Perfect combinations: Wine and food pairing events at Sea Salt
Knowing that The Great Outdoors was the theme of duPont REGISTRY Tampa Bay’s Spring 2021 issue, I wanted to interview a sommelier at a restaurant with amazing wine but also a comfortable outdoor seating area to take advantage of our gorgeous spring weather.
Sea Salt Restaurant in St. Petersburg was just the place. (See the mention in our story “100+ Great Spots to Dine Outdoors.”) Located in the heart of downtown, it has a large patio that wraps around its second-floor location in the Sundial shopping complex, perfect for people-watching.
As you enter the restaurant you can’t miss the spectacular 22-foot wine tower, completely enclosed in glass, that can house 4,000 bottles of wine. According to Sommelier & Beverage Director Jackie Eash, Sea Salt has the largest wine list of any restaurant in downtown St. Pete, with approximately 800 bottles in their Big Red Book.
I met Jackie one afternoon to discuss how the restaurant has pivoted in the wake of Covid. She explained that in April they kept hearing how people were ready to get out, so they decided to partner with American Freedom Distillery and Urban Stillhouse to arrange a small, socially distanced Spirits Dinner in May. Right away they were booked.
Finding that people felt safer at food and wine pairing events if guest numbers were limited, she started putting smaller events together to build the program.
One such event is “Pair Like a Pro,” held on a Saturday at 11 a.m. once a month, in which attendees are served five great wines paired with four small bites and education about the wine. If a guest stays for lunch, they get 20% off a regular-priced entree.
The next “Pair Like a Pro” is coming up Sat. Mar. 27 at 11 a.m. The theme is “Quaffing Cali,” and it pairs California chardonnays with dishes like lobster risotto and watermelon salad. $35 per person; call 727-873-7964 for reservations.
Another popular monthly event is “Brunch at Noon.” This is very casual with no formal presenter, but Jackie provides individual attention to each table. In February the theme was “Bubbles and Brunch,” pairing three brunch courses with Italian bubbles. (“California Bubbles & Brunch” is the next edition; it’s on Sat. Apr. 3 at noon.)
Jackie tries to have four to five events each month in which she chooses the wines and Sea Salt’s chef chooses the dishes. Invitations go out to loyal customers via email and Instagram, and spots fill up right away.
Jackie worked with Chef Farizio Aielli to showcase a few pairings for me as an example of what they do for their events.
The first paired a Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2017 from Calistoga, CA with a raw tuna crudo and an East Coast oyster. The blanc de blanc was a bubbly chardonnay with a creamy citrus burst and bright aromas of apple and pear that tasted clean and fresh with the seafood.
Next, Jackie poured me a Lange Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon with red cherry and cranberry flavors and light tannins. The chef created a surf and turf dish of braised short rib with caramelized red onions, topped with an onion ring and root mash underneath, served alongside a perfectly seared scallop with roasted tomato pancetta and truffled cream corn with dollops of beurre blanc. The short rib glaze had me reaching for the Pinot, and the root mash was a good match for the heavy meat. A very tasty dish.
Finally, I was delighted to try a Miles 10-year-old Malmsey Madeira — luscious and opulent, with nutty, toasty notes and caramel. The chef sent over one of his signature desserts, a milk chocolate dome made in-house. Caramel sauce poured over the dome made the chocolate so soft that I could run my fork through it like butter.
I would definitely return to try more seafood dishes and specialty wines from Sea Salt’s huge wine cellar. Jackie explained that as sommelier she encourages guests to ask her guidance on wines they might enjoy with their food. From my experience, I can say she knows how to make the perfect match.