A World Tour for Your Tastebuds
Once upon a time, dining out on Florida’s Gulf Coast could be summed up with one phrase: early-bird special. Today, we are blessed with an ever-increasing abundance of wonderful restaurants showcasing cuisine from around the world. It’s a testament to the diverse melting pot that our region has become.
For the uninitiated, sampling food from far off cultures can be an education for the palate. But step outside your comfort zone and embrace exotic herbs, spices and ingredients. Discovering and enjoying cuisine from other cultures deepens our understanding of the global connection we all share.
Travel with us as we sample the hot, intriguing spices of Africa and the Middle East. The seductive sensations of Asia. The tangy, zesty flavors of Mexico and South America. The rich, indulgent smoothness of French cooking. And the satisfying comforts of Italy and Greece.
AFRICAN: QUEEN OF SHEBA ETHIOPIAN RESTAURANT
TAMPA—Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa, is one of the oldest countries on earth. The Queen of Sheba ruled there in the 10th century B.C. Ethiopian cuisine is rich and flavorful, liberally sprinkled with spices like berbere, a blend of red chili peppers, ginger, garlic and cardamom; and awaze, a red-pepper paste mixed with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Both ramp up the heat in the spicy vegetarian dishes and meat stews. Meals are typically served family style in large platters scooped up with pieces of injera, a gluten-free sourdough pancake made of a fermented grain called teff. Try the Doro Wot, a chicken and hard-boiled egg stew seasoned with berbere or Ye Misr Wot, red lentils simmered in onion, garlic, ginger and berbere.www.ethiopianrestauranttampa.com
CLEARWATER—Kiku is one of Tampa Bay’s original Sushi restaurants and this distinctive, upscale venue across the street from Clearwater’s beautiful beaches continues to offer delicious artistic creations. Sit at the sushi bar to watch the skillful chef at work or take off your shoes and enjoy traditional Japanese dining in the Tatami Room. The Ahi Carpaccio is superb—paper-thin medallions of fresh ahi tuna, bonito seasoning and wasabi aioli dressing, topped with scallions and smelt roe. For the main course, enjoy the steamed Chilean Sea Bass. The black bean sauce is packed with flavor. Sushi rolls include the Dynamite—a blend of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, octopus, crab and mackerel chopped and mixed with Sriracha, the hot, sweet and spicy dipping sauce for seafood. It will definitely clear your sinuses.
FRENCH: LA CACHETTE
CLEARWATER—If you can’t spend a month at a villa in the south of France, dinner at La Cachette might satisfy your craving. This landmark restaurant on Indian Rocks Beach recently moved to downtown Clearwater where it continues to offer a luxurious, intimate evening of prix fixe dining. The food is rich with cream, butter, wine, shallots, cheese and other staples of French cooking. Start with frog legs sautéed in butter, garlic and white wine or lamb kidneys sautéed with shallots and flambéed with Cognac. Then move on to the traditional slow-simmered Coq au Vin or duckling topped with compote of black cherries infused with Framboise. For the adventurous, try the farm-raised ostrich, the rabbit, or the pan-seared quail. Leave room for the dessert butter tarts, a family heritage recipe from Canada.www.lacachetteflorida.com
TARPON SPRINGS—Mykonos, located in the heart of the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, is the iconic family-owned Greek restaurant. Look for traditional favorites and specialty items like charbroiled octopus over a bed of lettuce served with the family’s lemon aioli dressing. The Greek salads with fresh tomatoes, feta cheese, olives and a scoop of potato salad in the middle are fresh and filling. The gyros are outstanding and the entrees are all consistently good, from the lamb baked in a clay pot with tomato sauce, cheese and pasta to the traditional moussaka with ground beef and eggplant blended in a creamy cheese sauce. Saganaki, a cheese dish flambéed with Greek brandy, comes to the table with the staff yelling “Opa!” The family also owns a bakery and other retail shops. 727.934.4306
LATIN AMERICAN: BLACK PALM
PASS-A-GRILLE—Tucked away down a little side street in Pass-a-Grille, the Black Palm is the perfect way to experience this historic beach community. The restaurant features a unique blend of island attitude with South American regional cuisine. On weekends when it’s cool, sit outside and enjoy Latin jazz, salsa and meringue. The menu features more than 17 different Tapas selections. I love the piquant taste of Ceviche, a Latin American specialty of raw fish marinated in a lime juice blend. Try the Black Palm’s Ceviche de La Costa with snapper, scallops and shrimp with a zesty mango relish. Then get down to one of the mouth-watering entrees like plantain crusted snapper or pecan-espresso encrusted filet mignon. Ask for Chimichurri sauce, which is like pesto but made with parsley.www.blackpalmrestaurant.com