecake with a strawberry-rhubarb marmalade. The cake and the preserves were brought together with a pistachio cookie bridge. Both selections were edible works of art. Almost as appealing to the eye as to the tongue. The fact that all of my senses were engaged simultaneously by the evenings final morsel was truly a feat worthy of applause.
Mise en Place has been around for as long as many of you have been alive. You wouldn’t know it unless you knew it, because they are constantly looking to improve and innovate. With each visit, they have managed to impress and astound, and I see no reason for this trend to stop.