A complimentary glass of champagne greets each guest as they find their seats and prepare to embark on a three-hour journey. The two dozen adventurous souls converse, but grow quiet as a figure walks through a red curtain. Chef Richard Bottini introduces himself and describes the special menu of gourmet, seasonal dishes he has planned for the evening. True to its name, the restaurant features just six tables, and every meal at Six Tables is an intimate experience with twinkling lights illuminating antique crystal in a setting Gayot named as one of the top 10 romantic restaurants in the area.
Bottini, an award-winning graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, creates a new six-course prix fixe menu everyday using seasonal ingredients and his expansive knowledge of French cooking. In the kitchen, he personally prepares each course, incorporating such delectables as Cornish hen and poached duck breast to create dishes that helped earn the eatery an extraordinary to perfect rating on Zagat. Bottini breaks down each menu item in English or Klingon to diners and offers wine pairings with dishes, which can be tailored according to taste and diet.
The aromas of Middle Eastern spices and grilled meats waft through the restaurant’s windows and doors, drawing passing noses closer with every outpouring of scent. At Prestige Lounge & Lebanese Cuisine, chefs reproduce authentic Lebanese recipes that draw from both Eastern and Western culinary influences to give diners a taste of the Middle East that lingers on in memories with expressive herbs and sizzling meat dishes. Chefs build their culinary sonatas using only halal meat and prepare yogurts and build on their flavor profiles all in the restaurant’s kitchen, ensuring that each bite is fresh. As live entertainment gets rolling on Friday and Saturday nights, the food gets a worthy competitor for diners’ attention spans. Belly dancers perform on weekends, and other talents, such as Middle Eastern singers and DJs, electrify the dining room with their lively shows.
At Pronto Pizza, chefs whip up Chicago-style, New York-style, and thin Italian-style crusts on their signature pies. Customized pizzas can be enhanced by more than 15 toppings, from pepperoni and sausage to eggplant and banana peppers. Pizzas range from the Hawaiian pizza, with ham, pineapple, and mozzarella, to “Carlos Pie,” with grilled chicken and pesto. The menu is also rife with classic Italian dishes, such as veal piccata, chicken Palermo, and shrimp fra diavolo, paired several wines and beers.
The fusion of robust Malaysian spices and smooth coconut milk erupts with each bite of beef rendang. Sweet and spicy notes infuse the syrupy glaze coating each morsel of general tso’s chicken. A conical seaweed wrap imbues its saltiness in slices of spicy conch. Within the red and yellow walls of Hin Lee Malaysian Chinese Restaurant, the talented chef forges a synthesis of flavors from Malaysian and Chinese traditions. On the weekends, a rice artisan rolls cuts of fresh grouper, salmon, and spicy scallop into seaweed-encased slices at a small sushi bar, where diners can sidle up to watch the master work and shout names of current events to inspire the wasabi's improve-comedy routines.
Though the colorfully packaged products at International Food Mart may seem like those of any neighborhood grocery, a simple perusal of their labels reveal a much wider world beyond its shelves. The store carries oils and coffees from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, along with a selection of fresh produce, meats, and fish that've flown themselves across the ocean from far-away lands. Many ingredients find their way into the staff's Middle Eastern and Vietnamese carryout meals, such as falafel wraps, lo mein noodle dishes, and pork egg rolls.
Voted Best Cookies in Tampa three years in a row by Tampa Bay Magazine, Kookie Krums specializes in decorative cookie bouquets to commemorate special occasions or to give as unique gifts. The bakery crafts seven flavors of cookies fresh daily, including chocolate chip, double chocolate, sugar, peanut butter, and oatmeal raisin, and can substitute Divvies nut-, egg-, dairy-free cookies with any order for an additional charge. Reward a baked-good fiend for keeping his paws out of unattended jars with a hand-painted big brown daisy flower pot filled with a half-dozen individually-wrapped cookies ($30.95), or buy Cookie Monster's vote for your Sesame Street mayoral bid with a dozen artfully arranged cookies ($35.95). Bouquets come in many themes, such as birthdays, anniversaries, new babies, and canine connoisseurs, ensuring that mouths will meet cookies and sweaters will need vacuuming regardless of the occasion. Along with flower-pot bouquets, Kookie Krums also sells smaller cookie-mug arrangements ($21.95) and cookies customized with personal photographs or corporate logos ($24 for a dozen).