Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Evening at the Oxford Exchange

Last Thursday, the hubby and I journeyed to the Oxford Exchange in downtown Tampa for a book signing with stationer Anna Bond, the creative genius behind one of my favorite brands, Rifle Paper Co., and illustrator of the gorgeous Puffin in Bloom book collection. Unfortunately, when we arrived we learned that the signing had just been canceled due to a family emergency. I was disappointed of course, but totally understood—family always comes first.

But, since we had gotten all dressed up (I instructed the hubby to put on nice pants and a button-down shirt for the occasion) and made the drive across the bridge from St. Pete to Tampa, GT and I decided to make the most of it and poke around the shop, which is far more than just your average bookstore.

Housed within a white brick building on West Kennedy Boulevard, across from the University of Tampa, the Oxford Exchange truly is a thing of beauty. A modern market with an English sensibility. The shop is perfectly designed and decorated to mix old and new, the contemporary with the classic, in seamless fashion. Rich details let you know you’re somewhere special the moment you walk in the door. Italian white marble, reclaimed white oak, leather panels on the walls and ceilings, brass fittings… Even the bathroom is stunning. (I'm not kidding. Proof below.) If I could live there I would.

But OE is more than just its looks. The expertly-curated shop and bookstore are brimming with lovely treasures—some rare, some vintage—just waiting to be discovered, scooped up and given a good home. I could spend hours browsing through the coffee-table-worthy books, fine art prints, luxury home goods and décor, unique stationery pieces and delightful gifts that fill the space.

Fortunately, if all that browsing works up a hunger or thirst, there are plenty of options on site to quell that appetite. OE offers artisan coffees and hand-steeped teas at Buddy Brew Coffee and Tebella Tea Company. My vanilla latte was so pretty I didn’t want to drink it! But I did and it tasted as good as it looked. 

There is also the o.e. market with cold-pressed juices and tacos, but for those seeking more sustenance, Oxford Exchange boasts a gourmet, in-house restaurant, which is where the hubby and I ended our evening with a delicious dinner.

Created by Executive Chef Erin Guggino, the menu features fresh, seasonal dishes prepared with local and organic ingredients. I had the Macadamia Mahi Mahi with sautéed kale, coconut black sticky rice and citrus kaffir beurre meunière, and it was incredible. The macadamia nut-crusted fish transported me to Hawaii, and the rice had a chocolatey flavor that I couldn’t get enough of. I ate every bite. Likewise, GT thoroughly enjoyed his Spaghetti Squash tossed in a truffle kale pesto with shaved ricotta salata, parmesan, oil cured tomatoes and micro basil. Like our favorite pasta, but better.

We sipped (Bee's Knees gin cocktail and Trimbach Riesling) and dined under twinkling market lights in the seriously beautiful atrium, which has an airy, al fresco feels thanks to its glass ceiling. It was a romantic and, like the rest of OE, enchanting setting; no wonder it's a favorite private event venue in Tampa. (I mean, just look at this OE wedding. Breathtaking!)

Our server recommended coming back for breakfast—the OE restaurant was voted one of the top 100 places to brunch on Open Table—and I think we’ll follow his advice. In fact, I’m looking forward to several return visits to the Oxford Exchange, whether the book signing gets rescheduled or not. With a calendar full of events and a shop stocked with interesting curios, there’s always something new to discover.

To be honest, I’m jealous of those UT college kids. If I were them, I’d be studying (or, not studying) each and every day at Oxford Exchange.

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