Bern's Steakhouse
 Tampa, Florida        Date of Visit:  12/02/11  
     http://www.bernssteakhouse.com

*Just a note. After our visit, it came to light that Bern's was lying about the source of some of the "homegorwn/organic" ingredients. Shame. We still had a nice visit.
Get ready this is a long one...
We made a long awaited trip to the storied and vaunted Bernís in Tampa. In discussions of steak houses Bernís always seems to find a revered place which takes some doing not being in Chicago, New York, or Texas. I was very curious to discover what makes this place so special. Walking in the door you are nearly assaulted with a mash of sculpture and architecture from varied periods and the color red. Lots of red. The way the rooms are lit somehow makes everything fit together in a really pleasing wayÖa harbinger of excitement and poshness. The dining areas are made up of a number of smaller rooms in the same motif as the entrance.
 



 


 
 


The Wine List Comes in Two Volumes...Take a Chance on the House Red...
Might be Thousand Dollar Wines That Day
 

The wine list (not a listÖan encyclopedia that comes in two volumes) is beyond comprehension in its scope but we had the inside scoop and ordered the house red. We would learn later on the tour of the cellar that they have over a million bottles of wine. No not a million dollars worth of wineÖa million bottles. It has to be stored in three locations because no one will insure that much wine under one policy. What our source clued us in on was that the house red is made up of reds from the cellar, which are reaching their limit time-wise and are blended together, regardless of region or price. Sort of a house meritage that changes every day. Ours was great. Vino roulette is definitely worth playing at Bernís.

They also make it nearly impossible to avoid over indulgence. All entrees come fully equipped with soup, salad, baker and onion rings but the apps looked so fetching we couldnít stop ourselves. We ordered the chateaubriand Carpaccio with mushroom marmalade, parsley salad, shaved Parmesan and a cracked pepper aioli; a crispy duck breast gnocchi, and the Chicken Bern which is a marinated, organic breast of chicken dusted in flour and sesame seeds and lightly sautťed, served with crispy mushrooms Brian, organic mizuna and a soy Armagnac sauce.
 

 
 
Super Crispy Duck Breast and Gnocchi
 

Solid Beef Carpaccio, Accompaniments Could Have Been Better
 
 

Great Chicken Basking in An Unbelievable Soy Armagnac Sauce
 


Fresh and Perfectly Chilled Salads
 

 

The Carpaccio was solid and got a nice boost from the mayo and cheese. I didnít particularly care for the shrooms on this dish; they were good but didnít really stand up to the other components. The gnocchi were wonderfully light and fluffy and accompanied by a duck breast with thin crispy skin, outstanding all the way around. My favorite of the three was the chicken (couldnít believe it) light crisp on the outside, tender and juicy, and the accompaniments were perfect. Here the shrooms really stood out, particularly when put together with the chicken and the sauce, oh the sauce. Soy umaminess melded with the tang of the Armagnac and made the dish dazzle. A great start.

We went with a filet, two strips and our server talked me into the duck, more on him later. The entrees at Bernís are served in the most classic steakhouse style I have ever seen. Baker with butter, sour cream, bacon and chives, French onion soup, thin crispy onion rings and local veg. By local I mean to say that Bernís has itís own farm where it raises their own produce and all the herbs for the restaurant, the tour is definitely worth taking. The French onion soup should be called cheese fondue with some broth and onions, certainly meant to be. Four cheeses melt into the broth and are served with house baked bread, one spread with a really nice garlickiness.
 

 

Macadamia-Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette Has Serious Wow Factor
 

House Baked Breads Toasted for for The Soup
 

Cheese, Cheese, Cheese, Cheese...and a Bit of Soup
 

The Most Classic of All Taters

 

To be honest, the steak was really good but didnít crack the top three. Great quality meat, nice beefiness, for me it just needed something to make it pop. This was the only time that the classic approach to the steakhouse left me wanting to some degree. Except for the veg. Again great quality, I just would have preferred a dash of something to make them special. But again a classic steakhouse isnít looking to do something extravagant with the veggies or beef, so it all makes sense. Start with good stuff, treat it well and everything will be really good.

