I'm embarrassed. A self proclaimed foodie, it's expected that I've eaten at all of the award-winning and highly-regarded restaurants in town. I've failed you, friends. Until recently, I had never dined at Cafe Dufrain. Gasp...I know. I unintentionally waited so long, in fact, that I never feasted on the fare prepared by their former chef, Farrell Alvarez, who recently parted ways for a new culinary venture. Yet, I'm not exactly complaining. You see, Tampa's trendiest joint, Datz just sacrificed their much-adored chef, Jason Dame...and as luck would have it, Dufrain quickly snatched him in the process. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to get down on some of Dame's cooking in a new venue, and in a new light.
Located on the waterfront of Tampa's beautiful Harbour Island, the eclectic modern American restaurant boasts two features that are especially important to me. For one, Dufrain's menu is based on seasonal ingredients, ensuring that guests dine on the freshest and tastiest produce around. Even better, a whopping 75% of their menu is sustainable, organic, or locally grown. If you know anything about my cuisine preferences then you know how crucial organic and locally grown eating is in my life. Let's just say that Cafe Dufrain gets me. They really get me.
|Local Smoked Fish Rillette|
Celebrating their 10th anniversary and third major face lift (including a new menu and a new staff), there was no better time than now to finally visit the esteemed eatery. To truly capture Dufrain's ambiance and food, I chose to swing by for lunch and for dinner, just a few days apart. Arriving on a sweaty summer afternoon, my cousin, Samantha and I opted to skip dining al fresco. Once we walked into the contemporary decorated dining room, we were seated at a booth, next to their fun garage door-style windows. From the predominately France and Carolina wine list, I chose a Pinot Noir and began scanning the perfectly concise menu.
My cousin Sam has a freakishly amazing metabolism. I could go on and on about how unfair it is since we're the same age and related, but I'll spare you from my whining. Instead, I'll tell you about the fried and carb-loaded goods we indulged in thanks to her not so calorie conscious choices and my willingness to be agreeable for once. Out first was the Truffle Frites. Hand-cut, twice fried, and doused in truffle oil, these fries were stellar. Topped with a generous sprinkling of parmesan and with a side of chimmichurri aioli, we were falling in love with each and every bite. Fries don't get better than this.
Presented next was Local Smoked Fish Rillette. We were both wooed by this menu option. Served with kimchi pickles, oven-dried tomatoes, and sesame lavash, the presentation was delightful. Extremely fresh and not too powerful in the way of smokey flavor, the smoked fish spread was flawless. However, neither one of us were too keen on the overly seasoned pita chips that the spread was paired with. Surely I could've asked our friendly and accommodating server for a chip/cracker replacement. In hindsight, that's exactly what I should've done. Oh well, onto the next one...
Oh shrimp tacos, how my palate loves you so. Give me any seafood in taco form and chances are, I'll sing its praises. Not surprising, Dufrain's Local Shrimp Tacos called my name. I must say, I wish I would've known the shrimp would be fried. Damn. Not fretting too much over it, I snatched a taco filled with pickled veggies, lime habanero crema, cilantro sprigs, and pico de gallo. The crispy battered shrimp were tender and paired well with the creamy, kicked-up sour cream sauce. Not mind-blowing, the tacos were rather refreshing.
Satisfied with lunch at Dufrain, I felt eager to return for dinner. However, I must admit, I was secretly hoping that dinner would trump my lunch experience and really convince me of Jason's culinary powers. When Chris and I arrived, we were greeted by the warm and outgoing host as well as the 30 people congregated around the bar. Seems like a cool place for a Friday happy hour (noted). Drinks were in order and I immediately knew what I'd sip on. The Daiquiri Cocktail was made with Caliche Rum, fresh squeezed lime, simple sugar, and egg whites. Tangy and with an appealing creamy texture from the egg, I was all about this libation.
Chris went for a true man's beverage with the Elk's own, made with Maker's Mark whiskey, Dow's LBV port, fresh lemon, and simple sugar. When he was served a glass filled with a vibrant hue of purple, he cringed. Thankfully, his drink wasn't fruity in the slightest. Packing a mean punch, he couldn't help but down it in just a few minutes.
When I saw French Onion Soup Dumplings on the menu, I was intrigued. A lover of French Onion Soup and a big fan of Asian dumplings, I knew it'd be a win-win. It was most definitely just that. I mean, wow. Pleasing to the eye, the fried satchels came stuffed with caramelized onion soup and loads of melty parmesan cheese. With one carefully executed bite, the dumpling's french onion filling spewed out all of its rich glory. Just divine...absolutely divine.
Chris didn't hesitate for a second with his menu selection. Even when our server warned us that the Chicken and Waffles would take longer than usual as they weren't prepped to the usual standard...Chris still insisted. Our server promised they were worth the wait. He wasn't kidding. Crazy thick pancetta-smoked cheddar waffles came topped with a jumbo skin-on and bone-in fried chicken breast and a drumstick, all smothered in a chili-honey glaze. Although the the fried batter was much lighter than generally preferred for souther-style fried chicken, it was ridiculously moist. Even more, the chili-honey glaze was better than any maple syrup and the waffles held their own with tons of zest too. I could've licked the plate clean.
Once I heard word that Dufrain hand makes their pappardelle, I was sold. The House Citrus Pappardelle came with local shrimp and Cedar Key clams and was served in a light, yet robust roasted tomato-Tasso broth. Combine homemade pasta with perfectly cooked shellfish and you've scored major food points with me. Top it all off with a complex flavored broth or sauce and you've completely won me over. Everything about this dish was scrumptious but the icing on the cake was the abundance of Tasso (smoked Cajun-style "ham") which rounded out the diverse tastes with its salty meatiness. Oh, and I must add that it was one serious bang for its buck as I got two full-sized meals out of it. Bravo Dufrain, bravo.
With a great lunch experience in both areas of food and service and an extremely impressive dinner affair, Cafe Dufrain made a believer out of me. Their menu screams dressed up comfort food with offerings like Short Rib Mac & Cheese, Bistro Tenderloin with Bacon Bleu cheese butter, and a Lamb Burger stacked high with treats like crumbled queso and whiskey aioli. The atmosphere is hip yet unstuffy and the servers all show up with their "A-game." There's no question about it. I'll be back again, and again, and again.