There’s a whole lot going on in the mind of Fabrizio Schenardi. He spends most of his time trying to introduce the marvels northwestern Italy to his guests at Renaissance Tampa’s Pelagia Trattoria. It’s northeastern Italy, Livorno to be exact. Unlike dinner chefs who dazzle brightly each evening, Fabrizio’s a three-tricks-everyday-pony, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Each new season means new menu time, and this year Schenardi works with three new associates: Christian Passath, Director of Restaurants for Renaissance Tampa Hotel, International Plaza. A native of Austria, he adds a new dimension to European flavor elegance at the Trattoria. Micah A. Haen ably joins as new sous chef and Daniel M. Goldich, is new banquet manager. With him comes a new banquet menu, complete with an exciting look featuring flamed presentations for group dining pleasure.
The first new menu, already out, is the Express Lunch. In it Fabrizio creates a fast track, just under ten-dollar luncheon for the time-challenged, and it promises speed and a choice of six selections including soda or brewed iced tea. New Express lunch menus will be issued frequently. Chef makes no apology for his Philly Steak sans Cheese Whiz. He’s used the very tender Bavette beef in a wrap, a cut only your closest butcher would suggest, the onions are understated for maximum digestive benefit, and the cheese is pure Mozzarella. The Panini selection includes the Italian Cured Meats: Salami, Prosciutto and Mortadella, dressed with a tangy green Tomato-Basil combination pesto. Mozarella, too. Soup of the Day with a Caprese Salad is another hit.
This leaves three more menus to come very, very soon. If you have a bit of time, look like a good sport, and sit in close proximinity at breakfast, chances are you might get to sample new ideas for upcoming menus. Recently those who had a bit of time, looked like good sports and sat in the right seats got to sample a proposed French Toast with Banana and Creamy Nutella; others, the Steak and Egg Pressed Panini. If you were really lucky, the torched Oatmeal Crème Brule with Dried Fruit might have come your way. Citrus Butters can turn up anytime for anyone.
New menus, new colleagues, new banquet service, all this accompanies the major sprucing of Pelagia’s Outside Patio, while inside the private dining room gets closed off for more privacy.
A Renaissance Hotels tradition is to have “walk-in” restaurants, accessible from the street. “About 80 percent of our customers have nothing to do with the hotel, Fabrizio explains. They come from South Tampa, Citrus Park, Westchase, Lutz, Brandon and Pinellas County. We have been very successful and lot of people love to come here. They don’t feel like they are in a hotel, it’s run like an independent restaurant, and that’s for three meals per day, that’s the beauty of this place,” says Schednadi. “Now we have been open for a little over three years, and they come for breakfast, then you see them for dinner, or they come for lunch. It’s strange. There are people who come here like three or four times a week. They bring their company for breakfast on weekends. It’s become more like a family than anything else, that’s the good part.”
The highly successful appetizer menu, “Stuzzichinis,” probabably won’t change much. He intends to keep the combos option, “We have appetizer platter: Almonds done the Spanish way, keep on the skin, mix with eggwhite and sea salt, then bake at 400-degrees for fifteen minutes. They are beautiful!” He explains the Pick-Four. “Like the octopus, like the Manchego cheese with honeycomb, the stuffed olives, the bagette with the oven-dried tomato and pesto, and you can choose from ten choices. The small salami, the olives, people love sharing them,” he continues. His octopus is very popular, so are his Mussels with Hot Mergeza Sausage and crisp bread for dipping in its savory sauce.
A new fish on the menu will be the Tripletail from South Florida. This fish with firm, white flesh is considered by many to be as good as red snapper or grouper. Tripletails can run as large as 42 pounds.
As he thinks aloud about the new dinner menu, Fabrizio mentions more game will be offered, and they will bake more unusual cheeses, not just the Bries of this world. “Our wine is changing, too. People like changes, so we are looking into other Italian red wines,” he reports. “We are testing them, looking at the Chiantis and the Barberas (his favorite.) Barbera is like the unknown pretty boy on the block!” he grins.
Lastly, he brings up desserts in the works. He knows their Flourless Lemon Tart will be popular. “We use almond flour, lemon, and I cook with a blended egg yolk, very little sugar, egg white and we bake them. They are very light, and there is no butter or sugar in them.” Then he mentions the Apple Tart where he uses Italian shortbread instead of philo dough. They will also offer a very chocolaty Chocolate Cake also a Coffee Cake. New desserts will rotate weekly.
Controversial Grappa regains popularity in the States: Chef Schedardi will purchase wine-processed pomace, flavor it, then age it for around 60 days. He plans the following flavors: Coffee; Pear; Orange; Watermelon and Key Lime, plus Raspberry and Cinnamon. Mint and Honey Grappa will be ready for December celebrations. Grappa has been referred to as brutal, breathtaking and just plain “No thank you.” Others acquire its taste and enjoy it.
There’s new take-home treats, as well. Try Pelagia’s new Qualita Arabica Coffee, also their Grissini Italian Style Breadsticks.