Every year Creative Loafing sponsors a holiday auction to benefit the Children's Home in Tampa and typically handles some pretty fab merch. Last year they auctioned off a chef's tasting dinner at Rooster and the Till. It was a chance to help the Children's Home and have a night of food at one of the best restaurants in the area. Bidding on it was a no-brainer! Was it pricey? Absolutely. Was it worth it? Read on....
Maybe I'm just starstruck or have too much fascination with the talent and craft of the crew at R&T. It continues to be one of the best places I have ever eaten. Really the only thing I have to compare it to is Blue Hill in New York where the food and the experience are indescribably delicious. But $280 for dinner for two? It's no meal by American standards. There is no appetizer/entrée/dessert here. This is a seven stop luxury cruise across a tasty sea of gastronomic adventure There are six courses and intermezzo, each one served as a work of art. Every course is carefully planned and expertly paired with wine. That being said, R&T is a foodie's must see.
We are seated immediately at a table by a window (as requested) and greeted by our server. He is fastidious to a fault, perfectly aligning our flatware on the table and refolding my napkin every time I leave to take a photograph. It's the level of service one might traditionally expect with fine dining.
The magic begins with a glass Adami Vigneto Giardino prosecco while we are handed the tasting menu. The menu is new. I have done this once before and the dishes were not written down, they just came out of the kitchen as a surprise. Having a description of what we're going to eat before it is delivered enhances the experience. This new tasting menu just started last week.
The first dish is sunchokes, duck ham, and Spring onion capers sitting in a shallow pool of a creamy, buttery sauce. Uncut sunchokes look like a ginger root but the taste is more akin to potatoes. The duck bacon is just that. Tiny slivers of smoked duck, and a perfect complement to this stack of goodness.
With fresh flatware and a glass of Chardonnay our next dish is ushered in. It is a peppery lamb tartare with onion dip and salt-vinegar house made potato chips served in a copper colored dish. The most profound visual part of the dish is a black powdery substance looking like soot. Tasted alone there's not much there but it certainly adds to the look. The lamb flavor reminds me of gyro meat, just better. Given the ingredients I do what any other unsophisticated diner would do. I pick up one of the chips, stack it with some lamb, press on some onion dip with the funky black powder and eat it like I was watching the Super Bowl. Yep!
Our next mouth party arrives tucked into a small Staub cast iron skillet. It is a combo of sautéed oyster mushrooms and foie gras served with a puff pastry. These are not ordinary fungi. The texture gives a perfect amount of resistance with every bite and the pepper (au poivre) fills my senses with flavor. The pastry is fluffy and puffy and gives a hint of Parmesan cheese. More please.
Minutes pass as we anticipate what's next. The place has come alive with energy as tables fill and people enjoy.
Next a wooden platter arrives with with two tacos. Seriously? A taco as part of a fine dining experience? This better be good!
They are small tortillas piled with Waygu (a Japanese cattle breed ) on a base of turnip paste paired with raisins, chili and pepitas. The taco has that savory/sweet combination from the beef and the raisins, and the chili gives it an extra kick. Add turnip paste (tastes like bean paste) and the combo swirls with flavor. I keep asking myself how they do it? Even with an extraordinary amount of culinary talent how does one come up with such interesting and inventive flavor combinations and ingredients? Then the next dish arrives.
It's the most visually stunning so far. The ingredient complexity seems laughable. The base is a tortilla like chip made from dehydrated condensed milk infused with spring onion. It is topped with creamy feta cheese piped into a squiggly line and topped with caviar. It all sits on a bed of powdered peapod's (all according to our server). Yes, dehydrated pulverized peapod's. Tasted alone it's flavor is reminiscent of asparagus. The two delicate bites quickly disappear. Like any good performance art, the artist leaves us wanting more.
The intermezzo prepares our palettes for dessert. It is a beautifully presented small glass of mango sorbet topped with mead (honey wine) foam. It is light and delicate and delish. I do my best to scrape every last bit onto my spoon.Unfortunately the size of the vessel probits licking the inside. 'Cause yes, I would.
Lastly but not leastly for the crescendo, a glass of Broadbent Rainwater port arrives paired with a bowl of masa cake crowned with plantain gelato, Plant City (strawberry) raspado (shaved ice) all set in a ring of acorn squash custard. I can't. You do this one. I just have no more words to describe how lucious the desert and the entire meal is. That port...that custard..cake..
Satisfied, full, and a little tipsy (we Ubered) we sit back in our seats and chuckle like we just got off an invigorating carnival ride. Was it worth $280 for the meal, coffee, and gratuity? To be cliche and paraphrasing, value is in the eye of the spender. How much would you pay for a work of art? What is a unique culinary experience worth?
I don't have or want Bucs season tickets and don't own a fine car or live in a big house. I consider myself decidedly middle class and much of my life is about photography and food. And, yes, it was worth it. Every nickel!
Curious? Go get your foodie on! Check out the chef's tasting menu here. BTW- It's best to be cautious if you have any food allergies or don't eat particular types of food. There are no substitutes allowed. When you select this option you put your faith in the hands of the kitchen.
Rooster and the Till has a broader and less expensive menu that involves larger plates and offerings. For the uninitiated some of the dishes may sound a bit crude. Things like Swordfish and Seabass belly may sound odd, but just try it. Walk the edge with the kitchen.as regrets are doubtful. More traditional dishes like Gnocchi with short ribs, Fried Quail, and Lamb Loin are also available.
Reservations are available online. Parties larger than five should call the restaurant.
Chip Weiner is a Tampa food blogger and an award winning freelance photographer specializing in portraiture, food photography and photojournalism . He has been a photography instructor for over 10 years and teaches Tampa photography classes throughout the year. Have a suggestion for a food event or restaurant? Contact him here
For information on photography classes and workshops, feel free to call me or look under the Tampa Photography Classes section of my website. Photo 101 is by far the most popular! I also give private individual lessons on camera operation and making better photographs and would love to work with you one on one to make you a better photographer. Photography instruction gift certificates are also available. They make great gifts for the photo enthusiast in your life. Let's talk about what you need! 813-786-7780. See you in class!
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