The 1926 YWCA building, home to St. Petersburg’s Rococo Steak, hums with staff as they put the final touches on the soon-to-open restaurant and bar. Redwood wine racks are being built, carpet laid, lighting hung.
Executive Chef Richard Potts and CEO Joe Orsino want Rococo to be less stuffy, more open and casual than some traditional steak spots.
“A steakhouse is a steakhouse,” Potts says. “We want to take out the pretension associated with steakhouses. As Rococo was a contemporary movement in art, this is a contemporary interpretation.”
Given that the 18th-century Rococo style was about as over-the-top and pretentious as an art movement could get, perhaps Potts is referring to the fact that this is a restaurant with a lot going on.
The space includes an outdoor dining and lounge area, a private dining room where “the people are the art” and a second-story banquet hall for up to 150 (complete with its own bar and kitchen).
Potts, 32, grew up around food. His father, a classically trained French chef who also studied German cuisine, learned the ways of fresh ingredients from Potts’ grandfather, a farmer.
“Happy chickens make happy eggs,” he says, “and happy cows make happy cheese.”
The massive kitchen area, complete with 38 feet of uninterrupted line space, has only one freezer. And a dedicated beef-aging cooler room. That means weekly deliveries of fresh produce.
“This kitchen is huge and we are looking forward to playing a lot,” sous chef Sara Richards says. That includes making one of her Wisconsin specialties, frozen custard. “I make custard,” she explains. “I don’t make ice cream.”
While the nine-plus cuts of steak may be the lure for special occasions, don’t dismiss the rest of the menu — like the appetizer “flight” of bacon, fried chicken lollipops, and poutine.
“For me, it’s about taking those classic dishes and turning them on their head,” Potts says.
For example, the antelope schnitzel, a dish inspired by his father. Potts also plans to unleash some offal on the menu, including tripe, sweetbreads and kidneys. Another inspiration is the legendary French Laundry/Per Se chef Thomas Keller. Like Keller, Potts aims to use “the best products and make simple food done well.”
“And I won’t lie, our burger is bitchin’.” He starts with New York strip ground in-house, and sits it atop a Brioche bun with cheddar cheese, rosemary aioli, heirloom tomatoes, greens, and a hearty helping of bacon onion jam.
Steaks are cooked at 900 degrees under infrared broilers, then transported to the adjacent resting station.
“I believe in food chemistry,” Potts says. “Resting the meat is important to keep the juiciness inside the steak.”
Chateaubriand steaks will be cooked sous vide-style. And the gas/oven hybrid grill cooks with oak and bourbon-soaked cherrywood to add “smokiness to each dish,” he explains.
There’s wine, too — lots of it.
“We will have one of the largest wine lists, with over 700 labels by the bottle and nearly 3,000 bottles in our upstairs wine room,” Orsino explains.
Yep, the wine cellar is in the attic — a 55-degree, temperature-controlled, dark man-made tomb.
Potts explains that Rococo recently acquired the wine collection from Tio Pepe’s in Clearwater. Some labels in the collection date back to the 1900s. Those new to wine shouldn’t be intimidated, though, as Rococo will also offer over 30 wines by the glass. Grape explorations are encouraged here.
Rococo Steak opens at the end of October.
This is an updated version of an earlier story.