It’s hot in Tampa this summer – nothing new. What is new this year is the hotel industry has suffered sharp declines in business as companies slash travel budgets. However, Jim Bartholomay, general manager, recently was able to announce Renaissance, Tampa, achieved “best performing” in the Renaissance chain. While the hotel needs to heed the economy, they don’t see this as a time to skimp on guests but rather ask if them if they wish to have certain premium touches. If they say they don’t use them, the hotel makes a saving, and these add up.
On the Renaissance’s lower level, Pelagia Trattoria’s popular chef, Fabrizio Schnardi feels things are humming right along, and they did not raise prices on this summer’s menu. However for the duration, fewer of them work harder behind the scenes to produce their highly-appreciated results.
Schenardi’s Trattoria is unique, and it’s refreshing to realize he and his staff make everything they serve right on the premises. This means they make their own sauces. – their marinades – the pasta –- the desserts, even their own grappa. Yes, everything except the wide variety of custom breads they serve. The hotel’s kitchen’s not large enough for a bread bakery.
New on the Lunch menu is Marinated White Anchovies. These marinate in lemon juice for 24 hours, are drained, then presented with a sprinkling of olive oil. The Bocconcini they marinate for two days in olive oil, rosemary, basil, a tiny bit of red pepper flakes and sun-dried tomato. Then they will serve it.
Fabrizio has put his own twist on Robert H. Cobb’s Cobb Salad. This salad was one of two main-course salads introduced back in the 1920s during Hollywood’s Brown Derby days. The other main course salad was the Caesar Salad. The Trattoria’s twist adds baby spinach, roasted bell peppers, olives and feta cheese. They substitute the traditional dressing with an orange one. Another new salad is the Warm Asi Tuna salad. It features large pieces of tuna seared quickly and served with fingerling potatoes, haricot verts and Fab’s romesco, made tarter for a special contrast.
There’s two new hearty sandwiches. One is the open-faced Milanese with Paprika Aioli. “People love it,” says Fabrizio. “It’s a pork loin, we slice it, flatten it, then bread it with crumbs, flour and eggs. The Aioli Sauce is paprika reduced with a little bit of white wine and some shallots, black pepper and a little mayonnaise. “It’s best when you eat some of the salad along with it,” chef urges. The bread is a rosemary and potato bread. Their other new sandwich, the Slowly-Braised Veal, is made from the shoulder of the veal. “We roast it very, very slowly for three hours. Then we shred it, add a little sauce and some freshly grated Fontina cheese which melts through it.” This seems one of his favorites.
He and the staff are serious about their polenta and Polenta Frites. “We use the highest grade polenta, the one that takes 40 minutes to cook,” he adds. “And I don’t use any milk, only water and olive oil, herbs and a little Parmesan, but not too much. Lots of times in the United States people add cream, but in real Italian cooking you really don’t do that.”
The whole kitchen would be in trouble if they dropped their Braised Mussels a la Provencal with Savory Merguez Sausage. It is so popular, it’s on both the luncheon menu and the dinner menu.
New appetizers on the Dinner menu are his Wild Mushroom Risotto Croquettes, also his Octopus cured with Garlic and Mint.
Grilled Black Grouper, done chef’s way, is with Marinated Eggplant and rather rare Celery Root Puree, topped with Lemon Caper Sauce. Celery root is more popular in Europe. Though it tastes like celery, celery root is also called celeriac and related to parsley, not to celery itself.
The new Salmon-Dusted with Mustard Seed and Thyme, comes with a Salmoriglio Emulsion and is served with Roasted Bell Pepper and Cipollini Onion. “The Salmoriglio emulsion is a classic sauce we make in Sicily,” explains Fabrizio, “to serve with grilled swordfish. It is olive oil, dried oregano, parsley, capers, lemon juice blended into an emulsion, then thinned a little with warm water.”
In the pasta section, “Pasta Fatta,” he calls it, they combine his Homemade Lemon Herb Tagliolini with a fresh, in-season tomato Crudaiola filled with succulent shrimp, mussels and white wine.
The thick, crisp Duck Breast with Fig-Port Sauce and a Roasted Zucchini-Tomato Tart, he believes, is quite original. “The tart is fresh, seasonal tomatoes and grated zucchini, very little flour, a little corn flour, no butter, mixed with milk and a couple of eggs. You need to taste the tart for yourself. I love it.” The marinated figs are steeped two days, then reduced in red and port wines.
Chef plans some short-term dinner specials so regulars won’t get tired of the Trattoria’s menu. “One will be a Trout, another will be Veal with Tuna Sauce. These are Italian classics,” he promises.
On the dessert menu a favorite offering is his semi-freddo, light and ice cream-like. He achieves this by delicately balancing sugar, water and heat just long enough to make it behave as he wants. New flavors this summer are passion fruit, also raspberry. He tops these with a strawberry and mint sauce, and a Croccontino biscuit.
Just to the left of the Trattoria’s open kitchen stands Fabrizio’s “grappa-ery.” The lower shelf contains his ever-new concoctions, grappas in progress. On this particular day there’s mohito, made with key lime, mint and sugar, also wild berry, blueberry and peach. Up top, ready to serve, are cranberry, honey vanilla, kiwi, cinnamon-clove-grapefruit and citrus sage.
There’s little doubt Fabrizio is a consummate chef when it comes to Italian food. However, when coerced by those who know him well, they get him to cook foods from all over the world. Recently he prepared dishes from: Sicily, France, Asia and the Pacific Rim to grace four elegant hospitality stations.
Ciao until the new winter menu …