Very few restaurants leave me feeling jaw-dropped impressed. For this to happen, my culinary experience must be exquisitely executed-to every minute detail from the moment I step into a restaurant to the second I leave. Sure, with Tampa’s ever growing and evolving culinary scene, I have been fortunate to wine and dine at some exceptional establishments. However, no Tampa restaurant has left such an outstanding impression as Pelagia Trattoria.
Easy to miss, this fine-dining foodie’s heaven is located at the International Plaza, on the first level of the Renaissance Hotel. Modern Italian Fare with tried and true traditional influences, this restaurant also takes culinary inspiration from many other Mediterranean countries. Not surprising, Pelagia has won countless awards and recognitions for their brilliantly designed plates containing only the finest local seasonal ingredients. Executive Chef Andrew Basch and Sous Chef Brett Gardiner have such keen eyes to detail which shows in every beautiful dish Pelagia serves.
From the moment we stepped into the Pelagia, we knew we were in for a real treat. Vibrantly colored décor insists a fun night out. Huge windows and swanky lighting treatments scream big-city dining. The kitchen is completely open to all, a feature I particularly enjoyed. We were immediately welcomed and offered wine recommendations from our sincere and skilled server. She suggested a light red as it is perfect for a hot summer eve and pairs well with all kinds of meat. Sipping on our refreshing Kim Crawford Pinot Noir, we were soon greeted by Chef Andrew. I love meeting a young and inspired talented chef. His passion as well as expertise and knowledge of the ingredients shined with his description of Pelagia’s cuisine. At this point, we were so anxious for the glorious goods, we could hardly stand the anticipation.
First to arrive to our table was a small plate consisting of a manchego cheese and honeycomb crostini as well as a skewer of deep fried beef, veal and pork stuffed olives. These mini bites could not have been better matched. The sweetness of the honey and the sharpness of the manchego were beautifully balanced with the saltiness of the meat stuffed olives. The textures of the tastings too, complemented one another. I went back and forth with small bites of the olives, deep-fried with a well-achieved golden exterior stuffed a marvelous mixture of meats and the crispy crostini topped with a semi-hard cheese and gooey honey.
Served to us next was a pomegranate marinated duck breast topped with a pomegranate grappa glaze. The duck was served over bright green grilled asparagus and to its side was a voluptuous cold barrel smoked scallop over Swiss chard. A Saba reduction was delightfully drizzled in the middle of the plate for the added enjoyment of both selections. The duck was out of this world luscious. Flawlessly prepared, the tang of the pomegranate added wonders to the rich and tender meat. The scallop was cooked in a very unique way; cold barrel smoked. This neat technique gave the fresh silky scallop a whole new dimension of flavor I’ve never experienced before with shellfish.
Finally, our pasta course was served. A trio of colorful and diverse pastas sat waiting before my noodle-loving palate. Knowing that Pelagia makes their pastas in house, I was especially amped. Nothing beats that soft, yet chewy bite of fresh homemade pasta.
My first forkful was from the Saffron Seafood Tagliatelle. A Spanish food connoisseur, saffron is an absolute favorite of mine and man, did it make this pasta divine. Next into my pasta adoring mouth was the braised veal and ricotta stuffed ravioli. I don’t usually eat veal but this delectable dish was deserving of a broken rule. The homemade ravioli noodle was liberally stuffed with tasty creamy ricotta and succulent veal. As if it wasn’t rich and yummy enough, the ravioli was topped with oyster mushrooms and decadent truffle oil. So rich with varying amazing flavors, this pasta was reason enough to return. Just when I thought I had tasted the very best pasta of the evening, I tried the “dessert pasta”- a butternut squash scappellacci in a brown butter and sage sauce. This wide and very thick noodle was simply lovely on its own. The piquant sweetness of the butternut squash and the peppery essence of the sage were all too wonderful. Oh, did I neglect to mention there was amaretti cookie crumbled on top? I’ll take this pasta over gourmet baked goods any day of the week.
Upon the completion of each dish, Chef Andrew kept leaving us begging for more. Surprisingly and fortunately, I still had room for some more creative concoctions. With a few deep breaths to indulge some more, we briefly waited for our next course. Out came filet in fois gras truffle butter and adorned with an oyster mushroom fricassee and wilted spinach. He was really showing off now. The filet might as well have melted in my mouth. The truffle butter was impeccably apparent and made an already scrumptious cut of meat that much better. The oyster mushroom fricassee was stewed into succulence, truly making it the “icing on the cake” to the filet.
Had this been any other evening of the week, I may have rejected dessert. After all, I felt like I had already given my sweet tooth its fix with the heavenly butternut and amaretti cookie pasta. However, this was no dessert to refuse. House-grown Grand Mariner drunken berries lay between two mounds of enticing semifreddo (similar to gelato). A house-grown mint chocolate frosty dream refreshed my taste buds and reminded me what a cool and fresh summer dessert is all about. The blueberry pomegranate semifreddo was sweet and tangy and convinced me my Italy trip must come sooner than later. What an excellent final course to an extravagant and inspired five-course experience.
Pelagia Trattoria is truly in a league of its own. This is the kind of restaurant where you wine and dine and never want to leave. It is the restaurant you go to for anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and any other occasion that calls for culinary and service excellence. Pelagia is the place you take your friends to on Wednesday nights for live music and sweet specials. Pelagia is the kind of establishment that will be successful in Tampa for years to come.