Haven: A cheese lover’s heaven (PHOTOS)

In the heart of South Tampa lies an oasis of gastronomic decadence, a place where exceptional cuisine, unparalleled libations and a welcoming atmosphere converge to create a truly unforgettable dining experience. Following in the footsteps of the iconic Bern’s Steakhouse, Haven continues the legacy of culinary excellence, and commitment to unparalleled quality, established by founders Bern and Gert Laxer, more than six decades ago. Haven has etched its name among the city’s most celebrated culinary destinations, captivating locals with its ever-evolving offerings and commitment to savory artistry. 

Bern’s Steak House, a Tampa institution since 1956, has long been revered for its impeccable steaks, extensive wine cellar and unwavering dedication to excellence. It was from this legacy that Haven was born, a concept that sought to push the boundaries of traditional steakhouse fare and explore the realms of modern, seasonal cuisine.

At Haven, the guiding principle of “crafted, cultured and cellared” is woven into every aspect of the dining experience. Each dish is crafted using seasonal ingredients, showcasing the culinary team’s dedication to both quality and innovation. Complementing the cuisine is an unparalleled selection of whiskeys, bourbons and scotches, thoughtfully curated to offer an extensive journey through the world of spirits. 

At the helm of Haven’s culinary exploration is James Beard-nominated, Executive Chef Chad Johnson, whose passion for exceptional food is evident in every dish. Johnson began at the French Culinary Institute, in New York, where he honed his skills under legendary chefs such as Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner and Alain Salihac. The fusion of classic French techniques with modern culinary trends has become a hallmark of Haven’s menu. Alongside Johnson is Chef de Cuisine Gerry Sizemore, who has worked at Haven for more than six years. Sizemore’s talent and expertise were fostered through his education at Johnson and Wales University, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and further enhanced by his experiences at prestigious events including The Masters Tournament, in Augusta. Together, this dynamic duo orchestrates a symphony of flavors, seamlessly blending tradition and innovation.

Upon entering Haven, patrons are immediately struck by the sophisticated elegance of its interior. Rich wood accents, soft leather seating and a romantic glow from tasteful lighting create a warm, and intimate, atmosphere perfect for savoring exquisite food and libations. The sleek, contemporary bar showcases an impressive selection of spirits, inviting patrons to explore the world of fine whiskeys and handcrafted cocktails. The centerpiece of Haven’s decor is a breathtaking floor-to-ceiling glass enclosure that showcases a mesmerizing selection of cheeses sourced from every corner of the globe, promising a thrilling adventure for every cheese connoisseur.

With the massive selection of whiskey, it may feel wrong to order a zero-proof drink; however, the Queen’s Tea is the perfect choice for those seeking an elevated, non-alcoholic beverage that doesn’t compromise on flavor or sophistication. As you sip this enchanting elixir, the bright, citrus zest of fresh lemon balances the floral undertones, creating a refreshing harmony that dances on your tongue.

If navigating Haven’s extensive whiskey list – which boasts rare vintages like the coveted Michter’s US1 Single Barrel 20 Year and the highly sought-after Old Fitzgerald 19-Year Bottled-In-Bond Fall 2022 Release – seems daunting, fear not. The Haven Old Fashioned, a masterful blend of Michter’s small batch bourbon, Bern’s barrel-aged old-fashioned syrup, aromatic orange peel and a luscious filthy cherry, is a failsafe choice that will undoubtedly delight even the posher palates. This highball encapsulates the essence of Haven’s commitment to elevating classic cocktails and ensuring a truly memorable sipping experience.

Haven is a paradise for cheese aficionados, where Cheese Monger’s expertly curated selection of 18 artisanal cheeses and charcuterie offerings leaves the decision-making to the experts. This exploration through the world of fromage features a myriad of exquisite delights, each with its own unique story and flavor profile. Delve into the rich, pasteurized cow’s milk Pierre Robert, hailing from France, which delights with its creamy decadence. 

The Truffle Tremor, a standout among California’s artisanal cheeses, is punctuated by flecks of fragrant black truffles combined with the tang of goat’s milk adding a luxurious dimension to its taste profile. The Leonora a Fuego excites the palate with its delicate creaminess and the subtle heat of Spanish paprika. A rare gem, the Rogue River Blue is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from Oregon that’s highly allocated and distributed, only once a year. Its unique aging process involves wrapping the cheese in pear brandy-soaked leaves, resulting in a delightful balance of sweetness and the characteristic strength of blue cheese. Complementing the cheeses are the savory Wagyu Bresaola and the Lady Edison Ham, which is expertly paired with apple and truffle honey. Finally, Marcona almonds and raisin chutney provide the perfect accompaniments, rounding out the cheese-tasting extravaganza.

The cheese offerings at Haven are so extensive and satisfying that often, just a few starters and a dessert can be enough to satiate the appetite. The Tuna Sashimi, a visually stunning creation featuring wagyu tartare, Osetra caviar and a tantalizing black vinegar ponzu, is a true indulgence. Each bite is a harmonious dance of flavors, with the buttery richness of the tuna melting on the tongue, punctuated by the briny bursts of caviar and the umami depth of the ponzu. Equally captivating is the Coal Grilled Octopus, a vibrant composition of tender octopus accompanied by potatoes, Hungarian peppers, salsa verde and a velvety urfa pepper aioli. The dish is a feast for the eyes, with each element contributing its distinct hue and texture, creating a visual masterpiece almost too beautiful to consume. For those seeking a delightful interplay of flavors and textures, the Rock Shrimp Hummus, with green olives, sumac and dill, offers a delightful fusion of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences.

Be sure to save room for Haven’s inventive Dirt Pie, a whimsical dessert that delights both the eyes and the palate. This edible work of art features a clever composition of caramelia mousse, caraibe cremeux and coffee soil, all housed within a delightful chocolate “pot.” The dessert’s unique presentation invites you to unleash your inner child and play with your food as you indulge in its rich flavors. The mousse, velvety smooth and perfectly balanced, serves as the “dirt,” while the coffee soil introduces a hint of bitterness that pairs with the mousse. The scotch-soaked gummy worm elevates the dish, inviting you to savor every last bite and leaving you with a sense of contentment as you reflect on the memorable dining experience that is Haven.

Amidst the dynamic and ever-changing fine-dining scene in Tampa Bay, Haven has firmly established itself as a premier destination for cheese and whiskey connoisseurs. Since opening its doors, this distinguished restaurant has consistently offered patrons an unparalleled experience, featuring an exquisite array of artisanal cheeses and an extensive selection of whiskeys.♦

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