At St. Pete’s Two Graces, the magical atmosphere matches the cuisine | Restaurant Reviews | Tampa
The idea of “grace” is a very necessary concept in today’s world. We need the comfort that the name implies. How reassuring then that the same reliable team that brought Grace (the restaurant) to Pass-a-Grille, has now granted TwoGraces on Central Avenue.
After all, it was only a matter of time until the main space of the shuttered reading room – with its raised beds for growing vegetables and herbs – had been reclaimed by a local restaurateur. But, now, the new Two Graces sports a magical colonnade that flows west toward the FreeFall Theater. It has an elegant paneled ceiling and is complete with fans/heaters, sheer draperies and evocative lighting. To the south, beneath the beautiful, near-horizontal, octopus-like Southern Live Oak is a dramatic seating area comprised of a beautiful circular balustrade. Of course, what really matters is the food.
6001 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg
Appetizers $10 to $21; entrees $18-$32 (choice fillet & grouper MP); dessert $9; beer/wine/cocktails $7-$20
Fortunately, Chef Marlin’s food (as in the fish, not the actor) Kaplan is a riff on his wonderful Grace menu and promises a surprise. We start with a dish that is the perfect demonstration of the primacy of ingredients in Italian cuisine. When you drape a perfect thin slice of salted prosciutto over a creamy scoop of fresh burrata, you’re more than halfway there. Start with a base of lightly seasoned mixed sprouts and add a scoop of fruity date and hazelnut chutney and crispy crostinis, and you have an absolutely delicious way to start your meal.
The chef’s roasted squash was a standout vegetarian at Grace, and his riff here is a delicious twist on that theme. This tender roasted squash is stuffed with fregula, those wonderful little semolina balls from Sardinia. The stuffing is loaded with seasonal vegetables, in this case tender slices of zucchini and yellow squash, all wrapped in a light Galveston apple vinaigrette to add a pleasant brightness.
Like the ethereal lobster ravioli at Grace, Chef Kaplan serves almost like decadent ravioli pillows filled with shredded short ribs. The bowl is filled with delicious, beefy wild mushroom demi-glaces sprinkled with shimmering mushroom slices, baby vegetables and sprinkled with fresh herbs. We ask for extra bread so we don’t miss a drop of sauce, and our server also delivers an ultra creamy and lush buttery dish from Glenview Farms. The offer also includes quail, tuna, beautiful salads and wood-fired pizzas to enjoy a culinary tool already installed in the space.
The dessert decision is tough with the honey almond cheesecake, always a perennial favorite, and a chocolate brownie with salted caramel ice cream. We were strongly tempted by the mini milkshake, but the macaroons that accompany it are not homemade, so we opted for the Panna Cotta with maple and fig compote. It’s a savory, somewhat dense affair that really comes to life when combined with the succulent fig compote at the bottom of the domed glass. It looks almost like a decorative candle with a beautiful edible purple bud as the wick.
Like at Grace, there’s also a splendid selection of creative craft cocktails, although instead of the neighborhood dogs that haunt the other venue, they’ve opted for names of birds and flowers ranging from chocolate flamingos to bourbon azalea vodka base. We sampled “Watson,” a colorful concoction in a martini glass containing Italian Malfy gin, vibrant orange Aperol bitters, St. Germaine elderflower liqueur, crisp white peach balsamic and the sparkling of a garnish of Prosecco. My companion pronounces it as a graceful knock.
And longtime Kaplan partner Lisa Masterson has assembled a unique wine list with 60 organic, biodynamic and sustainable wine options to accompany 10 local microbreweries on tap. The whole experience is the most beautiful; the waiters are perfectly friendly and attentive, and the magical atmosphere matches the splendid cuisine. In these times of pandemic stress, it is especially welcome that Two Graces offers us all such refuge.