Restaurants in shopping centers are notorious for often having horrible reputations. That is probably because, majority of them are indeed horrible.
It may be because, customers already feel, awkward eating next door to ’doggy day care centers’ or sick from the overly potent, smell of sanitizer at the neighboring nail salon.
However, there is one rule to this exception and it is Pane Rustica in Tampa.
Last month, as I was down to my final, frozen lean cuisines…my friend’s parents conveniently, were in town and down to wine and dine us. We were celebrating my completely, corky friend Carol’s graduation. She told me we were dining at Pane Rustica, which has popped up on Tampa’s UrbanSpoon periodically (Spotted: Me=A restaurant nerd obsessed with researching these food establishments, before going). Immediately, I was excited to ditch my last lean cuisine for something edible…I mean flavorful…I mean fresh.
The inside of Pane Rustica is not something any ordinary, outsider would expect. When entering, I instantly noticed the extremely occupied big, bar and the perfectly appropriate, extravagant, hanging lights. All of the tables were nicely decorated with candles lit, setting a seductive mood. There was also a bakery counter full of pretty pastries, fresh-baked bread, and decadent deserts which are available for anyone looking to carry out or enjoy inside. They even offer about 8 different breads for sale including a peppery, Venetian Olive and smoky, Rustic Italian. If you are a pizza lover, (Shout out to Carol) you might also want to try a slice (or flatbread) right out of their stone deck oven.
After sitting for about 30 seconds the waiter approached us and introduced himself. When we confessed that we were Pane Rustica virgins, he explained his suggestions and gave his honest opinion. When I say honest, I mean it. He encouraged us to skip one of the most expensive specials that night, the “apparently not so fresh” monkfish ceviche. Shortly after a plate of warm crusty, bread and humus came and then went. Our starving, broke, deprived stomachs, embarrassingly inhaled it, in under 30 seconds. When we asked for more, he told us he would as soon as it comes out of the oven…no wonder the bread tasted so fresh.
When my Caesar Salad arrived it came just as I hoped… with giant anchovies scattered on top. My taste buds could not have been more excited. I love Caesar Salads and love anchovies! I don’t think anyone who does not like an anchovy can truly love a Caesar. It would be like if I someone loved a Croque-monsieur without cheese…what would be the point? It was genuinely one of the most delightful Caesars I ever ate. The long slices of romaine were fresh and crisp while the garlicy croutons added even more of a bite.
My small plate of Crab Cakes came as soon as I polished off my appetizer. There were 2 nicely sized cakes with cilantro lime butter, a bit of puréed avocado and bright mango salsa. The cakes were very moist and full of flavors, especially when paired with the offset sweetness from the salsa. My only complaint is that I would have enjoyed more avocado. The other entrees I tried, included the lemon coriander seared Scottish Salmon, and Lobster & King Crab saffron Ravioli. The salmon was cooked perfectly, plated with a celery root purée (there is nothing worse than overcooked fish…ok maybe overcooked steak). It was elegantly served on top of a light fennel, watercress, grapefruit salad in hazelnut vinaigrette. Now, how is that for an entree?
Now for the winning dish, I must say the Ravioli was as good it sounds. I mean you really cannot go wrong with King Crab. When you bite into this dish there are so many outstanding flavors such as the earthiness flavors rooting from the saffron and tarragon and smokiness from the roasted fennel and leeks. And if you thought the dish could not get any better with giant chunks of king crab, the sauce you’ll want to lick off your bowl is a lobster bisque. Yup, it just got that real.
Of course, I always try to save room for desert. And how could I have said no, when the waiter brought over a complimentary coffee cookie. I can still remember how heavenly it tasted. It was probably the best cookie I ever inhaled at any restaurant. The cookie tasted like it flew out of the oven because, it was so moist and had just the right amount of coffee. It was not overpowering like most coffee infused deserts. After, we all tore it apart we ordered another one ….and then tore that apart even quicker. My friend and I also just had to split their homemade gelato. We obviously ordered the peanut butter flavor since we are obsessed with anything involving the creamy, nutty, jar of goodness. I am so glad my friend forced me to order this…ok fine…she did not force me… Any gelato loving freak could easily, notice this was way better than Ciao Bella.
Overall, everything about this restaurant was beyond exceptional. Our server was at the flick of our wrists, the menu put a unique, tasty spin on standard Italian dishes and the atmosphere made me sad to leave.
Pane Rusticais one culinary landmark a Tampa native cannot miss.
It is a bit on the pricier side, but it’s well worth it-and practically everything is homemade there!
This is the ultimate hot spot for any date. If the candlelights and crafty cocktails won’t lure your lover in, then the fresh bread certainly will.