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Berns


Stone
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I had a terrific meal last night at Bern's in Tampa. This is old-school dining. The restaurant is in an unassuming part of town that appears to be undergoing some gentrification (but what do I know, I'm just a tourist). Inside is a dark, heavily wooded room, replete with red velvet chairs and gilded statuettes on the walls. I at at the long bar, and it seems that everyone was a regular. Almost every person who walked in said hello to a patron and was bought a drink. The bartender, Kenny, was a centerpiece of activity, gossip and knowledge. It was a great experience.

The menu was quite large -- the steaks did not appear until page 17. Berns sells their cuts by thickness, offering suggestions for what thickness would feed what number of people. The next page offers a detailed "doneness" chart, explaining how the varying thicknesses will affect crust and pinkness. It was quite a tome.

The wine list was extensive, but I can't really speak to quality or price. They did, however, have a large selection of wines by the glass for $10 and under.

I decided on a 1 1/4" Delmonico (ribeye), medium rare. For about $44, this comes with soup, salad, veggies, potato and wonderful fried onions. Also, since I'm working hard on the heart-attack, I ordered a foie gras appetizer. Berns offers two styles, savory and sweet. When I saw that sweet came with pineapple, I chose savory.

The foie was excellent. A thick slice, seared (could have been better), served atop a small bed of oyster mushroom and toast, surrounded by a bold red-wine reduction. The foie was wonderfully creamy and flavorful.

The bowl of onion soup wasn't big but was very good. The broth was full of sweet onion flavor and not heavily reliant on salt. The onions on the bottom were chopped instead of sliced, but this made it easier to eat. It was topped with a slice of bread and gruyere that could have been crisped a bit more. On the side were a few slices of toast, gently sprinkled with parmesan.

The salad was a nice salad, the only part worth mentioning was the blue cheese. (But really, how many salads are worth mentioning?) Instead of a thick, creamy, mayonaise dressing with bits of cheese, this was the real stuff. Tangy from a copious amount of cheese and buttermilk. Really good.

The entree had the only two flaws of the evening. First, the steak. Although the piece of meat was beautiful, there wasn't enough char for me, and it was a bit overcooked. Definitiely a medium steak, and not medium rare. Interesting note, Berns trims off the "tail" of the ribeye (whatever that is), and replaces it with a slice of tenderloin. This offered a suprisingly noticeable and enjoyable difference in taste and texture. Other than being a bit overcooked, the meat was tender and delicious.

Second flaw was the wine -- a glass of Stags Leap cab that was served cold. I'm no wine afficionado, but the glass and the wine was quite chilled.

Sitting at the bar I met a great couple who own a Spanish place in town, La Septima Cafe. Ron is a big smoker, and we had a great conversation about pork, brisket and ribs. He also touted Berns practice of not using heavy smoke when cooking their steaks. Unlike other steakhouses in town, Berns' steaks do not come out tasting of oak. Also, Bern believed that steak should taste like steak and, until his death last year, the restaurant did not serve any sauces on the meat. (They now boast 14.) Ron and his wife ordered the ceaser salad -- excellently prepared at the bar by Kenny, and two huge lobsters.

It was a terrific night. Now, I'm actually looking forward to my next business trip to this land of strip malls.

Edited by Stone (log)
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The wine list was extensive, but I can't really speak to quality or price. They did, however, have a large selection of wines by the glass for $10 and under.

...

Second flaw was the wine -- a glass of Stags Leap cab that was served cold. I'm no wine afficionado, but the glass and the wine was quite chilled.

I've never eaten there (though I'm dying to!), but the Bern's wine list is arguably the best in the country. Todd Wernstrom wrote about it in Carafe recently.

As for the wine, it is certainly said that restaurants often serve their red wines too warm. As one newspaper critic pointed out to me, "room temperature in France is not room temperature here." A number of savvy gourmets (Karen MacNeil, Ed Behr) have mentioned that they'll occasionally ask for the red wine to be chilled, which inevitably leads to them being treated like rubes by the wait staff. (As a side note, it's often said that we drink our white wines too cold).

A thought about your steak's done-ness. I've noticed a number of restaurants that don't seem to take me seriously when I say "rare". I wonder if they are interpreting the American view of rare as medium-rare, and how accurate that is. I've taken to telling wait staff that I want the steak as rare as they feel comfortable making it. But you'd think one of the most famous steak houses in the country would take you at face value.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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I've been working in Tampa for a few weeks and everyone was raving about this place and I finally went there this last Monday. I live in Houston and eat a lot of steak and am pretty picky about delicious beef. I had the Porterhouse rare (warm) and was not impressed. It was not a very good cut of porterhouse and I agree about missing the char. The strip side had a lot of gristle but the filet side was pretty good. It was cooked perfectly, though. I did get one of the sauces on the side (I forget but it had red wine and mushrooms) and it was good but I wanted the beef to be tastier on its own.

I was very impressed by the blue cheese dressing and the house salad that comes with it. It was kind of a lot of food that is pre-chosen for you i(the onion soup, baked potato, onion rings, cheese crackers, etc) if you let them but I understand the old school charm. Service was very good. We had the "tour" of the kitchen and wine cellar afterwards. Wine cellar was amazing.

Had dessert upstairs, that is a pretty good novelty, a separate place for a separate check for the expensive desserts. I had port from their incredible menu of dessert wines, ports, brandies, etc. and actually had 2 desserts because I was so excited about something all-about-pistachios but the server said the best dessert was the macadamia nut ice cream. The pistachio dessert was a little lame but the macadamia nut ice cream was bowl-lickin' scrumptious!

I am willing to try it again (and plan to next week with some colleagues) but will not have the beef. I will try a fish dish and go a la carte with everything else.

If anyone has ever been in Arlington/Rossyln, VA this place reminded me A LOT of the Orleans House (decor, not food).

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I have not been to Bern's in about five years. On my last trip (which was one of four since the mid '80's) I once again left somewhat disappointed. Despite the passion when he was alive and the several hundred page wine list I simply do not believe that this is among America's best steak houses. It does not compare to Luger's, Sparks, Edmunds, OK's Boulevard or even Orlando's original Del Frisco's (not part of the Lone Star chain). The wine list, on all four visits, did not have a number of the wines that I requested. Most were rather obscure; even with studying it for 30 or more minutes I did not find a particular bargain. When I thought I had they were out of it.

A lot of style, a big presentation. Great desserts in the separate upstairs room. But for steak and for sides I think there is better, even nearby.

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  • 1 month later...

We've just returned from a busman's holiday in Tpa, and had to make a stop at Bern's. The service was visibly harried, and the food kept coming in such rapid waves that I was soon fighting the urge to reconnoiter about the byzantine array of grottos for the hidden Roman vomitorium.

If it were not homecoming weekend and I'd had the foresight to stem the tide of pre-chosen courses to try some of the more interesting a la carte items, I think I would have enjoyed it more. And that friggin' onion soup is heinous--don't let 'em do that to you if you go. The more youthfully-staffed Dessert bar was hilarious; by 11pm those poor kids could not have been less enthused to see us lemmings still trooping up the stairs for drinks and macadamia ice cream. ugh.

But the wine was great, the caesar was straight up bitchin', and the decor charmed the eye in an old Peter Cushing movie kind of way.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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