As Hermine spun her last rain bands towards Tampa Bay, we hit the streets for Pelagia Trattoria at The Renaissance at International Plaza to try the brand-new Friday Four-Course Dinner for Two launching Friday, September 9th. Opening in 2004 during Hurricane Charley this award-winning restaurant inside the Marriott Renaissance Tampa International Plaza is no stranger to storm detail. My anticipation was high as we dodged flooded roads arriving at a busy mall. Pelagia did not disappoint; it's modern edge, felt down to the tiniest detail, became a beautiful respite from the storm.
Pelagia Remains one of the areas best Romantic Restaurants in Tampa
No doubt cabin fever had much to do with the massive traffic as a multitude of cars stalked dry parking spots at The Plaza. Self-parking in Marriott's free parking to the north of the Renaissance, (Valet parking is validated while dining at Pelagia) I arrived early, so I explored the hotel.
Brenden spent his first day at Pelagia during Thanksgiving service back in 2012. The driving force behind this brilliant new date night menu Brenden said, "Many dishes on this menu are personal favorites or chosen in collaboration with Chef Brett Gardiner as some of Pelagia's most unique dishes."
With Brenden as a third, we began with the Appetizers. Our delightful servers Cindy Smith and Ronnie Baquero brought all three full portions, to the table. Realizing these were not tasting sized plates, but ample appetizers, I asked Brenden about the portions. He confirmed the menu consists of full-sized servings, the Four-Course Dinner for Two is not a cut-down version of regular menu dishes, you get full portions of each course with this dinner. My eyes boggled at the size of the crab cake! Easily shared by two all three appy’s are the perfect amuse bouche’.
First-Course / The Appetizers (Choose One to Share)The Meatball topped with house-made ricotta cheese simmers in an authentic Italian marina for minimum two-and-half hours. It was soft, delicate and packed with flavor. I tasted a hint of garlic, plenty of basil and relished the house-made ricotta! Super creamy the sourness of the ricotta blended well with the acidity of the marina. The dollop atop the meatball heightened this delicious dish!
This Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, swimming in a hearty tomato jam plated with a tarragon aioli will delight you! Tightly packed pieces of jumbo lump crab are lightly pan fried, fresh, not fishy, this is the BEST crab cake I have had anywhere, including the Chesapeake Bay! The presentation is stunning, the photos do not do justice to how tall the appetizer is, the pieces of crab were jumbo, and there is a bare minimum of breading to hold this world-class date night appetizer for two together.
Curious to see the Calamari Fritti Brenden described as, “My favorite dish, the calamari are ‘steaks,’ not rings and tentacles like you are used to seeing,” I was surprised at the size of the pieces. The breading was light, crispy and not oily, the squid, soft and tasty. Served with a spicy tomato pizzaiola sauce, it was easy to see why this is Brenden’s favorite. Mine was the Crab Cake, Jose’ chose the meatball.
Next Couse, the salads. Brenden explained one of them is meant to be eaten with your hands! Dying to try this I could not wait for the salads to arrive!
Second-Course / The Salads (Choose one per Guest)Meant to be eaten with your hands, the Grilled Caesar Fonduta was my favorite of the salad course choices. Lightly oiled the grilled baby Romaine lettuce remained crispy, served with fresh baked Parmesan Focaccia triangles, shaved Parmesan Reggiano cheese, and a house-made Caesar dressing I would put up against anyone, this salad was executed beautifully. Brenden shared, “I’ve learned how to make this at home, it's another of my favorites,” A dramatic and tasty take on the standard Caesar salad I too will be experimenting with this dish in my home.
Jose chose the Baby Mesclun Greens as his favorite salad. Tender greens paired with roasted peppers, and heirloom tomatoes this salad is dressed with a smooth fig balsamic vinaigrette that allows the flavor of the luscious heirloom tomatoes to shine through. Not too heavy it was light and refreshing.
Nearly full, Chef Brett checked in on us as we discussed entrees. We decided to order three of the four choices, the Squid Ink Linguini, Grilled Black Grouper and Braised Lamb Shank, preceding the Beef Tenderloin with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes, sautéed spinach and a Chianti reduction. (I know, crazy right, next time!)
Third-Course / The Entrées (Choose one per guest)I chose the Squid Ink Linguini wanting to see the presentation of delicate white shellfish against a striking black pasta. The seared scallops were cooked perfectly; the shrimp were large, the dish, topped with lump crab meat was light and juicy. I noted a hint of citrus coming through, Brenden explained, “Chef puts a bit of orange zest in this dish to brighten it.” He succeeded!
Jose chose the Braised Lamb Shank resting on a bed of Haricots Vert and bright, fragrant saffron seasoned Risotto with a lemony/garlic gremolata. Falling off the bone, we easily removed it leaving tender, melt in your mouth lamb. Perfectly seasoned, the chef brought out the full flavor of this oft times underappreciated cut of meat. I savored this dish; it was impressive.
Brenden chose the Grilled Black Grouper. This full dinner portion of thick, moist grilled grouper sits atop celery root puree and asparagus, napped with a lemon caper butter sauce, this was my favorite entrée. (I already pulled a recipe for celery root puree, though it will not come near the level of perfection demonstrated by Chef Brett, it is a recipe I will do time and again.) Jose chose this as his favorite entree too.
Wanting to save room for dessert we passed on sampling the Grilled Filet of Beef, determined to order the dish at our next visits with family and friends. We shared the three entrées we ordered, something we encourage you to do when you go. Each dish is unique in its presentation, and because Pelagia Trattoria does not skimp on the portions of this Four-Course Dinner for Two sharing is comfortable with this menu! Next up, dessert! My favorite part of any meal!
Fourth-Course / The Desserts (Choose one to share)A confirmed chocoholic, I loved the decadent richness of the Godiva Chocolate Pyramid. Paired with a scoop of ice cold Pistachio gelato and an almond tuile, this dessert is in perfect balance. I was surprised, however, despite my proclivity for anything chocolate, the Apple Tart a la Mode, was my fave!
Layers of crispy thin phyllo dough and vanilla gelato swimming in a sublime rosemary infused caramel sauce; the tart was Jose's favorite too! Brenden chose the Godiva dessert, but honestly, both were exceptional ways to end a perfect service!
From the crisp white linens to the sparkling blue atmosphere, Pelagia Trattoria at The Renaissance does everything well. Their four-course dinner for two is price fixe at $100 with tax and an 18% gratuity and the best part; it does not have to be a date night! Any two will do, father-daughter, girlfriends, moms night out, the possibilities are endless!
At the table, we discussed how difficult it is to dine out without spending more than $100 per couple, and we were not talking award-winning places either, you can quickly drop more than $100 at a run of the mill restaurant. Throughout service, like a myna bird on crack, I kept saying the same thing over and over, “I cannot believe you get ALL of this for $100, this is nuts!” Brenden admitted he expected Chef Brett to balk at the low-price, but he did not! Lucky for us!I encourage you to plan a Friday night date night dinner out in Tampa soon and include Pelagia's Friday Four-Course Dinner for Two in your plans. Your date, whoever it is, will be impressed! This dinner for two is worth every penny and more!
Pelagia has come a long way since the days of Hurricane Charley and become a closely held secret by many who dine weekly from Chef Brett’s wildly creative menus. It’s time you experienced what others already know, and what better way than with this distinctive Four-Course Dinner for Two at Pelagia Trattoria! Your table is waiting!