Bellissima: experience the top St. Pete Beach restaurant
The beaches abound with numerous dining opportunities but visitors to St. Pete Beach should not say arrivederci without a relaxing meal at Palm Court Italian Grill. Certainly among the most celebrated restaurants - here and near - as TripAdvisor consistently ranks it a top restaurant out of more than 100 St. Pete Beach restaurants.
The restaurant has crystal stemware and crisp table linens but still maintains a nice and casual balance. More than a few shorts-and-sandaled young couples fueled their infatuation over a bottle of wine and drawn-out supper.
Our waiter coo-ed over us like a great-uncle, and squeezed and weaved past other waiters in the busy room, but got everything to us hot. He confided this place isn’t just a job, it’s like being part of a family. There is admiration among co-workers and little turnover.
While enumerating the night’s specials, he poured extra- virgin olive oil onto a fresh tomato, garlic and spice mixture for dipping on the warm, Kalamata olive loaf.
The classic calamari fritti, a server-recommended standout, is exactly what you would expect: delicately breaded crisp rings and tentacles. It’s kicked up a notch with capers and marinated olives and presented with a hearty marinara sauce.
Silver dollar-size, paper thin, slices of beef tenderloin are matched with caper berries, tomatoes and arugula and when given a swirl of pine nut-truffle vinaigrette, the carpaccio resembles the colors of the Italian flag.
The menu has plenty of creative touches: Artigiano Vita La Lattuga, Italian for “eat your artisan” salad, makes friends with its golden pea shoots, beet carpaccio and goat cheese. Other starters include a rustic pizza, bruschetta, and flame-roasted tomato bisque.
The menu showcases Florida seafood, such as Gulf grouper and shrimp, or indulge in the Fettucine Fra Diavolo, which offers both of those along with fresh mussels and octopus.
“Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner” is a favorite sentiment attributed to Sophia Loren. Perhaps she tasted Palm Court’s idyllic al dente pasta. Gamberi Genovese’s large gulf shrimp belie their name because they are anything but shrimpy. Nicely seasoned by pesto and arranged with grape tomatoes, they are perfect foil for a tangle of angel hair pasta.
It’s hard to quarrel with the fine mix of savory flavors and contrasting textures on supple, pistachio-pesto-crusted lamb chops, saucy by a shallot and garlic, port reduction set atop a smooth whip of truffled, Yukon gold potatoes.
With about a dozen and a half entrées, there are plenty of options for vegetarians and/or those seeking gluten-free meals, such as the chef’s risotto of the day, which has both “GF’’ and “V’’ designations on the menu.
If the thought of dessert makes you say ah, mi Amor, then you won’t be disappointed in a stracciatella infused with chocolate flakes, limoncello, tiramisu, pot de crème or another one of the chef’s creative delights.
How popular is Palm Court? TradeWinds Executive Chef Justin Harry, who learned to cook in Naples, Italy, says he has customers who drive from as far as Orlando and Miami because of its top ranking on TripAdvisor.
“It’s quite baffling: they even drive from the boondocks to check Palm Court out,’’ he laughs.
Harry says the restaurant was originally Italian, and then went to French food in the late ‘80s, before returning to its Italian roots.
Al fresco patio dining on a Chamber of Commerce-perfect evening is a plus. At its best, the dinner is one you’re sorry to finish, so continue the exceptional experience with a walk along the equally award-winning St. Pete Beach just steps away.