Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Bungalow

The Bungalow
2202 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa 33606

Mr. Darcy deliberately avoided going to The Bungalow until recently because 1). It was new and we believe in letting a place “settle” before casting our critical eye. 2). All of the local wanna-be foodies were descending upon the place in droves, falling over themselves while trying to force their witless brain-boxes into delivering a smart review. 3). The notion there may be two abysmal places in Tampa with “Bungalow” in the name was too disconcerting for a man of Mr. Darcy’s sensibilities.

So it came to be, with trepidation we met a dear friend for lunch at The Bungalow and within less than ten interminable minutes we wished we had remained stuck in the nonsensical traffic that plagues South Tampa. With no one to seat us, and standing longer than should be allowed even at a poorly run chain joint, we decided to situate ourselves. We selected one of the peculiarly high tables on the outside patio. A worn-down, frayed male server brushed past, we enquired if menus would be possible. Mr. Grumpy (we whimsically named the sweating, disheveled fellow) managed to return to our table with menus but of course no cutlery, place settings or the time to take our order for drinks. Eventually, Mr. Grumpy did return to our table and mouthed to no one in particular “Drinks?” One-word sentences can be useful we have found in the mountain villages of Uzbekistan but we believe a little out of place in Tampa Bay. Mr. Grumpy took our order without another word and grumped away. By now we had more than enough time to peruse the startlingly boring menu and decided we could safely predict the quality and presentation of whatever we dared to select. A perky waitress appeared with our drinks and proceeded to do the unforgivable by asking us “who was having what”. Another long period of no service allowed us to look around and study the fine building, definitely a classic example of early 20th century “Bungalow” architecture a generic descendant of the American Arts & Craft movement. Unfortunately, the clumsy, cheap and dull furnishings yet again perfectly illustrate the “lipstick on a pig” syndrome, only this time in reverse.

Bumping past once again came Mr. Grumpy so we requested he please take our order. Clearly intent on being economical with his charming verbiage, he did not say a word, only indicating he was ready by making a nodding gesture toward each of us. He scribbled furiously on his dog-eared pad, made a grunt and vanished. We ordered the following appetizers: Bungalow Guacamole and Chips, Smoked Fish Dip and Jerk Marinated Chicken Satay. Not one of these dishes could be remotely classed as enjoyable. For entrees we selected: Chili Marinated Salmon Salad, Mojo Marinated Pulled Pork and Florida Grouper. The salmon was dry, the pork too salty and the grouper bland. The napkins and cutlery arrived upon our request after the food was already on the table. Mr. Grumpy did not visit our table again, in order to settle our bill, we summoned the perky waitress. She half-heartedly attempted to encourage us to sample the Apple Pie, we declined and made a hasty exit into the snarling Kennedy traffic.

Of course, in order to be fair to write a review we have visited The Bungalow on subsequent occasions. Sad to report, our first visit was the most interesting. If we ignored the utter lack of discipline and training of the staff and the inexcusable disregard for taste and design in a beautiful structure, we are still left with the food. A reasonable description would be “standard beach bar eats”, nothing more. Evidently the owners agree and proudly promote the inclusion of over a dozen flat screens as a draw to The Bungalow. If you are looking for yet another sports bar that serves food then this may be your place. If you were anxiously longing for a new dinning experience to add to the sad list of possible contenders in Tampa Bay, The Bungalow is not one.

Food: Flat screen infused
Service: Flat out awful
Ambience: Flat

Thursday, November 6, 2008


2208 W Morrison, Tampa, FL

“One World Under Food” is the tag line and according to the verbiage on the website we are invited to “unwind and enjoy SideBern’s progressive, fresh choices of modern Mediterranean cuisine and savor flavors and textures that range from the exotic to the deliciously familiar created with seasonal ingredients and culinary influences from France, Italy, Spain and North Africa”. A fair enough description if it were not so contradictory. First of all SideBern’s is definitely not a place I would think of going to “unwind”. The dated interior design, despite the make-over a couple of years ago when they opened up the bar area, vanquished the high communal table and splashed on a curious hue of red paint is still deliberately cold and daunting. The bar, busy some nights with wannabes and South Tampa mucky mucks jockeying for position prevents a serious diner from completely relaxing as the noise level rises even in the far reaches of the brick walled dinning corridor. The once hip Kruder & Dorfmeister music loop does not help either. The speed-freak buzz in the place ensures the opposite of “unwinding.”

I do rather wish I had not read the bit about “modern Mediterranean cuisine”. I was quite comfortable believing the kitchen were constantly doing a sort of culinary William Burroughs cut-up technique with recipe books. In my innocence I humbly thought the glaringly mismatched ingredients and flavors were deliberate. I must stress the quality of those ingredients has never faltered on all of my many visits. Before and since the changing of the kitchen guard I have openly questioned just whom the SideBern’s food manipulators are attempting to woo with their carefully crafted creations. Not for a moment can it be the grand dames of South Tampa or the bling bling flashing hotties and their thick neck or wrinkled beaus who commandeer the bar; the dismal local “foodie” bloggers cannot afford to dine here more than once a year, so the model diner has to be the expense account crowd. As it should be of course, after all who wants to drop a couple of hundred bucks on meal you cannot comprehend with wine you’ve never heard of.

