Friday, February 6, 2015

Sips & Nibbles : Girls' Night at Annata

With the weekend upon us, I'm throwing it back to last Friday night with my lovely friend Jen of Letters & Pearls. My Coastie hubby had duty and Jen's Marine man was away on a work trip... in Qatar! So, what else to do but get together, drink wine and have a chat fest? When the men are away, the girls will play.

Since for our last girls' night I crossed the bridge to hang in Tampa, Jen came my way and we went to downtown St. Pete to check out new-to-me wine bar, Annata. Located on the bustling Beach Drive corridor, G and I have walked by the place several times since it opened in August but somehow we always missed it. Perhaps due to the tapas-style eatery's unassuming exterior and the fact that it is tucked right next to a tea shop. But I definitely took notice when it popped up on the Tampa Bay Times' Top 50 Restaurants of Tampa Bay and made a note to make a visit, stat. (Read the full Times review.)

While Annata would be perfect for a romantic date night, or pre-dinner date drinks, I'm glad I experienced it on a friend date first. Jen and I took our time choosing our wine and small plates and lingered over each succulent dish. And, lets be real, girls are just better at sharing! No rush to eat before your man devours every last bite. (But maybe that's just me and my hubs?)

We started with wine. I ordered a glass of Trebbiano, a white wine that our server likened to a Sauvignon Blanc, though I didn't think it had quite the same citrus zing as other Sauv Blancs I've tried. But it was refreshing and mellow and so good I ordered a second glass, and that's all that really matters. Jen opted for red, ordering a glass of Montepulciano, which I just love to say with flourish, in my very best-worst Italian accent.

Then it was time for food. The menu was full of tantalizing options so making our choices was slow... but deliberate. Charcuterie and crostini were a must. For our meat and cheese platter, we chose the "Ewephoria," a sheep milk gouda from Holland, a San Francisco soppressata and, as recommended by our server, the culatello prosciutto from Astoria New York. Our picks came gorgeously assembled on a wooden board, surrounded by all sorts of accoutrements: olives, pickles, nuts, dried fruit, honey and mustard. It was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. The crostini trio (which is really a foursome) was also delicious; we had two traditional tomato bruschetta, as well as one crostini topped with roasted eggplant and another piled high with an olive tapenade.

Feeling it necessary to try one of Annata's small plates, we tapped the knowledge of our server to help us make our decision. Torn between the shrimp skewer, the lamb ragu and the chicken piccata meatballs, our server settled our debate without hesitation: Get the lamb ragu. I'm glad we did as it didn't disappoint. Like a bolognese but better, Annata tosses perfectly al dente ribbons of pappardelle with a savory lamb ragu that is then topped with dollops of creamy chèvre and baby basil leaves. (Is your mouth watering yet?)

Finally, I always have room for dessert, so Jen and I splurged and ordered the Orange Torta, served with scoop of caramel salted gelato and drizzled with a light key lime sauce. Jen and I agreed that the cookie-like dessert had an odd but delicious flavor. Citrus-y but cinnamon-y. Unique, in a good way. We ate every last bite.

We left happy and full, and looking forward to a return visitwith our husbands in tow.

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