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Tallahassee vicinity: ISO one great meal - Cypress, Liam's, or elsewhere?

  • m

So I actually lived in Tallahassee for 20 years, but apparently the restaurant scene has markedly changed (for the worse?). Correct me if I'm wrong, but I've heard that:

Albert's Provence - seriously downhill after Ughetto retired
Kool Beanz Cafe (was my favorite restaurant) - chef moved to S. Florida (although apparently Keith Baxter is still there - I could've sworn he was the one preparing the great meals I had there around 1999-2000).
Mozaik - was always to me in the shadow of Kool Beanz
Rubie Sky (new) - not really all that great
Food Glorious Food - thought it was a Kool Beanz copycat with less successful results, but haven't been since Kevin Stout of Andrew's Second Act fame joined the crew.
Chez Pierre - oh c'mon
Andrews 228 - why did they have to ruin Andrew's Second Act, the only restaurant in Tallahassee that had a classy white-linen atmosphere. The one time I went there, every dish was drenched in olive oil. It was peculiar.
Z. Bardhi's - was pretty good - how is it now?
Georgios - uninspired, cavernous menu
Sage Restaurant - never went there, but I liked it in its Mon Pere et Moi days

So considering ALL THAT...I'm bringing someone to Tallahassee who's never been to my fair city before, and I'd like to give her one "upscale" evening (we'll be doing Spring Creek Restaurant down at the coast and Market Diner in Thomasville to cover the other end of the spectrum). Is my better bet to go with Cypress, which seems promising in its creativity and use of local ingredients, or Liam's up in Thomasville? How does Avenue Sea in Apalachicola compare to an old standby that I used to love down there, Chef Eddie's Magnolia Grill?

Our standards (unfortunately?) have become fairly high after living out in the San Francisco Bay Area and now Raleigh/Durham, NC (which has an AWESOME slow-food local farmers restaurant movement to the extent that we've been called the "next great dining destination"), so please advise if you think we should save our wallet for another time and place. If so, we'll...I dunno...do Paradise Grill, the Chicken Santa Fe at Tally's Grill, or dare I say it, that heartburn-inducing siren-like spaghetti at Barnaby's.

P.S. I've seen this great previous thread: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/412109. Any new impressions?

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  1. Haven eaten at all these places multiple times, and sharing your opinions on most of them, I would suggest the following:
    top choice: Sage, without a doubt -- of the ones you mentioned. Two years ago I would have picked Albert's, but share your concern with his departure.
    Cypress ok but not as good as Sage and more expensive with smaller portions
    Kool Beanz -- still great food; reaasonable prices, nice portions, but loud and crowded.
    Your opinion on all the others was exactly same as mine.
    One wild card: new restaurant downtown, on Park Ave. where the police station once was, near the Doubletree..."Urbane" which is supposed similar to Cypress. Not been there but got good review from Ashby in yesterday's Democrat, for what that is worth.
    Top pick: still SAGE

    2 Replies
    1. re: steakman55

      My pick would be Cypress.
      There really is NO great upscale meal here. So sad! But, for my taste, Cypress is the closest you can come. Nice wine list there, too.

      I will be trying out Liam's next weekend and will post a follow up.

      1. re: jangita

        I actually went to Cypress way back when they first opened. At the time, It seemed to be heavily if not exclusively influenced by Caribbean tastes and techniques, very similar to Criolla's out in Grayton Beach. I just didn't care for it that much.

        The menu on the website now seems a lot more geared toward "nouveau Southern" with good dose of fresh local ingredients. Has the style indeed changed from its initial days?

        Looking forward to hearing your review of Liam's. Ashby Stiff pins it at 4 hats (tied with Carrabba's, Outback and Old Town Cafe!), but the man has long been perceived a joke in this household (Boston Market - 3 1/2 hats...uh huh...).

    2. Hey Mike,

      What a coincidence! I grew up in Tally too before moving up to the Triangle in 1993. My parents still live there so I visit a few times per year.

      Anyway, my friends told me of some places that haven't been mentioned. They both named Masa's Japanese Steakhouse as their favorite place for dinner. Great teriyaki steak and sushi they tell me.

      Bella Bella for good, reasonably priced Italian.

      Clusters & Hops: wine and cheese shop that also serves good food.

      They concurred that Cool Beanz and Cypress were good but that Cypress was pricey and forced upscale.

      Also, here is the Tally Democrat's recent review of Urbane: http://www.tallahassee.com/apps/pbcs....

      Lastly, I hear there is a new Chinese restaurant next to the round Holiday Inn where Ouy Lin used to be that serves excellent Peking duck, which they carve tableside.

      1. In my opinion, Clusters and Hops is the best. It's a small, intimate place, not great for a group. Don't be fooled by the facade-it's next to a matress store. My fiance and I eat there for pretty much all of our special occasions. For appetizers the eggplant lavosh is excellent, and the truffle macaroni and cheese is out of this world.

        I have had terrible experiences at Kool Beanz, from slow service to way overdone lamb. I've lived here less than 2 years, so I'd say it has gone downhill. It definitely does not have "upscale" ambiance in my opinion.

        Z.Bardhi's is generally pretty good, but food quality can be a little inconsistent.

        Haven't been to Sage, Liam's or Urbane yet. I agree with your sentiments on the other restaurants.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Ashlyn819

          Another vote for Cypress. Since Albert retired, this is the best, most consistent food in town. The only problem is that the menu doesn't change enough for those of us who eat there on a regular basis. For you, however, that should not be a prroblem.

          1. re: Ashlyn819

            Beware: Clusters and Hops = 4 hour dining "experience." And if you aren't fond of truffle oil or tables that accommodate more than 4, you may need to find another venue.

            1. re: mizrachi

              Thanks for the warning about truffle oils. As it turns out, my guest has a STRONG aversion to truffle oil.

          2. I agree with a lot of the recommendations. I would like to add Fusion Cafe. I have had nothing but wonderful food there. The martini bar next door is not recommended.

            1. Mike,

              Liam's and Avenue Sea are the only two restaurants on your list (or mine) that have consistently ranked above and beyond what Tallahassee restaurants seem able to offer.

              Miz