Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lobster Haven Seafood and Shanty, Tampa, FL

Lobster Haven is a great little hole-in-the-wall on Hillsborough Avenue just outside of Oldsmar in a nondescript strip mall, although I'm a bit puzzled by the name since  it doesn't really seem to be much of a haven for the lobsters.  Perhaps "Lobster Kill-Shelter" would be a more accurate appellation.

A bona fide "hidden gem", there is little about the exterior to reel you in (forgive the pun) if you are simply a passing motorist....except for maybe the skeletal remains of an odd, lobster-esque metal structure that I think a banner used to hang from that said "Eat More Lobstah". Nonetheless, it proved itself to be a true destination restaurant for simple seafood lovers who appreciate quality and don't need white tablecloths and linen napkins to be happy (this is a Styrofoam plate and plastic basket kinda place).  Howdy...c'mon in!


















While the interior is pretty simple and consists of a retail seafood display and wooden tables with paper place mats, efforts clearly have been made to cuten it up in the dining areas.  In other words, a non-typical (for a casual seafood restaurant), eclectically kitschy ambiance does exist and you don't feel like you're just sitting in a butcher shop eating your meal. Our server was friendly, informative and honest in her descriptions when we asked questions about the preparation style of the somewhat  limited menu offerings. Food took a little while to come out, but the place was surprisingly busy at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, we were in no hurry and everything presented was clearly freshly prepared...so we didn't mind.

First up, The Big Easy starter (crab meat, homemade guacamole, pico de gallo and shredded lettuce served with tortilla chips for dipping).  It can be ordered made with either "krab" or "crab", and since I have no tolerance for that strange "krab" shiznit, we paid a small upcharge for the real deal.  Not a morsel of this unique and fresh-tasting dip remained after our foursome had our way with it.
















We also sampled the Smoked Fish Spread.  Described as being homemade and house-smoked, its piscatorial species of origin apparently varies by day.  I was a little bummed initially to hear that Lobster Haven would be serving smoked salmon spread, but redemption came in the form of a creamy-yet-sturdy, sweet, smoky and totally non-fishy-tasting (salmon can sometimes be a little over the top in that respect) rendition that had a nice little kick of heat on the back-end.  I loved the smooth texture as well as the fact that there was none of the "mayo overload" that one frequently encounters in this ubiquitous local snack.  I also bestow Sweet Polly's Coveted Bonus Points for the fact that it was served with buttery Captain's Wafers and not cheapass Saltines.  Another all-around crowd-pleaser.
















My "little" brother was psyched that snapper was a Catch of the Day and leapt right on that.  The generous slab was well-executed...served grilled and lightly seasoned with no degradation of moistness.  A large ear of corn on the cob and some exceptionally tasty garlic smashed new potatoes came with his entree.  The other choice would've been a house salad for an additional $1.99.  Side dish selections are minimal here, but as far as I'm concerned, it's better to do a few things really well than to try to generically be all things to all people. That's what Red Lobster is for.
















Bro's significant other opted for the Crab Cake Sandwich. LH describes their crab cake as "soon to be famous", a statement I usually find boastful and generally lacking product support on most menus.  In this case, it might actually be justified.  The hand-picked crab meat patty was golden brown on both sides with minimal binder (i.e., tons of bread crumbs mitigating its crustacean goodness). Served on a soft roll with honey mustard and Cape Cod chips, it was about as fine a crab cake as I've ever tasted and Kim didn't leave a single crumb on her plate for a doggy bag. Sorry, Billy...guess you're cooking again tonight.
















I had already set my heart on the Signature Lobster Roll and was not deterred.  Served on a toasted New England hot dog bun with mayo and lettuce, I had a choice to make.  $14.99 for previously frozen lobster, or $21.99 for fresh.  I don't have the opportunity to enjoy fresh lobster that often, so for a $7.00 difference it was no-brainer.  Simple yet sumptuous, the only ingredients were a slathering of mayo, a lettuce leaf and what must've been half a pound of lobster chunks.  I was seriously looking for a way to unhinge my jaw because there was no way to nibble on this monster.  Of course, Underdog was quick with an off-color comment when I actually verbalized this (my eyes may now be permanently stuck in the rolled position for all eternity). Oh...and as for sandwich sides, there are only two (cole slaw or potato salad).  I told our server that I preferred crunchy, lightly dressed slaws so she thoughtfully suggested that I should probably order the potato salad. As it turned out, the cole slaw was indeed heavier and wetter than my style.  The mustard-based potato salad was cold and good, albeit nothing memorable.
















