Lately, I've had a dearth of material to write about; however, today I sit on the threshold of two out-of-town trips (one to New York City, another to the Bahamas on a Disney cruise) that will provide plenty of foodie fodder, so I thought it best to crank out this posting before my cup runneth over. Last Friday night, the missus and I decided to visit Haven Wine Bar in South Tampa, located at 2208 W. Morrison Avenue across the street from the Tiny Tap. If that description sounds vaguely familiar to you, you'd be right - up until about 9 months ago, the building housed SideBern's (the Laxler Family modern dining sibling to their flagship steakhouse) and Bern's Fine Wines, but has since morphed into a snappy wine and cocktail establishment featuring mostly small plates of gourmet grub (the wine store moved down Howard Avenue into the Epicurian Hotel, while the SideBern's concept was essentially made redundant by the opening of Elevage in that same complex). Our last trip to SideBern's about a year ago wasn't nearly as good as it had been the first time we tried it in November 2012, so it seems the time was right for the family to venture in a slightly different direction, and I can say that we like where Haven is headed so far.
From a decor standpoint, the dining room changed very little - it's still very cavernous and very dark. We were seated in a remote alcove that was even darker, and between my farsightedness and the lack of light, the menu could have been printed in Bulgarian for all I could tell. Luckily, our server was Johnny-on-the-spot with a mini-flashlight so we could make our drink and dining selections. I sipped on a pleasant gin and housemade tonic while perusing the impressive cheese list, 90-odd items long and probably the most extensive in the surrounding area (Mrs. H. had griped about the difficulty of getting a cheese plate at the old restaurant, so apparently they have taken our protests to heart). We opted for a pungent Wabash Cannonball goat cheese from Indiana (gotta support those Hoosiers), a Barbers 1833 Cheddar from Britain, an Italian sheep's milk Pecorino Ginepro, and a Berkshire Blue from Massachusetts, all very tasty and all paired very well with a side of rosemary almonds, apricot chutney, crostini, and a couple of slices of wild boar and cherry country pate (a little pricey, but worth it in the end)
The remainder of the menu is organized into "Snacks & Munchies", "Charcuterie", "Roots & Leaves", "Fins, Scales, & Shells", and "Hooves & Feathers", covering quite a bit of culinary ground and leaving us, frankly, a little dazed. With the help of our server, we managed to narrow down our choices as follows (please excuse the crap photos all around):
Chicken Pastrami with Pretzel Gnudi, Swiss Fondue, and Crispy Chicken Skin
King Crab Dumplings with Scallions, Shimeji Mushrooms, and Smoked Soy Broth
Whole Roasted Cauliflower Head with Shallots, Ginger, Ham, and Goat's Milk Beurre Noisette
As far as Tampa goes, we found these dishes to be among the very best of the local farm-to-table movement, certainly a good sign from the missteps that SideBern's appeared to be experiencing towards the end of its run. The only down note of the meal was dessert - we tried a plate of apple fritters with caramel sauce that was very ordinary (I daresay that Dunkin' Donuts usually has better fried dough). Soggy fritters notwithstanding, we'd be happy to return to Haven soon to try several more of the small plates, charcuterie, and cheeses (I'll be sure to bring my headlamp next time)...