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Nov 9, 2007 09:37 AM

Special Restaurants in Tampa area


I am bringing a convention to Tampa in early January, and I am seeking out a special experience in dining for our moderators dinner. The budget is upwards of $3000 for 20 people. I have done dinners in wine cellars, lighthouses, celebrity chef's restaurants in Las Vegas, and I am looking for the unique experience in Tampa.

First thought: a boat. Not as easy as you think and a bit of a wasted experience at 8:30 at night in winter. The hotel we are at has Armani's upstairs. Otherwise the perfect venue, but taking them upstairs at our hotel smacks of not really trying, doesn't it? lol.

The hotel that goes round at the airport....kinda 70's to me....maybe I am wrong.

Most expensive restaurant in town...just talked to them. They seem to equate expensive with special. I eat in NYC all the time. I am looking for something beyond a huge wine list (my people are not especially oenophiles and you can only drink a few) and expensive food to make the experience something you won't forget.

Any suggestions? Don't mean to sound whiny or critical of Tampa, just looking for that unique thing.



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  1. I guess if you want a uniquely Tampa experience you should check out the Columbia in Ybor City. If you search it on the Florida board you'll read mixed reviews but IMO they do large parties well. They have the space and are set up for it and the food and restaurant are uniquely "Tampa". That said, Armani's does a great job and I don't think you would get any complaints. I live here and we go stay there once or twice a year and enjoy the hotel and Armani's.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rhnault

      "They seem to equate expensive with special." I'm not sure what you mean - I would think if it were expensive, it had better be special! And if it's special, it's usually expensive.
      I have a feeling you're talking about Bern's - is that it? Because I would not underestimate them. In addition to that wine cellar, they also grow their own herbs, have a live fish tank, and age their beef on the premises. Their caviar selection (if you're into that) is second to none. Every president eats there. Your group would be large enough for a private dining room, and they also have a very interesting dessert room on the top floor. They give a fascinating kitchen tour upon request also. Only downside is that their executive chef just quit, but the Laxer family has been operating Bern's hands on forever, so that may not affect things.

      I would look into the chef's table at the Maritana Grille in the Don CeSar Resort in St. Pete Beach also. I have heard wonderful things, although I don't know if twenty diners is too many? Very beautiful resort with great architecture, and a walk on the beach before or after your meal is a great bonus (even at night!).

      I agree with rhnault about Armani's and the Columbia.

      Skip the airport Marriott - not special enough.

      One other thought: Savant in Clearwater. Although I haven't been, I have read fabulous reviews of this very small prix fixe restaurant - here is one by the former St. Pete Times food critic, a very good food critic IMO:

      Have fun deciding!

      1. re: joan

        It is Bern's and I think we got off on the wrong foot immediately, when the group sales rep told me that with that number, we'd have to have a private room (great, I would have asked if she hadn't said that) and that it would cost $300 over the cost of food and beverage. I said, but I'm going to spend upwards of $3000 and she was not impressed. I asked what that paid for and she said it justified not seating 7 other people in that room. It kinda fell apart from there.

        I agree fine dining = expensive, but I am looking for something wow over and above excellent food.....seating in wine cellar, chef's table, place cards with guest's name made of chocolate....I am making this up, but something more the food was great. I am looking for an unusual experience to offer them.

        I will check out Savant. Thanks so much!

    2. Besides the Columbia in Ybor City, my out of town business guests realoy enjoyed Byblos Mediterranean, ON MacDill Ave and Bay to Bya avenues in South Tampa. GREAT food, amazing atmosphere, unique belly dancer shows.

      1. Try Malio's in downtown Tampa. Everyone I know who has dined here recently (a re-opening of a Tampa institution) has been impressed. It's in what is known around these parts as the 'beercan building'.

        1. With all due respect, Byblos is NOT at the level you're seeking. In Tampa, you have three choices: Malio's, which is a fancy steakhouse in the end and nothing more; Bern's, which is a truly unique experience, especially if you include a brief tour of the wine cellar and restaurant, and the Columbia, which has so-so food, a faded, if authentic atmosphere, and a kind of cheesy floor show. Go with Bern's. You'll be happy.

          I can't excuse the attitude you received when you called, but you have to realize that they do large parties and big spenders at Bern's all the time--Tampa isn't Hooterville.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Miss E

            I don't have the answer for you on where to go, but I will advise NOT going to Bern's. I think you perceive it pretty well from your initial experience. The only thing that is good at Bern's is the piece of meat, the rest can be very disappointing. The live fish tank is bogus, the same fish has been swimming in it forever. That sort of tips off that the place exists solely on legacy.The service has always been good there as well, but it won't carry the day for your plans.

            Columbia is good but it wis going to fall short of your expectations, lik everything else I can think of around here.

            Going over to St Pete is a pretty long trek, need to budget in chartering a small bus for that to be enjoyable.

            Armani is probably a pretty good choice except it does seem weak to just get on the elevator.

            You might contact Grill 116 and see what they can do for you