The salads though are special. First the ingredients are fresh, crisp, and perfectly chilled upon arrival. What really makes the difference are the house made dressings! I am at this moment wistfully remembering the taste of the Macadamia nut, vanilla bean vinaigrette. Unbelievably good! I know it sounds more like ice cream than salad dressing but it is killer and makes perfect sense. They should add a dressing tasting to the menu; I would order a double flight.
 


Steaks are Really Good but Not Outstanding
 

I Wish There Had Been More Done With Hard Earned Veggies
 

Crispy and Succulent Half Duck with Two Imaginative and Glorious Sauces
 

Words Fail. Belongs in Pantheon, in Rome, Next to Venus
 
 

The duck was superb. Again a crispy skin encased tender well-cooked duck, which this time was paired with a guava orange macadamia sauce and a green peppercorn sauce, one on each side of the plate. The peppercorn sauce had an A-1ey profile with shots of pepper while the opposing sauce was sweet with a spicy backend. Both were stupendous pairings, so different but both worked. We also ordered the white truffle mac and cheese. Stupidly rich white cheese sauce is stunningly imbued with white truffle. It is possible to get too much of these earthy treasures crammed into a dish, and this dish is as close as you can come without crossing the line, making it essentially perfect. The fungus just pervades the sauce and balances the two worlds.

About the service, at a level I have only ever experienced at Charlie Trotters. From the door to the door the staff is expertly trained, obviously experienced, and looking to every detail with a serious but fun approach to your evening. Our server was an amalgam of maybe a stern librarian and the teacher in high school who everyone liked for his sense of humor. He took his job very seriously, was incredibly knowledgeable, and had a quick repertoire of entertaining bits, which had us laughing several times throughout the meal. You might have to be crazy to be this good and the way he was talking to the Caesar salad during the tableside preparation only confirmed my suspicions. He set the stage for tour guides, hostesses, etc. which all performed flawlessly.

They also offer a tour of the operation which we took, guided by people who are apprenticing, hoping to land a position in the restaurant. The hot kitchen, the cold kitchen, the wine cellar. We heard interesting tales attached to specific bottles of wine, watched the three poor guys whose job it is to makes sure every entre is accompanied by onion rings. The last being a non stop adventure in slicing, breading and frying. In the cellar we were offered a special treat, a whiff of a classic. He produced a bottle of an 1834 Madeira and allowed us a nose. I can't imagine what this stuff would cost by the ounce pour but it sure smells interesting. 


 


One of Countless Bottle Stacks
 

 
 
Servers are Constantly Firing Tables on 8 POS Screens
 

Salads Being Rapidly Constructed
 
 
 
In the Hot Kitchen. Up to 200 Steaks Simultaneously
 

Sprouts for the Salads are Growing in the Back of the Kitchen
 
 
 


Fabricating Each Order as it is Fired
 

Take the tour, the hot frenetic buzz of the kitchen, the cool and humid quiet of the wine stacks. See the precision and history that make Bernís what it is.

 

But you are not yet done.

 
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Light and Lucious Chocolate Mousse
 

Good CrŤme Brulee
 
 
 
The Peanut Butter and Chocolate Truffle Serious Flavors
 

Adding Dark Chocolate Sauce to Deliciously Complex Ice Cream
 
 
  Then go upstairs. To the Harry Waugh dessert room. A misnomer really. It is an entire floor dedicated to desserts. You sit in individual little cubbies, listening to live music so you can delve into your hedonistic side away from judgmental prying eyes.

A chocolate mousse, crŤme brulee, chocolate macadamia nut sundae and chocolate peanut butter truffle arrived in our hidden little world. The desserts really shine. The mousse is a light and airy take on great dark chocolate, the brulee is thick and rich, the truffle is intense in every layer and I couldnít believe my favorite. The sundae. They have a way with macadamia nuts here. Rich layers of incredible all topped off with a thick sludge of chocolate in a thin waffle bowl. We were so full but there was no hope of stopping the spoons diving into each plate.

Bernís is sort of magical. Loaded with history, attended to by fun fanatics, superior offerings both ultra classic and innovative ways. An experience not to be missed.


Inside the Truffle
 

 
       
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