St. Pete’s Wild Child is intoxicatingly good and makes you want to travel the world

We’re back in the dining room and surrendering to chef Rob Reinsmith & co.

click to enlarge WILD CHILD RESTAURANT & COCKTAIL BAR/FACEBOOK
Wild Child Restaurant & Cocktail Bar/Facebook

Wild Child was originally to be a part of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay’s continued coverage of takeout during the pandemic. So I dropped by in the early evening one Saturday last month, only to be told that there was no takeout on weekends. The joint was jumpin.’ The outdoor tables along Central Avenue were full of animated folks sipping cocktails and nibbling on Chef Rob Reinsmith’s whipped ricotta with grilled sourdough. The adjacent covered patio area was slammed with groups of happy patrons whooping up a good time at the picnic tables.

Before returning during the week, I wanted to verify that takeout was available. Despite being vaccinated, I wasn’t quite sure if I was ready to be “back in the saddle” so to speak. But Wild Child doesn’t answer its phone, it just greets you with a friendly message and an email for reservations ([email protected]). So, I decide it’s time for us to follow Lady Macbeth’s advice to “screw your courage to the sticking place.” After 13 months of pandemic delay, indoor dining will resume.

Wild Child Restaurant & Cocktail Bar
2710 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
727-954-7425; @wildchild_stpete on Instagram
Appetizers $6-$16; entrées $15-$32; desserts $9; beer, wine and cocktails $4-$16
4 stars

I arrive on a beautiful April weeknight to find the same throbbing energy as on my prior unsuccessful visit. Clearly, the word is out and this is the hot place to be. Our host informs us that the waiting list is about an hour. “Oh, well,” I sigh, “at least they are into cocktails.” We peruse the cocktail list; it’s anchored by seven inventive “Wild House” concoctions, a trio of tiki drinks, and a few classics.

My companion opts for the “porn star martini,” which fills an old fashioned coupe stem with vanilla vodka swirled with passion fruit liqueur and purée. It comes with a sidecar of champagne in a tall shot glass etched with a festive palm tree. You can use the bubbles as a chaser or just dump the shot into your drink to add spritz to the whole affair.

click to enlarge Wild Child's “porn star martini,” which fills an old fashioned coupe stem with vanilla vodka swirled with passion fruit liqueur and purée. - KRISTINA HOLMAN VIA WILD CHILD
Kristina Holman via Wild Child
Wild Child's “porn star martini,” which fills an old fashioned coupe stem with vanilla vodka swirled with passion fruit liqueur and purée.

I choose a classic “old fashioned,” which is perfectly crafted. Old Forester Kentucky bourbon swims around a single, large clear artisanal ice cube and a perfect rectangle of fragrant orange peel. Sadly, for me, they skip the traditional cherry—which is often the deciding factor in my choice of drink. Despite my cherry fetish, I sip with joy.

The aforementioned ricotta is a sensational starter and could easily be shared by a table of four. The cheese is light and sweetened perfectly with honey, then topped with a generous sprinkling of herbs and pink peppercorns. The combo is just divine spread on the grilled sourdough with the slight char adding a seductive smokiness. This is a superb example of the whole being greater than the parts.

Surprisingly, even better is the jerk octopus which is now a signature dish for Reinsmith; this is Best of the Bay territory. The accents of charred scallion crema, wafer-thin circles of fennel, small peeled grapefruit segments, red watercress leaves, sliced rings of pickled sweet peppers, and a spritz of fresh lime juice meld beautifully on the plate. The tentacles are firm without being rubbery and have just the right amount of heat to pop without throwing the dish out of balance. I feel like I’m in Spain.

click to enlarge Accents of charred scallion crema on Wild Child's jerk octopus are plated with wafer-thin circles of fennel, small peeled grapefruit segments, red watercress leaves, sliced rings of pickled sweet peppers, and a spritz of fresh lime juice meld beautifully on the plate. - KRISTINA HOLMAN VIA WILD CHILD
Kristina Holman via Wild Child
Accents of charred scallion crema on Wild Child's jerk octopus are plated with wafer-thin circles of fennel, small peeled grapefruit segments, red watercress leaves, sliced rings of pickled sweet peppers, and a spritz of fresh lime juice meld beautifully on the plate.

The entrées also deliver. The frites are tasty but not so crisp, however, the aïoli is decadent and creamy. Plus, the brick chicken is an amazing surprise. It is so delicious and juicy that it’s disarming. Add the yuzu salsa verde and it’s a celebration of flavor.

Skirt steak is a tasty cut of beef. When it’s a perfect medium rare, sliced and topped with creamy bits of Spanish Valdeón bleu crafted from a goat-cow milk blend, you get nuggets of salty spice to accent the meat. Add a soft, luscious onion marmalade, Catalonian romesco (red pepper, garlic, almonds) sauce and you’re transported to the flavors of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. It’s all accompanied by charred broccolini, and another Spanish treat, patatas bravas. These are made, though, from fingerling potatoes instead of the traditional crispy wedges, with just the right touch of salt. The spicy roasted tomato aioli sauce is the perfect complement along with finely minced chives, which blanket the entire plate. And some more fresh lime to squeeze just adds a livening pop of acidity.

Chef Reinsmith’s entire seasonal menu has a Spanish tilt. I can’t wait to return for the “snapper a la plancha” with chorizo and crab saffron rice or the “whole grilled crispy fish.” Just to be safe, they also offer veggie and cheeseburgers and a Korean fried chicken sandwich. 

We chose the “tres leche cake” for dessert over the “chocolate ganache tart” and are not disappointed. In fact, it’s surprisingly good with small touches that elevate it over most versions. First of all, the cake is moist, but not soggy. The large rectangle is covered with fresh, piped whipped cream stars and surrounded by passion fruit purée to contrast beautifully in both color and flavor. Chef also adds a few fresh raspberries, a snow of lime zest, and a delightful sprinkling of edible orange petals. It’s just a wonderful end to our meal.

I must say it’s intoxicating to be back. The servers are attentive and inside, while the tables aren’t crowded, there’s definitely an ongoing din, which will energize some diners and annoy others who should try to snag a table on the street. But the food made me long to travel. In the meantime, Wild Child gives you another reason to visit the Grand Central District, but still wear your masks and be safe. And please, get in line for your vaccination if you haven’t already. We must all do our part to return to normal. Great food beckons.

CL’s Jon Palmer Claridge, Tampa Bay’s longest running food critic, dines anonymously. Here’s how he explains his five-star rating system.

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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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