Edison: Food + Drink Lab – Tampa, FL
Innovative and complex would be the right way to describe Edison Food + Drink lab, the new Tampa eatery. I would venture to say that moving cuisine forward in such a creative way is just the first step in Edison’s short, yet impressive tenure.
As my day progressed into night, I still had no idea what I would be eating later on. I had planned on going to visit a truck or taqueria for a cheap meal with James after he arrived. That was still the plan until we both decided we wanted a little more than that. When he arrived, we immediately hopped in the car and got on the road. Still not even knowing if our destination was going to be East toward Orlando, or West to the Tampa Bay area. When in doubt, always follow what the Pet Shop Boys recommend, “go west!”. We had our heading, but no destination, I started frantically downloading and trolling every food related app I could think of. Every restaurant was familiar and not doing it for either of us. When lo and behold I found a place I’d never heard of, which never happens by the way. So I started to check out the menu for this place and it looked like Mecca. A sanctuary for lovers of food and drink. I made a reservation to seal the deal.
When we arrived, the place looked pretty busy for 10 PM. It seemed everyone already knew about Edison but me. They must have heard about our epic meal times from other nearby restaurants, because we were seated at a table large enough for 4, but just the right size to spread out the eventual feast.
As the waiter arrived he asked if we were going to have a drink. I really didn’t have that in mind, but they seemed to have some really enticing draft choices from a few local micro-brewerys. So I went with a well-rounded I.P.A, while James went with a spicy glass of Tempranillo. Before he departed he asked if we had any questions about any of the menu items, (such as the sweetbreads) to let him know so he could help us construct our choices. Before he could take another breath, we both exclaimed, “sweetbreads please!” before we even got a chance to look at the menu, our first order was already placed. I love it when waiters are knowledgeable about the menu and feel confident in making recommendations based on their personal preference. I don’t want to hear “everything is good” when I ask for a suggestion. Sometimes a guy needs to be wined and dined a bit. Ya know, romance me!
It didn’t take long before our first course arrived at our table. It didn’t look the way I had imagined it. However, it was pleasing to the eyes. Accented with a reduced bourbon glaze and some citrus peel essence, along with a few bits of macerated maraschino cherries, this dish was an appropriate amuse, as it was an ode to the classic cocktail the “old-fashioned.” As we started analyzing the dish it was noted the sweetbreads themselves were made into a loaf-like structure. I’ve never seen them constructed in such a way. My conclusion is that they must have melded many sweetbreads together to get this result. As we ate, there were certainly aspects of the dish that were fantastic, but a lot of it didn’t work for either of us. The flavors were without question bold, reminiscent of a different time of year. One more chilling and festive. If I had these sweetbreads prepared more traditionally with a nice pan roasting to crisp them up, with the same flavors, maybe 4 months from now, I’m sure I would have licked the plate. It was a shaky start but I was really excited about the rest of our orders.
Sadly, after our first plate was taken off the table, the waiter informed us that the kitchen had eighty sixed the Foie Gras. Curses! Foie is a lynch pin to any meal James and I enjoy together. Without foie things just fall apart, and seeing that two of our choices involved foie, it was a major blow to morale. Fear not. The chance of having a memorable meal was still in the cards since the menu in its entirety was extremely enticing.
A few moments later, we were presented with a berserker barrage of cold apps. Pickled Key West pink shrimp with a boiled peanut puree, watercress and pickled watermelon rind was fresh and bright with a nod to the deep south. The flavors were sophisticated and subtle with the sweetness of the pink shrimp beaming through. If you see Florida pink shrimp on a menu, I would suggest you take the opportunity to eat one of these treasures that come from Florida’s waters.
To go with that, we were presented a slender plate of fresh oysters on the half shell with a yuzu mignonette topped with little liquid nitrogen kaffir lime pellets. I had an insatiable craving for oysters earlier and this satisfied that hunger more than I could have hoped for. This was an easy tie for dish of the night, these oysters were so incredibly fresh. I’m sure they were shucked as we were eating the shrimp. The combination of the two different citrus flavors and the chill of the frozen lime juice was gorgeous and refreshing. It majorly sucked that I had to share the order. I wanted to slurp them all up myself.
Beef tartare with Korean accompaniments of house made kim chee and assorted pickles. I thought the banchan was well made and rivaled some of the better Korean restaurants in town. The pickles were crisp and fresh with a healthy amount of vinegar. I’m just not sure it helped the raw beef make its’ presence known. More often than not, when it came to the condiments, the bold flavors muted the true beauty that is a great tartare.
I can without question say that the Cedar Key littleneck Clams with pork belly, salsa verde and scorched tomatoes was not only the dish of the night, but to me, was the best thing I’d eaten in months. A bowl of clams with a cube of glistening belly, drench in a Cuban inspired pesto was freaking delicious. The clams were all perfectly tender as was that hunk of belly that just melted away when my fork touched it. The tomatoes were charred, but succulent and sweet on the inside. The sauce was like listening to Louis Armstrong play the trumpet. The kind of feeling that makes you want to get up and dance. That sauce honored Tampa’s rich Cuban heritage, as it reminded me of the most brilliant mojo no one had ever thought up until this moment. They knew it was going to make a perfect bottom dweller sauce when they gave us a nice basket of grilled ciabatta. My mind wanders thinking back to the clams.
One thing I failed to mention at the outset is that this restaurant had been open for 3 days when we arrived. I had no idea they had just began their venture into the industry until about half-way through the meal. That’s why I can forgive the lack of Foie and the small missteps in the tartare and whatnot. The kinks have yet to be worked out, and if I would have known that Edison was in its infancy, I might have given them a little time to perfect their processes before spewing my opinion. I don’t want to wait because they deserve praise early and often for all the good that was enjoyed. The technique shown in these dishes exceeded my expectations. It takes much skill, training and courage to put this kind of menu out, especially in Tampa. That’s why I can see a major buzz circulating for this little place in the very near future. As far as the creativity and the emphasis on experimenting, that is what will set Edison Food + Drink Lab apart from the pack.