I really try to be supportive of local restaurants, especially those that stay true to Florida’s heritage. You might be wondering what Florida’s cuisine is about when I make such an assertion. Don’t worry, the rest of the world has the same perception. Very few people understand what influences have combined to make our regional cuisine unique. There are several reasons for this, including lack of consistency, spotty quality and a general lack of attention to normal preparation techniques, not to mention the huge glut of tourist spots around major attractions that mass produce food without a second thought to any real concept.
Going out on a limb, I have said that people should support the food and cultural influences indigenous to Florida, and particularly the Tampa/St. Petersburg region rich in Spanish, Cuban, Italian, Central and South American and French cuisine. The fact that other states laugh at the notion that we have our own rich heritage here and very regional specialties is not helpful. It is also not helpful that most of the Latin inspired restaurants I have visited in the last several months have been disappointing.
What has happened? One might guess that it has something to do with lower food costs in our struggling economy. However, one honest look at French cuisine would not bear that out. I saw Jean-Georges take a roast chicken thigh to a level of exquisite in his method of preparation of such a simple dish. No, it’s not the ingredients. It’s the care in preparation.
Restaurants want their dining rooms filled with customers. Customers want mainly two things; value and quality. By value, I don’t mean the least expensive food they can find. People are willing to occasionally pay for an expensive meal if they feel they are getting value for their money. By the same token, I have eaten inexpensive tapas lately that I wished I had not ordered.
I don’t want to eat chicken tapas filled with chicken thighs that no one bothered to trim properly. I don’t want paella that looks like a gloppy overcooked rice mess with a few pieces of protein that have the consistency of pencil erasers tossed randomly in it. Come on. Have a little pride in your background as the bastions of Latin cooking. We deserve that. We try to be loyal, patronizing customers for you.
If someone out there has found any really great examples of Latin/Spanish/Cuban food lately, please let me know, because this is becoming disheartening.