“Happy Birthday! You’re going to love it.”
This was our greeting from a foodie friend as we entered the dining room of Castile at the Hotel Zamora. He, his wife and a few friends were just finishing dinner as we arrived. “You must try the Lobster Ajillo,” they insisted.
The Hotel Zamora is a modern Mediterranean style boutique hotel recently built on St. Pete Beach. Castile is on the second floor with an elegant, yet hip, interior featuring pops of kumquat and teal. Windows extend from floor to ceiling allowing for a panoramic view with seating indoors and outdoors on a terrace.
The hostess inquired as to our table preference, and we chose one by the window with the view of the intercoastal waterway and the spectacular start of a sunset.
Our server, Derrick, brought us cocktail surprises for my husband’s birthday from our foodie friends. Angels Envy for my husband, David. Angels Envy is a golden-amber bourbon whisky finished in Port barrels with vanilla and roasted nut flavors, a perfect start for a Kentucky colonel. I was given a Cosmopolitan — one that was light and refreshing in comparison to others I’ve had.
But enough with the drinks, let’s get to Castile’s food. It is simply the best to be found on St. Pete Beach and competitive with the best in the Tampa Bay area. Yes, I said it.
Castile’s cuisine consists of tapas and entrees inspired by the culinary traditions of Spain and the Mediterranean with a touch of the tropics tossed in. There really is something for everyone, including vegetarians.
A wide selection of small plates allow for sampling a variety of dishes range in price from $11 to $21 with entrees in the $21 to $35 range.
After I confirmed that the chef, Ted Dorsey, was previously with Boca, I knew I immediately wanted to try seafood since he excelled at that in Tampa.
Listening to our friend’s advice, we started with the Lobster Ajillo ($11) and we were so glad we did. The first bite was a buttery taste of heaven with smoked paprika, garlic, Chablis, sweet onions and Serrano peppers. It was a hearty portion of luscious lobster and is served with a grilled focaccia, which I used to soak every drop of that sauce, saving me from the embarrassment of licking the bowl.
Another appetizer we “shared” was the Smoked Crispy Chicharrons ($12), cured in house with a tamarind gastrique and jicama habanero slaw. I was lucky to sample any chicharron as they proved to me my husband’s favorite and he kept them to himself.
We both agreed they were so tasty with just the slaw that the tamarind sauce on the side was unnecessary.
Our last appetizer was the Baked Oysters Zamora with jumbo lump crab, Worcestershire butter, sherry roasted pepper Piperade, and a topping of Parmesan flavored panko ($21). If that sounds like a lot of ingredients, try putting in all in your mouth to get a complete taste. When you are successful, it gives a smoky flavor, but if you deconstruct, you will lose the intended effect.
Our only complaint, the appetizers were served all at once even though we mentioned that we were in no hurry and wanted a leisurely meal. Thankfully, the rest of meal was served at a more relaxed pace.
We decided it was time for wine and ordered a bottle of Campo Viejo Reserva ($43).
After spotting homemade bread served with a red dipping sauce at the next table we made the excellent move of ordering some. The sauce was a blissful mix of spices with smoked paprika and orange zest — the zest being what made it pop!
Our server politely withstood our grilling about the evening’s specials — even talking to the chef about one of our inquiries. I went with the Black Grouper Cheeks with avocado kafir crema and heirloom tomato caponata and mojito vinaigrette. It was melt-in-your-mouth goodness. And the best surprise of the night came with the heirloom tomato caponata served with it. The farm fresh tomatoes were bright, tart and multi-flavored all at once.
Our other entrée was a recommendation by our friends, the Coconut Curry Braise Short Rib ($29). It was a little heavy handed compared to the other dishes we savored throughout the evening. Next time, we’ll stick to our instincts and try the Harissa Grilled Cullotte Steak with horseradish crema and chimichurri ($21).
We had no plans for dessert as we were stuffed, but Derrick offered us a birthday dessert. We decided to share the mango coconut pane cotta. It was not memorable, but being free, we had no complaints.
The menu also offered several expensive after dinner drinks, but we took a pass. Next time we will pace ourselves to allow for a proper appreciation of all the dessert section had to offer.