"Your muscles are tight like guitar strings," my massage therapist at the Rock Spa said. "I'm just trying to loosen those pegs a little."
I smiled at the music reference as I melted into the table; it sounds scripted, but I appreciated it, along with the tiny electric guitar embroidered on the terry cloth robe. The massage lotion is perfumed with orange, ylang ylang and sage for the Heaven Scent signature treatment.
The bustle of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel Tampa was the furthest thing from my mind. I am completely tucked away in this refreshed sanctuary, redesigned with modern furnishings in aqua and lavender hues. The newly refurbished guestroom in which I'm staying, outfitted in glitter granite and framed photos of John Lennon and Tommy Lee, felt equally ensconced.
The four-diamond hotel and casino, located on 37 acres on the Seminole Tribe Reservation, completed phase one of its multimillion-dollar expansion in May 2017. The new poker room, 26,000-square-foot, mezzanine-level casino and smoke-free gaming area were all part of the grand reopening in early summer.
Phase two of the construction will include a second tower, additional banquet and meetings facilities, five retail stores and a helipad.
Among the recent additions is the Rez Grill, which opened in December under the direction of the Hard Rock's creative culinary director chef, Frank Anderson. The opening marked the end of the renovations of the original hotel tower, adding a new signature restaurant to the successful Council Oak Steaks & Seafood fine dining restaurant. The Rez Grill's sleek 120-seat gastropub concept truly offers something for everyone, with menu offerings from chicken and waffles served on a massive platter for family-style feasting to the classic lobster Thermidor with sherry bechamel sauce.
The Rez Grill opened in December.
"We needed to offer a wide array of dishes here, since casinos cater to all walks of life," said Anderson, who presided over a media dinner I attended.
Anderson's pedigree is impressive, having studied in Europe at the Italian Institute for Advanced Culinary & Pastry Arts on the southern tip of the Italian peninsula. It's no surprise, then, that Anderson will be diving head-first into a new Italian concept restaurant when the Hard Rock's second tower opens in 2020. Before heading up the Hard Rock Tampa's culinary operations, Anderson opened and managed the kitchen as chef de cuisine at the James Beard-award-winning restaurants Son of a Gun and Animal in Los Angeles.
Dawn Lazo, vice president of food and beverage at the Seminole Hard Rock, sang Anderson's praises at the dinner. "We want this to be a destination dining experience for our guests," she said. "Frank cooks from the heart, has worked alongside some of the best in the industry, and his food is delicious yet unpretentious."
Having experienced Anderson's cooking first hand, I concur. My fellow diners and I drooled over the thinner-than-paper slices of Benton's country ham from Madisonville, Tenn., treated with as much care as any fine prosciutto. The cucumber and heirloom tomato salad was presented as a shrine to the summer temperatures Florida promises, atop house-made yogurt. A lemon curd and blueberry puree dessert, punctuated with puffs of toasted meringue, looked as though it might have come out of a Michelin-starred kitchen.
Clients will want to make sure they sidle up to the bar in the center of the restaurant, as the bar program here is extensive and, best of all, fun. It's pretty hard to make a mainstay libation like the gin and tonic better, but the Improved G&T cocktail has done just that. As the server pours the gin over a single, giant, electric blue ice cube, it melts and forms a perfectly purple pool in the glass. It's a stunner of a drink.
It was just as much of a treat to head to the buzzing casino floor for a blackjack lesson after dinner. Across the hall, we could hear a band tuning up for their next set, plenty of revelers already populating the dance floor.
Two-and-a-half hours of good conversation and spirited card play later, I was happy to make my way back to the quiet of my room, where I'd peacefully dream about cashing in the $2,700 in practice chips I'd won at the table.
Upon the opening of the new casino amenities, Joe Lupo, president of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa, stated, "We're ecstatic that we now have these terrific venues to offer our guests, which ultimately enhances their experience."