As I pull into Global A’Fare’s parking lot, I suddenly realize I’ve been here before. Gone is the late Fire Bar & Grill’s flaming orange exterior on the north side of West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. Gone is the mod Dante’s Inferno swirling mural interior. Luckily, the wonderful 360-degree bar is intact.
Owner Chris Masten has created a hub for world cuisine, trading painted flames for bamboo screens to reflect the eclectic, ethnic tastes from his home neighborhood in Staten Island. You’ve now got a global passport anchored by the signature raw bar and artisan wood oven. Multiple influences from around the Mediterranean predominate, but there’s also cuisine from across Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. Patrons nurse local craft drafts or custom cocktails as they nibble and stare at the bar’s flat-screen TVs.
We skip the splendid, though somewhat noisy, terrace and opt for the side away from the bar. Soon after we slip into a cozy booth, house-made sangria arrives — loaded with fresh citrus, apples and strawberry chunks. It’s a refreshing way to begin as we see how many cuisines we can try.
While the wood-fired oysters on a bed of greens with citrus are tempting, we can’t pass up the roasted Indonesian sambal chicken skewers. The sweet and spicy flavor practically jumps off the plate. The meat is juicy, and the wood-oven smoke intoxicating.
We are intrigued by (but also skip) the Brooklyn-meets-Hong Kong Reuben egg rolls and instead choose the Scotch egg, another multinational mash-up. Chef Dustin Wilson takes this UK staple and gives it a decidedly Hispanic twist. Instead of English breakfast sausage meat, spicy Spanish chorizo envelops the boiled egg that’s then breaded and deep-fried to a crispy golden brown. It’s served Mexican-style with a twist of lime on a bed of tangy yet dryish salsa verde. My table really likes the extra dimension a spoon of green tomatillo provides.
But perhaps the most delicious bite of the night is the surprising Naked Taco appetizer, and it’s vegan. The walnut-almond meat with black beans and sweet corn pico de gallo is served on crisp lettuce leaves. The elements dance on your palate. It’s bracingly fresh, with crunch, acidity, sweetness and just enough cilantro to elicit a “wow.” I feel like a big-wave surfer riding a tsunami of flavor.
We begin our entrees with pastitsio, a Greek twist on lasagna. First of all, the entree servings are prodigious. That’s also true of what the menu calls macaroni. It’s enormous — more like rigatoni, all bathed in beef Bolognese marinara and rich béchamel. The block of pasta fills the plate, and it’s got to be 4 inches high. I’d like the serving a bit more al dente, but it’s a tasty dish with enough for dinner and to take home for tomorrow’s lunch.
A trio of tender, sautéed, lightly breaded chicken breasts sits atop Indian basmati rice. Instead of the menu’s “greens of the day,” we get a delicious medley of perfectly cooked sliced carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, red pepper and tomato. It’s all brought together with a decidedly Italian twist in a sauce of rosemary and limoncello liqueur. The giant bowl of Vietnamese pho’s savory Asian beef broth is jam-packed with soba rice noodles, sprouts, scallions, roasted red peppers, cilantro and huge jalapeño slices. Plus, there’s enough shaved Brazilian picanha beef to make a Philly cheesesteak. Even sharing with the whole table, we can’t finish and still have room for dessert. The entrees’ flavors are not quite as arresting as the appetizers’, but the portions are huge and the price is right.
On the dessert front, the baklava is presented more as a filo eggroll wrapping a honey-nut mixture that bursts with copious amounts of cinnamon. My table mostly misses the crinkle, crunch and sensuous honey of the traditional Greek favorite. However, the one uninitiated companion chows down on the unconventional hybrid. Scooping out the filling with a spoon proves futile and gives way to that oldest of culinary implements — the index finger.
The yummy Brazilian fudge ball, brigadeiro, is served instead as a dense, dense, dense pot de crème. Perhaps that’s because it’s so rich that you need some of the whipped cream topping to mellow it out. However, it’s quickly gone; this one is a big hit with my crowd. As a committed Francophile, I’d prefer something lighter and multidimensional. That said, if you feel like mainlining chocolate, this one’s for you.
Global A’Fare’s menu is gutsy, whether fusing some of the greatest hits of world cuisine to create flavor explosions or delivering the eclectic-ethnic synthesis of a NYC borough under one roof. Score one for Tampa Bay.