I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I am no food snob. Hand me a cheeseburger from a greasy dive and I’ll eat it. Pass me a taco from a street side stand and I’ll devour it. On the rare occasions when I’m undisturbed with calories, I will consume, well, pretty much anything. Yet, I can’t bear to think about where some of these questionable ingredients are coming from. With the unfortunate truth of genetically modified foods, there is nothing I love more than putting fresh, sustainable and local ingredients on my palate. The Farm to Table movement has become increasingly popular throughout the country but most notably in big cuisine culture cities like San Francisco and Asheville. Thankfully, Tampa Bay has heard, noted and responded to the movement. Farm to table eateries have gradually been sprouting up around town and I couldn’t be happier and hungrier for it.
Enter Marchand’s Bar and Grill at the Renaissance Vinoy in St Pete. As if this breathtakingly beautiful hotel wasn’t desirable enough, there is now a restaurant serving strictly locally sourced food. This means from the seafood and land meat to the numerous fruits and veggies- every ingredient comes from local farms and fishermen. Even if you aren’t a legitimate foodie, you have to appreciate supporting local businesses.
When I was invited to an exclusive six course tasting at Marchand’s, I was so grateful. Having driven by the gorgeous, marina front, Vinoy numerous times, I knew I’d be in for one extravagant evening. With just a few steps into the palace, I was greeted with a Mojito. Only this Mojito had a twist of Florida…well, a twist of Florida oranges to be precise. The cool and crisp orange infused concoction was also shaken with vodka versus the traditional rum. A refreshing twist on an original indeed.
As we made our way through the historic hotel to Marchand’s, we were enlightened with story tales of the 90-year-old hotel’s beginnings. Gazing into the sky-high banquet halls and ballrooms, we were in awe of the Chuhily chandeliers and restored original wallpaper-just minor details from the $93 million dollar renovation completed in the ‘90s.
By the time my chair was pushed in behind me, I was anxious to begin feasting on what would likely be a memorable meal. Although I usually resist bread before dinner, Marchands’ doughy, cheesy goodness was too delectable to miss. Cheddar sourdough spread with sun-dried tomato butter was the best bread course I’ve ever had. However, I immediately regretted my carb chomping. First course was served: Croque Madame. Served on brioche and filled with a semi-soft cheese and meat from a humanely raised Georgia hog, this fancy sandwich was quite the little number. Topped with a fried quail egg and paired with a shooter of silk onion soup, I was in culinary bliss. Sipping on our first wine of the night, Acrobat Pinot Noir, I felt that everything was just too good to be true.
|Photo courtesy I Run For Wine|
Next on our forks was a Golden Tile fish with Romanesco Cauliflower, Sun chock hush puppies and Rock shrimp. The mild, white Golden Tile fish was impeccably cooked, showing off a crispy skin covering its moist flakiness. Throwing in a crispy hush puppy as well as a rare extra flowery cauliflower and you’ve got one incredible dish. Oh, and rock shrimp…I mean baby lobsters, well, those little beauties rule my food loving world. This delightful round of seafood was paired with a wonderful white- Hahn SLH Estate Chardonnay. Perfection.
A sin of gluttony officially entered the dining room when we were served Fried Mac N Cheese and Smoked bacon collard greens topped with Pork cheek and tangerine BBQ sauce. Let me just state, Paula Deen would have been proud. This southern plate was bar none in creation and preparation. The golden fried Mac n cheese medallions were absolutely luscious with their creamy and al-dente noodle interior. The collard greens? Well, heck, they even impressed my friend Megan and I…two lovely ladies with serious Southern roots. The pork cheek was tender and juicy while the tangerine BBQ sauce was one awesome bonus on top of it all. With a glass of Trivento Amado Sur – a Malbec Blend, I had no complaints in the world. Life was grand.
As we all began to hold our stomachs in preparation for perseverance, out came our fourth course: Key West Yellow Tail Snapper served over a chorizo black bean cake and warm yellow tomato vinaigrette. The snapper was moist and flaky with a delicate sweet hint. The black bean cake…well, it was different. I love black beans. I adore chorizo (probably my favorite sausage)…but something was just off about this bean and meat mixture. The cake’s texture was a bit dry and the flavors underwhelming. Though the yellow tomato vinaigrette was delicious, it still couldn’t do all the work for the dish. A mild fish needs an abundance of bold flavors but sadly, this fish was ignored. By no means was it bad, just simply not recommendation worthy. Luckily, I had a glass of Trivento Amado Sur – Torrontes to wash my fourth course sorrows away.
I wasn’t “boo-hooing” for long because the last savory plate of the night was a masterpiece to my mouth. Peter Rabbit and Cottontale fans, you better skip to the dessert course description now. Before my eyes lay Braised Rabbit served over Savoy Cabbage, Speck, Yukon Potato Puree and a Pinot Noir Reduction. To say this combination was divine would be an understatement. The rabbit was fork tender and boasted scrumptious flavor. Every component on the plate was an amazing contrast to the next. Rich without being heavy, there were nods of utmost approval all around. Drinking a glass of Four Vines – Old Vine Cuvee Zinfandel, I was one happy gal. A superb savory ending for all.
Just when I thought I’d have to be wheeled out of the building, I was presented with some sugar for my sweet tooth. A trio of treats had my head spinning as I was so full I could barely lift a spoon. Tiramisu, Caramel Oatmeal Pie and Smores Hazelnut Ganache Torte sat elegantly in a row waiting for my indulgence. A tiramisu aficionado, I was apprehensive but I had no need for my skepticism. Wow. A thing of beauty right there. The Caramel Oatmeal Pie and Smores torte were also stellar. What does one serve to drink with dessert? Champagne of course. Santa Margarita – Brut Rose bubbled on my tongue and cleaned the chocolate from my teeth. The desserts were truly a grand finale to what I had already known would be an unforgettable culinary event.
Very seldom am I pampered in a way that makes me feel almost undeserving of the royal treatment. The way I was treated at Vinoy (along with several other bloggers) was a standard fit for a queen. I am thankful to the entire staff for the unbeatable hospitality and chart-topping cuisine I was so lucky to experience. It is events like this one that make the few extra stubborn pounds and the late night blogging sessions so worth it.