From Michael Serio at the Food Nation Radio News Desk
First and foremost, I’m NOT a foodie nor a food writer. Admittedly, I have the taste buds and food preferences of a picky nine-year-old. I never attended culinary school, and in fact, the only formal kitchen education I ever received came in the form of an odd, experimental 7th grade Home Economics class in a Pinellas County junior high school designed specifically for boys. (I passed the class.) My wife, Elizabeth Dougherty, (and co-host of Food Nation Radio Network) encouraged me to try something different and to write my observations about a new restaurant we visited recently. If you are one of those snooty, foodie-type people who nitpicks about restaurants, you’ll probably want to read elsewhere. If you’re looking for a great date-night restaurant (or, an “I’m sorry I was a jerk” apology-type restaurant) then I hope you’ll find this helpful.
“But if you’re gonna make a difference
If you’re gonna leave your mark
You can’t follow like a bunch of sheep
You got to listen to your heart
Go bustin’ in like old John Wayne
Sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain…”
While the carefully selected hits of the 80s were playing on the PA system, it was the lyrics of a Garth Brooks song that kept ringing in my ears at dinner last night. “Against the Grain” is probably the best description I can give you to describe a brand new restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg.
Rococo Steak opened in the former YWCA building, at 655 2nd Ave. South last month and almost everything about the restaurant screams “against the grain.” The building itself, once thought of as a “teardown,” has been thoroughly renovated and updated but still maintains all the art, charm and innocence of an earlier St. Petersburg era. Located two blocks south of Central Avenue on the maze of one-way streets, even its location several blocks away from the thriving downtown core makes a daring statement… and an invitation to break away from the pack.
Over the past three years of working with my wife and our radio show, I’ve come to look at restaurants differently. Elizabeth once said she would “ruin” the way I dine out by showing me things I didn’t know about food and hospitality. Since then, I’m learning about the science of the industry and I’ve come to understand why some restaurants succeed while most fail. The key to their success lies in three components: the quality and value of the food, how customers are treated and how the employees conduct themselves and work together. From the moment we walked through the doors at Rococo, and though those doors have only been open for a short time, the restaurant has a different feel. There’s a welcoming, comfortable, confident attitude and you know this restaurant is willing to be different.
If you’re looking for a place your parents might have visited in the 70’s, Rococo isn’t it. This also is not the tired, phony, stuffy old restaurant Tampa seems to be known for. Demographically, Rococo Steak was designed for our generation. The food, drinks, music, color combinations and even the comfortable seating was specifically designed for a younger crowd. The wine list was far better than you’ve seen or would even expect in St. Petersburg
The appetizer menu features items like homemade poutine (unbelievably good), a bacon flight (I’ll try it next time) and a Seafood Gallery that could be a meal all by itself. You’ll find a nice selection of steaks, but Rococo takes it one step further, once again going “against the grain” by adding items like Antelope Schnitzel, Duck BBQ and Wild Boar Chops. We selected and split the 22 oz Dry Aged Bone-In Rib Eye served rare, with Incan Red Quinoa and Butter Poached Mushroom from their creative Sides Menu.
As I mentioned, I look at food quality and value, how well the staff is trained to care for their guests and teamwork. Rococo Steak wins on all counts. The steak was cooked perfectly with a special slightly grilled crust that you don’t usually see in a steak that’s ordered rare. I liked the added touch of the hot grilling/serving plate with an extra pinch of sea salt in the corner. The trio of mushrooms was amazing and complimented the steak perfectly. Our server was able to answer nearly all the questions about the menu that we threw at her and other servers pitched in to help when she was busy.
I want to see this restaurant succeed… for a younger generation of steak lovers (who’ve seen nothing like this in downtown St. Petersburg), for the owners who made huge commitments in acquiring and saving that old building, but also for the city of St. Petersburg itself. For far too long, the attention has centered on a few square blocks downtown. Rococo gives the city a chance to grow tastefully beyond the noise and partying.
Like Garth sang “Sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain.”
Executive Producer / Co-host
Food Nation Radio Network with Elizabeth Dougherty