Since I was buying, UD went top-of-the-line and ordered the 1.5 lb. lobster dinner...leaving him officially obligated to "put out", if I haven't forgotten the "rules").  This scarlet beauty came with the two standard sides along with melted butter for dipping.
















Bottom line:  Lobster Haven is a great spot for casual seafood dining.  Prices are quite reasonable, all things considered. Our total bill (which included everything above plus 6 bottles of domestic beer and three sodas) came to $125 prior to 20% gratuity.  Good times!

http://www.lobsterhaven.com/

Lobster Haven on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Marchand's Bar and Grille, St. Petersburg, FL

To whom can a girl turn when she wants to treat one of her BFFs to a lovely birthday luncheon...when a luxurious environment is required as well as a staff that will make them both feel properly "princessed"?  As it turns out, Marchand's in the gorgeous Vinoy Renaissance Hotel on the downtown St. Pete waterfront couldn't fit the bill more perfectly.

We were treated like royalty from the moment of arrival (thank you to the charming and gracious valets) and throughout the course of our leisurely meal  (thank YOU to the mostprecious and beautiful Ashley who helped to make everything special for the birthday girl).  The elegantly appointed dining room was relatively quiet on our weekday visit and we were seated in a window nook which provided a breathtaking view of both cerulean blue bay and sky on a perfect spring day.  Wine and a stunning bread basket were promptly dispensed.  How does life get much better than this?  And look...no foil-wrapped butter pats were observed (a clear sign that you're dining in high cotton).  Instead, a couple of little artisinal "melon-balled" selections accompanied this cellulite-inducing, yet irresistible, hand-basket to hell... one with a mildly "parmy" flavor and another enticing variety with the slight essence of fresh berries.  Both were soft, subtle and sublime.  While the French bread was très delish, it was trumped by the dense, almost otherworldly decadence of the moist slabs of raisin bread.
















Warned in advance the sandwiches were huge and came with either regular or sweet potato fries, we took the "dainty" route and asked Ashley if we could sub the chicken soup for the mountain of carbs and cals to which we would've indubitably found ourselves unable to succumb had potatoes been involved.  While the soup looked more bisque-like than expected when presented, someone in the kitchen clearly knows a little something about making a fantastic chicken stock as this silken offering was practically anvil-heavy in hearty, poultry flavor.  Added bonuses included liberal bits of house bacon along with a charming and tasty chive dumpling "floater".
















While there are a few non-sandwich/burger/salad offerings on Marchand's lunchtime menu, the aforementioned selections seriously dominate.  Aries Wench opted for the Angus Burger with Shredded Short Rib, Provolone, Fried Onion and Horseradish Aoli.  This is what an $18 hamburger looks like (along with a charming phallic pickle accent).  Massive, exotic and apparently worth every penny...not a single bite remained after she had her way with it.  You only turn 39 twenty or so times, right?
















Admittedly not much of a sandwich or burger girl myself, I do love Mediterranean flavors and was unable to resist the lure of the Lamb and Beef Burger with Feta, Olive Tapenade and Tzatziki.  Juicy, pink and uniquely packed with fresh-tasting accoutrements, this is the ultimate burger in Tampa Bay as far as I'm concerned.  Be prepared to saw it into pieces because you'd have to unhinge your jaw to successfully lock your lips around it.
















An unexpected (and complimentary) special touch appeared at the end of the meal in the form of a luscious slice of luxurious chocolate mousse cake, beautifully presented for the Birthday Girl.





















Thank you, Marchand's...you're a class act!


Marchand's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jackie's on Corey, St. Petersburg, FL

Oh, where to begin?  This dining experience was a classic case of "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".

