The Riviera comes to St. Pete 

A new supper club adds a touch of elegance to the beach dining scene.

Whenever I hear the word “Riviera,” my foodie brain immediately goes to the striking Mediterranean cuisine (and drop dead gorgeous scenery) of the Cinque Terre or Côte d’Azur. Likewise, the words “supper club” connote the elegant heyday of the 1920s and ’30s, when the ultimate night out put a dance band at the center of the dining experience. So the resurrection of the original Max and Sam’s space (not the more recent incarnation in Jungle Prada) and its transformation into the Riviera Supper Club is a cause for celebration; St. Pete Beach is not exactly ground zero for the pursuit of elegance.

Don’t be put off by the old backlit sign with moveable black letters that still scream “beach.” Instead, take in the new entry façade and the immediately inviting upscale interior replete with dark wood, golden stucco, Italian Mediterranean fixtures and crisp white linens topped with deep burgundy squares.

Elegant archways divide the dining rooms into intimate spaces; everything is designed to evoke the charm of a bygone era. A separate, rear dining room with a dance floor welcomes a band every weekend; the main dining room also features live music that adds a touch of pampering. Luckily, the excellent musicians understand that they provide atmosphere and play at a level that doesn’t compete with normal dinner conversation.

The menu touts an internationally inspired market fresh cuisine. The appetizers are presented as Riviera’s tasting plates that offer sophisticated options for every palette. There are roasted beets glazed with thyme-infused cider and honey accompanied by a goat cheese-braised leek combo, escargot en croute, and kebabs with a variety of meats and spices.

The house-cured salmon gravlax is thinly sliced and served with onion, capers, and crème fraîche; the texture is lush, but I’d like bolder flavor. There are many possible recipes used to cure salmon, but this one just seems bland.

There’s an eggplant roulade that wraps the thinly sliced, grilled veggie around a filling of ricotta and Parmesan layered with roasted red peppers and tomato chutney. It’s a lovely combination with a nice balance of flavor. The carpaccio of beef features thin slices of herb-crusted tenderloin barely seared and served with small dollops of ratatouille, olive tapenade, crumbled blue cheese, and shredded Parmesan. With plenty of beef and toasted crostini, it’s easily shared with your entire table.

The handsomely-plated entrées also offer a wide variety of choices, including a vegetarian Napoleon that includes organic udon noodles, and a flexible stir-fry of Asian vegetables with tofu, shrimp, chicken or pulled roast duck. There are also crab cakes, snapper, and romantic Chateaubriand for two.

Chicken Wellington is a spin on the culinary classic. Slow roasted white and dark chicken sits on a small piece of house pâté and crimini mushrooms, all wrapped in a flaky piece of golden brown puff pastry and accompanied by a tarragon cream sauce. The chicken itself seems bland and there’s too much pastry underneath — so much so that it becomes a soggy lump, which undermines the impression of the entire dish.

A piquant pair of tiny quail is stuffed with a tasty mix of spinach, figs and goat cheese, wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and slowly braised. While there’s plenty of flavor in the filling, quail are small so the overall effect is under seasoned. Even the bacon wrap doesn’t counterbalance the blandness.

And while the meat isn’t dry, brining would add needed flavor. Even the beurre blanc, which as a nice surprise the chef personally pours over the bird at your table, is lacking in punch. Usually a wine-vinegar reduction gives plenty of tang to this queen of French sauces; in this case, the stuffing is the star of a dish that’s not yet hitting on all cylinders.

A fine, creamy risotto and absolutely delicious fresh seasonal vegetables accompany both entrées. Crisp snow peas, shredded spaghetti squash, and thin turnip ribbons sautéed with shallots are outstanding.

There is no dessert menu, but the waiter happily describes the chocolate zebra, a layered parfait of ganache and cream, plus the Josephine, layers of homemade vanilla ice cream with puff pastry. We opt for the chocolate raspberry cake that is presented in two triangles back to back with layers out. Three thin, moist pieces of white cake are filled with a combo of chocolate and raspberry preserves and topped with a thin layer of sweet butter cream; it’s a yummy conclusion to the meal.

The service is attentive, but not as polished as you’d like for a restaurant of this ambition. And considering the number of patrons in the dining room, the kitchen seemed a tad slow in moving orders. The wine list has enough variety, but many selections are not in the cellar; hearing a recitation of what’s unavailable is a less than auspicious beginning. The attention to these details is important when you’re aiming for the upper echelons.

I salute the Riviera Supper Club for their aspirations; it’s clear that this fine dining locale is a welcome addition to the beach dining scene. My hope is that they’ll unleash the vision evident from the menu by unshackling their seasonings, and that they'll keep the level of finesse represented by their small Mom and Pop peers, e.g. The Black Pearl or Massimo’s, clearly in their sights.

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