3.5 out of 5 stars
1633 W. Snow Ave., Tampa.
Appetizers: $6-$14; entrees: $9-$32; desserts: $3.50-$8; beer/wine/cocktails: $5.50-$12.
It says a lot about the popularity of Italian food that this is the second week in a row where a modern take on this idolized cuisine is the focus for a tasting. This time, I’m traveling with my squad to the east side of the bay to the prime Hyde Park Village location formerly housing the splendid Piquant.
Jeff Gigante and Joseph Guggino, two members of the formidable fast-casual Ciccio group (Taco Dirty, Fresh Kitchen, Better Byrd, etc.) have joined with NY pizza maven, Jason Brunetti, to open Forbici. You don’t need to speak Italian or run to Google Translate to be enlightened. Once you enter the splendidly renovated space, you’ll see that the servers’ black T-shirts are emblazoned with scissors (forbici), pizza wedges and the catchphrase, “this is how we cut carbs.”
The Roman-style pizza is reminiscent of focaccia; it’s sturdier and thicker than a Neapolitan crust. As always — since my 2015 pizza marathon — we order Margherita, where there’s no place to hide. It’s just crust, sauce, cheese, and basil. The good news is that the long-fermented tangy crust is airy and light, but crisp on the bottom. It’s not the slightest bit doughy, which is a risk in a thick crust. Each scissor-cut slice is topped with a big, beautiful leaf of bright green fresh basil. Sadly, there’s so little sauce and fresh housemade mozzarella that they barely register. It’s a shame, because the crust is terrific.
The trio of suppli are served in a small cast-iron skillet. They’re soft arborio rice croquettes, but larger than similar arancini rice balls. These are also breaded, but oblong and loaded with mozzarella. They hold together well, and after a dip in the accompanying fresh pomodoro sauce, you’re left with an overwhelming sense of creaminess balanced by the tomato acidity.
Also served piping hot in cast iron, the traditional meatballs are a juicy, flavorful mix of beef and pork. They’re sprinkled with freshly chopped parsley and more of the delightful pomodoro. There are also a couple of slices of open-crumb grilled crostini so that you don’t miss any of the delicious sauce.
As we wait for our entrees, we’re reminded — just like last week — that sleek renovation means lots of reflective surfaces. Forbici is loud and buzzes with energy. For many, that’s a plus; just be aware that any opportunity for nuanced conversation must wait. Also, the service staff needs more training. Dirty dishes are slow to be removed; there’s nowhere to put the entrées if the empty plates from the previous course remain. Each table has its own bottle of cold water, so we keep our glasses topped off. Our server, however, tries to show attentiveness when it isn’t needed. When our glasses are nearly full, your focus instead might better be served by whisking away the empty wine glasses. Just a thought.
The place is packed and the kitchen is obviously trying hard to keep up. When it’s too loud to engage in meaningful conversation, you notice that the entrée service is lagging. Luckily, the food is worth waiting for.
From the grains’ section on the menu, we opt for the “Alma” bowl built on toothsome, nutty farro. It’s topped with an unexpected, elegant combo of crispy artichoke hearts, purple cauliflower florets and dried cherries all tied together in light cashew balsamic, and it’s totally winning.
The pasta offerings are limited to spaghetti and cavatelli with simple preparations: white wine, porcini and tomato; cacio e pepe; or basil pesto. My taster who craves pasta settles on cavatelli with pomodoro and basil. Be forewarned that as in Italy, the handmade al dente cavatelli are not swimming in sauce, but lightly coated. The eggless, hot dog bun-shaped semolina dough is dense and beautifully cradles the sauce under a chiffonade of fresh basil.
My old-school taster, however, wants more of the tangy pomodoro and some fresh, grated Parmesan. They’re happy to oblige.
Glistening, crispy-skinned, wild-caught American snapper is the seasonal fresh fish. The fillet comes alive with a big squeeze from a grilled lemon half. Chef Luis Flores’ superb olive pepperonata is a wonderful accompaniment. Beautiful bright green Italian Castelvetrano olive slices join caramelized red peppers, onions, golden raisins and toasted pine nuts to great effect. It’s simply a wonderful dish.
The desserts are also satisfying. Lemon-olive oil cake is a dense wedge covered with seasonal berries (in our case blue) and whipped mascarpone. It certainly seems that the cream lacks the tang and density that mascarpone would deliver, but in any case, it’s fresh and helps balance the tartness of the lemon. One of my tasters is put off by the texture, so be forewarned. It’s a matter of personal preference. I am most happy.
The tiramisu is also surprising. I’ve mostly found that versions served in a glass or jar come up short on the espresso-soaked ladyfingers. They tend to be more creamy and have less structure than a free-standing square cut from a pan. The menu lists Aperol mascarpone, espresso “cookies,” and orange zest as the ingredients. I’m not sure we got the subtleties, but even my coffee-hating companion ended up licking the spoon. It's a version worth trying, with balanced flavor that will leave you all smiles.
Forbici is a lovely addition to Hyde Park Village’s culinary arsenal; just don’t count on whispering sweet nothings.
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