437 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.
UPDATED 10/16/19 12:19 p.m.
The 400 block of Central Avenue has long been a power center for great food options in downtown St. Pete. I was terribly sorry to see the wonderful Asie close its doors. However, the good news is that everything about Tropez is a magical reflection of its bucket list namesake.
The interior evokes the sophistication ascribed in your mind’s eye to the French Riviera. The tin roof tiles, azure-tinged
wallpaper "copper Venetian plaster," and plush tufted velvet banquettes form a warm embrace to welcome guests. There’s a glowing center bar and a huge U-shaped table in the back to lure a crowd of your best buds for a celebratory event.
The cocktail options are creative and well-made. When a drink is well-conceived, uses top-line ingredients, and is crafted with care, thirsty patrons can’t help but be the winners. We sip on a “375 Royale,” which adds elderflower and cassis to gin with bubbles and lemon zest; it’s wonderfully refreshing. The “French Quarter” fills a copper mug with ginger beer and bourbon over a giant ice cube with a touch of absinthe and a drop of bitters. We’re all smiles.
Our service also could not be better. There’s a combination of warmth and knowledge that can’t be faked. When a server knows the menu backwards, shares personal knowledge of the flavor combos, and glows like an old friend, what’s not to love.
The samosas are everything these Indian appetizers can be. They’re tiny triangles—much smaller than the large ones you might have encountered elsewhere, but the filling is perfectly seasoned and the dough is delightfully crisp and crunchy. Add a touch of the yummy tikka masala sauce and you have a perfect appetizer.
“French Onion Soup” Dumplings deconstructs the classic, wrapping caramelized onions in dough, placing them in a cast-iron casserole, loading them with melted Gruyère, and then skewering each one with a long spear through a crispy crouton. While I’d like more caramelization, my companion is swooning.
“Foie Gras Grand Slam” delivers as promised. It’s just as disruptive and impressive as baseball’s greatest and most sought after offensive weapon. First of all, sautéed foie gras is one of the all-stars in the kaleidoscope of gastronomy. There’s simply nothing as lush and seductive. It has not fared well, though, on menus around the Bay. Both Tampa’s Bizou Brasserie and The Mill have abandoned foie, for what must be a lack of interest. It’s a sad commentary for me as an avowed Francophile. On a recent visit to Bizou, in fact, it’s totally lost any connection to French cuisine, which obviously is in reaction to supply and demand. But this version with Grand Mariner toast, wild boar sausage, maple and a quail egg is unmissable. Please don’t let this one get the ax.
Butternut squash and Swiss chard ravioli is as comforting as it sounds. The combo filling makes you sigh. The soft pasta pillows are bathed in vodka cream that only adds to their allure and the chiffonade of fresh basil rounds out the flavors. It’s one of the few entree-sized dishes, but it’s still easily shared.
Chocolate croissant bread pudding is a beautiful mix of flavors, balancing the egg custard with banana, chocolate and bacon. Using croissant pieces as a base means that the result is softer than much of the bread pudding that you may encounter, but it’s not at all soggy. It simply delivers the down-home goodness you expect from this dessert.
It’s wonderful to know that the popular cocktail-small plates trend continues to develop. It pulls us away from the tried and true and encourages sharing and social interaction, which in this world of screen addiction is a good thing. As they used to say in the ’60s: “tune-in and turn on.” Try looking at each other in the eyes. The cultural specifics have morphed, but the advice remains wise.
CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.
A previous version of this story noted the "wallpaper" at Tropez. The designer, Raina Yacoub pointed out that what we referred to as "wallpaper" is actually a "copper Venetian plaster."
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