Restaurant review: Dulcet's luxury on a plate

Dulcet Restaurant & Lounge delivers atypical cuisine with haute finesse to New Port Richey.

click to enlarge Dulcet's buckwheat blini is topped with the Nordic house gravlax and more. - Jasmine Wildflower Osmond
Jasmine Wildflower Osmond
Dulcet's buckwheat blini is topped with the Nordic house gravlax and more.

When you head north up U.S. 19, the highway everyone's loved to hate as long as I can remember, something happens as you pass into Pasco County, leaving Tarpon Springs behind. Any trace of the urban, or even suburban, falls away. You are clearly in the exurbs.

As you drive into New Port Richey, hang a right and head downtown along Main Street, across the Pithlachascotee River, the trappings of bucolic Florida are readily apparent. But there’s a different feel than similarly sized and more easily accessible neighbors to the south. The neighborhood is quiet, though it’s Friday night, and Grand Boulevard shows few signs of life.

That’s why it’s a bit of a shock to step into Dulcet Restaurant & Lounge, with its gleaming white walls, high ceilings and mezzanine strung with airline cables.

The divider that separates the main dining room has a slick, shimmering waterfall, and as you wander into the bar area, you think perhaps you’ve gone to spirits heaven. There, before you, it seems as if every vodka known to man is reflected by the mirrored wall. High above the dining area are temporarily dormant disco lights and a small stage cleverly backed by four huge vertical HDTVs. The screens are alive with an enchanting jazz quartet that provides ideal background music for a meal that far exceeds any reasonable expectations going in.

click to enlarge English peas top the rosy rack of lamb, which features an irresistible sauce. - Jasmine Wildflower Osmond
Jasmine Wildflower Osmond
English peas top the rosy rack of lamb, which features an irresistible sauce.
Executive chef Paul Syms, a Brit expat who worked for Gordon Ramsay long enough for the superstar chef to follow Dulcet on Twitter, has delivered a miracle to downtown NPR. Syms also worked in Orlando for another master showman, Wolfgang Puck, and he’s done his demanding mentors proud. The dishes coming out of Dulcet’s English-inflected kitchen aren’t breaking new ground, but they deliver haute cuisine finesse that’s out of the ordinary around the bay.

My table oohs and ahhs at the Lilliputian amuse bouche of house gravlax, crème fraîche and cut-out rounds of buckwheat blini, circled by tiny dots of glistening herbed truffle oil. In one small, unexpected gesture, Dulcet announces that this will be no ordinary evening.

The appetizers are superb. Thick, rich butternut squash soup is ultra-creamy, bursting with savory goodness and garnishes of sage crisps and mini potato croutons. Golden seared diver scallops with bacon jam jump on the palate, as preserved slices of Meyer lemon provide an exciting contrast to the luscious caramelized shellfish. Lobster bisque has a deep, complex base of flavor and smooth texture from vanilla-scented cream that denotes luxury, only disrupted by succulent pieces of coral-hued crustacean.

One starter that excites, but is rarely offered, is a split roasted marrow bone. Dulcet’s version delivers. Scooping out the beefy marrow and spreading it on tip-top grilled focaccia with a bit of rosemary gremolata is such a guilty pleasure. If you’re a card-carrying carnivore, I urge you to experience the softer side of the beef experience.

The beautiful rosy rack of lamb is not only meltingly tender, it’s presented with delightful care. The tiny sliced medallions lean like dominos, and the cute Frenched bones — with a juicy tidbit of lamb attached — stand arched like bridges across the Thames. They’re ready to transport you to the meandering row of garden-fresh English peas (cooked to al dente perfection) that bisect the plate. And the lamb sauce has one tablemate approaching a food-induced coma.

Pleasingly pink, the Scottish salmon fillet is lovely, featuring a garnishing line of tangerine vinaigrette dusted with pistachios. The accompanying parsnip purée makes you wonder why this delicious root veggie is so rarely seen on U.S. menus when it’s a staple in the U.K., served much like we might roast or mash potatoes.

The Bandit Boat Fish of the day is hog snapper, pan-seared to a golden hue and placed atop creamy risotto with Parmesan, brown butter, lemon, parsley and asparagus. It’s a joy to eat.

click to enlarge Crème brûlée with chocolate honeycomb and meringue 'shrooms in the back. - Jasmine Wildflower Osmond
Jasmine Wildflower Osmond
Crème brûlée with chocolate honeycomb and meringue 'shrooms in the back.
Beef Rossini is a classic that props a succulent Hereford filet on creamy potato mash with garlic and cheese, finishing it with a thick slab of foie gras butter that melts down the sides and “gilds the lily” of the splendid beef. The dish is surrounded by a pool of truffled Madeira sauce that you want to drink with a straw.

On the sweet side, the crème brûlée is eggy, sugary transcendence with a twist. Instead of a typical round ramekin, Dulcet’s wonder is served in a long white ceramic boat, which more than anything resembles an eight-person sweep racing shell rowing up to Oxford. All that’s missing are oars and a marzipan coxswain. The custard is balanced on the knife’s edge of sweetness, the brûléed top crackles and blueberries provide a welcome fruity kick.

As good as that is, the dessert star is an English stalwart that almost never satisfies on this side of the pond: sticky toffee pudding. The dense, date-studded cake is glazed with a brown sugar toffee, which permeates the outer layer of the steamed sponge. Luscious pools surround the individual unmolded cake and the yummy house-made vanilla ice cream.

To say the dessert is divine is a nearly ridiculous understatement. This alone is worth the trip. 

Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.

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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