I guess Italian food has officially grown on me. For years I've been proclaiming it my least favorite type of cuisine and complaining about how unexciting it is...yet, I've found myself eating more and more of it lately and actually really enjoying it (cases in point: Bernini, Laughing Cat Bistro, Gratzzi Italian Grille, Bella's Italian Cafe, Osteria Natalina and now Caffe Paradiso - where's the "like" button when you need one?). I had an epiphany at Caffe Paradiso last night. I actually DO like Italian (especially pasta) when it's fresh and creatively prepared...which it was here. Who knew??? I'm going to stop being so hard on pasta dishes from now on (unless by some horrible twist of fate I find myself catapulted into a Carrabba's). It reminds me of how I could snort chocolate all day long in my twenties and thirties, while nowadays it's all I can do to gag down a Hershey's Kiss. I guess it's true that our sense of taste changes as we age (ouch).
UD and I took his folks to Foodie Central (aka South MacDill) to check out Caffe Paradiso on the recommendation of one of his clients. This cozy little joint did not disappoint. Effort has clearly been expended to lend authentic appeal to the strip mall location and service walked an admirable line between being more professional than most in this town and pleasingly European without being stuffy or intimidating.
Let's get down to "bidness". The bread was fine...warm and crusty, but standard issue with no adornment available other than bottled olive oil. Cheese, herbs, SOMETHING would've turned the bread offering from "meh" to "marvy".
It's tough to eff up fried cheese and Paradiso did this appetizer proud. Lightly breaded and beautifully presented on a puddle of tangy marinara sauce with anchovy accents, these guys were little works of culinary art that vanished in no time.
The prosciutto-wrapped melon was also an excellent starter...everyone loved the sweet and salty combo of ripe, juicy melon enrobed in razor thin slices of dry-cured ham.
All of the entrees we tried were off the chain. UD ordered one of the specials which was a finely ground veal ravioli with mushrooms in a silky cream sauce. I'm sure I'm not doing it justice with my description...but it was amazing. Doesn't this look good?
After having read a secret online tip that the chef would whip up an off-the-menu angel hair pasta loaded up with tender lump crabmeat and white wine sauce upon request, I put that theory to the test with very positive results. This decadent, luxurious dish managed to pull off the sensation of "lightness" (please do not correct me by providing the actual nutritional information...my tight pants tell me all I need to know) due to the fact that it wasn't enmired in that thick alfredo-type sauce you often find glopped on seafood pastas. Therefore, I'm pleased to report that I managed to enhale more of it than I ever dreamed possible (which was a good thing since I don't care for leftovers and it was far too wonderful to leave any of it on the plate). Maybe I use the word "orgasmic" too often in my blog, but hey...if the shoe fits.
Dad ordered a verylovely veal scallopini which was tender, perfectly breaded and fried, and accompanied by more of the tangilicious marinara sauce we'd already come to love.
The psuedo-pescatarian Ms. Carole went with the grouper piccata, which tasted like it had just been pulled from the Gulf of Mexico and was accented with lemon sauce, chopped tomatoes and capers. The only complaint the folks had was that the mashed potatoes were served a bit cooler in temperature than they prefer.
UD loves creme brulee more than life itself, so (despite bursting seams) there was no way he was leaving without ordering it. This proved to be an excellent choice. Wobbly, runny creme brulees make us both cranky...but this one was sheer perfection. It was creamy-yet-sturdy and topped with a finely torched hard caramel crust.
I ordered mini cream puffs for dessert. Small and drizzled with chocolate sauce, they were a delightful sweet ending and ideal for sharing with the rest of the table.
I love you, Dad! Thank you guys for joining us last night...good food, good service and good times!