For those who are new to Florida and haven’t acquired the necessary basic Spanish vocabulary, “tapas” means “savories,” according to Google Translate. At Cevíche Tapas and Bar on South Howard, serving all things savory is their specialty.
On a bustling Friday evening, the SoHo district of South Tampa has become the classier place to live it up. Limos meander up and down the street, monitoring and taking in their charges for the evening. Taxis strive to keep the stumbling intoxicated off the roads, while women in high wedges and the past summer’s latest fashions strut along the sidewalks. At the very end of this scene, just before Howard meets Bayshore, lies Cevíche.
Two sprawling houses turned restaurant, the establishment sits adjacent to its tiny, valet-only parking lot. It was easier, and cost effective, to find street parking north of the place and walk a few minutes.
With a line out the door, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get a table. I was surprised when the hostess grabbed a menu and quickly seated me at an open table. I was immediately greeted by Hachem, my dapper waiter for the evening, who explained the dining experience at Cevíche.
“It’s going to be tapas, okay?” he said. “Small portions; so you can try a lot.”
That sounded good to me.
I started with the baba ganoush, a spread made of puréed eggplant, tahini, garlic and olive oil. Served with crisp crostini toast and fresh celery and carrot sticks, it was the perfect warm-up dish.
For the next round, I ordered a few tapas at once, so it would be more like a meal. With the pargo a la andaluza as the “main course.” I also ordered two items from the vegetales category on the extensive menu: vegetales en cesta and vegetales a la parilla.
The pargo a la andaluza arrived first, a fillet of charbroiled red snapper topped with capers and garlic and served over grilled peppers, onions and carrots. The fish was extremely good, mild and cooked to perfection. The capers added a saltiness that was the perfect compliment to the saltwater species. Piping hot and still crunchy, the veggies tasted fresh and had a hint of what seemed like cilantro.
Thinking he had forgotten about the vegetables, I reminded Hachem about the other tapas. He informed me that everything came out as soon as it was done, and that they would be done soon.
As it turns out, that’s just the way to do it.
I had just taken the last bite of the pargo when the vegetales en cesta were placed on the table. The “potato basket” the menu had described was in fact a conglomeration of thinly sliced and fried potatoes, like potato chips almost, full of zucchini, squash, green beans, mushrooms, peppers and covered with cheese. Served over a bed of bean sprouts, it was quite filling and I was beginning to wonder if I still had room for the vegetales a la parilla.
Whether I was ready or not, arrive they did. They were probably the least imaginative thing we had ordered. Large cross-section slices of squash, eggplant, mushrooms and asparagus had been grilled and laid on top of each other and covered in extra virgin olive oil. They were tasty, and again, not overcooked, but
I really could have gone without them.
As I nibbled on the last tapas item and debated dessert, I gazed around, taking in the whole of the restaurant. The lights were low, each table accented by the single lit candle on its surface.
The rich reds and browns comprising the mosaic print upholstery on the chairs were echoed by the ceramic tiles on the table tops and brick flooring. Behind me, a coquettish ‘20s-era pin-up girl gazed at the diners, bemused. The entire ambiance was warm and relaxing, perfect for winding down at the end of a long week.
Temptation overpowering my more sane inner voice, I ordered the crema catalana for dessert. Picture perfect, it was traditional creme brulée with a twist: a hard dark chocolate shell formed a crust around the outside, as if it were a pie. With a side of fresh mixed berries and a sprig of mint, it was the pièce de résistance to a lovely evening.
With the Spanish music soulfully serenading my exit, I made my way back to my car convinced that I had indeed tried a lot, and very happy to have done so.
Moriah Parrish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.