Despite the unfortunate moniker — "gastro" sometimes conjures images that only tangentially relate to food — it's extremely satisfying to see that the Bay area has bought into the whole concept of the gastropub. Or "gastro lounge," in the case of St. Pete newcomer Tryst, on the Beach Drive bayfront.
And one look at Tryst will dispel any unfortunate imagery from your mind — the place is beautiful, a careful blend of Rococo finery and modern design that screams decadence. Despite that, you won't look for a velvet rope or grow concerned about your style. The layout is more inviting than exclusive, with plenty of outdoor seating at tables or in couches arranged for elegant conversation, as well as an exterior bar attached to the front of the building that wouldn't be out of place at an upscale beach spot.
Inside, one wall is covered in textured wallpaper intricately patterned with white swirls on silver, very fancy. A massive banquette reaches up that wall, upholstered in a rich metallic copper fabric studded with buttons, impressive grandeur in the somewhat small space.
Directly opposite that wall is the bar, with a a shimmering stone top translucent enough to glow slightly thanks to lights placed underneath. The wall is tiled in more metallic copper, edges glinting with warm red and yellow sparkles when it catches the light from dozens of slim pendant lamps dangling from the ceiling.
It could have been too much, if it wasn't for the rather basic accents in the rest of the place. The center of the room is taken up by simple black tables topped by woven black mats and sleek and modern black chairs, atop a floor covered in rectangular gray tiles. Beautiful, and done just right.
Tryst's food reflects the design of the place, blending a little decadence and elegance with comfort in the restaurant's limited menu. Regular nighttime offerings consist largely of dishes called appetizers, but are really small meals in their own right, and a few soups and salads. Tryst also offers a nightly list of a few bigger and more pricey entrees that try to hit the beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian food groups.
The tomato soup is served in a mug, topped by a fried basil leaf and paired with a few triangles of crusty whole grain bread. Thick and rich, it has the bright acidity and sweet overtones of good tomatoes but comes across as overly simple. Dip the bread and it improves considerably, but by itself the soup is boring after just a few spoonfuls. Better is the seasonal farmers' salad, chock full of fresh — and surprisingly ripe — vegetables and tossed with vibrant vinaigrette.
Tryst's carpaccio tends more to the decadent than comforting, thanks to truffled mustard that is more necessary than it should be since the beef is less seasoned than it should be. The charcuterie board consists largely of tasty but standard dried meats, alongside more mustards and a mix of excellent olives.
All of the regular items are well-executed enough and designed for both single diners and group sharing, but the nightly specials are where Tryst really shines — and where the classic gastro pub style of updated comfort food comes to the fore. A recent special of roast chicken accompanied by potatoes and a vegetable medley is the perfect example.
The chicken itself is the one off note on the plate, tender and juicy but very bland and covered in rubbery skin that never managed to crisp up in the oven. But the buttery sauce ladled over it goes a long way to remedying the lack of flavor, and once you try the fingerling potatoes alongside you'll have little time for the rest of the plate. Creamy, crisp and salty, with a hint of rosemary and what might be a dusting of cheese, they're perfect. As is the array of simply prepared vegetables — squash, green beans and more — also on the plate.
A New York strip managed all the extras with equal aplomb and upped the ante with the well-seasoned and crusty hunk of medium-rare beef. Of course, you're paying for that level of comfort (and those damn fine potatoes): while the appetizers tend toward the low teens, the specials can run into the $30 range.
But that's what makes gastro pubs — or gastro lounges — like Tryst so appealing. You can stop by with friends and nosh on some bites while enjoying the more than two-dozen beers on tap and credible wine selection, or you can have a nice meal that will satisfy your hunger and your desire for high-end cuisine.
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