May is a month of celebrations, so let's start with "Cinco de Mayo," Spanish for "the sink is full of mayonnaise." OK, not really. I made that up, which is only fitting, because the idea that May 5 is a big holiday celebrated throughout Mexico is also made up. This yarn was spun by some PR flack for Corona beer back in the '80s, when they were looking for a way to get Americans to drink more beer. Since this is not an especially hard task, they didn't work especially hard on the idea, not even hard enough to note that Mexico's real Day of Independence is Sept. 16. Cinco de Mayo commemorates The Battle of Puebla, where Mexicans defeated the French army, and in Mexico is mostly a regional holiday. Ordinarily, Americans don't cotton to anyone except Oliver Stone or the Republicans replacing facts with fabrications, but in this case, with beer consumption at stake, we were more than willing to overlook a little lie. So here we are, decades later, stuffing our faces with nachos (another American invention) and toasting each other with mugs of Corona as we celebrate the truly American tradition of making up holidays to boost sales. That said, let's take a look at a few places worth celebrating anyway.
In Dunedin, the only place to be on Saturday, May 5, is Casa Tina's Mexican and vegetarian restaurant. The street in front of the restaurant will be blocked off from noon to midnight for an all-day celebration featuring food, street performers and live music, everything from folk and blues to the Caribbean/Latin flavors of Urban Gypsies. You'll stuff yourself like a piñata at Casa Tina's food tent with good grub like dos moles, a house favorite featuring two fresh, flavorful sauces, tamales, crab, beef, chicken, cheese or vegetarian quesadillas, guacamole, fried ice cream and plenty of sangria, margaritas and of course, Corona.
Casa Tina Mexican and Vegetarian Restaurant is at 369 Main St., Dunedin. 727-734-9226
On Tampa's West Shore Boulevard, celebrate Cinco de Mayo at the (sorta) new Cilantro Grille and Cantina. This place won critical acclaim as New City Bistro with Chef Mike Streeter manning the kitchen. Mike now pairs up with John White, former night chef at award-winning New City Diner, to take over ownership of the Bistro, adding a new name and a fantastic Sunday brunch, something this area desperately needs. Cilantro Grille takes a creative look at south-of-the-border flavors, with delicious dishes like Southwestern spice-rubbed filet mignon with a smoky black bean sauce ($17.95), house smoked brisket, tomatoes, bleu cheese, roasted corn, guacamole and grilled green onions over mixed greens with a green chile and tomato ranch dressing ($5.95 small, $8.95 large) or crispy roasted duck with a red chile and honey glaze served with jalapeno sweet potato mash ($13.95.)
Cilantro Grille and Cantina is at 3333 S. West Shore Blvd., Tampa. 813-805-0250.
In St. Petersburg, folks will be flocking to one of my faves, Red Mesa, where owner Pete Veytia says, "Last time you mentioned us, you challenged us to "push the envelope.' We're doing it by featuring a new menu every month from different regions of Mexico." Chef Chris Fernandez draws on his extensive knowledge of Mexican cuisine and his own creativity to present dishes like crepes filled with exotic corn truffle, sweet vidalia onion, dark green poblano chiles, garlic and jack cheese topped with mole rojo and fresh cilantro ($8.95), blue corn-crusted soft shell crab served on baby spring greens tossed in chipotle vinaigrette with roasted poblano chile red pepper salsa and a spicy habanera aioli ($9.95), and much more. Been there. Eaten that. Yum!
Red Mesa, 4912 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg. 727-527-8728
After Cinco de Mayo, grab your ticket to one of my favorite events, the Abilities Wine Tasting & Auction on Saturday, May 12. I put the Bonnie Boots "Drool Of Approval" on this very special spread of fine wine and fabulous food, served up by some of the best restaurants and wine merchants in Tampa Bay. You'll sample 300 premium wines from California's Napa Valley and Sonoma County, Italy, France, Chile, Argentina, Australia and all around the globe. And you'll be plied with food from 40 top-rated and award-winning restaurants like Mise En Place, Salt Rock Grill, Le Bordeaux, Native Seafood, The Grill at Feather Sound, Julian's at the Heritage, Perch, Sutherland Cafe and many more. Now, folks, what would you expect to pay for a single appetizer from each of these 40 restaurants? $300? Add wine, and you might expect to pay $400, $500, up to $20,000 for a single night on the town! But on May 12, for one night only, the folks at Abilities are prepared to offer you the amazing price of only $50 per ticket ($60 at the door) for this mouthwatering mixture of fine food and fabulous wines! Yes, only $50, if you call today, 727-538-7370, extension 345.
True gourmands can upgrade to the very limited, V.I.P. pre-tasting. This private reception features exclusive, limited wines from specialty merchants like Wines By Morrell Florida, B21, Pic Pac Fine Wines & Spirits, and Fine Wine & Spirits Warehouse, all specially paired with appetizers from some of my favorite restaurants, including Redwoods, O'Gradney's Bistro, Salt Rock Grill, Grand Finale, Travis Bistro, Blue Gardenia and many more. Tickets are $125 for the V.I.P. from 6 to 7 p.m. and include the grand tasting from 7 to 9:30 p.m.
In addition to grazing on fabulous food and wine, you'll bid on a huge silent auction featuring over 300 items, including a motorcycle from Jim's Harley-Davidson, ski vacations in Vermont, tours of wine country in California, island vacations, beachfront weekends, a culinary tour of Tampa Bay, sports memorabilia, artwork and more fine wines than you can shake a corkscrew at. Perhaps most important of all, this is a party with a purpose. Every dollar raised helps Abilities train disabled adults to return to full employment. Imagine for one moment where you'd be if, tomorrow, an auto accident left you unable to return to your career, and you'll realize how important Abilities is to our community. Don't miss the biggest and best wine event in Pinellas. Tickets go fast, so call now. Operators are standing by!
Abilities Wine Tasting & Auction, Saturday, May 12, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. V.I.P. tasting 6-7 p.m.; grand tasting 7-9:30 p.m. Free parking. For tickets, call 727-538-7370 Ext. 345.