I absolutely love dining at local hot spots. I enjoy seeing what all the fuss is about with certain restaurants. With these things in mind I had a real treat on hand when I was afforded the opportunity to attend a blogger dinner at Ulele, sister restaurant to the Columbia Restaurant.
WIth accolades such as, “One of the Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. – Open Table”, “One of the Best New Restaurants in Florida – Florida Trend” and “Best Overall Restaurant – Yelp Tampa Bay, and most recently rated the 7th best restaurant in the bay area by Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley, you can see why I was thrilled to give Ulele the green light on my stomach.
Upon entering the beautiful building (seriously beautiful, $6 million went into the renovation), I was hit with a restaurant loaded with hustle and bustle and glitz galore. I instantly felt like this was a destination restaurant not to be missed. As myself and fellow Tampa Bay Bloggers were whisked away to the upstairs area, I couldn’t help but take in all the aromas of steak and char-grilled goodness. The cuisine at Ulele is American inspired Indian, but really focuses on fresh local cuisine indigineous to the Florida.
Our first sample of Ulele came in the form of samples of craft beer. Tim Shackton, head brewmaster of Ulele’s microbrewery, is known for creating delightful crisp lagers and on this evening I had the chance to sample his Honeymoon beer, a black lager, and a bourbon barrel aged red. Our waiter was gracious enough to recommend the bba red and I really loved the caramel and vanilla from the barrel that came through, yet it was still full of biting hops.
The water they use for brewing their beer (a high-tech filtration system) is actually the water they use to serve patrons at the dinner table. The water comes in glass water bottles original from the Columbia Restaurant, dating back to 1905.
We were then treated to a small buffet of luscious mac n cheese (Four-cheese, Ulele light beer sauce) with all the fixin’s you cared to add, things such as lump crab, green onion, and duck bacon crumbles…yes DUCK BACON! On the same table there was delicious chili with loads of beans and hunks of glorious meat. We weren’t allowed to share our photos of these items because they were not served in their typical plating style. Trust me it was some handsome eats.
The first dish to arrive at our table came in the form of freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell served with freshly grated horseradish and quartered lemon pieces. These were super fresh and I could’ve eaten a dozen easy. Here is a pro tip, I later received a bottle of datil pepper sauce to try out and I wish I had that bottle while enjoying some of these oysters. That was followed up with a platter of char-broiled oysters. There were simple and delicious. I enjoyed that there was not a gloppy mess of cheese atop the oysters and they had that great char flavor from the broiler.
Next up, I enjoyed the alligator hushpuppies (alligator, country ham, duck bacon, fresh corn, jalapeño, honey datil pepper sauce and fresh-ground horseradish aioli). While not entirely a new idea, these were well-executed bites of crunchy goodness.
As the food train kept marching along, I enjoyed a crunchy bite of squash gratin. The veggies were cooked quite well, not mush, yet not raw. I adored the crunchy breadcrumb and manchego mixture atop the vegetables.
Now on to the carnivorous portion of our segment. What I enjoyed next, and I do mean enjoy, is a hefty 10 ounce portion of perfectly seared wet-aged filet mignon. The filet was accompanied by fresh asparagus and a mound of white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes.
Taking a brief break from beef, I had the pleasure of noshing on some fresh pan-seared pompano topped with fried carrot ribbons all set atop a mound of wild rice and a drizzle of sundried tomato shallot cream. This could be my favorite dish from the evening. I absolutely loved the fried carrot ribbons.
That was quick break and now back to the beef. This mammoth of a steak is the kilo porterhouse, coming in at a whopping 2.2 lbs. This too had great char on the meat and a great steak quality that I absolutely loved. The extra fat in these cuts always lends to great flavor.
Swoon. That’s what I did when dessert hit the table. Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream (cinnamon corn flake candied duck bacon crust, Knob Creek crème anglaise, caramel, sweet potato waffle crisp). This was definitely the bees knees and if I wanted to eat whatever the hell I wanted everyday, this would end each and every night for me.
Do yourself a favor and get down to Ulele, fast. It is such a unique experience and I absolutely love that they took and area of town and made it an up and coming destination. The ball is rolling, so get a jump on things and make a visit.
For reservations at Ulele, visit Ulele online
or call 813-999-4952.
1810 N. Highland Ave.
In Tampa Heights
In exchange for my review the food I wrote about was free.