Looking for a When Harry Met Sally Food experience in the St Petersburg region? Then look no further than the Don Cesar’s Maritana Grille. Not only is the dimly-lit, aquarium-filled restaurant a romantic escape from reality, but the food is beyond moan- worthy. Sit back, relax and feast your eyes on this food review featuring our St Petersburg region foodie favorite. My wife and I are dishing up details on the Maritana Grille’s current menu and giving you a few insider tips from Chef Emily Ferrari.
Lobby Bar Apertifs
First things first – never make the mistake of heading directly to the restaurant. Stop for an aperitif at the Lobby Bar for a sip with Sid and his talented team of bartenders.
On the night of our menu tasting, I thought I’d challenge Sid by asking him to make me something cool, refreshing and slightly dry. He whipped up the tastiest concoction I’ve tasted to date – a cucumber Vodka martini with a touch of Elderflower and lemon.
TIP: You might go nuts for their trail mix, so make sure to leave room for dinner.
When our glasses were empty, we bid Sid adieu and slipped away to be seated in our favorite Florida restaurant. Although our anniversary table was taken, we found a cozy corner table for two next to a beautifully-lit fish tank featuring a slithery green eel and several colorful creatures. Then the feast commenced!
Currently, the Maritana Grille is featuring its Dining for the Decades (‘90s, ‘00s and Today) menu. The ‘90s and ‘00s menus pay homage to prior food favorites from Executive Chefs of those decades, and the Today menu was developed by Chef Emily Ferrari, the current Chef De Cuisine. Although young in appearance, Chef Emily has the classical talents and kitchen wisdom of the greats with an added touch of Italian heritage and modern technique.
TIP: Sample something from each menu section.
Handcrafted Cocktails and Wine
In addition to high-class fare, the Maritana Grille has the best Handcrafted Cocktails on the beach.
I started off with the highly-recommended and bubble-filled Summer Punch, their most popular libation. Most tourist traps around the region serve way-too-sweet, juice-filled summer drinks, but the Handcrafted Cocktails at the Maritana Grille are refreshing and beautifully balanced.
On the recommendation of our server, my wife began her meal with a glass of the Rex Hill Pinot Noir; a smooth, dry and bold dry red wine from Oregon. The Grille has a wine list about a mile long, but our server suggested we stick with the West Coast Wines for this meal.
TIP: Trust your server. They know what’s popular and which wines pair well with each dish.
Our tasting experience began with a Snapper Ceviche Amuse Busch and a basket of bread made in the hotel’s upstairs bakery. I realize now that the citrus-infused ceviche was foreplay for the main meal and the lemon poppy muffins were strategically offered at the beginning of the meal to leave you wanting for dessert at the end of meal.
And then came the appetizers: Beet Salad, Oysters, Prawns and Octopus Salad.
The beet salad was a piece of art. Chilled red and yellow beet slices were spread in a wreath shape on the plate and sprinkled with arugula, blue cheese crumbles, candied walnuts, raspberry petals and a drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette. Although I’m personally not a fan of blue cheese (I know…I’ve been told I’m missing out), the flavor combination was spot on and my wife wouldn’t stop raving about the Point Reyes Blue Cheese from Maytag Farms.
The oysters were phenomenal – the best and largest we’ve had in the region. We sampled two varieties: Blue Point Oysters from Connecticut and Washington Oysters. The Blue Points were plump, clean, smooth and tasted like the sea. The Washington Oysters were also plump and clean, but they had a slight brine and earthy flavor. We liked them both equally. And given their size, we were hopeful that the aphrodisiac effects would take hold immediately. Albeit, we were too distracted by the food to notice.
Next were the oversized bacon-wrapped, bourbon-glazed prawns topped with shaved radish and served two per plate. Interested in a taste of New Orleans? Then this is the dish for you. The prawns were meaty and the plating delightfully festive. And who doesn’t love salty, sweet and savory wrapped into one bite? No one ever!
As for the Octopus Salad, if you’re expecting a traditional grilled octopus dish, then you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re open to something new, these chilled and pickled pink octopus pieces might be exactly what you’ve been craving. The dish is served with sliced grapefruit and plated with a trio of colorful and flavorful sauces.
