Plaza suite

Location and talent in the kitchen set high expectations for a new eatery in downtown St. Pete.

click to enlarge DEAL OF A MEAL: Parkshore Grill's $14 picnic special, featuring grilled salmon with angel hair pasta, salad and dessert. - Eric Snider
Eric Snider
DEAL OF A MEAL: Parkshore Grill's $14 picnic special, featuring grilled salmon with angel hair pasta, salad and dessert.

The first things I notice as I step into Parkshore Grill are the TVs behind the bar. Is there a law that says bars, even those in fine-dining restaurants, need to beam the comforting glow of the tube into the dining room so people paying $40 for asparagus, a New York strip and a martini can watch a previously taped professional poker tournament? Here's a hint, Parkshore — the kind of people who watch television at the bar probably aren't your target audience.

Then I notice that the TVs are obscured by waterfalls. Which is to say that water is falling over the TV screen. Huh? "Yeah, I've never seen anything like this in the States," remarks the bartender. Televisions in restaurants seem a uniquely American fetish, but for all I know the guy's right. Maybe flat screens with hot and cold running water are all the rage in Michelin-starred joints in Europe. Yeah, sure.

Design tricks and touches aside, Parkshore is a steakhouse, so the meat should be a slam-dunk, right? Not necessarily.

Why does every steak the place serves need a topper? Although there is barely a dollop of compound butter on the rib eye ($24), the entire piece of beef is infused with intense tarragon. It's like taking a bite from an especially luscious and juicy herb garden. Where's the beef? Other steaks come topped with onion rings, homemade steak sauce, balsamic onions or demi-glace, none of which overcome spotty kitchen technique. Like the filet ($22), properly red throughout and tender enough, but without the crisp crust that gives this blandly decadent cut of meat some power.

Yeah, I'm full of questions tonight, and the first one is: Where's our server? I'm all right, because I have a drink from the bar, but some of my companions are parched and the five-minute wait from hostess to waitress is filled with impatient muttering. Then, within the first few seconds, she asks, "Have you eaten at Parkshore Grill before?" Nope. Is there something especially complicated about the steakhouse menu that would require special training?

Doubtful. Parkshore's menu is built around a core of classic steakhouse fare — meat and fish and a variety of large sides meant for sharing. There are a few variations: Some entrees come with sides, some don't; the classic iceberg lettuce "wedge salad" ($6) includes onions and bacon as well as the typically rich blue cheese dressing; and there is an inexpensive hanger steak ($15) — trendy but tasty — doused with zippy green peppercorn sauce and paired with shoestring fries. Nothing terribly unusual.

Except meatballs ($8) as an appetizer. Tender, just barely cooked through and stuffed with warm blue cheese, they are simple but tasty treats that set the tone for a meat-filled meal. Want something a little less mammalian? There are classic crab cakes, ubiquitous seared tuna or garlicky mussels. Butter poached shrimp ($11) is slightly better than your average scampi, each little sea bug infused with dairy richness.

The lobster served with Parkshore's surf-and-turf ($34), and a special of Arctic char ($26) don't get the same treatment. Overcooked, the pink tail is tough to cut and chew, and the thin filet is dried out at the edges. When was the last time you left lobster on your plate at the end of the meal?

Fully 2 inches thick, Parkshore's pork chop ($18) ends up on the other side of the heat equation, undercooked and underseasoned, outside and in. Pork this lean doesn't taste like much, so a crisp and caramelized crust, lengthy rest in salty brine or even a short steam with fragrant hardwood smoke is absolutely necessary to give it some flavor. Otherwise, you end up with this: translucent, almost rare pork with no taste.

Sides — sold à la carte and family-style — don't redeem the meal, but they don't displease, either. Big stalks of asparagus ($6) are trimmed and steamed right, crisp and tender at the same time, and mashed potatoes are suitably creamy ($5). I do expect a little more from steakhouse mac and cheese ($5), although Parkshore's is an adequate affair of gooey sharp cheddar and tiny ditalini pasta.

Honestly, I hoped for a little more out of Parkshore Grill. First, because the chef is Tyson Grant, who gained his St. Pete chops and a following of loyal fans at O'Bistro on Central. Second, downtown St. Pete could use a big-city-style steakhouse to keep some of the white collar and expense account folks in town after hours.

And third, it's on the bottom floor of the Parkshore Plaza condo development near the water, and I love the idea of living and dining in the same building. Of course, at $500,000 to $3 million per, neither I nor most of the Parkshore staff can afford it, but owner Steve Westphal has a unit upstairs. Short commute.

Lunch is a better bet than dinner, especially the big, salty cheeseburgers ($11) covered in melty Maytag blue or applewood cheddar, or the "Caesar" burger ($9) topped with romaine and parmesan. Get the Caesar salad ($9) and it'll come with sweet and crisp fried Vidalia onion rings and more of that good blue cheese. That hearty hanger steak from dinner? It's served at lunch ($13), too.

The restaurant also offers an incentive to leave work early: the Parkshore picnic, from 4-6 p.m. daily. Think early-bird special for the younger crowd — salad, entree and dessert for a mere $14. Choices of entree range from grilled salmon to tenderloin brochette to crab cake. Even considering my questions and concerns, it's an astounding deal.

Hopefully, most of the problems at Parkshore Grill are growing pains that will be worked out in the first year. Turn off the TVs during dinner, work on heat and crust so that you can trust your naked beef, fine-tune the cooking on seafood, and the place will improve dramatically. In the meantime, I'll be testing the waters every so often during that incredible early-bird special.

Brian Ries is a former restaurant general manager with an advanced diploma from the Court of Master Sommeliers. Creative Loafing food critics dine anonymously, and the paper pays for the meals. Restaurants chosen for review are not related to advertising.

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