When you first enter O’Bistro you can’t help but notice the striking black and white bar. The entire left wall glows, anchored by two giant white “O”s showcasing the spirits that are one of the restaurant’s trademarks. In addition to being a great neighborhood hangout, this is a very proud martini bar.
O’Bistro offers 20 different specialty cocktails to be served in the iconic glass that, once upon a time, was reserved for gin, vermouth, and olives. But alas, as Mad Men reminds us, a lot has changed since the 1960s. Even James Bond, who has been enjoying this ubiquitous drink “shaken, not stirred” for 50 years, would be impressed at the full range of upscale choices O’Bistro has on-site. I count 19 gin/vodka luxury call brands on hand for more traditional martinis — not including the flavored vodkas that are now in vogue.
If you manage to make it past the seductive call of the bar without a martini detour, you notice that black is a hallmark of the design scheme. Heading toward the main dining room you pass a black hallway leading to the restrooms that features a trio of huge modernist paintings worshiping artichokes as Andy Warhol did Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup. Then, you enter the black dining room lined with gold booths on each side. A row of tables bisects the booths and leads the eye to a huge gold-framed still life of beautiful Florida oranges hovering over a blond wood buffet lined with sparkling stemware. There’s a glowing chandelier and enough pendant lights to keep the room bright. Ultimately, it’s an enjoyable dining space.
The soups and starters feature tasty versions of the usual suspects: quesadillas, caprese, tuna sashimi, calamari, and tomato-basil bisque. The chef’s imprint on jumbo lump crab cakes is a cool chive creme and a spicy red chili aioli. There’s also a soup du jour, and my crab bisque is delightful.
The dinner menu is split between a few selective meat, fish, pasta, entree salads and O’Bistro’s “Grill” and “Signature” collections of gourmet burgers (including lamb, bison and turkey), creative panini, and spins on deli favorites. There’s a patty melt with short ribs, a BLT with salmon, and pulled pork sauced with pomegranate.
The flat iron steak is 12oz. of marinated bliss; a rare cut from the shoulder blade that’s full of flavor; the cipollini onion, roasted potato, and Cabernet demi-glace make for a mouth-watering garnish. The tender Tuscan style pot roast has short ribs braised in chianti with a touch of horseradish, caramelized shallots and carrots. The seafood crepes wrap around a tasty sauté of shrimp, scallops, jumbo lump crab and wild mushrooms in a creamy white-wine spiked béchamel. If the white sauce is a bit thin, it’s still delicious and accompanied by perfect al dente green beans.
The pecan crusted chicken salad is big enough for dinner and tomorrow’s lunch. Slices of a huge pounded golden brown chicken breast top mixed greens, ripe tomatoes, crisp cucumber and Belgian endive dressed in a sweet-and-sour honey Dijon vinaigrette and sprinkled with sweet sun-dried cranberries.
The hand-pattied ground lamb burger sits on a beautifully toasted bun with vine-ripened tomatoes, shaved red onions and red leaf lettuce. For a buck, you can add feta cheese to go along with the cool Greek tzatziki sauce. All the sandwiches come with a choice of delectable sides from soup to salad. It would be a mistake to miss the crisp eggplant fries with a chunky marinara. Perfect for the lamb and evoking thoughts of Santorini.
If you’re more in a New York frame of mind, you can’t go wrong with the Reuben. O’Bistro’s version piles on the layers of corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese that is lusciously gooey as it comes off the grill. It’s a touch of Brooklyn in St. Pete.
When it’s time to feed the sweet tooth, your choices branch out beyond carrot cake and crème brûlée. A salted caramel cream puff features a crisp, ice cream-stuffed profiterole drizzled with plenty of goopy salted caramel. The chocolate Kahlúa mousse torte is a creamy, dreamy slice of chocolate with a hint of coffee. What’s not to love?
The wine list isn’t large, but it is well diversified and features lots of terrific wines by the glass. More importantly, O’Bistro has an alliance with Milbrandt Vineyards, a boutique Washington State winery, offering six different varietals at $22 a bottle or six dollars a glass — a real bargain for this well-crafted vino.
The servers are friendly, attentive and eager to please, but at a recent lunch, the kitchen was slow to get the orders out for our table of six, something that never seemed a problem at dinner service. If you’re open to an early bird bargain, there’s a three-course prix fixe for $14.95 with a Milbrandt varietal glass for only $5.00. Perfect before a night out at the theatre; after all, freeFall and American Stage are just down the street.
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