Sunday, July 21, 2013

Piquant Has Promise

When you hear the word "piquant" do you automatically think "cronut?" Around these parts you'd think piquant meant something other than its Webster's definition of "agreeably stimulating to the palate," but I guess a cronut might fit that bill. I wouldn't know because I've been to Piquant twice and they didn't have any samples of the half-donut, half-croissant creations. Due to the current cronut craze, you must now pre-order them. 

Hats off to Piquant's pastry chef/co-owner for putting this place on the map by frying up dough until he supposedly replicated the latest food fad that's captivated New York's sweet freaks. I look forward to snapping one up when the furor dies down.

In the meantime, I've broken bread at this spot for breakfast and lunch and, true to its proper dictionary definition, it's quite pleasant -- but not without issues. Hubs and I cruised down to Hyde Park Village for a late breakfast on the 4th of July. As always, the Old Hyde Park shopping area was a ghost town -- totally inexcusable for this charming, historic section of Tampa. By the way, Williams-Sonoma has closed, joining the numerous stores and restaurants that have packed up their Hyde Park inventory and run for the hills.

Speaking of restaurants that bravely gave it a go in Old Hyde Park, if you ever ate at Restaurant BT or Sophie's, you'll recognize the Piquant space. The bakery case anchors the same place it occupied at Sophie's, and sits where that eye-popping bar stood at BT's. A chalkboard menu adorns the wall behind the case.

A conversation area at the far end of the restaurant encourages coffee drinkers to lounge on a sofa and hang out, while a high-backed, padded black banquette accommodates diners and helps break up the large dining space that's replete with black tables and clear acrylic bistro chairs. French tunes complement the modern décor and round out the Parisian mood. If a controlled climate isn't your thing, al fresco dining also is an option on a spacious, covered patio that fronts the meandering, pedestrian-friendly Snow Avenue.

Since it was a holiday, Piquant had extended their hours for breakfast service, so Hubs ordered an omelet and I got a fried egg, bacon and cheese baguette. We both had coffee and split an almond croissant. A patisserie and café, Piquant features a bakery case full of tarts, cakes, croissants and other sweet temptations. My biggest complaint about bakeries is that everything typically looks great but tastes past its prime. I'm uncertain whether age was the case with the almond croissant or whether the construction simply lacked the layers of flake and fluff that make eating a truly great croissant a memorable experience. This one was doughy but had a nice exterior almond glaze.

That's the only less-than-sweet thing I have to say about our breakfast. The Buddy Brew French roast coffee was excellent and the server kept it coming. Hubs special-requested an egg-white omelet, a dish Hubster thought noteworthy because egg-white omelets usually are tasteless; he raved about this one containing smoked Gouda cheese and Canadian bacon.

On my side of the table, thick and flavorful Applewood smoked bacon, aged Cheddar cheese and an over-hard fried egg were piled on a crunchy, crusty baguette, making one savory and satisfying breakfast sandwich.

Neither the sandwich nor the omelet was accompanied by a side dish or garnish, so don't expect home fries, toast, a slice of orange or even a sprig of parsley to appear on your plate. I realize food cost is a major concern but a little garnish would go a long way. Sides exist but they're all a la carte.

Because we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast, I didn't have any difficulty persuading the Hubs to return for lunch -- and I even took a few photos!

Hubs had an "oops" moment when he bit into the chicken salad on croissant (above) and discovered diced onions or shallots. He balks at the onion family in raw form and was surprised to find it in chicken salad. Just as he does when I try to sneak onions in at home, he poked and prodded around them; otherwise, he gave good marks to the smoked chicken salad with apple, brie and avocado. He said the croissant itself was dense and lacked freshness. The thin-cut french fries, on the other hand, were hot, crispy and addictive.

I tried the puree du potage et lardon (potato and bacon soup), which was super thick, laden with heavy cream, pureed potato and chunks of bacon. It was too heavy and somewhat underseasoned for my taste.

Knowing a pastry chef was in the house, I bypassed the salads and sandwiches on the menu and zoomed in on the quiche simply to sample the crust. Served a bit warmer than room temperature, the bacon and Gruyere quiche was remarkable in texture and flavor. The crust was buttery and flaky, not the least bit soggy from the tender custard. Similar to the breakfast presentations, except for a zigzag of balsamic syrup, the quiche stood alone, but priced at $5 for a substantial slice, it's an incredible bargain.

One last comment about lunch: The coffee was not hot. When refilled, it still was not hot. When replaced with a fresh cup because it was tepid, it still was not hot! At $2.95 a cup, you'd best get that coffee hot. I'd hate to see this place packing up their cronuts.

With a few tweaks and the cronut craze getting people in the door, Piquant could be the eatery that succeeds where others have faltered. I hope so. The staff is eager to please and it's obvious that they are making the effort.

Verdict: A few bumps but worth a visit.

Piquant on Urbanspoon

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