Service, menu and ambience make sweet harmony at Tampa’s Rome & Fig

Meet me at the crossroads.

click to enlarge ROMEANDFIGBISTRO/FACEBOOK
romeandfigbistro/Facebook
It’s always interesting to observe how neighborhoods transform. I wrote in early October about the slick metamorphosis of North Hyde Park, fondly dubbed, “NoHo.” Now, just over a month later, I’m back because the corner of Rome Avenue and Fig Street has a fine global bistro which bears the intersection’s name. We arrive at dusk, find adjacent parking, and are lucky to be seated at the splendidly designed fenced turf patio with heaters to warm the brisk fall air as the temperatures dip below 70° and Floridians feel the “chill.” Owners Eric and Kristine Zostant have created a welcoming space which includes an open kitchen and a “coastal chic” dining room with a large overhead glass door that blurs the edge of inside and out.

The drinks menu features a small handful of inventive cocktails that change seasonally. The wines reflect the global bistro with some of my favorites from California, namely Ridge, J Vineyards, and Conundrum, a unique white blend that perennially is a matching chameleon. My companion has “Autumn Orchard,” a yummy seasonal concoction that’s served with a colorful fall maple leaf attached to the lip of the coupe-shaped stemware with a mini-clothespin.

Initially, we have our eye on the delicious sounding Thai curry soup with Scottish salmon, green curry and a garnish of papaya-pepper relish. However, while bonding with our smiling, ever-attentive server, we decide that the heat may be too much for my dining companion. Spice is not everyone’s jam.

Executive chef Rob Scott offers other enticing options to begin your meal. But, we often opt for tuna tartare or crab cakes, and while the fried green tomatoes as the base for caprese are indeed tempting—especially with a dash of truffle oil—my partner’s eye and palate lands elsewhere. The lean bison meatballs in soft polenta tinged with asiago and thyme get our vote. What surprises is the marinara which has a clever, tasty addition of smoked strawberry that adds alluring grace notes. The twin meatballs are huge and glisten under thin shreds of freshly grated parmesan and a crispy fried basil leaf garnish. The orbs themselves are indeed lean, but they’re most flavorful. The question is one of density. My personal preference is for meatballs lightened with breadcrumbs and ricotta, but these are hearty and substantial with well-balanced seasoning. Just know going in that the texture is compact.

The entrées feature old favorites with a twist, like rum-brined duck breast or scallops with champagne lemon butter. Plus the ever popular beef filet, but this one is grass-fed. We finally settle on the lamb loin, sliced and tiled next to soft celery root mash with a crescent of elegant port wine demi-glace. The meat is tender, but cooked over our preferred temperature, which just shouldn’t happen in an experienced kitchen. The garnishes are three shades of scrumptious sweet heirloom carrots in a lovely honey-dill glaze with a pile of crispy battered shallots looking like diminutive onion rings.
click to enlarge Risotto is perfectly al dente and creamy with mascarpone cheese. - ROMEANDFIGBISTRO/FACEBOOK
romeandfigbistro/Facebook
Risotto is perfectly al dente and creamy with mascarpone cheese.
My choice is creamy risotto, which is always a dish to check the technique of the kitchen. Rome & Fig offers chicken, salmon, or shrimp (if you also dream of protein), but I don’t want to be distracted from the base flavors. The rice is perfectly al dente and creamy with mascarpone cheese. It’s dotted with sliced, earthy cremini mushrooms and flavored with roasted garlic plus swirls of apricot gastrique. There are delightful candied pecans scattered about, but the imbedded peach cubes are not quite ripe so they present more like pineapple chunks on the palate. And the green peas promised on the menu are a no show. Ultimately, this renders the dish in need of the punch that the aforementioned protein would add.

The quartet of desserts all sound seductive—variations on flourless chocolate cake and a warm skillet blondie. They’ve swapped out the peach galette that’s shown in the online menu (due, I’m sure, to a lack of ripe peaches), so we head for the pumpkin crème brûlée—hey, it’s the taste of autumn even if we don’t have falling leaves to “drift by the window.” The round ramekin is large and sports a perfectly torched sugar crust, which is thick and evenly distributed. I love the sound of the crunch when your spoon breaks the surface to scoop up the luscious custard underneath. The pumpkin isn’t assertive and the texture is just scrumptious. My companion prefers it unadorned, but I like the addition of the candied pepitas which top a separate dish of cinnamon-tinged whipped cream that may be added to taste.

All told, it’s a lovely meal from top to bottom. The service could not be better, the environment is extremely pleasant, and despite a few quibbles, I look forward to returning on my own dime.

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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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