Flûte & Dram
4 out of 5 stars
234 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Chef’s plates: $16-$20; caviar: $20-$185; desserts: $9: Champagne & wines by the glass: $7-$64; cocktails: $10-$14; whiskey: $4-$200. 727-350-5767. flutendram.com.
WARNING TO READERS & LIABILITY DISCLAIMER: Please do not keep reading if you are susceptible to the lure of luxurious food and drink. The CL editorial staff and publisher are not responsible for any future addictions to fine Champagne with deluxe caviar or single-malt Scotch and grand cigars. Exposure to these items may lead to creeping escalation of perceived rational restrictions for expenditures on ephemeral (yet unbelievably seductive and mind-bending) food-wine pairings. By continuing beyond this point, readers hereby accept full responsibility for any and all blown credit card limits in perpetuity — and implicitly acknowledge that they have been duly warned of the slippery slope toward poverty and debauchery by participation in the following indulgences.
One of the undeniably great flavor combinations in the vast world of global gastronomy is brut Champagne with sturgeon caviar. Let me tell you a sad story of the incremental slide into the black hole of luxury cuisine.
Our protagonist, who for the sake of protecting the guilty, we’ll simply call “Jon.” Jon loved food, but didn’t really have a taste for Champagne, caviar or single-malt scotch. Through his prior work, he had the opportunity to visit the French city of Reims, the capital of Champagne, to develop cultural exchanges. As he and his boss were whisked from meeting to meeting, they were met each time with flutes of the local beverage. On subsequent visits, they had VIP tours of noted Champagne houses. Before long Jon was hooked. Today, Champagne is his drink of choice, and when offered ridiculously priced flutes of what is way beyond his budget by the bottle, he’s powerless to resist.
He was similarly hooked on Scotch in just an evening by a so called “friend,” who exposed his vulnerable palate to the four major regions producing single malts. He even drinks the peaty Islay malts that reek of ashtrays and medicine.
Jon’s exposure to upscale caviar was life-altering. He’s no longer satisfied with what is affordable. Continued exposure to luxurious ingredients can be soul-crushing for those who can’t find a source of discretionary funds. Using your 401(k) for food and wine is strongly discouraged. However, if you’re sadly unlucky enough to contract a terminal illness, you owe it to yourself to indulge as long as you bequeath your heirs enough funds for a funeral. Then again, it’s permissible to leave money in your will to host a posthumous Champagne and caviar wake.
Now, back to the gastronomic match made in heaven.
When you pick up a flute of ice-cold bubbly, look at the active pinpoint carbonation. Tiny bubbles rise excitedly toward the surface. A sip of the pale gold brut is bone dry, causing your lips to pucker as you register notes of citrus and hints of a delicious yeasty quality reminiscent of freshly baked bread. You can’t help but sigh. Next, you take a small scoop of shimmering caviar with the mother-of-pearl spoon and place it in your mouth. The silky eggs pop on your tongue, oozing the rich, slightly sweet taste of the sea as flavors rise to fill your nose. There’s a lingering buttery and nutty impression with an ultra-smooth mouthfeel. It’s this maelstrom of flavors that drives aficionados wild.
Downtown St. Pete’s Flûte & Dram teases with impressive offerings for almost any budget. There are 16 wonderful Champagnes by the glass — available in petit pours so you can try a flight — plus 27 more by the bottle. Perhaps you need training wheels with prosecco, cava or domestic sparkling wine. Guests looking for a “wee dram” have a dreamy list of 145 different dark sprits, including Louis XIII Cognac.
Flip through more shots of what we ate from photographer Nicole Abbett
There’s no kitchen at Flûte & Dram, only a small counter past the handsome bar, wrapped by frosted privacy glass, behind which chef-owner Tony Mangiafico’s beautiful cold plate options are assembled.
Our first choice is a stunner. A bright white ball of creamy burrata sitting on some microgreens is cracked open and stuffed with a mound of black lumpfish caviar, then drizzled with EVOO and topped with cracked pepper. Every corner of the square glass plate holds a small mound of potential garnish. As you cut a bite and place it on a crisp water cracker, you may choose from briny capers, diced red onion, egg white or yolk. A nice touch is an elegant purple-and-white Dendrobium orchid.
The Flûte cheese plate is a chef’s selection of fine domestic and imported cheeses. We’re served Wensleydale with apricots, sage-white Cheddar, Manchego, port wine and Brie, alongside red grapes, cornichons, honeycomb and a quartet of grape tomato halves.
Another great match with the bubbles is the Norwegian smoked salmon plate with thin fish slices, peppery arugula, goat cheese, red onion, infused EVOO, capers, and the ubiquitous black lumpfish caviar garnish. An off-the-menu special is cubes of ahi tuna tartare in a mild dressing with sliced ginger and seaweed salad. Finished with some more of the caviar, the dish lush and delightful. The duck foie gras on the regular lineup is a creamy tranche of pâté with Dijon sauce and the same aforementioned garnishes.
If you’re not yet in a food coma, there’s a dense, creamy, ultra-rich flourless chocolate creation and a surprising limoncello cake with white chocolate, which is particularly divine. Flûte & Dram is now St. Pete’s best indulgence, but it’s a primrose path. Consider yourself forewarned.
CL Food Critic Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system, or email him at [email protected]