When Tampa locals think of Ybor City, vivid images of the cigar industry, roosters roaming the streets and a lively nightlife often come to mind. While fine dining might not be the first association with this historically rich Cuban neighborhood, hidden culinary gems like Flor Fina offer an unforgettable experience, nestled within Hotel Haya.
Hotel Haya and Flor Fina opened in September 2020, during an uncertain time for travel. However, Aparium Hotel Group, known for its upscale lifestyle and boutique hotels across the United States, persevered and introduced the boutique hotel, with 178 rooms, to the Tampa market. Their vision combines cultural connectivity, progressive design and elevated services. They collaborated with Alfonso Architects, a local design firm in Ybor, to extend the mid-century Cuban aesthetics from the hotel lobby into Flor Fina’s cocktail and dining space.
As you approach the restaurant, your eyes are drawn to the copper-clad centerpiece bar. Alfonso Architects blends palettes of pewter and burnt orange with modern touches, while the windows overlooking the resort pool fill the expansive room with natural light. Although the dining area is connected to the lobby, each sitting area is thoughtfully arranged to provide privacy and facilitate intimate conversations. The Francisco Goya reproductions of the Chihuly-style, glass-blown light fixture serve as the room’s focal point, paying homage to Ybor’s famous streetlights.
In March, Eric McHugh was introduced as the new executive chef of Flor Fina. With a lifelong passion for food, and a 20-year culinary career in the Tampa market, McHugh aims to elevate the menu at this Latin and Mediterranean-inspired restaurant. Describing his vision he says, “As a restaurant located in the heart of Tampa Bay’s most historic neighborhood, Flor Fina’s new menu draws inspiration from Ybor City’s diverse mix of Cuban, Spanish, Italian and other cultures, creating a blend of flavors and a dining experience as unique as Hotel Haya itself.”
Flor Fina sets the stage for a remarkable experience with a delightful aperitif, teasing the taste buds in anticipation of the flavors to come. The libations are meticulously crafted using the finest liquors. Whiskey enthusiasts can indulge in the Smokey Joe, a posher rendition of an Old Fashioned that pays homage to Ybor’s cigar industry by presenting the smokey drink within a custom-made J.C. Newman Cigar Co. box. For those with a sweeter palate, the Painkiller cocktail packs a punch, combining fine rum with coconut, pineapple and orange juice, served in a beautiful ceramic peacock cup that is available for purchase. The Sacred Order, a visually captivating gin drink, undergoes a unique process of freezing the gin with chorizo fat, separating the liquid and blending it with pomegranate, lemon and dill to create a refreshing beverage.
McHugh’s new vision for Flor Fina revolves around tableside presentation, putting smoke, and steam, in the spotlight, reminiscent of Ybor’s cigar heritage. The Ceviche Sampler, served over a bed of seaweed, arrives steaming with dry ice with four samples of fresh ceviche, along with a smoked fish dip and plantains.
Although seafood takes center stage in many of the menu selections, the coastal Mediterranean influence adds a unique flair to the dishes. The shareable pastas offer several delectable options. The Morcilla Mezzaluna consists of pasta pillows filled with house-made morcilla sausage and cantar de Covadonga creme, topped with pignoli and crispy Brussels sprout shavings. The airy pockets encapsulate all the ingredients for a perfect bite. Scallion pesto, charred broccolini and blistered tomatoes adorn the Ricotta Gnudi plate, adding visual appeal to the lighter pasta option.
The menu features a variety of steaks, including the churrasco skirt steak, locally sourced from Tampa’s Providence Cattle Ranch, and a Tomahawk steak. Elevating any steak, the wild Mushroom Mezcal Flambé adds a touch of fire to the table with a beautiful presentation. For those seeking further enhancements options like Bone Marrow Butter, Adobo Bernaise or Devil Crab Dynamite add the extra flavor profile.
To complete your dining experience at Flor Fina, the Quatro Leches dessert is a must-try. This traditional Latin American dessert ups the ante with dulce de leche. The light and airy cake is topped with fresh whipped cream and a toffee brittle.
If choosing a single dish becomes a challenge inquire about the family-style four-course feast, where the chef takes care of all the details, ensuring a memorable meal that will linger in your senses long after the bill is paid.
Recently, Ybor has undergone a renaissance embracing both its historical roots and modern developments. Hotel Haya and Flor Fina have carefully preserved the area’s architectural charm while introducing contemporary elements that appeal to residents and visitors alike, putting Ybor on the list as a dining destination. ♦
Follow Barbara Lynch at @PosherPalate and @AmbassadorBarb.
Flor fina: 1412 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605