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An Unforgettable Wine and Cuisine Affair with Grille 54 and Napa Flair

     I honestly cannot remember the last time I had ventured out to the seemingly far away lands of Citrus Park.  I suppose I’ve become all too comfortable with the sights and sounds of South Tampa and Seminole Heights.  However, after a recent pampering with fine wine and scrumptious cuisine galore, I’ve begun to sing a different tune about this underrated area of town.  I’m sure I’ve been missing out on numerous exceptional establishments all along but…after one particularly memorable wining and dining experience, I am now absolutely certain I have been mistakenly neglecting two very noteworthy Tampa gems.   Thanks to the adorably classy and quaint Napa Flair WineStore as well as the fresh and inventive Grille 54, Citrus Park will now be seeing this little foodie frequent its grounds with some serious indulging intentions. 

    Just last week, fellow blogger, Lauren (Tampa Uncorked) organized a flawless evening for some of her, ahem, favorite Tampa blogging females.  This extra special and intimate affair was set in the cozy and cute, Napa Flair Wine Store, owned by Queen of Winos, LuAnn Shaprio.  With an Advanced Certified Wine Professional degree from the Culinary Institute of America, Luann is as remarkably educated as she is warm and friendly.  Alongside LuAnn was the knowledgeable and interesting, Andrew Broden of Middleton Family Wines.  As we wined and dined, Andrew kept us amused with his fascinating Middleton family tales.  The night would not have been complete without the delectable dishes that paired so perfectly with our elaborate wine tastings.  Nods to Grille 54 for their most excellent execution in creative cuisine; for my mouth is still watering after having devoured their glorious fare.

    The night began with a champagne flute toast.  Yet, these were no standard glasses of bubbly.  Submerged in the sweet and sparkly Lucien Albrecht champagne was a wild hibiscus flower.  Delightfully attractive in presentation, the flower also doubled as a tasty treat. 

    The first course of the evening was officially upon our hungry eyes- Smoked Salmon Carpaccio looking so elegant in its plating.  Topped with a refreshing Caesar style salad of arugula, Parmigiano Reggiano and Asian egg, it was a combination of ingredients I was infatuated with. The impeccably smoked salmon provided an amazing contrast of flavor to the distinct bite from the arugula and Parmesan.  Paired with this delectable offering was a glass of Buried Cane Chardonnay of Columbia Valley, WA.  Bright and zingy with a clean finish, it was a perfect mate to the fish.

    Up next was Grille 54’s take on the ever-so-popular Hurricane Roll.  Little did they know they had a certified sushi connoisseur on their hands.  Arriving in multiple rows on a boat like soldiers packed on a ship, these rolls were ready to be devoured.  Devoured indeed, the newest happy hour addition is made with imitation crab, cream cheese, roe and cucumber and then topped with an oven-baked concoction of chopped shrimp, krabstick and spicy mayo with a mini dollop of Sriracha as “the cherry on top.”  If you’ve read any of my sushi reviews before, you know I am not a fan of the fake crab. Grille 54 proved this stuff is not all that bad.  One by one, I was happily putting these rolls away.  As I cleared the sushi boat, I was sipping on the deliciously crisp and fragrant Clayhouse Adobe White (a blend of Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Princess).  This great white proved once again, I am definitely a blend kind of wine drinker. 

   Onto mini course number three.  Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes were presented with a rather imaginative dusting of spices, creating a fun piece of art.  But, let it be known, Grille 54 was definitely not compensating with the awesome design.  These mounds of meat had not a teaspoon of filler in the batch.  I’d be lying if I said I’ve eaten a better crab cake in Florida.  We were all in awe of the luscious crabmeat, pan-fried to precision.   Matched up with the chart-topping cakes was a glass of Cadaretta SBS (Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend) from Columbia Valley, WA.  This unique blend was delightfully intense and aromatic, pairing nicely with the delicate crab.  Not a wine I could drink every night, it was just right for this course. 

    Another set of sushi, here we come!  “Ohhs and Ahhs” were heard to my left and right when a shining ship filled with sushi made its way through Napa Flair’s doors. Making a grand entrance from both land and sea was the Sunburn Roll -a sushi creation I can’t say I have ever seen anywhere before.  A mixture of lobster, asparagus and avocado was wrapped in seared beef tenderloin and served with wasabi vinaigrette.  These surf and turf delights were catching some serious attention from all.  Definitely different and comprising all components I love, I was instantly heads over heels.  Rather heavy in ingredients though, a round of Sunburns would be a stellar roll to share.  Because the rolls were topped with red meat, alas, a red wine was served!  The Clayhouse Adobe Red from Paso Robles, CA (a blend of Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot) was a juicy red with cherry and spice, a profile I can really get into. 

     Just when we hadn’t gorged enough, we were offered a holiday appropriate dish of Slow-roasted Lamb Shoulder with garlic-mashed potatoes and fresh cherry confetti.  The fork tender lamb boasted great meaty flavor on its own…but once topped off with the seasonally fitting cherry relish, it was bright and fun on my palate.  Maybe the best pairing of the night, the lamb was served with a rich and dark Clayhouse Malbec of Paso Robles, CA.  In agreement with comrade and fellow blogger, Megan (I Run For Wine), that Malec is not a dear friend; this particular malbec was wonderfully smooth with delicious aromas of raspberry and cranberry.

       Perhaps saving the best savory course for last, Kobe Beef Sliders with bleu cheese and bacon on brioche had made their way out.  Paired with Cadaretta Cabernet of Columbia Calley, WA, I was about to be in pure culinary (and wine) bliss.  With just one nibble of the slider and one sip of the cabernet, it happened.  Eyes were closing as I took pleasure in the sharp, warm and gooey cheese making a luscious number with the crisp bacon and succulent beef. These deep feelings of beef, bacon and bleu admiration were noticeably felt by all.  Better yet, these little goodies are served on Grille 54’s Happy hour menu for only $6.  A bigger slider than I’ve ever seen, they are a happy hour steal.

       To wrap of this splendid meal, we were served a dressed-up dessert.  Almost too pretty to eat, the Blueberry Pana Cotta was heavenly in its creamy texture.  The sweet and tangy blueberry topping was so delicious; I could have easily eaten it alone.  A gorgeous grand finale to one unforgettable evening of indulgences.  

    Grille 54, Napa Flair and Middleton Wines really outdid themselves.  I was so impressed with our wine and food pairings from beginning to end.  An event that showcased several reasonably priced “show-off” wines as well as a generous offering of numerous scrumptious cuisine samples, I will be returning to both establishments sooner than later.  Friends and next-door neighbors, Grille 54 and Napa Flair allow their adoring patrons to bring food and wine to and from each spot.  After checking out the charming Napa Flair’s interior, I think my next trip may involve grabbing a bottle of wine and walking it on over to Grille 54 for some more fantastic food. Then again, word has it LuAnn hosts lovely wine classes and tastings.  I think its fair to say I’ll be in Citrus Park on Sheldon Road on the regular from now on.  

Grille 54 on Urbanspoon

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