Struck with a nasty case of cabin fever on Saturday afternoon, we decided to make the 50 mile trek to St. Pete Beach to check out Jackie's despite dire and repetitious warnings of the Tampa Bay area being under a tornado watch.  A girl's gotta eat, right...so what it if it means taking a little trip to Oz?

I was initially charmed by the warm and inviting interior of Jackie's in spite of the fact that our luck ran out and we were hit by a SwordfishNado immediately after we were seated.  After a couple of glasses of Zin, UD said it didn't hurt anymore.  All's well that ends well.





















I loved the kitschy salt and pepper shakers (different on every table).  We got ladybugs, which (almost) always signify good luck, right?  Plus I find chefs who withhold salt and pepper to be arrogant and annoying. So far, so good.


















Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates Wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon and Drizzled with Fig Cabernet Reduction tasted as fabulous as they looked, almost to the point of having an addictive quality.
















It's a rare occasion when I can't find something positive to say about a liver pâté ...but this is one of those instances.  While beautifully presented with chopped onion, capers and perfect little toast points, Jackie's "Famous" Chicken Liver Pâté" failed to deliver on the palate.  Rough and grainy in texture, it needed cream, shallots, butter, cognac...SOMETHING.  It practically screamed the question...."What am I, chopped liver????".  Yes, my friend.  Sorry to have to break it to you.  Still wondering how you rose to "fame".

















I can only remember being served one worse Lobster Bisque in my entire life.  While this generous bowlful of something actually looked the part, it tasted like absolutely nothing.  Had I been blindfolded and been fed a spoonful, I probably would've guessed cream of potato (and a drab version of that).  We left this virtually untouched.
















My Blueberry Chipotle Pulled Pork Sliders on Freshly Baked Slider Rolls Topped with Asian Slaw were winners.  Pork was moist and tender, buns were soft, blueberry chipotle sauce provided a nice ratio of sweet-to-heat and I liked the fresh crunch factor of the slaw topping.
















Underdog chose less wisely with his Swordfish Napoleon. For starters, the swordfish tasted "fishy" and not particularly fresh.  And it was a "Special".  I always make it point to steer clear of menu "specials" because they almost always disappoint and leave me feeling like a resto threw a concoction together because they had some shiznit they needed to get rid of.  The piece of swordfish was topped with cheese and a hearty slab of portobello mushroom.  Sorry, but mushrooms do not compliment fish...nor does cheese (unless of course you have a hangover and need a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich for medicinal purposes). Mashed potatoes tasted like they came right out of an Ore-Ida package and steamed veggies were....well, steamed veggies.
















Since the potatoes were so uninspiring, the Mister ordered an additional sidecar of Potatoes Dauphine, which were equally unimpressive.  Gray in color, slimy, not creamy and not good.  No pic, but you can thank me for that.

There was not enough "good" to ever bring us back to Jackie's.  Our waiter reeked of cigarette smoke. Service was slow and cuisine was hit and miss.  Buh-bye.

http://jackiesoncoreybistroandcatering.com/home.html

Jackies Bistro on Urbanspoon

Jackie's on Corey Bistro & Catering on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Stein & Vine, Brandon, FL

I'm thrilled to announce to my fellow gastronomically challenged neighbors in East Hillsborough County that I have sniffed out and unearthed a juicy bone hidden gem in the neighborhood (just call me the "Brandon Truffle Pig"). Not-so-adorably nestled between a Dollar Store and a gun shop in the run-down strip mall at the corner of Kings and Bloomingdale with "Pub" being the only shingle denoting that there even IS a bar behind the darkened windows (much less a restaurant), the initial visual might send you skittering to the innocuous safety of the nearest Crapplebees....but hold off, Young Grasshopper.  Don't judge a book by its cover.

Looks inviting, right?  Okay...maybe not so much.















Almost astonishingly, beyond the humble exterior lies a warm and inviting neighborhood gastropub with friendly waitstaff, a somewhat limited but enticing and creative menu, and an eclectic chalkboard selection of beer and wine.  Although practically full at 6:00 PM on a Saturday evening, we relished in the low-key, convivial vibe of the venue.  Both the flat-screens at the bar and the piped-in soft rock music were nicely dialed down to a convo-friendly level. I haz a new home away from home!
















