At St. Pete's Two Graces the magical atmosphere matches the cuisine

Chef Marlin Kaplan and Lisa Masterson offer safe harbor.

click to enlarge It was just a matter of time that the prime shuttered Reading Room space—with its raised beds to grow veggies and herbs—was snapped up by some local restaurateur - VISITSTPETECLEARWATER.COM
VisitStPeteClearwater.com
It was just a matter of time that the prime shuttered Reading Room space—with its raised beds to grow veggies and herbs—was snapped up by some local restaurateur
The idea of “grace” is a concept much needed in today’s rough and tumble world. We need the comfort that the name implies. How reassuring then that the same dependable team that brought Grace (the restaurant) to Pass-a-Grille, has now bestowed TwoGraces on Central Avenue.

After all, it was just a matter of time that the prime shuttered Reading Room space—with its raised beds to grow veggies and herbs—was snapped up by some local restaurateur. But, now the new Two Graces sports a magical colonnade that flows west toward freeFall theatre. It’s got an elegant beadboard ceiling and is complete with fans/heaters, diaphanous drapery, and evocative lighting. To the south, under the magnificent, almost horizontal octopus-like Southern live oak is a dramatic seating area made from a handsome circular balustrade. Of course, what really matters is the food.
Two Graces
6001 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
727-803-6050; twogracesrestaurant.com
Starters $10-$21; entrées $18-$32 (prime filet & grouper MP); desserts $9; beer/wine/cocktails $7-$20
4/5 stars

Luckily, Chef Marlin (as in the fish, not the actor) Kaplan’s food is a riff on his marvelous Grace menu and promises surprise. We start with a dish that is the perfect demonstration of the primacy of ingredients in Italian cuisine. When you drape a perfect thin slice of salty prosciutto over a creamy ball of fresh burrata you’re more than halfway there. Start with a base of lightly dressed mixed baby greens and add a scoop of fruity date-hazelnut chutney plus crisp crostini, and you have an absolutely delightful way to begin your meal.

Chef’s roasted squash was a veggie standout at Grace, and his riff here is a yummy variation on that theme. This tender roasted squash is stuffed with fregula, those wonderful, tiny semolina pasta balls from Sardinia. The stuffing is loaded with seasonal veggies, in this case tender slices of zucchini and yellow squash all swathed in a light Galveston apple vinaigrette to add pleasant brightness.
click to enlarge To the south, under Two Graces' magnificent, almost horizontal octopus-like Southern live oak is a dramatic seating area made from a handsome circular balustrade. - VISITSTPETECLEARWATER.COM
VisitStPeteClearwater.com
To the south, under Two Graces' magnificent, almost horizontal octopus-like Southern live oak is a dramatic seating area made from a handsome circular balustrade.
Like the ethereal lobster ravioli at Grace, Chef Kaplan serves up almost as decadent ravioli pillows filled with shredded short ribs. The bowl is loaded with luscious beefy wild mushroom demi-glacé dotted with glistening mushroom slices, petite veggies, and flecked with fresh herbs. We ask for some extra bread so as not to miss a drop of the sauce, and our server also delivers a dish of some ultra creamy, lush butter from Glenview Farms. The bill of fare also includes quail, tuna, lovely salads plus wood-fired pizza to take advantage of a culinary tool already set up in the space.

The dessert decision is a difficult one with honey-almond cheesecake, always a perennial favorite, and a chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream. We were sorely tempted by the mini milkshake, but the accompanying macarons are not made in house, so we settled on the Maple Panna Cotta with fig compote. It’s a flavorful, somewhat dense affair which really comes alive when combined with the succulent fig compote at the bottom of the curved glass. It almost resembles a decorative candle with a gorgeous edible purple bud as a wick.

As at Grace, there’s also a splendid selection of creative craft cocktails, although instead of the neighborhood dogs that haunt the other locale, they’ve opted for bird and flower names from the vodka-based Chocolate Flamingo to the bourbon-laced Azalea. We sampled the “Watson,” a colorful concoction in a martini glass featuring Italian Malfy gin, vibrant orange Aperol bitters, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, crisp white peach balsamic, and fizz from a topping of Prosecco. My companion pronounces it a walloping graceful hit.

And Kaplan’s long time partner, Lisa Masterson, has assembled a unique wine list with 60 organic, biodynamic, and sustainable wine options to go along with 10 local microbrews on draft. The entire experience is most lovely; the servers are perfectly friendly and attentive, and the magical atmosphere matches the splendid cuisine. In these times of pandemic stress, it’s particularly welcome that Two Graces offers us all such a safe harbor.

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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