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Bern's Steakhouse, Tampa, FL

1208 South Howard Avenue
Tampa, FL 33606
Phone: 813.251.2421
Date of Visit: 10 December 2005


I have read about dining at Bern's Steakhouse for a while. So when I found myself in Tampa one weekend, I made reservations for Saturday, 10 December. Bern's motto is The Art of the Dining Experience." I knew I was in for something unusual. As was recommended, before arriving at Bern's, I visited their Web site and downloaded their menu. And I read it. All of it. This is important because doing your homework before entering Bern's will make for a more rewarding experience.

There are a few things that are out of the "steakhouse ordinary" at Bern's. These include what is offered as included with your meal; a tour of their kitchen and wine cellar; their progressive dessert; and their inclusion of a 12-percent gratuity on all dining checks (except in the dessert room).

Your meal at Bern's includes soup, salad, vegetables, and potato. You do, however, have the option of deviating from these included options. These deviations will cost you the a la carte price of each item. No "credit" is given for the declined "free" items. Even though Bern's is not, nor is it considered, an inexpensive restaurant, if you did not substitute any of these included items, your dining bill (alcohol excluded) will not be extreme.

When you finish your dinner, your waiter will escort you to the kitchen and hand you over to one of the "waiters-in-waiting," as I call them. (To become a waiter at Bern's, you first must spend time--over one year--in the kitchen, working at various positions, including tour guide.) Because the restaurant was especially busy, my tour group ("groups" are limited to nine guests) was lucky to have one of the managers as our tour guide. He escorted up to the various positions in the kitchen and explained each one. We then when to their "working" wine cellar. Bern's is noted for having "...the largest wine cellar of any restaurant in the world" and is a perennial winner of the Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1981. After this walking tour, you are escorted upstairs to the dessert room.

The other unique experience at Bern's is their progressive dessert. When you make your dinner reservations, you will be asked if you also want to make a reservation for their upstairs Harry Waugh Dessert Room. Do it, or you will be missing another enjoyable experience. Dessert guests are seated in private booths, each containing a telephone and speaker system for calling your waiter (if needed) or listening to music. The 41-page dessert menu includes dozens of tantalizing desserts, each made daily by Bern's own dessert chefs, or created table-side. This extensive menu also includes about any after dinner libation known to man.

Bern's also includes a twelve percent gratuity on all dining checks. Their menu explains thusly: "A 12% service charge has been added to your check to be given to your waiter in lieu of salary. The option of a gratuity for fine service, of course, is yours." I did not find this a problem and because of the exceptional service, was pleased to add an appropriate additional gratuity on the credit card slip.

Now that the preliminaries are done, let's talk about the food. I started with a glass of Duckhorn sauvignon blanc ($9.55). I enjoyed this wine as I watched the other diners and listened to the waiter's explanations of the menu items. For an appetizer, I selected the Foie Gras a la Planacha ($14.95). This is French fois gras served with truffle roasted wild mushrooms, toasted brioche, in a Napa Valley Merlot reduction. I love fois gras, and this is the reason. It was absolutely delicious, and I came close to picking up the plate when I was done and licking it clean! To accompany this savory appetizer, I asked the waiter to recommend a wine. He suggested the 1976 Guirand Sauterne ($15.00), and it was delicious.

All entrees come with Bern's French Onion soupe au gratin and a Steak House salad. I elected to replace the French onion soup with Vichyssoise ($8.50). The Vichyssoise is served with Osetra caviar, white truffle oil, and a side of shaved fried potatoes. A thick, cold soup, it was a perfect palate-pleaser. The shaved fried potatoes ("home-made" potato chips!) were absolutely delicious, too. I decided to hold off on a wine with this and the salad course. The soup was followed by the Bern's Steak House salad. This is included with the meal, along with your choice of dressing.

If you spent an hour doing your homework and reading the downloaded menu, you would know about the near-scientific method of selecting a steak at Bern's. (If you have not already done so, now would be a good time to visit the Bern's Web site and download and become familiar with their menu, especially the section called "Our Steaks". Go ahead; I'll wait...........) Good. So you see what is expected of you. I ordered the 10-ounce sirloin strip ($35.92), cooked medium-rare. The entree came with a baked potato and selection of locally grown, organic vegetables. To accompany the deliciously aged Dead Cow, I ordered a glass of 1990 M. Chapoutier Hermitage wine ($17.00). Both steak and wine were superb.

After a period of relaxing post-meal, the waiter escorted be to the kitchen to begin the tour of the kitchen and wine cellar. When the tour concluded, I went upstairs to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room.

Dessert guests in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room are seated in their own private dining booth. I won't repeat what I already wrote above, so let's see about the sweets and libations. From the 41-page menu, I selected the Chocolate Pistachio Pyramid ($9.00). This is a pistachio dacquoise with dark chocolate mousse, pistachio cream brule center, vanilla bean cream anglaise and pistachio oil. While eating dinner, I was talking with my waiter about my beverage options in the Dessert Room. He mentioned a special selection of Ports that included a pour each of 10-, 20-, 30-, and 40-year old Ports called the Taylor Fladgate "100 Years of Taylor." ($29.00) I order this flight to accompany my remarkable pistachio dessert. Enjoying my sumptuous dessert and sipping the four aged Taylor Ports, I relaxed while watching the talented waiter prepare Bananas Foster flambe for the booth next to mine.

Yes, dining at Bern's is an experience, and one well worth the time--my entire Bern's experience took almost four hours--and expense. I highly recommend this restaurant.


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