By Gary Nager

If you’ve been reading this publication for any period of time, it’s pretty likely that no one has to tell you how much I’ve loved what originally was called Ciccio & Tony’s, but has also been called Ciccio’s Lodge and now, Ciccio’s California Cuisine.

Whatever name you choose to call it, proprietor Robert Garofano’s long-time favorite, still located in the (Publix-anchored) City Plaza at Tampa Palms shopping center, continues to adapt its format to the community that has come to love it.

I don’t know when you first fell in love with Ciccio’s, but I’ve been a fan from the beginning and Garofano knows his customers as well as any restaurant owner in the biz. He recognizes there are items from the original Ciccio & Tony’s menu that people have been clamoring for and that not every Ciccio’s Lodge menu item was as big a hit as some others.

So, welcome to the new and improved Ciccio’s, which still boasts the same sharp-looking, TV-covered, fun bar area with virtually every premium alcohol brand (including my favorite Blanton’s bourbon), plus a variety of margaritas, craft beers and wines by the glass, and its variety of entertainment options and daily specials (see below).

But now, Ciccio’s also has added, for example, these amazing sushi bowls created at the affiliated Water sushi bar restaurant in South Tampa. All three of the “Water Bowls” at Ciccio’s feature fresh ahi tuna served over your choice of brown or sticky rice or, for $1 more, over Asian noodles or farro (which is a whole grain wheat that looks and tastes like a nutty rice), along with delicious sauces and dressings.

My favorite so far is the Ahi “Tuna Poki,” tossed with fresh minced ginger, cilantro, and a spicy garlic rayu ponzu sauce served over jicama and cucumber and topped with yuzu tobikko and sesame seeds. I also have sampled and enjoyed the sesame rare tuna Water Bowl and the Hot & Crunchy bowl.

Although I haven’t tried them yet, among the new sushi rolls available are the Dino & Jimmy Tempura (shrimp, fresh Alaskan crab, avocado, cucumber, scallion and topped with sesame aioli, spicy mayo, kabayaki glaze and tempura crisps) and the Volcano roll (fresh Alaskan crab, cucumber, scallion, cream cheese and crispy onions, topped with wonton flakes, avocado and served with a warm seafood dip, kabayaki glaze, and sriracha aioli).

Still hooked on a certain Ciccio’s wrap? Many of my friends who live and work here are and some have said they’ve missed, for example, the Ybor wrap (blackened chopped chicken, white beans, tomato, jalapeno, red onions and cilantro), which has been brought back. Among the new wrap choices are the Milano (chopped chicken breast, garlic ricotta cheese and mushroom marsala; the Gyro Wrap (choice of chicken, gyro meat or vegetarian, with feta cheese, lettuce, black olives, hummus and tomatoes; and the Diablo (chopped chicken breast, rice, avocado, provolone cheese, onions and chipotle tomato sauce.

But, best of all for me, is the return of Ciccio’s daily dinner entrée specials. On my first visit since the new menu was adopted, I savored a fresh blackened wahoo with a unique eel sauce atop scallions, fresh tomatoes and sticky rice. Yes, I love Ciccio’s menu — including my favorite black-&-white-sesame-crusted tuna, spicy linguine with fresh clams, delicious burgers (the turkey burger is my fave) and brick oven, thin-crusted pizzas — but having fresh fish, steak and other daily specials is what really keeps bringing me back.

Speaking of specials, Ciccio’s offers an everyday “Ultimate Happy Hour,” “Margarita Monday,” “$2 Tuesdays,” “$3 Wednesdays” and “Ladies Night Thursdays.” See the Ciccio’s ad on page 43 of this issue for details of all the specials, but needless to say, they’re all great deals on great food and drinks.

Ciccio’s California Cuisine (16023 Tampa Palms Blvd.) is open every day for lunch (weekend lunch starts Sat., Sept. 15, at noon!), dinner and late-night dining and is still one of New Tampa’s favorite caterers, too. For more info, call 975-1222 or visit

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