This review also appeared in The Florida Times-Union
Interpreting descriptors like “exquisite elegantly casual” and “global cuisine with a regional twist” can be a head-scratcher, which meant that a visit to Taste Food Studio, recently opened in the former Urban Flats space near Tinseltown, was in order. The location itself is a formidable obstacle, as it faces Touchton Road and can’t be seen from Southside Boulevard. The space hasn’t changed much from its days as Urban Flats. Booths are tucked away in a corner, while the rest of the large space is dotted with smaller tables that are easy to move when the restaurant becomes more of a “lounge” at night or during “Wine Down Wednesdays,” which offer all-you-can-drink wine and free appetizers for $17. The patio has its own bar and really could be a destination for those looking to escape the crush of the Town Center.
We decided to order from the tapas menu to sample more of Taste’s offerings. As I think I’ve mentioned before, Mario is usually of the mind that “tapas is just Spanish for expensive!”, because often the small plates are just a few bites of food for appetizer prices. However, we both felt full at the end of the meal, and the check was no more than what we would have spent on two entrees. The hands-down favorite was the truffle mac and cheese with chorizo ($8). The dish was baked, which left a pleasantly crunchy topping over the delicious cheese sauce. The only complaints were that the chorizo was not spicy and seemed like regular sausage, and that we didn’t order more.
The teriyaki-braised pork belly (served with sweet potato fries, $10) was also excellent and cooked to that perfect point where the meat is still tender and the fat is cooked enough to not feel gelatinous. I also requested some of the honey goat cheese sauce that comes with the separate order of sweet potato fries ($6). While it sounded great in theory, this dipping sauce was not executed well. It was both soupy and grainy and tasted only of goat cheese, not honey. I pushed it aside after two dips of my (otherwise good) fries.
We found the last two dishes we tried — Mahogany Wings (jumbo wings brined, then fried and tossed in housemade mahogany sauce, $8), and the Spicy Shrimp and Scallop Duo (sun-dried tomato and garlic butter sauce, served with parmesan crostinis, $13) — mostly satisfying. From what I could tell, mahogany sauce is sweet and smoky and not unlike teriyaki sauce. Like the chorizo before it, we did not find the seafood dish spicy in the least, though there were visible red pepper flakes throughout the sauce. The parmesan crostinis were too hard to be edible, and not just from over-toasting; I suspected the bread may have been stale to start with.
The rest of Taste’s menu is populated by the usual soups and salads, a number of dips, flatbreads/pizzas, burgers and “big plates.” Taste Food Studio has potential, and finding its focus (restaurant vs. bar/lounge) may help find its customer base. The food is as good as happy hour favorites at the Town Center, but filling seats will likely be the biggest hurdle.