It was with an expense account Mr. R on a recent trip from London invited me to a Wednesday evening repast at SideBern’s with the intention of asking for my considered opinion on a new venture he was about to unveil in New York. Mr. R was staying in my guest suite, so we began our evening with my flawlessly mixed cocktail of blackcurrant vodka, crushed ice, home made lemonade, a dash of grenadine, shaken and served up with a sprig of fresh mint. As we finished our cocktails, Mr. R reminded me of the last time he was in Tampa and we went to SideBern’s on a Friday night. I had reserved a table for four in the main dinning room against the east wall. As we stepped into the room, the boisterous noise was foreboding, the bar crowd spilling exuberantly into the dinning room was frightening. I turned to the now startled Mr. R and asked if he was comfortable dinning under such conditions. His famous acid tongue went into overdrive; thankfully I could only hear every other profanity above the din. On this occasion my quick-witted dinner companion asked, “Are you trying to sooth my nerves before we enter that effing place again, dear boy?”

Perhaps the financial climate is affecting expense account diners and SideBern’s bar crowd? The place was only one quarter full, and it felt more sterile than ever. R and I settled down to peruse the menu carefully. The female waiter was charming, gracious and exceptionally professional even though she knows who I am and immediately recognized my guest. We ordered two glasses of Sancerre and the yellow fin tuna. The wine arrived courtesy of and delivered by the manager who correctly did not fuss over us and went on his way as the tuna arrived with surprising promptness. R and I agreed the portion was a little skimpy, the quality fine and the lemon oil overbearing. Our waitress appeared exactly at the right moment for us to order the veal sweetbreads and jumbo shrimp as she refilled our glasses with the sparkling water which I had not ordered but she knew I would. The sweetbreads and shrimp again, arrived promptly. Both dishes were adequate yet each would have improved by a refined hand at season shelf. We left half of each dish uneaten.

Mr. R was engrossed in explaining the new venture as the waitress stood by waiting to take our order for entrées. Seizing a moment between his breaths she deftly interrupted and took our order of quail, pork tenderloin and a bottle of Pauillac. R can become animated and excited as he talks, which he did on this occasion but his professional eye did not miss the fact that our wine took almost as long as our entrées to arrive. When the quail and pork dishes did appear on the table, R opinioned to anyone in earshot that the “effing kitchen must have effing fallen asleep for a while unless they have a farmyard out back and the bird and piggy are really effing fresh!”. The quail and pork were fresh but not quite just slaughtered. Mr. R and I were not pleased with the wild rice bread pudding accompanying the quail. Was it over cooked, competing with the fig stuffing? Something did not gel and spoilt what should have been an enjoyable dish. Too many things were happening on the same plate as the pork tenderloin. The overall effect was confusing although the tastes were delicious when separated. The Pauillac was sadly too cold.

And so to dessert. Mr. R and I understand why desserts are on menus and encourage restaurants to always offer at least a couple selections but there was nothing on the menu that could tempt us so we opted for the cheese selection. We chose a Ticklemore goatmilk, Butler’s Blacksticks blue and a Sottocenere semi hard accompanied by two glasses of Old Vine Shiraz from Australia. The cheese and wine arrived simultaneously, within five minutes, thankfully abating Mr. R’s potential effing if they hadn’t. The cheeses were delicious and awarded not only top marks by both of us but Mr. R deemed them the best part of our meal. All the dedicated work in the kitchen should not go unnoticed yet why do I have the feeling that Mr. R and I are not alone in leaving licking our lips, savoring the excellent cheeses and nothing else?

Food: So many ideas and it shows
Service: So well trained and it shows
Ambience: So dated and it shows

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Bungalow Bistro

Bungalow Bistro
5137 N. Florida Ave, Tampa FL 33603

The location of Bungalow Bistro is for Tampa, kind of daring. We all know those who have invested in Seminole Heights consider it “the only place to live”. Yet Seminole Heights is lacking even dismal chain eateries, let alone a modicum of wannabe indies. OK, there is the always-busy pizza joint down the block but that sadly proves my consistent argument that Tampanians obviously do not care about quality when dining out.

The owners of Bungalow Bistro make a rather big deal about being in Seminole Heights and announce their restaurant to be housed in “our restored 1920’s casual-yet-elegant bungalow”. The baroque verbiage goes into overdrive when describing the eats, “a gourmet gem, feast on Euro-American inspired creations and homemade daily specials made generously with the freshest seasonal ingredients”. My mind will conjure up all types of tricks when presented with descriptions such as these, “A gourmet gem”, ah, yes; tiny, shiny and so hard it will break your teeth. “Euro-American inspired creations”, perfectly schizophrenic which must explain the Vietnamese Summer Rolls. “Made generously” as opposed to stingy mean spirited offerings. “Freshest seasonal ingredients” when just “fresh” won’t do! But honestly, the best incongruous description has to be “casual-yet-elegant”. They should of course add a byline that reads, “if you know what we mean by casual and elegant”. No! I do not know what you mean. My idea of casual does not share a dinning room with my notion of elegant. Dear Bungalow people, I know you mean well but your descriptions need a make over.

