Tampa Bay's lustworthy dining guide

Romance goes beyond a nice steak and a good bottle of wine, right?

click to enlarge DIVINE DESSERT: Cena’s chocolate - Marsala cake with salted caramel gelato. - CHIP WEINER
DIVINE DESSERT: Cena’s chocolate Marsala cake with salted caramel gelato.

Romance goes beyond a nice steak and a good bottle of wine, right? The kind of food that makes you fall in love (or momentary lust) elevates your senses and makes an impression. These meals are cooked at all levels of culinary strata, from lowbrow strip mall eateries to fine dining fare. Just in time for our consumer-sanctioned day of love, Valentine’s Day, you’ll find all that and more below. —Arielle Stevenson

ALESIA 7204 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-345-9701, alesiarestaurant.com. Indulge in delicious French-Viet cuisine under the twinkling lights of Alesia’s patio dining area. On the menu, try the homemade Pho or honey glazed Cornish hen. For dessert, try the sweet sliced bananas inside crispy shells with honey and sesame seeds.

ANISE GLOBAL GASTRO BAR 777 N. Ashley Drive, Tampa, 813-225-4272, aniseglobalgastrobar.com. Downtown Tampa’s newest crowning jewel seats craft cocktails next to small plates of delicious cuisine. Order up the trio of stinky buns and a couple of cocktails, such as the Kurrant Bramble with Damrak gin and fresh berries. Grab a spot outside for a stunning sunset view of the city.

BELLA BRAVA 204 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, 727-895-5515, bellabrava.com. Time and time again, this downtown St. Petersburg dining staple continues to deliver quality food in a beautiful setting. And from Rigatoni to Pasta Brava, there’s no shortage of delicious decisions to make from the menu.

BIRCHWOOD 340 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, 727-896-1080, thebirchwood.com. The Birchwood Hotel’s Birch & Vine restaurant, and its top-floor Canopy, are great spots to kick off and or wind down the evening. It’s all about luxury here, from foie gras to handmade cocktails. Order some small plates and enjoy the best view in the Bay.

CASA TINA MEXICAN RESTAURANT 365 Main St., Dunedin, 727-734-9226, casatinas.com. Take your date out for Mexican and margaritas (arguably the best in town) with a healthy dash of Dia de Los Muertos. Order the Chile Rellenos and some of the organic Agave margaritas for an incredibly festive night out.

CIRO’S SPEAKEASY AND SUPPER CLUB 2109 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa, 813-251-0022, cirostampa.com. Slink into a strappy number and get ready for a swanky evening out. Ciro’s Speakeasy is all about the cocktails. Order the duck fat fries and fondue and settle into one their private booths.

CENA CHANNELSIDE 1120 E. Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, 813-374-8840, cena-channelside.com. CL food critic Jon Palmer Claridge deemed this one of the area’s “best new restaurants in town” in his review last year. The menu of Italian classics is done well and at a good price point. Order up the beef Carpaccio or the lamb ragu.

DATZ AND DOUGH 2616 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-831-7000, datztampa.com. The South Tampa institution is a glutton for punishment, the edible kind. Dig into big and tasty plates of comfort food like waffles and tweet or Jack Daniels Cake.

DELLA’S AFTER DARK 608 Oakfield Drive, Brandon, 813-684-3354, dellasafterdark.com. It’s a deli by day, gastronomic extravaganza by night. Della’s After Dark is a twice-a-week dining tradition for those in the know. Get a table and experience dishes like the Chicken Spiedini.

EDISON FOOD + DRINK LAB 912 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-254-7111, edison-tampa.com. Local culinary mastermind Jeannie Pierola’s experimental menu in action is perfect for a romantic evening of palate exploration. And the cocktail menu is designed with food in mind, so make sure you get a sip of that, too.

ÉLEVAGE 1207 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-999-8726, epicureanhotel.com. The biggest food news in town. In this week’s review, CL’s food critic gives Chef Chad Johnson’s latest menu 4.5 stars. Plus, cocktail guru Dean Hurst is heading up the spirits program, and that means drinks are definitely in order.

ENGINE NO. 9 56 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-623-0938, engineno9dtsp.com. For some, a menu of various burger incarnations is just about as romantic as it gets. If that describes you or yours, Engine No. 9 in St. Pete is your date-night spot with foie gras burgers, burgers with peanut butter and more.

MISE EN PLACE 442 W. Kennedy Blvd. #110, Tampa, 813-254-5373, miseonline.com. Dress to impress and get ready for the meal of a lifetime. Order Chef Marty Blitz’s tasting menu with wine, if you’re feeling extra lovey-dovey.

PEARL IN THE GROVE 31936 St. Joe Road, Dade City, 352-588-0008, pearlinthegrove.com. The drive to Dade City, being whisked away to the country for proper pampering, is romantic enough on its own. But then you arrive at Curtis Beebe and wife Rebecca’s oasis for all things locally crafted. Check the menu specials for the freshest fare.

QUEEN OF SHEBA 3636 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, 813-872-6000, ethiopianrestauranttampa.com. Eating with your hands may not be the most conventional Valentine’s dinner date. But Queen of Sheba’s traditional Ethiopian menu is nothing to scoff at. Be sure to try some of the wine and beer from Ethiopia, too.

RESERVATIONS TO-GO 4703 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, 813-231-6800, reservationsmenu.com. Want a quiet night in but don’t have time to whisk up a proper meal? Let Seminole Heights’ Reservations To-Go do all the hard work for you.

ROCOCO STEAK 655 Second Ave. S., St. Petersburg, 727-822-0999, rococosteak.com. St. Petersburg’s swanky new steakhouse inside the historic YWCA building. Ask for help ordering from their wine list, one of the best in the area, and drink up with your perfectly prepared steak.

THE REFINERY 5137 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-237-2000, thetamparefinery.com. Every week, the hard-working crew at Seminole Heights’ Refinery puts together a fresh new menu. The food is always, always surprising and delicious. And really, when it comes to outdoor dining locally, their upstairs patio is among the best. Good food, good people, good times.

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