Photo: Edmund Fountain/Tampa Bay TimesElevage executive chef Chad Johnson whips up a meal in Epicurean's culinary theater.
The chef checks in at hotel restaurants
New hotels across the state, from grand luxury brands to boutique properties, are putting food forward as a major attraction to food-obsessed guests and local diners.
In keeping pace with the competition down the street from free-standing restaurants, hotels have plenty of resources and some advantages: They can offer spectacular, multimillion-dollar settings, hire vast culinary Staffs and they have the buying power to purchase top ingredients, whether exotic or local farm to table.
Before Four Seasons opened its first hotel in Orlando, for example, the chain did years of planning, hiring and trips to Europe. The 400-room hotel opened with five restaurants and two lounges. For its crowning touch, Four Seasons will give its rooftop steakhouse The most fashionable of Florida flavors, a Spanish accent.
“Food is a huge component of Four Seasons,” says food and beverage director Stephen Wancha. Hotel restaurants are places “where the local community are just as likely to go for dinner on a Tuesday night out as they are to celebrate a birthday or anniversary.”
For its first Florida location, which flies the Le Meridien flag, the Starwood brand has executed a smashing rehab of Tampa’s 108-year-old federal courthouse, brightening the building with midcentury modern fixtures.
While the hotel registration is on the ground floor (the former holding cells), the grand entry staircase leads to a courthouse’s lobby filled with food. To the left are gleaming cases of French breads, macaroons and pastries, cheese and charcuterie; to the right is a smart-looking bar.
Ahead, filling most of the floor is Bizou, a contemporary brasserie and Tampa’s first French restaurant in years (the work of Gordon Davis, who once ran Le Bordeaux). The menu covers a full day of classics, from eggs Sardou to duck confit with beluga lentils.
When a hotel is named Epicurean and has the legendary Bern’s Steak House as its neighbor and partner, food is a primary attraction.
Gourmet trimmings are a multicourse feature of the Epicurean. Not only is there a three-meal-day restaurant and a rooftop bar, but guests have ready access to Chocolate Pi, which is run by Bern’s pastry chef, along with a wine store and a lobby packed with vintage cookbooks.
Most dramatic is a culinary amphitheater marked with an eight-foot knife and fork, used for corporate team-building exercises and cooking classes.
The hotel’s restaurant, Elevage, steers away from Bern’s specialties and focuses on revamping comfort classics, from Dutch baby pancakes to Welsh rarebit and tuna casserole.
St. Pete Beach
In white stucco, red tile and dark rafters, the Hotel Zamora gives St. Pete Beach its first new hotel in decades and a big helping of Spanish flavors with a true Mediterranean and tropical bent. No ceviche or nachos. In fact, chef Ted Dorsey calls Castile “a restaurant with a hotel attached” and aims to fill his 280-seat dining room with locals and neighbors.
Dorsey brightens the whole menu with Latin flavors, beginning with breakfast of eggs piperade and chicharron bacon. Elsewhere on the menu, there’s lobster ajillo with smoked paprika and giant albondigas (meatballs). Entrees include tuna grilled on the plancha and grouper cheeks with serrano ham.
With five restaurants, the Four Seasons offers a range of menu choices, from barbecue at PB&G to Cuban food at Plancha.
Capa, the penthouse steakhouse, will have chefs from top U. S. restaurants and a long list of cured meats, rare cheeses and Spanish wines. Its Italian side comes from the hotel’s Turin-born chef, Fabrizio Schenardi, formerly of Tampa’s Pelagia, and a big staff that can make pasta, bread, gelato and limoncello. Look for basil tagliatelle with lobster and veal ravioli with wild mushrooms and tortoni for dessert.
Vintro Hotel + Kitchen
At Miami Beach’s sleekest new 50-room hotel, Vintro Hotel + Kitchen in Collins Park, the kitchen serves a lobby bar, a rooftop and a terrace.
With bar and dinner menus “inspired by the ingredient,” the food skips about the globe but frequently lands in Latin territory for the likes of mackerel escabeche, jamon serrano croquettes and tacos of lobster tempura.
Entrees are broader and more exotic, from lamb meatballs, sweetbreads and tripe to local fish and meats.
Metropolitan by COMO
At Metropolitan by COMO on Miami Beach, the first U.S. outlet of a London/Bangkok group, the restaurant is named for the old Miami hotel Traymore. The food emphasis is more modern. The focus is on fresh seafood, and for raw and “living food” fans, a Shambhala menu of dried fruits, seed breads and tofu.
More conventional diners will like massive seafood towers, crisp fried cod, soft-shell crab, seafood stew and burgers at lunch, plus fluke crudo, garganelli with razor clams and halibut poached in olive oil at dinner. The hotel’s pastry chef provides desserts from macaroons to passion fruit cannelloni.