UD and I opted to dine at the bar where we got prompt, friendly and knowledgeable service from the lovely Katie. Since one of my New Year's Resolutions was to eat healthier and include more veggies in my diet, I felt quite righteous gnawing Deep Fried Corn on the Cob, drenched in butter with Cajun spices. Vitamin B3 and fiber abounded. Nothing to feel guilty about here (and please don't correct me...I have very sharp teeth). So good...I didn't even mind having to floss afterwards.
















Pigs actually do fly at The Stein & Vine in the form of "Pig Wings"....pork rib tips fried crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside. Various dipping sauces are available (we chose Habanero BBQ).  Flavor and texture were off the chain and the juicy porcine flesh virtually fell off of the bone.
















Underdog's gigantic slice of heaven appeared in the form of a formidably-sized slab of Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf served atop Texas Toast with a hearty slather of fresh redskin mashed potatoes.  Seriously, this could feed a small village and we brought half of it home with us. Comfort food on steroids...we both loved it (heart attack be damned).
















I ordered the "Flank Crisp" which consisted of tender, marinated flank steak folded along with cheese and other goodies into a big flour tortilla and pressed "Cuban Sandwich" style.  Served with freshly made roasted corn salsa and perhaps the best Tater Tots ever served on this planet (clearly, the fat in the deep fryer is frequently changed here - bonus points!), it was all egregiously tasty...which is difficult for me to admit as I am not generally much of a sandwich fan.
















All of this along with two glasses of Chardonnay for me and two pints of craft beer for UD set us back $53 before gratuity. And guess what?  Portions were so huge that I don't have to cook tomorrow. Gawd bless that styrofoam box in the fridge.

http://www.thesteinandvine.com/

The Stein & Vine on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Urban Cantina, Tampa, FL

After the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts lured us to downtown Tampa on a recent Sunday,  I needed an afternoon snack after a few hours of being jostled and swept along by the broad swathe of humanity also attracted to the event.  A girl can hardly be expected to subsist on merely a footlong corn dog, a jumbo cinnamon sugar pretzel and a couple of 16 oz. cold ones after such an active day.  God forbid I ever have to go down a pants size.

We wandered around downtown a bit (which is finally beginning to resemble a "real" city where life actually exists on the weekends and after 5:00 PM on weeknights) looking for something new and interesting to try. Urban Cantina seemed to fit the bill.  There were enough clientele present at 4:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon to make us feel like it must have something going for it without being overly noisy and crowded.

The atmosphere definitely falls into the "Sports Bar" category, which doesn't turn me off...especially when I'm just looking for a snack and an icy draft beer.  I have to say that service was friendly, but overly slow and somewhat inattentive.  We didn't really notice that complimentary chips and salsa were being dispensed until ours finally arrived...right after our table had been cleared and we'd requested the bill.  Oopsie.

I went all Gringo with the $7.99 El Chango (two chicken enchiladas and a taco of your choice....chicken, frijols, carnitas or carne asada).  I elected the Carne Asada taco which was right tasty and the enchiladas verde were fine as well, although not really the style that I'm accustomed to. They were a little more like tacos with sauce poured over them.  UD, who spent several years living and working in Mexico City, proclaimed them "authentic", however.  Of course, it was all flanked with the requisite rice and refried beans. While my taste buds weren't ratcheted to new heights of ecstasy, it was a respectable $8.00 meal and I have to give kudos to the lovely texture and flavor of the tortillas.
















My better half ordered a trio of tacos and was quite pleased with all of them.  One Carne Asada (chargrilled skirt steak topped with onions, cilantro, queso fresco and avocado), one Al Pastor (chile rubbed pork grilled with pineapple and topped with onions, cilantro and queso) and one Shrimp (fresh shrimp, cabbage, pico de gallo and secret sauce topped with red onions).
















Of course, it's almost impossible to go wrong with warm churros, caramel drizzle and ice cream.  These disappeared in veryshortorder.
















