Not soon after Annata, the new wine bar from the owners of Mazzaro’s, opened, Tampa Bay Times food and wine critic Laura Reiley declared that the tony spot on Beach Drive was offering the “best charcuterie plate in St. Pete.”
Sorry Laura, but I beg to differ. In fact, Annata’s char-board isn’t even the best in downtown. That title (still) belongs to Marchand’s at The Renaissance Vinoy Resort.
Before I explain why Marchand’s trumps Annata, let me detail my bona fides. Cut me open and you’re as likely to find soppressata as bone and muscle. I pride myself on the cheese boards we serve to guests at our home, using the knowledge gained from working in several first-class New York restaurants to put together a delicious, intriguing sampling.
In other words, I live for charcuterie.
That’s why we were so excited to try Annata’s board. I mean, this is a charcuterie board from the gourmet store we purchase many of the cheeses and meats we use when constructing our own special char-boards.
Entering Annata, it’s exciting to see how the owners have transformed what was formerly an otherwise nondescript resto, albeit one with a million-dollar view. This is the kind of wine bar you will see in Manhattan or San Francisco, minus the pretension of those kind of locales. The veteran servers were extremely knowledgeable about both food and wine.
We will be visiting Annata again and again. We will be ordering the charcuterie board again and again. I just don’t think it’s the best one in St. Pete.
How can it be with such a pedestrian offering of meats — dry salami, chorizio, prosciutto, rosemary ham, soppressata, and speck? Those are the standards, expected to be found on any menu. So where is the experimentation, the risk? Where is a Tuscan chicken liver pate or a pate Neapolitan style? Heck, I would have settled for a capicollo or a coppa.
As for the cheeses, there was a strikingly excellent Le Cousin from The Netherlands. And the Mazzaro Grand Reserva is a show-stopper, but I don’t remember any options from the blue family.
As charcuterie boards become more popular, there has been a tendency to dress them up with elaborate jellies, minces, and preserves. But these only work if they are not so clustered together with the meats and cheeses as to be inevitably included with each bite. Charcuterie boards need space! But Annata’s boards are cramped, trying too hard to get everything on the plate.
The ample real estate provided by the boards at Marchand’s is only one reason why its offering is superior to Annata’s. The hotel restaurant offers a more diverse list of cheeses and its listing of pates, when all are available, would make any Frenchman smile.
Like I said, we will be back often to Annata. But its a little early in the restaurant’s development for it to be given such heady praise.