As food and cocktail weeks go, the last few have been good ones. Traffic seems to have slowed, there are some open tables available at favorite restaurants, and you may even be able to snag a coveted downtown parking spot or two. And my days have been filled with ice-cold oysters, creative pop-up dinners and beet-infused tequila (more below--no laughing until you try this alcohol-laced version of a cup of borscht!).
Here's what else I've been eating and drinking.
A Five-Course Meal at Chef Louis Robinson's Spice Pop-Up
Monday night kicked off with the delightful Spice Pop-Up, a monthly supper club held in the space that houses Baker & Wife on Siesta Drive. You enter and the space looks familiar, but you know something fantastic is about to happen. At this event, we sipped lime gimlets and pinot noir and dined on blueberry-cured salmon, scorched cucumber, pickled blueberry and aji amarillo yogurt, as well as those luscious, briny oysters.
Spice Pop-Ups are comprised of a total of five courses; another outstanding course was a bowl of the largest steamed mussels I have ever encountered (and I hail from New England.) Served with roasted poblano cream, farmers market vegetables and glorious crusty bread from Glenn Family Bakery, I ditched my no-carb rule and slathered the bread with that flavorful sauce. And my guest, who is not a big fish eater, raved about another course: the wahoo ceviche with lemongrass and corn crunch.
I hope all foodies get a chance to experience one of Chef Louis's pop-ups. Just make sure to get your reservations early; even at the end of season, they tend to book up quickly.
New Cocktails at Jack Dusty
Meanwhile, over at Jack Dusty in the Ritz-Carlton, the new menu artwork alone sets the tone for the restaurant's gutsy new cocktails. Tattoo artist Ambarish Hendon, from Oddity Tattoo, is responsible for the images, which are placed next to descriptions for drinks like Sonic Bloom, with strawberry cordial, Camus cognac, pamplemousse rose, absinthe, lemon, Bitterman's Burlesque, Prosecco and elderflower. Sure, I had no idea what some of the ingredients are, either; but at the suggestion of Lyle Bullock, my favorite longtime server and a Jack Dusty specialist, I knew the new menu was going to be something special.
And since I love fresh beets in any form, I also opted for A Different Beet, comprised of beet-infused Suerte blanco tequila, lime juice and smoked salt syrup. Warning: they don’t taste strong, but two can pack a punch.
Order your drinks with a jar of the restaurant's new smoked fish spread. It may just be the best on the Suncoast, and it's served with simple water crackers so as not overpower the fantastic smoky flavor of the fish. And enjoy the whole experience on a couch outside, before the summer heat forces us indoors. The new cocktails are now available daily.