Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Mill Restaurant Review, St. Petersburg

During a break in the rain, my husband and I made our way into The Mill, whose doors had been open just a week. The rain had been relentless, weeks of rain—the entire month of July—so I wondered if, because of the rain, and because it was a Wednesday, it would be empty. I was pleased to see it was not. There is nothing worse to me than an empty restaurant. Intimate, fine, but not empty. It’s a bad omen. There was a moderate crowd, though, both young and old (but mostly youngish). There was very little online about the restaurant—no website and no menu posted on their Facebook pageso I wasn’t even sure I’d be interested in the food. The few reviews online were positive, though, and Ryan and I were grateful for a night out, courtesy of grandma, so we decided to take a chance and review The Mill for ourselves.

As soon as we walked in the glass door, a model (or maybe repurposed) watermill was on my right, holding bottles of wine and wine glasses. A few tables were squeezed in next to the mill, close to the wall of windows. We were seated right away, to the back of the restaurant, me on a bench, and Ryan on a black, wrought-iron chair. To my left, the wall was covered with beautifully done, oil-rubbed, weathered-looking woodwork, hand-carved, adorned with industrial, authentic-looking gears.
The menus came all at once. I opted for a cocktail, something “sweet,” and took the server’s suggestion. The “Tahona” came, raspberry pink and garnished with a hibiscus. It was good—popsicle good. The dinner menu was organized into “first plates,” “second plates,” and “third plates.” For our appetizer, we ordered a charcuterie of the duck prosciutto, toro pastrami, and octopus bacon. I’d never ordered octopus before, so I was anxious to try it.
The Tahona

A four-top moved in on the table to our left while we waited for the charcuterie. I overheard one of the men say, “Boy, this is a who’s-who, isn’t it?” I couldn’t guess what of. Of food critics? Local restaurateurs? St. Pete society, if there is such a thing?

When our appetizer arrived, we dug in, tearing apart our crostini, dipping the meat and bread into the various jellies and mustards. Everything was outstanding. My only disappointment was that there was no artisanal cheese, as the menu had intimated. There was a list of the "accoutrements" that would be served, and the menu listed "artisanal cheeses." When we asked about it, the server said we had a choice of the meats or cheeses, or some combination of both. The menu made it seem like the cheese was part of the order, like the dipping options were, and we said as much. She apologized, and later I heard her explain it to the table next to us when they ordered the same thing. For a new restaurant, there are bound to be a couple of snags, and this would be a very easy fix on the menu.

While we waited for our “second plates,” me the pork cheek ravioli and Ryan the porter glazed quail and wild game sausage, we ordered another round of drinks. I stuck with the Tahona and surveyed the bar. When I was in New York City in May I went to Death + Company, a bar world-famous for its cocktails. The bartenders were all hipsters with tattoo sleeves, handle-bar mustaches, and driver caps. The bar itself offered only minimal lighting, with black walls and distressed wood tables. The Mill’s bar has a similar speakeasy atmosphere, with bartenders with handle-bar mustaches and suspenders, only beyond the walls of the restaurant lie humidity and a stretch of Central Avenue restaurants and bars, unlike the inky streets of the East Village, where Death + Company is just a dimly lit, hand-carved doorway among an otherwise anonymous, seemingly abandoned building.

My pork cheek ravioli with a buttery sweet pea puree was the perfect mix of savory and sweet. It was enough that I had one ravioli left over that I had boxed up for lunch the next day. Ryan was equally impressed with his dish. He felt the quail and sausage were perfectly seasoned. While we were finishing up our dinner, a man who introduced himself as the creative director asked how we were enjoying ourselves. Many of the restaurants I’ve been to haven't had so much as a manager check on us, so I was glad to see that The Mill went the extra step to ensure its patrons were happy with the food and service.
Pork Cheek Raviolo

Even though I was full, I ordered dessert. I told our server that I’d be taking some of it home, so I wanted to order something that would hold up. She suggested the layer cake, which was a spongy, syrupy raspberry cake nestled between layers of a foamy icing drizzled with chocolate sauce that cracked when I dug into it with my spoon. The portion was small enough that, had I been more hungry, I wouldn’t have shared it. I usually order something more typical, like chocolate cake or cheesecake (which they also offered), but I was happy with my choice. While the cake did not offer any noticeable contrasting yet complementary flavors, it did offer complexity in texture and was beautifully plated, and those are things I love in a dessert.
Layer Cake

With my food boxed up, we made to depart, our server and the hostesses wishing us a good night. This hip, foodie hotspot, with its seasonal New American cuisine and craft cocktails, is a nice addition to the St. Petersburg culinary scene and a worthy stop for couples on a date, friends, anyone looking for a rustic, relaxed setting and a menu with fresh ingredients and an original take on American favorites. So even though The Mill is more of a trek for me when I’m looking to go out, I enjoyed my experience, so it’s definitely a place I recommend and will go back to. And though it’s just been open a week, my gut tells me that it will be successful enough that I will have the chance.
Menu  (since not online)

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