I am no stranger to any restaurant on South Howard Avenue. I’ve been to them all…some I’ve had the absolute pleasure in dining at numerous times; others, I’ve written off as mediocre fare with dishes I could easily whip out at home. To be perfectly honest, the Ciccio Restaurant Group eateries have fallen somewhere in the middle of the long line of exceptional and poor Soho joints. Never having been displeased, yet never overly impressed, Ciccio’s, Lime, Lodge and Daily Eats are establishments I’ve frequented less and less as I’ve become more and more cultured and well-versed in the art of pleasing my palate. However, when recently offered a generous invitation to dine at my favorite of the four, I immediately accepted. Ciccio’s/Water has always had the potential-that's never been an issue. Inventive culinary efforts, a young, sexy and outgoing staff and true to “Soho style” hip ambiance all exist in this trendy colorful bistro. I was feeling quite stoked to see if they would rise to the occasion and really blow my little socks off.
Cicco’s/Water is an eclectic concept of fusion between new age, Americanized sushi and funky inspired fare from all over the world. Deemed "California cuisine," this joint also has dishes influenced by Italian, Mexican, Spanish and Greek cuisines. With over half of their menu containing Japanese and American fusion, culinary diversity is no secret here. They also aim to please the health conscious with brown rice, gluten-free noodles and extra protein modifications for almost all of their plates. For many, their extensive menu would likely overwhelm. However, there is bound to be something here for everyone. With my foodie friends Megan and Vanessa by my side, we were sure to have a fun evening where indulging in a variety of dishes was top priority.
Thursday nights at Ciccio’s means live music performed by local musicians who’s melodies make way from patio into the main dining room. Maybe it was something in the air or maybe it was the lovely tunes but we were all feeling a little extra thirsty on this particular weeknight. We each ordered a different “Slamgria,” red, white and champagne sangria with a mini bottles of wine or champagne tipped over for added alcohol and added enjoyment. All were very flavorful without being too syrupy or sweet but we decided the white “Slamgria” ranked supreme.
Our attentive and enthusiastic server suggested numerous items off the specials and regular menu so we allowed him to surprise us with a few. First to come out was the “Water Guacamole” which is an Asian twist on traditional Mexican guac. Sweetened with a blend of Asian spices and sauces, this guacamole came adorned with crisp carrots, cucumbers and wonton crisps. It had a great tang and was quite refreshing, making this avocado aficionado quite pleased.
Next up was a dish our server claimed was “one of the best on the menu”. Filet quesadillas were presented perfectly as a small starter great for sharing. The tortillas were generously stuffed with juicy and tender filet, roasted poblano peppers and gooey Monterey jack cheese. I understand why our server raved about these pockets of Mexican heaven. They were in fact, delicious.
As always, three times a charm…our third plate to come out was without question the main event of our entire meal. Tempura fried shishito peppers, topped with shaved carrot, tons of krab and shirachia aioli formed an enticing tower of spicy fried goodness we were drooling over the second it hit the table. Not only executed fantastically in appearance, this starter (on the specials menu) was also packed with flavor and varying textures that would likely impress even the snootiest foodie.
Just when we were beginning to feel satisfied with our food intake, a bowl filled with Honey-glazed Chilean sea bass, edamame salad, farro and tempura fried spinach came our way. Talk about an adventure through flavor town…this bowl was filled with delightful goodies! The sea bass was super fresh and flawlessly cooked; the edamame salad was bright and crunchy and the tempura spinach was the icing on the…bowl. So texturally diverse, this concoction almost gave the tempura fried shishito special a run for its money.
nown for their fun sushi roll creations, they insisted on bringing us their special roll of the evening. Spicy tuna, fresh jalapeno, cucumber and aioli combined to make a fairly decent roll but it was nothing to rave about. I wasn’t in awe mostly because I’ve cried happy tears over their Volcano and Lobster bomb rolls and this roll was no close match.
We had to do it. We were so full but there was just no way we could leave without ordering a cheesy carb-loaded dish. Not us gals. It would have to be the Lobster Mac n cheese. I had never had it at Ciccio’s before but I’ve been told their version is phenomenal. I was slightly skeptical. I have to say...it was divine. Penne pasta came gloriously covered in a rich blend of five different cheeses, studded with big hunks of decadent lobster and topped with a crisp layer of buttery breadcrumbs. We were officially in food comas with no complaints.
Even though we assured our server the Mac n cheese was a perfect ending and the dessert to our meal, he surprised us with the chef’s own hand-me-down family recipe for Tiramisu. While forcing forkfuls of this favorite dessert into my mouth, I thought for a minute I was at an authentic Italian eatery. This tiramisu was indeed incredible.
Ciccio’s rose to the occasion in pleasing this foodie; for I will certainly be back sooner than later this time around. I will not lie to my readers and say it ranks in my Tampa top 10 because it does not. However, I will say, it was an excellent experience as they dished out some fine eats with exceptional hospitality every step of the way. Ciccio's Water on Urbanspoon