Featured Restaurant on Rick's DineSite Journal

   
DineSite:

Bern's Steak House

Location:

1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, FL

Website: http://www.bernssteakhouse.com
Tel:  
Cuisine: American
Review: 17.75/20

 

Journal entries: Date, Atmosphere, Food, Winelist, Service, Other
Bern's was cited by Wine Spectator Magazine as the best steakhouse in America in terms of food, wine, and overall rankings. It clearly is unique and an institution for steak and wine but from my experience, it falls short of perfection. Their Wine Spectator Grand Award Wine Cellar features more than 500,000 bottles - one of the largest in the world.
Oct 20, 2004 -

The atmosphere is uniquely formal and eclectic with numerous dining rooms each with its own ambiance... some gaudy, some clubby, some cosmopolitan - the Bordeaux room, Burgundy room, Andre Techelloft room, Florentine room, etc. each small intimate in its own way.  
Atmosphere - 3.5/5

Food - Menu is basic American steakhouse with a selection of seafood reflecting the coastal setting. Some token veal and chicken dishes but this is the quintessential steakhouse - so much so they sell their steaks by the INCH and the Ounce. Standard fare provides soup, salad, baked potato, vegetable selection du jour and house onion rings as sides to every entre. Still there is an extensive selection of sides. Salads come with a dozen different home-made dressings. Preparation and presentation is basic and almost institutional reflecting the large high volume setting and distributed dining rooms. For being a steak house first and foremost, my NY strip was a bit tough and grainy. We're not in Chicago or New York! The hospitality and showmanship of promoting and showcasing the dining rooms, kitchen and cellars is unprecedented and amiable. They promote tours of the kitchen and cellar and work hard to show off and share insights of their substantial operations. One can't help but feel a bit of the 'Disney' experience of queuing, herding, hurrying and queuing some more but its all part of the experience that is uniquely Berns. 
Food - 3.75/5

Wine - This may be the most extensive winelist and wine cellar of any restaurant on the continent. You can certainly count on both hands or less the number of wine lists in this class. The winelist is 138 pages long - reprinted every nine months, featuring 6500 different wines and an astonishing inventory of over a half million bottles - of which 90,000 are there on the premises!! Its bound in a landscape format 7X 11 book that is approachable and easy to read - updated about every nine months. This night was the 55th printing from August 2004 - book #61. The offering is extensive although not as broad as one may expect, but there are extraordinarily deep vertical selections of a large number of wines. There are twenty five different vintages of Gruaud Larose with almost a dozen from the 19th century dating back to 1820! There are about 20 vintages of most first growths dating back to the turn of the (last) century. There are twenty five vintages of Ducru Beaucaillou dating back to 1920 and about fifteen vintages of Dominus - as an example of the depth. There is a surprisingly broad and deep selection of California wines with a surprising large number of uninspiring middle tier volume producers' standard brands reflecting the huge selection. There are respectable selections from all the major reqions with the top producers from Gaja to Grange to Harlan. Deeper though there is Freemark Abbey but nothing from their single vineyard Bosche, Sycamore, or Carpy Ranch vineyards for example. There are five different vintages of Robert Craig Cabernet Sauvignons but nothing from his noteable 97, 96 or 94 vintages. So the winelist while exceptionally broad and selectively deep is a bit pedestrian at times not reflecting consistency of high end selective or sought after boutique offerings. Never-the-less, the winelist offers an incredible selection of moderately fairly priced wines with many great values. Lastly, there is an astonishing 140 wines by the glass, an entire restaurant or dining room dedicated to a hundred desert spirits and wines with accompanying deserts, and a large respectable selection of large format bottles. The winelist is a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner as one might expect from such an investment and selection. I chose to try a Bordeaux from the eighties top ranked vintages at a price-point less than $100. I had no less than a dozen selections to choose from including Clerc Milon 1988, Pape Clement, Pontet Canet, Cantemerle, Chateau Les Ormes de Pez 1982 or 1981, Brane Cantenac 1983, and Chasse Spleen, etc. The selections are by wine type not regions for the Americans from California and the Northwest. Rest of world wines are by appellation - French from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone - north and south including CDP, Vacqueras, Gigondas, even Segurat and Provence - Italians, Germans, Australians, Spanish and South Americans. The selection is extensive and deep. Prices are reasonable. Lastly, in addition wines to by the glass, one can order 1 ounce servings and create your own 'flight' from the extensive per glass offering. For any wine aficionado, its the worth the trip and is a memorable experience.  See Wine Journal Review.
Wine - 5/5.

Service was friendly but someone distracted and busy due to the staffing method of personalized service rather than teams or overlapping servers or associates and supplementary servers - resulting in less than  attentive and less than efficient service. Waiters were professional, courteous and gracious, and friendly never-the-less. 
Service - 3.5/5

Overall - Bern's is an institution - a shrine to steak and a shrine to wine. They play up that reputation with showmanship and pomp mixed with hospitality albeit it is a bit impersonal due to the sheer volume. As much of the spectacle of Disneyland are the queuing and lines. As  such it is a unique wine and dine experience that warrants two rating points raising their cumulative rating to 17.75/20.

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