Things tasteful, tasty at Tampa hotel

The lobby of the Epicurean Hotel, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
The lobby of the Epicurean Hotel, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

According to Tom Haines, general manager of the Epicurean Hotel, a stay at the AAA Four Diamond hotel "is like culinary voyeurism — as immersive as guests would like."

The property, located in Tampa's SoHo district, marries rich history from one of the country's most prestigious culinary families with five-star presentations. The result is the perfect blend of food and wine to tantalize the senses and palates of well-heeled foodies.

The boutique hotel was developed in collaboration with the Laxer family, which owns Tampa institutions Bern's Steak House and SideBern's, Bern's Fine Wine & Spirits (located across from the hotel) and Mainsail Lodging & Development. It is the first newly constructed hotel to join the Autograph Collection of Marriott International.

The four-story hotel has 137 rooms, a rooftop bar, restaurant, spa, pool, cooking school, patisserie and wine shop featuring over 1,000 labels from around the world.

Visitors are immersed in culinary culture from the moment they step inside the intimate lobby. A wall centerpiece of wine crates is the main art focal point. A complimentary glass of wine at check-in begins the culinary journey.

The venue for the hotel’s cooking school.
The venue for the hotel’s cooking school.

Utensils and wine bottles illuminate room numbers that open to artfully decorated accommodations, with sliding wooden barn doors to the bathroom, all-natural soaps and shampoos and culinary artwork and photos.

There is an artisan pantry menu offering sweet and savory nibbles like goat cheese, prosciutto and chocolate-covered cherries. Elegant wine glasses and Champagne flutes complement the selection of several bottles of wine and Champagne in the room cooler. There is also a Tassimo brewing system to make cappuccinos or a cup of Earl Grey.

Two-time James Beard semifinalist Chef Chad Johnson flavors the hotel's Elevage restaurant with classic American recipes reimagined. The menu includes items like tuna casserole and dry-aged strip steak, and recipes incorporate hydroponically grown fresh herbs from the restaurant garden wall. Order the duck club sandwich for lunch, then sneak a peek in the kitchen and watch the chef make your meal.

Looking for a romantic getaway during your stay? The hotel offers a free bicycle rental, and the kitchen will prepare a specialty picnic basket to take along.

The rooftop bar, Edge, continues the cuisine-meets-cocktail theme with an array of specialties made with fresh herbs as well as a selection of local craft beers. Sip a Greenhouse 31 made with gin, homemade cherry shrub and fresh lemon and drink in the views of a spectacular sunset.

The Evangeline Spa’s herb garden.
The Evangeline Spa’s herb garden.

Food is also an essential ingredient at Evangeline Spa, named after the statue at Bern's. Inside the manicure and pedicure room is another hanging herb garden, surrounded by a floor-to-ceiling wall of wine corks.

A variety of anti-aging facial and relaxing body treatments incorporate a variety of ingredients, including fresh herbs, essential oils and even chocolate. I opted for the Grand Cru Anti-Aging facial, which uses gentle buffing cream, a hydrogel lifting mask and LED therapy and is said to reduce inflammation and increase collagen and elastin production.

A visit would not be complete without indulging in sweet treats from Chocolate Pi, the patisserie owned by Kim Yelvington, Bern's executive pastry chef. The shop features an array of mouth-watering macarons, chocolate delicacies and homemade sodas.

The centerpiece of the hotel is the Epicurean Theatre, which hosts several hands-on cooking demonstrations and wine tastings each week. Local restaurateurs and culinary experts encourage interaction among participants and using all senses to prepare and savor meals.

During my stay, I prepared a spicy turkey salad with roasted rice, chicken coconut soup and lamb panang curry in the beginner's Thai cooking class. The instructor was enthusiastic and encouraging and allowed each student to be a part of the process. It was a three-course celebration with wine pairings that gave my taste buds an experience unlike any other. 

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