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Epicurean Cuisine Amid Perfect Ambience at Calida Kitchen & Wine


ST PETERSBURG — In search of a new restaurant near my girlfriend’s house in downtown St. Petersburg, I happened upon a tiny spot called Calida Kitchen & Wine. The discovery would prove quite invaluable.

Securing a reservation at Calida can be a feat in itself. The intimate setting, accommodating scarcely 30 patrons if you include a few seats at the cozy bar, adds to its exclusivity. Operating only Thursday through Saturday, from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., the restaurant's limited hours further enhance the competition. The practice of regulars reserving their next visit at the end of their meal underscores the coveted nature of a seat at this culinary gem, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary.

Chow Noodles
Chow Noodles

While the restaurant was built out from an empty, long, and narrow space within a multi-business building on the north end of Martin Luther King Jr. Street, you immediately feel as though you have entered an ages-old stand-alone, perhaps half of a home in New Orleans, Savanah, or even Paris. Heavy wallpaper, a tin-tiled ceiling, and velvet curtains create a gothic ambiance, decor perfectly suitable for the somewhat rustic and infinitely inspired cuisine.

We limbered up our bellies with the pan-fried potatoes tossed in herbs, garlic, and lemon chili aioli—perfectly crisp yet delightfully wet with flavor. We added some spicy, reimagined Mexican street corn and moved on to the vaunted chow noodles tossed in fresh ginger, garlic, tamari, sesame oil, and chili flake with fresh local veggies, opting to add perfectly prepared local shrimp. The chow noodles are Calida's signature dish and more than meet their well-earned hype.

The menu is lean, a necessity given the micro-kitchen, limited seating, and chef/owner Ian Florence’s penchant for sourcing high-quality local ingredients on days the restaurant is closed. However, each weekend brings new, equally inspired specials that tend to include creatively ambitious renditions of local seafood and hearty meat dishes, making for a surprisingly wide assortment of options when it comes to pairing with wine.

The wine list is exceptionally well-curated and, like the food, priced modestly compared to other eateries at its culinary level. Dayna Bennett, Florence’s wife and restaurant partner, is eager to guide you through your selections.

Typically willing to eschew white in favor of our beloved reds, regardless of the food, we greatly enjoyed the Les Tierres Vierges Syrah (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre; $36), a beautifully bold, bone-dry blend from the southern region of Côtes du Rhône. We followed that with Château de Piote's equally dry, if slightly less bold, Bordeaux Supérieur (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, Merlot; $36). We found it nearly as enjoyable, although, in retrospect, it would have made the better first bottle among the two.

We enjoyed our wine with a delectable charcuterie board that incorporates whatever sumptuous cheeses are discovered each week, along with a delicious port fig jam and crusty baguette. Although there were decadently sweet and savory dessert offerings available, we stuck with a simple dish of whipped cream and fresh berries that provided the quintessential chef’s kiss to a perfect meal while imposing no guilt.

Calida Kitchen & Wine is a gourmand's paradise well worth the short jaunt over the Sunshine Skyway. Visit their website to view the full menu and inquire about a reservation.

Dennis "Mitch" Maley is a novelist, as well as an editor and opinion columnist for The Bradenton Times. In addition to his regular Sunday column, he hosts our weekly podcast and does occasional theater, restaurant, and wine reviews. He is a graduate of Shippensburg University and later served as a Captain in the U.S. Army. Click here for his bio. His 2016 short story collection, Casting Shadows, was recently reissued and is available here. 


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