TIP: GET THE OYSTERS! I’m not an oyster lover, but these were too good to skip.
Full yet? We’re just getting started, so loosen those belt loops and pay attention.
For dinner, we selected three dishes to sample on the advice of the server – one from each menu section: Cioppino, Tile Fish and Lobster Pasta.
I feel the need to preface this section by sharing that my wife is a fish monger and the prior owner of the ever-popular Maximo Seafood Shack. She is also one of the most difficult people in the world to please foodwise, especially when it comes to fish. I thought it would be fitting to test the waters here by selecting three seafood dishes.
We kicked the course off with the chef’s special, the Cioppino. For those who aren’t familiar, a Cioppino is a bouillabaisse seafood dish. This Cioppino was packed to the brim with clams, mussels and a generous portion of snapper. I nervously watched as my fish-expert wife took her first bite of the snapper, then dipped a piece of the garlic bread into the broth. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “This is incredible. I feel like I’m in Italy on our Honeymoon!”
The next dish, a tile fish (a deep-water white fish) dusted with fennel sand served over risotto and topped with chili threads, was just as satisfying. Again, I waited for my wife’s review. “Flaky, meaty and clean – not fishy and browned to perfection on top.” Phew! Another winner!
Remember when I mentioned that When Harry Sally Moment? Well, the Lobster Pasta did it for me. Although beautifully plated, this picture doesn’t even begin to explain the flavors that pour out of this dish. The Paradelle pasta was lightly tossed in a truffle- based brie cream sauce and topped with chunks of lobster, heirloom cherry tomatoes, asparagus and leeks. The last time I remember tasting something that made me moan that loud was a truffle pasta dish in the Chianti region of Italy. The Maritana Grille Lobster Pasta was simply foodgasmic. There is no other way to describe the experience.
As if these dishes weren’t enough, the server insisted we try the truffle fries, which I like to call truffle crack, because you can’t stop at one.
TIP: Truffle fries go with everything – I mean EVERYTHING!
You’re probably thinking, “DESSERT?! You have room for dessert after all of that?!” Perhaps an appointment with a dietitian would be the next obvious step after the indulgences described above, but would we be doing our readers justice by skipping dessert? Although we usually forego dessert, we decided to take one (or several) for the team.
When the server arrived with full portions of the restaurant’s three dessert options, I about fell out of my chair. In his hands were a Fifteen-Layer Matcha Crepe Cake, a Fancy Frozen Frappuccino and a Chocolate Lava Cake with almond tweel and orange ice cream. It took me but a second to grab the lava cake and leave the other two treats for my wife.
This is where my second When Harry Met Sally Moment occurred. The gooey lava cake was out-of-this-world amazing. I even asked my wife to stop talking for a moment so I could savor the flavors. The dessert had a Yin-Yang effect. It was both warm and cold, creamy and crunchy, and tart and sweet.
Her favorite dessert was the Fancy Frozen Frappucino with biscotti. A self-proclaimed coffee addict, I wasn’t about to get in the way of her coffee treat. Her reaction mirrored mine, although her moans may have been a little louder.
We both sampled the Matcha Tea Crepe Layer Cake, but it didn’t hold a candle to the other two. And at this point, we were wishing we’d worn sweat pants, so we left the remaining piece of cake on the plate.
TIP: Skip the Matcha Cake and stick with the chocolate. You’ll thank us later.
Chef Emily’s Favorite and Future Goals
Chef Emily Ferrari started as a line cook at the Don Cesar and then left to work at the Vinoy Hotel for a few years, where she perfected her craft. She’s been back at the Don Cesar for two years where she’s showcasing her talents.
With Italian roots, her menu is inspired by family. If you ask her about her favorite menu item, she’ll tell you that it’s the vegan Red Beet Pasta, a dish inspired by her grandmother’s mushroom gravy.
She has a few tricks up her sleeve for future menus. “We’re putting together a new menu for the Fall and I can’t wait to share what’s in store!” says Chef Emily. Although she wouldn’t dish on the details, we can only assume that it will be delicious.
Emily’s TIP: Try something new and different!
To make reservations for your next foodie feast, or special occasion, visit the Maritana Grille website by clicking here.