The murals on the wall, the fresh flowers on the tables and the artful arrangement of the tables around the room -- create a distinct European feel at The NoHo Bistro in West Tampa.
It's a restaurant that aims to exude a welcoming ambience, and where owners Tomas Carrasquillo III and Tina Hurless seek to convey a sense of appreciation for their regular patrons. They hope the regulars will introduce the bistro to new customers, and that the new customers will become regulars – and so on.
The strategy seems to be working.
Diners like Jennifer Vivens, Barbie Winterbottom, Tina Dampf, Hildren Francis, Laura Donaldson, Cori Cuttler and Aimee Dias visit often, and often bring along friends. Newcomers like Christine Long and Denise Everett promise to return.
"I love it. The service is always friendly. The food is very fresh," Dias says.
Making and preparing food that gives customers a sense of satisfaction is what it is all about, Hurless says.
"We're not trying to be high-end. We're not trying to be stodgy, stuffy," Carrasquillo adds, saying that the 4-year-old bistro aims to be a casual and comfortable place that provides excellent service, great food and eclectic wines and craft beers – all at a reasonable price.
Carrasquillo began developing his knowledge of wine as a young man, beginning with his father's tutelage. Over the years, he learned from co-workers and friends and broadened his knowledge through travel and restaurant hopping. His goal is to offer familiar wines while introducing patrons to new grapes and styles of wine.
Carrasquillo, who earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from the University of Florida
, got his start in the hospitality world two decades ago, as a busboy at a Marriott hotel. In college, he worked as a waiter, pizza delivery driver and bartender.
After finishing law school, he quickly realized that the legal profession wasn't for him – so he went back to work in a bar.
Hurless, the NoHo Bistro
's chef, has a bachelor's degree in English and communications from Florida State University
. She started cooking at home as a child and after college for family and friends. About 10 years ago, she took the leap into a new career after going back to school to get her culinary training at Hillsborough Community College
"What I really enjoy the most about cooking is the art to it,'' Hurless says. "Cooking makes you feel creative in a way that transcends all the senses. If you do your dish right, your audience gets to experience it by using all senses rather than just looking at it."Sharing The Local Harvest
Among NoHo's suppliers: Urban Oasis Hydroponic Farm
in Carrollwood; Sammy's Seafood
in St. Petersburg, the Ravioli Company
in Tampa; Kahwa Coffee
in St. Petersburg; and Matt O'Connor, hydroponic and organic herbs in Odessa.Menu choices
change seasonally and include items such as a roasted eggplant sandwich with herbed goat cheese and arugula on focaccia ($8), a toasted pecan-grape curried chicken salad on honey whole wheat ($8), a tuna-apple-walnut salad sandwich ($8), and a sweet potato-apple soup with crème fraiche and gruyer crouton ($4 a cup, $6 a bowl).
Running a restaurant and catering business is hard work and requires attention to detail, Carrasquillo and Hurless are quick to point out.
They acknowledge that the restaurant business is notoriously risky and the recent economy has been particularly challenging, but they believe the Bistro has demonstrated its staying power.
"I think the fact that we've been at the same location for four years is testament to the fact that if you go about it the right way, you can survive even in a rougher economy," says Carrasquillo.
The Bistro, 1714 N. Armenia Ave., is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, and for dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday. It is closed on Sundays.B.C. Manion is a freelance writer working out of her 1932 bungalow in South Seminole Heights. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.