The most progressive neighborhood for cuisine in Tampa? For some time, it has surely been South Tampa where the finest, most sincere, most current gastronomy has been in practice. Perhaps South Tampa will forever win the battle in fare… Yet, with a relentless neighborhood revamp continuing to revitalize the bungalow lands of Seminole Heights, it is there, my friends, where even those strict to South of Kennedy residents are beginning to swarm for new eats. Just this past August, the part retro, part hipster ‘hood scored their newest dining destination. Domani Bistro and Lounge, an “Italian” restaurant, popped up on Nebraska Avenue with a unique attitude on casual meets fancy food. Seeming like an unappealing and unwelcoming “hole in the wall” from the exterior, with a single swing of a door, Domani is surprisingly classy and quaint with subdued lighting, modest decor, and an all around cozy feel that is both unpretentious and romantic.
|Domani's delicious bread course|
In no way does this place scream "Italian.” Sure, there are some Italian-inspired items on the slimmed-down, concise menu, but to me, this place is modern eclectic American (with hints of Italian) fusion. In fact, these kitchen experts even serve up a mean Coq Au Vin, a very famous French dish. More on that masterpiece later. I had been anxiously awaiting my first Domani visit for months. Then, without further ado, as “fate” would have it, just a month ago, I was invited to a small event at the eatery. Sitting in the bar area, sipping on Moscow Mules and enjoying passed hors d’oeuvres was hardly a true testament to Domani’s total package experience. However, it did make for one delicious first taste of the new spot.
|Domani's Coq Au Vin, one word: Divine.|
I have to begin singing my praise with a menu item I have never, ever, seen before…a strangely divine creation exists here. Pistachio and Brie Rolled Grapes. Yes, food lovers, there is a God of gastronomy. These little bursts of paradise are as unique as they are luscious. Sweet and savory, crunchy and smooth, my taste buds were on one exciting culinary thrill ride.
I also sampled their Salmon Bruschetta. These rich and texturally fun crostini bites boast perfectly smoked salmon with crème fraiche and fried capers. The kicks of salty and smoky make for one stellar starter.
On both visits, I robbed my friends of several spoonfuls of their Guinness and Gruyere soup. Prepared with crispy bacon and heavy cream, it is a steaming bowl of heart-attack heaven. An absolute indulgence, it is regrettably rich….but so damn worth it.
The next starter (and side to sandwiches) might surprise many. I am almost embarrassed to exclaim my compliments. Tater Tots “Dauphine” took me back to my childhood…well, almost. These in-house, fresh to order tots have a glorious consistency much like whipped mashed potatoes on the inside. Supremely crispy with virtually no grease, these tots come with a scrumptious curry ketchup to boot. Ahh, nostalgia at its finest.
Because my first visit included generous complimentary passed hors d’oeuvres, there was still room for an entrée shared between my beau and I. Coq Au Vin is a French specialty I have long adored. I was a little apprehensive ordering a French dish at an Italian inspired restaurant. I had no reason to worry. This Coq Au Vin was not only insanely huge, it was ridiculously, mouth-watering, luscious. The red wine braised chicken and mirepoix concoction was aromatic and full of deep, slow-cooked flavors. The incredibly moist chicken effortlessly fell off the bone with the slight prick of a fork. Served over mashed potatoes with a side of haricot verts, it was truly brag-worthy.
My friend ordered the White cheddar and Bacon Prime burger. Wow. I am definitely a gourmet vs. diner burger kind of broad and this juicy, meaty delight only confirmed that preference. The quality and freshness of the beef was so evident and with a lightly toasted Foccacia bun, it was just flawless.
My next visit was with two of my girlfriends on a recent Friday night. Greeted immediately by our friendly server, we were ready to order those rolled grapes and tater tots after my persistent acclaim. Consistency is no issue here; for both starters were equally as fantastic this time around. Domani first-timers, my girlfriends were already quite pleased. From the very diverse menu, I chose to resist my urge to stick with the nearly magical Coq Au Vin. The Yellow Fin Tuna with Caponata and Gnocchi Ala Romana caught my eye. Presented in a fanned-out fashion, this plate was gorgeous. Served over "old school" gnocchi (think: "bricks" vs. dumplings), it should be a bar-none plate. The sushi-grade Yellow Fin tuna was seared medium rare and melted in my mouth…but there was one problem. I am afraid to admit, I had not known what Caponata was when I read it off the menu. Shame on me; I should’ve asked. “Caponata” is a Sicilian cooked veggie salad made with eggplant and celery in a sweet and sour sauce. Although this dish was executed wonderfully, I just could not get down with the tangy and very intense sauce the tuna and gnocchi came covered in. Oh, and I am certainly not the purple skinned vegetable’s best friend. Case of personal preference? I am thinking (and hoping) so. To each her own.
A risotto aficionado, my friend ordered the Mascarpone and Crab Risotto. Though creamy and cooked “al dente,” this risotto lacked some necessary “oomph” to convince me to ever order it again. With a very conservative mound of crab on top and the mascarpone holding little strength in taste, we were a bit disappointed. Certainly by no means was it a bad pile of rice-like pasta; it just wasn’t a plate I’d ever recommend.
My other girlfriend ordered the Coq Au Vin. I will explain my admiration for it one last time. This just may be the most righteous plate of chicken I have ever been so honored to devour. It is from another chicken grazing planet. I am going to say it; I feel that I must...WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER. Feel free to call me a “cheese ball” in the comment section below.
When Domani made their mark in Tampa, Seminole Heights scored yet another fantastic eatery. However, the service, though extremely knowledgeable and friendly, still has some room for improvement. I felt that our server was putting in his “all” but was still somewhat slow. As someone who just likes to see sincere effort, this was not a huge issue for me. I am sure in the coming months, they will continue to work out their kinks-both on the cuisine and service ends of the house. Still a brand new restaurant, I was quite satisfied with my experiences. The food is executed almost flawlessly in both preparation and presentation. With the exception of the risotto I would deem average, this eatery is plating some playful and delectable creations. I’ve heard their Bacon wrapped Pork tenderloin is show stopping. I’ve also been told that their Sambuca Mussels are earth defying. I cannot wait to return for a third visit. Domani is the kind of place that will stick around for years to come. I just know it.