While I wouldn't consider it a "destination" restaurant, Urban Cantina is a decent spot for a casual bite and the prices are tough to beat.  Service glitches were relatively minor and did not particularly detract from our overall experience. A couple of beers, two generous entrees and a shared dessert set us back around $35 before gratuity.  

http://urbancantina.com/

Urban Cantina on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Alésia, St. Petersburg, FL

I'll start out by saying that the idea of Vietnamese-French fusion cuisine kind of had me scratching my head at the onset of doing my local dining research, but I was born again in the concept after our recent visit with fellow blogger JR (author of the SOG City Oracle) and his lovely spousal unit (The Belle of Ballast Point).  We always have a great time when we dine with these guys and this "convergence" was no exception.

We nibbled on airily light and crispy shrimp flavored chips while perusing the entree offerings (something I've only seen/enjoyed before on the menu at Emeril's Tchoup Tchoup in Orlando).  I found them delightful at both establishments, but the zesty apple and onion salsa (and maybe cilantro?) accompaniment at Alesia lent a particularly intriguing twist.  Beware...these babies are addictive.
















Lobster Bisque was a respectable rendition...creamy, flavorful and containing discernible bits of crustacean meat. Nicely toasted slices of French baguette came in handy for wiping the cup clean (no Miley Cyrus tongue action was necessary...not that I'm above that when a soup situation requires it).
















The Potstickers (pan-fried dumplings with Chinese chives and ground pork served with soy-ginger dipping sauce) were real crowd-pleasers.  They were liberally crammed with meaty, flavorful goodness and I really liked the caramelization of the dumpling aspect of the app.













UD never fails to order Charcuterie when it's on a menu, and this meal proved to be no exception.  Alesia's Charcuterie Platter is the deal of the century for only $9.50 (the most expensive starter we ordered).  A generous and beautiful display of prosciutto, sopressata, pâté, dry salami, olives, basil pesto and cornichons were presented served with toast points.  My only complaint is that I felt they were a tad stingy with the fabu pâté (my favorite veggie).












My entree was the most disappointing of the four we tried. Honey Glazed Cornish Game Hen, while cooked to juicy and tender perfection, could've used a little more spicy heat in my humble opinion.  A melt-in-your mouth side of potatoes au gratin saved the day, however.  My bad for not selecting one of the more adventurous options because this one did not set my taste buds to tingling.  It sure was pretty, though.
















Our third runner up appeared in the form of UD's Sirloin grilled pork back ribs with a sweet and spicy ginger glaze. Taste was amazing, but sirloin is not known for being the most tender cut of either the bovine or porcine variety of animal flesh so there was some significant gnawing to be done.  Fortunately, my super-hero can channel his inner Neanderthal at will and strip a bone cleaner than any saber-toothed tiger ever could.
















I feel safe saying that JR's Chinese soy-marinated short ribs were a safer, equally flavorful and juicier offering for those of us who are not in the mood to give our choppers a workout.













Allow me to now present Miss Vietnamese-French Fusion America in all of her pulchritudinous glory.  I was bitterly wishin' I was the BOBP when I tasted her Asian Style Beef Stew.  Comprised of truly tender chunks of beef (and maybe overlarge chunks of carrots) served in a flavorful broth over rice vermicelli and topped with fresh herbs, this massive $8.50 bowl of decadence combined taste and textural contrast in one of the most wondrous concoctions I've ever had the privilege to slurp.
















Desserts were just the right size and nicely done.  The BOBP and I both ordered bread pudding (Almond for her, Banana Walnut for me).  I'm not really an ice cream lover, but I can recognize and appreciate a scoop that is a step or two above Breyers in quality.















The true surprise of the evening was Alésia's sensually decadent House Brownie (rich chocolate brownie with almonds and walnuts, served with french vanilla bean ice cream).  I no longer crave nor even particularly care for chocolate as I did in the PMS suffering days of my past when snorting a 16 oz. bag of M&Ms and washing them down with a bottle of white zinfandel seemed like good medicine. Alesia creates a sexy, grown-up "brownie"...tender, not too sweet and keeping itself at far, FAR arms length from the ubiquitous chocolate lava cakes and other choco-overload desserts of  its ilk saturating many chain restos.  I couldn't keep my spoon out of it.
















