When we last ate at Bern's Steak House a few months ago, the missus and I couldn't help but notice the massive construction project going on across Howard Street from the restaurant. This was the highly-anticipated (at least by me) Epicurean Hotel, a food-themed venture conceived by the folks at Bern's combining boutique digs (137 rooms' worth, presumably to give patrons overserved on fine Red Bordeaux a nearby place to crash), a culinary classroom (the Epicurean "Theatre"), a spa, a new home for their wine/spirits business, a hip bakery (more on that in a bit), a rooftop bar, and, of course, a new eatery. Elevage (1207 S. Howard St.), which opened in December along with the rest of the hotel complex, is helmed by Sideburn's head chef Chad Johnson and is described as offering elevated comfort food from all corners of the globe, a place somewhere between the old-school steakhouse experience across the road and the innovative modern dining coming from M. Johnson's other kitchen. Although a few of the early reviews for the restaurant were less than stellar, the menu and concepts were intriguing enough for me to choose Elevage as the place to celebrate my (redacted)nd birthday last weekend.
Both the food and the service were taking some hits in the local foodie press, but none of this was immediately evident when we arrived for our 6:30 reservation (the hotel looks great, by the way). As I settled in with a pint of my new favorite beer, Lagunitas Censored Copper Ale, Mrs. Hackknife and I selected two appetizers to start, an antique flour sifter full of assorted housemade breads (baguette, rye, and something akin to toasted white bread) with strawberry butter and a rich jar of potted rabbit rillette (see photo below).
The rillette was a slurry of shredded rabbit meat cooked with foie gras mousse and garnished with cornichons/crostini, quite delicious, although the greens added to the pot made spreading a hindrance (I think they'd be better served just putting the greens on the side). Next up was our salads - I don't normally order Caesar, but the bottarga vinaigrette dressing sucked me in and this version was terrific, a collection of simple ingredients (lettuce, radish, dressing, croutons, and shaved parmesan) that absolutely sang together:
Mrs. Hackknife was also pleased with her traditional wedge salad, lettuce topped with Bay Blue cheese, bacon, cherry tomatoes, warm mustard/chive dressing, and a hard-boiled egg for good measure:
The entrees were a little on the pricey side, but spectacular nonetheless. I had eaten a burger for lunch that day and swore that I wouldn't get another for dinner; however, the Elevage "burger" is more of an experience not to be missed. Called "Duck, Duck, Goose" on the menu, the meat patty (served on a toasted brioche) is shredded duck meat formed around a core of foie gras and goose confit. I recall having a similar burger in Vegas at the now-departed Daniel Boulud Bistro in the Wynn, but this one was clearly superior, and I made sure to direct all of the dripping fowl juices onto the fries (waste not, want not), which were good and made better by the black currant ketchup.
Mrs. Hackknife ordered the lamb shoulder lasagna, shredded lamb mixed with chestnuts, spinach, tallegio cheese, Greek oregano, and housemade noodles. She was kind enough to share a bite with me and also let me have the leftovers for lunch a couple of days later.
At this point, we reached our one sour note of the meal. I ordered us a side of Tuscan kale to go with the entrees - I make a similar version of this at home with spinach instead of kale and it had a delicious flavor; unfortunately, the kale was undercooked to the point of nearly being inedible. We had to send it back and our server took it off the bill.
Instead of each ordering a separate dessert, we agreed to share a signature banana caramel tart and then wander over to Chocolate Pi for some sweets to-go. Pasty chef Kim Yelvington (who runs the show at Bern's Harry Waugh Dessert Room) manages both the dessert program at Elevage and oversees activities at Chocolate Pi. Evidently, she knows her craft well as the tart (paired with caramel sauce and Graham cracker powder) was great:
Chocolate Pi offers a number of French-themed treats (like macarons) and some that are not so French (like ice cream and homemade sodas). After much deliberation, we settled on a few macarons to bring home, specifically rose petal, salted caramel, blueberry-lemon, and pink velvet (cream cheese plus chocolate ganache). Not the best macarons ever, but definitely among the tops you'll find in this nook of the tropics.
At some point, I'll need to look into the cooking classes that the Epicurean has scheduled; until then, it's comforting to know that we now have more eating, drinking, and sleeping options if we ever find ourselves rudderless in South Tampa...