Élevage at the Epicurean (Sneak Peek) – Tampa, FL

When you think of Bern’s steakhouse what comes to mind? Not much comes to mine, as I’m forced to live vicariously through the myriad fables and tall tales told to me by friends, who relish in rubbing salted butter in my wounds. You might consider this is sacrilegious, considering I claim to be a food and resto lover. Yet, facts are fact, and the fact is, I have never been to the place that has built an empire serving some of the finest beef and wine combinations available in the Western Hemisphere. I got no excuses. Yes, Bern’s is fine dining on the highest level. That hasn’t stopped me from unloading way more money than I should at other places. I’m ashamed.

As reconciliation, allow me to share a sneak peek of what’s coming next from the people who also brought you Sideburns. If Bern’s is the personification of classic cuisine, Sideburns should be known as Xanadu, the restaurant of the future! And the mesh that binds these two vastly different approaches? Elevage, a concept housed inside the newest venture from the Bern’s constituency, a boutique hotel known as The Epicurean.

Logo

It has been some time since I was blessed with an insiders look at what to expect from Elevage, as Sideburns boarded itself up one week in Mid-October, to focus on their soon to be newborn creation.

I refer you to read my friend Jeff Houck’s more in-depth coverage of Elevage, where he describes it as “classic American comfort food with a fine-dining touch.” I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Houck’s description. You want to know where Bern’s and its neighbor to the side meet and give the everyman a chance to partake? It’s at Elevage. From what I saw of the sampling, there will be nothing overly stuffy or excessively avant-garde about the dining experience. Here’s exactly what to expect broken down to its most cellular level. Picture the dish your mom made for dinner growing up, or if you have a little age on you think about every clichéd restaurant food from the 50’s and 60’s. Do you have it yet? Did your mom not cook for you as a child? You didn’t ever go out to eat? Oh, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t aware. How inconsiderate of me. For everyone else, I’m sure you’ve pictured a dish or two that fulfills these criteria. Maybe you live too far away and you don’t get that home cooking from mom anymore, or forgot that duck a l’orange was the ramen burger of the Mid-20th Century.

With dishes like Quail Cordon Bleu, flounder almondine stuffed with rock shrimp and black garlic aioli, and foie gras matzo ball soup, you’d think you’ve stepped into some alternate reality, where Ozzie and Harriet are next door neighbors with John and Sarah Conner, who live across the street from the Jetsons.

I love classics done right. I adore the idea of the figurative elevation of traditional cuisine, done in a setting that doesn’t include a TV tray. Elevage has proved its worth before the doors have even opened for business, before the first reservation has been honored. To forecast more of what the diner has in store, I see nostalgia playing a big part in their success. To be taken back to a place and time with food as the sole teleportation device, a place that can only exist in one’s mind, is a pretty exciting notion.

Like I told Mr. Houck when he queried about my expectations, I said, “I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I expected it to be amazing, and they exceeded that.” I urge you to check out his story where he delves into some of the more enticing homages Elevage will be offering, including my warped, nay distorted, albeit delicious choice for dessert.

In the meantime take a look at some of the dishes made available to us at the pop-up hosted by Sideburns. Special thanks to Thai Vo, who shared some of the better pictures below, as many of mine were sub-par.

Elevage Sneek Peek

Elevage on Urbanspoon

I WANNA WOK – Tampa, FL

I awoke one morning not so long ago with my first cold of the season. I felt the aches pulsing through my joints, and a flop sweat that had not occurred since my last blissful sandwich binge at Dochos Concessions, sadly this time, no sandwiches were involved. The thing about my profession is, you always come to work. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a lovely case of hemoptysis and your eyes are glazed over like crullers. It’s a blessing and a curse. Your co-workers begin to despise you for coming in looking like its been 28 days later. Yet, still we all push on.

“So”, you may wonder, “what do you turn to for comfort when you’ve reached the point of full communicable exposure?” I think we all agree that there are certain things that make all of us feel better, or at least forget how bad we feel for a fleeting moment in time.

For me, it must be something from my adopted relatives to the east. Just about anything from Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese or any combination therein, done properly of course, will do the trick. Now you probably haven’t heard me say this, but I did a rant on Asian fusion a while back, and while I won’t necessarily retract my hatred full hodgepodging cuisine to excess, I will say this; there’s actually a few restaurants in the Florida food scene doing yeoman’s work. For example Anise Global Gastrobar in Tampa, Hawkers Asian street fare in Orlando, and Pubbelly in Miami.

I Wanna Wok truck

There happens to be a newcomer over in Tampa starting to build up a rolling boil with enough power from the rock gods to steam balls of flour and water into delightful buns with extraordinary flavor. They call themselves I WANNA WOK, a clever name that matches the cute but deadly logo on the side of their truck,  a cross between the comforting fluffiness of panda and the braggadocious spirit of Paul Stanley’s Starman.

All the food items are nods to genres or icons of music. For example a recent weekly special was called the Beasty Boygah, which in my head was half Beef Bulgogi, half Big Mac and half Philly cheese steak.

But I needed spice, and I craved Bao. If I had to specify what I Wanna Wok did best, it would be the Bao selection. This is where the pan-Asian part comes in. Every Bao is like traveling to a different country.

Headbanger's Bao, Piggy Marley & Motley Cue

Piggy Marley with char siu style pork belly, pickled radish, cilantro and crushed peanuts was like stepping into a Taipai night market. While the Motley Cue livened up my dulled sense with thoughts of Korean BBQ, as it had been stuffed with charred pork and kimchi. Finally on my tour of Bao, the most surprising of all was the Headbanger’s Bao. Not only did it bring me back to when I used to listen to Use Your Illusion parts 1&2 in class in 1992, but it was great execution of what many a heartless chain restaurant tries to accomplish, yet fails miserably. This might sound crazy, however they actually fried shrimp, tossed it in a sweet and spicy sauce, then allowed the shrimp to remain intact and crispy, while ram jamming a crunchy pungent slaw in as an accompanying gesture.

I Wanna Wok Bao

I was so happy to hear that I Wanna Wok has burst on to the food truck scene in the Bay area, as it is the best place for them to blossom seeing that Tampa was voted the second best city to start a mobile food business. I am even happier that they’re part of the rotating lineup that park at the Tampa Airport cell phone lot, as I can literally see them arrive from my office window. They had the chance to hit up the Downtown Lakeland Food truck rally for the first time last month, and completely threw the good people of Lakeland’s taste buds into the Iron Maiden. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a Little River Band connection that fit.

I don’t want to wait to get sick before I sample more Bao, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll be licking petri dishes infected with mitochondrion spores  for the time being.

I Wanna Wok on Urbanspoon