Alesia is a worthy dining destination offering out of the ordinary and beautifully prepared, fresh tasting cuisine at extremely reasonable prices.  And I can't end this post without mentioning the superb service we received from Patrick...a true professional.   Bon Appetit!

http://alesiarestaurant.com/

Alésia Restaurant on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ciccio's/Water, Tampa, FL

In the mood for something both delicious AND healthy (and, yes...I'm as shocked as you are that I managed to use "delicious" and "healthy" in the same sentence)?  Well, this is your spot.

While it's nothing fancy either outside (I've managed to drive by it hundreds of times without ever being even remotely intrigued) or inside, it's a comfortable spot with friendly service and an interesting menu.  Ingredients all tasted super-fresh and the staff practically bends over backwards to accommodate dietary restrictions and preferences.

My galpal, Aries Wench, and I converged for a late lunch last week and we left both delighted with the cuisine and practically bursting at the seams...to the dulcet tune of $27 each before gratuity (which included two glasses of house wine apiece).  It's a rare day that the two of us can meet for lunch without winding up with a $100+ tab.

AW started with the Salmon Nigiri (two nice-sized pieces for $5.50).  Being a raw fish and sushi hater from waaaaaay back, I can't really comment other than to say that it looked pretty and she really enjoyed it.















My $6.50 California Chopped Salad (crispy chopped mixed greens, red grapes, veggies, gorgonzola-shallot vinaigrette and gorgonzola crumbles) would've easily been a meal in itself...especially if I'd paid the $4.00 upcharge for a grilled chicken topper.  Crunchy, cold and perfectly dressed, I almost wished it hadn't been so large that I couldn't plow my way through it all. Due to the fact that I had a enticing-sounding Spicy Brazilian California Bowl on the way, I had to save stomach space.  I haz my priorities and even the best of salads is still...well, a salad.















Ciccio's offers a diverse, casual-Cali style menu with lots of sushi, pizzas, wraps and California Bowls along with a vast selection of ingredients to satisfy any taste.  Mixing and matching seems to be encouraged, which is a most welcome divergence from the arrogant "omissions and modifications will be politely declined" statement I've seen with increasingly greater frequently on menus lately. Ummm...there's nothing "polite" about that.  I'm not talking about the ass that says, "I'll have the Cheeseburger and Fries, but can you substitute a grilled chicken breast for the beef patty, leave off the cheese, substitute Wonder Bread for the whole wheat bun and (while I don't see it on your menu) is there any way I can get edamame instead of fries?".  Oh, hellz noes!  But, honestly...is it really too much to ask that no mayo is put on your sandwich or that anchovies are left off of your flatbread?  Sorry...I digress.

My Spicy Brazilian California Bowl was a ginourmous troth of delightful goodies (blackened chopped chicken, black beans, avocado, corn, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and crispy lettuce with spicy sauce for drizzling).  California Bowl ingredients are all layered atop your selection of starch (steamed yellow rice, sticky rice, brown rice, farro, spaghetti squash or chilled Asian noodles).  I'm watching my carbs and our excellent server assured me that spaghetti squash made as delicious a bed as any of the starchier selections, so I went with that.  I was not disppointed.  I think I paid a $2 upcharge for the spaghetti squash which brought the grand total of this massive, Sofa King delish entree to $11.  I know the adjective "fresh" is tired and overused, but this dish screamed it with every bite I took.
















The Wench ordered the Mexican Bowl, which didn't look a helluva lot different than mine so I'll spare you the photo. Hers was served on yellow rice with plus tomatoes and minus corn.

Ciccio's may be the best casual eatery in South Tampa. Staff is friendly, food is excellent, it's ridiculously affordable and (best yet) you can have it YOUR way.

http://cicciorestaurantgroup.com/restaurants/ciccios-water-soho.html

Ciccio's / Water on Urbanspoon

My blog entries contain the unmitigated, and sometimes unforgiving, dining truths and perceptions I experience as an ordinary restaurant patron. Every meal I post about has been fully paid for by one of the participating members of my personal dining party. I do not engage in the gratis blogger freebie dining events I'm constantly invited to attend and never will. If I ooze font-like love for a restaurant in my blog, it's because they totally earned it…not because they gave me free food or knew I was going to share the experience on the internet.