Night of the Week: Monday, 8/27
Total Bill: $105 (before tip)
Breakdown: 2 beers each, 3 small plates, 2 large plates, 2 desserts
Pros: Menu changes weekly, excellent food, friendly staff, good prices, great beer selection
Cons: Location?, when we left we smelled like the restaurant
Verdict: We will be back OFTEN
I’ve wanted to go since a classmate told me about it a year and a half ago, we just always forgot to go. My main attraction to the place is that they change the dinner menu EVERY WEEK. I get tired of going somewhere if the menu never changes (like Ocean Prime–good food, great ambiance, fabulous drinks, but NOTHING EVER CHANGES). Monday night we were having plumbing issues at our house and we wanted to GO SOMEWHERE. Because the RNC is in town, we had to strategize, but we wanted to try something new. First, we called Datz–closed for an RNC event. We called Ella’s–they’re closed on Mondays. So we decided to try The Refinery.
My first impression was that the restaurant is very small (maybe 15-20 tables of 4 in the downstairs–we didn’t go upstairs because it’s outdoors and the hubby <3s A/C). Our server was friendly and adorable. (I think a job requirement there is to have at least one tattoo. I felt at home with my blue highlights.) One wall in the dining room is painted with chalkboard paint and they use that to display their draft beer list, the farms they sourced from that week, etc. It's a funky little joint.
We started with the pork dumplings ($11), Cigar City ale battered escargot ($11), and baked, shaken tofu ($8). All awesome. The escargot is definitely the best I've ever had, very tender and mild. Most escargot is drowned in garlic butter. These were individually battered and fried and served with fennel-hazelnut pistou (similar to pesto) and grapefruit-saffron aioli.
For a large plate ("more than a small plate" on their menu) I ordered the creamy gorgonzola polenta ($13), which is served with roasted summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, sweet peppers, and frisee on top. The texture of the polenta is what really impressed me about this dish, although the flavor was great, too. A lot of polenta is too thick or too thin or too rich. This was really well-balanced.
The hubby had seared paneer ($13), which was a piece of seared paneer, a slice of toasted brioche (homemade), and mixed root vegetables. The paneer was good (although I felt the slice was a little thin) but the real stand-outs here were the brioche (TO DIE FOR) and the veggies. BEST. CARROTS. EVER. They were tender but firm and had the most amazing balsamic glaze.
For dessert we ordered both desserts on the menu, pink peppercorn sablee and elephant ears (both $7), although we had them leave the foie gras powder off the elephant ears. (We don't eat foie gras for ethical reasons and I don't think it's good anyway; I certainly would not compromise my principles for it). The sablee was little crispy shortbread squares with vanilla crème fraîche, sherry poached cherries, and basil oil. What a unique combo of flavors! The elephant ears (actually palmiers) were flavored with ancho and cinnamon and came with chocolate pastry cream, basil oil, and charred orange slices. The chocolate pastry cream was pretty good but the palmiers were unbelievable. Absolutely the perfect texture (not overdone, not too flaky, crispy) and flavored exquisitely. My only gripe with dessert is I think $7 was a little pricey for the sablee (perfect price for the elephant ears, though).
The Refinery's beer selection is very extensive (25-30 bottles and 5 drafts) and all unusual stuff. I tried beer I'd never had or even heard of before–and I'm a big craft beer fan. Major points for that from us.
The Refinery also has a great selection of vegetarian dishes (8 out of 18 dishes on this week's menu), which is not only awesome for vegetarians but says a lot for their chef. I think cooking vegetarian is harder. Not only do you have fewer ingredient choices, you have to make the food filling. Some places accomplish this by using tons of carbs. But not only is that nutritionally unsound, you'll be hungry again in an hour. So it was cool to see inventive veggie cuisine. Neither of us are vegetarians (obviously) but we can enjoy meatless food and we know it's good for us to do so.
I think The Refinery will be around for a long while to come. I'm sure the "locavore" fad will eventually die out but even without that draw The Refinery will attract people with amazing food at fantastic prices.
I like this place because everything was purchased locally and that may mean it’s a little more expensive but definitely fresher. I also like that fact that the menu changes every Thursday and the menu is created by the chef every week based on what he can get from local farms.
The food here was great, everything was fresh and delicious. Out of the three starters we had I definitely thought the pork dumplings and shaken tofu were great. The pork dumpling filling was great, it was very fresh and the pasta shell was homemade. The tofu was great; the way it was fried kept it soft and tender. The escargot was good, but my least favorite of the appetizers, I usually like escargot because it has butter all over it, but in this case I was not a fan of the breading on it, not my favorite flavor.
For the entrée I had the seared paneer with brioche and vegetables. ALERT, here is where you are going to find out something important about what I don’t eat. I hate vegetables. They’re gross. The paneer was prepared in a way I have never had before. I have had paneer several times before at Indian restaurants. The paneer had a good crisp sear on it and paired with the buttered skillet fried brioche it was like a wonderful modern open face grilled cheese. This is not something I would normally order for an entrée and I was very happy.
The desserts were very interesting. The pink peppercorn sablee was fantastic! This was my favorite of the two. The sablee had an intriguing combination of flavors. The vanilla crème friache, basil oil, short bread squares and sherry poached cherries. My only issue was that it was called pink peppercorn sablee and I did not get any hint of peppercorns… so I don’t know what part of the dessert that was in. As for the elephant ears, I kind of expected the deep fried dough version, so what we got was a surprise to me. These were thinner, crispy and swirly. Not the giant puffed up fried dough covered in sugar that I expected.
I would visit this restaurant each time they put out a new menu, I thought the food was great and it definitely goes in the top five restaurants in Tampa.