I took one last look at my reflection in the window, and tousled my short hair-do back into place, as I walked in. The receptionist smiled at me and stated enthusiastically 'you are the most convertible chic I know.' I have been the owner of a convertible car for quite some time now. It all started with the Jeep Wrangler, followed by a series of small, yet fun and not too serious sporty numbers. Perhaps reflective of my personality. For me, there is nothing like driving around with the sun shining on you and the wind blowing in your hair. However, often the summer sun in Florida is beyond brutal, and the humidity can wilt even the toughest survivalist. So, while the rest of the country anxiously awaits Spring, it seems that here in Tampa Bay we have been blessed by its early arrival.
It was on one of these unseasonably warm Spring evenings that I decided to stop by Alesia'
s for dinner on the patio. I've been hearing all the best kind of buzz about the French Vietnamese menu. As well as the wine list. Since it appeared in a recent article of the 50 best places to dine in Tampa Bay, I knew I had to check it out personally.
Located on Central Avenue in St Petersburg (74th Street N), the patio is so lovely, that it makes you forget its proximity to the street. My dining companion and I were greeted by our server and offered a small dish of perfectly crispy shrimp chips. The first time I have ever tried these crispy delicacies, and already I am completely and totally in love. We perused the wine list and opted for a bottle of the Atmosphere Rose from Provence, France. Patio dining always makes me think of Rose, and the extreme versatility of its food pairing potential makes it a great call for an evening of adventurous and spontaneous dining when anything on the menu could call your name. Taking a moment to peruse the remainder of the wine list, left me smiling. Thoughtfully selected, not the usual suspects and affordably priced by the establishment.
We started with Summer Rolls, shrimp, rice vermicelli, fresh mint, and chicken wrapped in rice paper and served with a hosin peanut dipping sauce. The ingredients were fresh and I found myself wishing I had ordered more of these.
We also tried the pot-stickers, pan-fried dumplings with Chinese chives and ground pork, served with a soy-ginger dipping sauce. The shape of these pot-stickers clearly indicated that they were handmade, which I appreciated. Also, the shape gave them a bit more surface area for crisping up in the wok.
Although I was intrigued by several items on the menu, I find it almost impossible to resist the traditional Vienamese soup - Pho. Pho is a vietnamese noodle soup with fresh herbs, an intoxicating combination of spices, and in this case, thinly sliced beef.
With a nod to the French influences on the menu, I had to try the Croque Monsieur (now available only on the lunch menu). Dubbed the best grilled cheese sandwich ever due to its use of the best damn grilled ham and cheese ever (Gruyere), and its topping of sauteed mushrooms. It smelled of dairy fresh butter as soon as it neared the table.
Alesia has a great selection of desserts, among them the most beautiful crepes with a choice of fillings. On this night though I found the bread pudding calling my name. Light, fluffy, hints of almonds, served piping hot with a side of lusciously creamy ice cream. The portion size was perfect to satisfy my sweet tooth, and yet leave me feeling just guilty enough.
In summary, it was the perfect night of food and wine, on one of the best and romantic patios in the Tampa Bay area.
I am looking forward to an extended Spring time here in Tampa Bay, with many more return visits to Alesia.
Alesia is located at 7204 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida
For more information www.alesiarestaurant.com