While you’re at it, give the whole place a make over. You tried hard it would seem to make the place attractive on the outside. Shame about the color choices but not everyone has my expert and cultured eye. Stepping inside, even you dear Bungalow folks know it needs work. The Coke machine dominates the view and is even more obtrusive if you happen to be seated near it. The faux Victoriana curtains show what may be a secret disdain for the restored 1920’s architecture along with the unfortunate artwork randomly gracing the dull walls.

On the occasions I have been to the Bungalow, the service has been friendly yet erratically confused; not overtly attentive or appallingly unprofessional. Unfortunately on one occasion a forlorn waitress was required to explain why she had not presented a wine list. “Well we just got wine in, we just had a busy night, and we almost sold out” she said breathlessly, no doubt hoping I would accept her explanation and order ice tea like almost all the other customers. Instead I asked what was available. This meant the embarrassed server had to return into the depths of the noisy kitchen and grab a clue, any clue about the restaurant’s current wine selection. I could see by her pained expression when she returned to the table that this was not going to very promising, so I ordered a bottle of the first “rubbish wine” she recited with a grimace. Presently she bought only two glasses of plonk, which proved to be adequate because my description “rubbish” did not do this red swill justice. It was rubbish “rubbish”.

And so to “Feast on “Euro-American inspired creations and homemade daily specials made generously with the freshest seasonal ingredients”. On my first visit I did avoid asking what exactly is “Euro-American”, (inspired or otherwise). Remaining ignorant of such a style of cuisine on my second visit, I did begin to ask the server but gave up when I saw she was completely out of her depth in describing that evening’s specials. Pita Wraps do seem to be a giveaway as to the serious intent of any kitchen. Here they do the job extremely well. The Falafel I ordered although certainly not nearly as remarkable as those I dream about from a stall in downtown Haifa, was remarkably honest in it’s ingredients and quality. My Middle Eastern palette was not disappointed either by the Hummus Assortment. Oddly, there was far more Pita than needed. The salads are average, no standouts or surprises and certainly not “inspired creations”.

“Soups!” My dear friend the acid-tongued Mr. GR declared at a notable meal we were enjoying in Paris when I posed the question “How do you tell if a kitchen is earnest?” GR went onto explain that he believes if a restaurant can concoct a fabulous soup then they are capable of creating a gastronomic feast. I have tried only one soup at Bungalow Bistro, French Onion. It was not great, a tad too salty and surprisingly greasy. Yes the soup did not quite live up to GR’s maxim. Although other dishes at this bistro are not awful, some far from it, but they are (again) hardly “inspired creations”. The burgers are workman-like and most notably, reasonably priced. Somewhat short on flavor and of course I abhor the use of ketchup or cheap mustard. A quick aside is needed here: why in the world do restaurants from chains to independents insist on using cheap little plastic containers for condiments and then placing them directly on the food? This is a gross, disgusting practice and should be outlawed. Moreover, it’s completely unhygienic! And don’t get me started about the aesthetics of squat plastic tubs of sickly neon-colored goo vying for my attention on what could be a decent dish!

If there is an option, instead of fries, most likely I will choose it unless I can be assured the fries are hand-cut and freshly plucked from clean oil. I chose the roasted potatoes to go with my burger. I tried one of these sad disgruntled morsels and that was enough to allow the rest to be unceremoniously dumped later into the waste bin (which happened to be in full view of my part of the dining room). I telephoned my acquaintance the noted French chef Mr. B. in New York for an opinion of the following description from the Bungalow’s dinner menu: “Andouilla Studded Tender Steak, grilled marinated shoulder tender stuffed with andouilla(sic) sausage, garlic mashed potatoes, red wine demi and topped with hollandaise sauce”. From the other end of the line I heard a long exasperated sigh and then “What!? What!? Is this a joke? Demi? Demi what? Demi Moore? Demi! Demi and hollandaise!? Is this a joke?” He did not hang up but was certainly irked that I had bothered him with such nonsense. “It’s Euro-American” I suggested. “It’s hideous my friend!” snapped the unsettled Mr. B. I trust Mr. B.’s opinion and I did not and will not try steak with “red wine demi topped with hollandaise

The desserts at Bungalow Bistro remain a mystery to me because the last time I was there finishing my entrée I felt an urge to leave quickly after witnessing a scruffy man with unbelievably filthy sneakers count out paper money over the serving area.

Food: could do better
Service: could improve with experience
Ambience: could be out of the question