Fortu: The Wagyu stands alone (PHOTOS)

On the ground floor of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, in downtown St. Petersburg, is a cozy little restaurant space that previously was home to Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant, for 25 years. 

It was a popular spot for celebratory dinners, including a pre-prom dinner circa 2001, for yours truly. 

Ceviche moved to a new location, on Beach Drive, in St. Pete, in 2021. In the space that was left empty, on 95 Central, is now Fortu, a pan-Asian steakhouse that specializes in its menu of sake, Japanese whiskeys and wagyu steak. 

Fortu is the latest concept from Benson Hospitality Group, led by Shan Bakrac. 

The drink menu is much longer than its food menu, but the food it has is done so supremely well, it is unnecessary to expand past its two pages of small plates, raw bar, land and sea, sides and the star of the show, the Wagyu steaks. 

THE BAR

For ambiance, it’s a stunning atmosphere. It provides a very trendy, New York City hot spot vibe, but not in a pretentious way. The bar was full at 5:45 p.m. on a Thursday, with, seemingly, an abundance of tables available. It’s best to make reservations though, those tables filled up quickly, within the hour. By 7 p.m., it was so packed it was a challenge to hear my dining partner across the table. On the evenings, when the weather is kind, opt for patio seating if you expect to do a lot of chatting. 

For those who indulge, there is a very generous list of options for alcoholic beverages. For sake, our waiter suggested the Konteki “Pearls of Simplicity.” With aromas of white flower, Asian pear and steamed rice, the cold sake was refreshing and fragrant. Not overpowering, just a hint of flavors that combined well. 

SMALL PLATES

Everything on the small plate menu is tempting. The tuna wonton tacos were fresh and perfect for just a taste, served two per order. The tuna was served with dark soy and apple sauces that, with just a little, went a long way to elevate the flavor of the taco. But the Pan Seared Gyoza was truly an exceptional surprise. The braised wagyu shoulder inside was so tender and the shiitake jus complemented it so well, it had me and my dinner date politely fighting over the last bite. 

Another item we didn’t try, but were told was popular, was the Potato Mille Feuille, with black truffle aioli and shaved truffle. How could that possibly be bad? I can’t imagine a world where it would be and I plan to try it on my next visit. 

MAINS

There is a raw bar, with oysters, which was skipped this visit, and a land and sea menu featuring short rib, fried chicken, pork, salmon and more. 

The Miso Black Cod was highly recommended, and considered, but it was hard not to be drawn to the wagyu menu. 

There is a curated Wagyu menu and an A5 menu. A5 is the highest possible rating awarded for cuts of wagyu meat. Fortu rotates its Wagyu offerings. 

This evening, my guest and I opted for an Australian Carrara Ranch Bavette. 

The 10 oz. sake washed cut of meat, cooked medium rare, was presented sliced and immaculate on the plate. The crust of the meat was just the right amount of crisp to the tender inside. It was, perhaps, one of the best experiences of beef I’ve ever tasted. 

It was served with the addition of Black Garlic Sauce, which was delicious, but completely unnecessary. The wagyu stands alone. 

Listen, I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s upcharge opportunity, and additions like truffle butter is almost always a treat, but this steak was so silly good, it simply is just not needed. 

For a side, the Jalapeno Honey Sweet Potatoes, which are a la carte and plenty to share, were another surprising treat. They are served caramelized and the little crispy bits are the ones to search for in the oversized bowl. 

Between the steak and potatoes, both of which were shared, there was not a drop left of either dish. 

END ON A SWEET NOTE

There is a small menu of desserts. We decided to give the Coconut Cream Mille Feuille a try and were not disappointed. A coconut custard is served between pastry along with chunks of mango.  It’s delicious and, once again, there was an empty plate in front of us. 

Fortu is a dining treat. You will not be able to try everything in one visit and will want to return because of the options you missed. It’s not often everything tasted during a first visit to a new restaurant is just that good. Well done, Fortu. Kudos to the chef, indeed. ♦

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