“What’s a five-syllable word starting with B?” queries the disembodied mouth.
It first appears through a big wooden retro door, as a small sliding panel opens. Then two darting eyes check out our party as I give the details of my reservation and report that the call with Ciro’s secret password never came. After a bit of nonsensical dialogue that could easily have been purloined from Lewis Carroll, the door slowly creaks open and we are allowed to enter the darkness.
But getting here is easier said than done. It’s simple enough to find the intersection where Howard Avenue meets the water at Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard. There’s even a convenient sign with a big red arrow pointing across the street toward the condo that houses Ciro’s on the ground floor. But I swear, after circling the building twice, I’d still be sitting there if we hadn’t run into a helpful resident who set us straight. It seems Ciro’s is more secretive than the papal conclave.
But now we’re inside and the void slowly comes into focus — revealing a dark mirrored wall that multiplies the hipsters and creates endless rows of colorful bottles behind a huge bar. We are quickly ushered down the narrow corridor and disappear into an intimate booth behind gauzy curtains. Welcome to the clandestine world of Ciro’s Speakeasy, CL Readers’ Choice for Best of the Bay craft cocktails.
As we settle into a private mirror-lined dining suite, our roaring ’20s transplant server takes us through the book of handcrafted Prohibition-era drinks that invite visitors to imbibe the spirit of the era. The cocktails take time to arrive, which reflects handcrafted care using vintage bar tools and freshly squeezed juices to mix classic libations. But, boy is it worth the wait. My companions are raving as they sip their selections, and my Old-Fashioned, a surprise since I said I’d accept the bartender’s choice, is as good as it gets.
The backlit “Supper Club” menu, which lights up like a refrigerator when it’s opened, features sophisticated cuisine designed to pass and share. My favorite plate features three perfectly seared diver scallops sitting on a yummy creamed corn casserole with luscious tomato prosecco cream to provide just the right touch of acidity.
The elegant escargot are wrapped in crisp, golden phyllo and served with a flavorful, seductive rosemary-walnut pesto butter dip.
Savory cheese fondue is a creamy mix of French gruyere, emmentaler and riesling with a few wild mushrooms. It’s an easy dish to share, with chunks of apple and crusty bread for dipping.
Unfortunately, it’s also the only dish we try that is disappointing. The cheese is too thin and one-dimensional; even a dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper would be an improvement. The wild mushrooms simply don’t register.
The same cannot be said for the slider trio; all three mini-burgers are packed with taste.
“Black and bleu juicy Lucy” tops the beef patty with caramelized balsamic onions and garlic aioli. “Pâté patty” stuffs the little burger with creamy pâté, then adds gruyere and a tangy bourbon Dijon mustard. Finally, the “Asian slider” comes with hoisin BBQ sauce, spicy Asian slaw for crunch, and blue cornmeal-fried shrimp. Each of the three sliders has a long skewer piercing its toasted golden brown bun. We use all three together to aid in dividing the slider into bite size pieces for consumption by our entire hungry secret cabal.
Ciro’s crostini trio also delivers plenty of exciting flavors. Toasted slivers of crusty bread are topped with three flavor combos: roasted sweet red bell pepper with salty anchovy and briny capers; curry spiced butternut squash hummus with a fried chickpea garnish; and rare seared beef perfectly complemented by creamy avocado, diced red onion, and a touch of fresh cilantro.
Lobster deviled eggs are light on the shellfish, but plenty of heat is provided by sriracha in the creamy yolk filling that is piped onto the egg white halves and topped with tiny dollops of caviar; grandma’s eggs were never like this.
Even though the foie gras’ sear is uneven, it’s still luscious and pairs well with a traditional sweet accompaniment, in this case strawberry marmalade. And the crisp grilled baguette provides welcome contrasting texture. “Please, sir, I want some more.”
The menu lists four desserts for sharing, but, alas, there is no Ybor bread pudding or vanilla cotton candy to be found, and we opt to skip the Valrhona chocolate fondue. So there’s only one choice left. While presented in an awkward stack, the Newcastle brown ale ice cream stuffed between buttermilk Belgium waffles, and topped with thin chocolate ganache and bacon nibs, is an odd but fun combo for adventuresome palates.
I’m in love with Ciro’s menu. It not only includes my favorite food groups of caviar, foie gras, and truffles, it’s also not afraid to add a bacon glaze or duck fat to transform carrots and fries. So while the sharing plates are sometimes hard to juggle in close quarters and the service is inconsistent, I can’t wait to return on my own dime. I guess it’s time to send my Great Gatsby suit to the cleaners.
Its amazing, how peple if we ca call it people, dedicate themself to write such…
saigon deli is the best one!
Here is a link to the new shot menu! Go grab some! http://bit.ly/16A7PlK
Not one for beer, I'll vouch for Eric the cook. I tend to get the…