On new year's eve eve, a former co-worker of mine was in town for the holidays and she and I went out for lunch and chat at Ciccio's in South Tampa. I had never heard of this place before, but my friend felt confident that I'd be able to find something vegan there. Being a trendy-looking restaurant on South Howard, I was greatly amused to hear White Zombie's "More Human Than Human" playing as we walked in.
At first glance of Ciccio's menu, it looked like the only vegan offerings "as is" would be the edamame and the Asian guacamole. A salad minus at least half of the ingredients would also be vegan. Even their sushi menu listed zero veggie options. Right off the bat, I inquired what made the Asian guacamole Asian. Our server said that it was made with rice wine vinegar and "Asian spices," and it was vegan, so we ordered it. Next I asked if there was a vegetarian/vegan menu, and there wasn't, but the server was knowledgeable and helpful and gave me a few tips on how and what to order. She said an all-veggie sushi roll could be made, and many of the stir-fries and rice bowls could be made vegan by swapping the meat out for portobello mushrooms. There's no tofu or tempeh here, so if you hate portobello mushrooms, you'll be eating a much lighter meal at Ciccio's. Luckily, I love portobello mushrooms, so I was in luck. When she suggested the lettuce wraps with this alteration, I quickly made my decision.
I wish I had taken a picture of the Asian guacamole, not that the picture or my words would do it justice. It was AMAZING. The rice wine vinegar gave the guac this amazing sweetness. I'm not sure what spices they used, but it gave it another dimension of flavor to this amazingly creamy guacamole. Garnished with black sesame seeds, this was a flavor explosion. The Asian guacamole alone will bring me back to Ciccio's! (And also the top hits of the '90s, which they kept churning out the whole time we were there. It was like playing "Name That Tune," and I was totally winning.)
And then this was brought to the table.
This GIANT platter held portobello strips, sprouts, black bean salsa, shredded carrot-zucchini-yellow squash, and shredded cucumber. It came with three different sauces for dipping: red wine vinaigrette, balsamic vinaigrette, and - my favorite - Thai peanut sauce (which the server made sure to go back and check that it's vegan). This was super delicious and tasted very fresh. I loved all the colors and textures and flavors, all brought together on a crispy lettuce leaf. Although Ciccio's doesn't seem vegan-friendly at first glance of their menu, they are actually quite accommodating. I think they should put these vegan suggestions on their menu for all to enjoy!
Later that night, Lisa and I went to Pizza Fusion downtown to cash in her Creative Loafing deal coupon (kinda like Groupon). Parking downtown is always an ordeal, but since we didn't get down there until 8, street parking was free (woo hoo!), but we still drove around in circles several times, trying to find the actual Pizza Fusion location, and then finding a parking spot in that vicinity.
Ahead of time, Lisa inquired for me about Pizza Fusion's gluten-free crust, and yes, it is vegan! Yay! AND they offer iced black tea AND green tea, both unsweetened, but they have agave nectar upon request! Yay again!
Lisa ordered the Very Vegan with daiya cheese.
I ordered the Farmers Market with daiya on the gluten-free crust.
I was VERY impressed with this gluten-free crust. It was soft and chewy and had a very pleasing texture. Next time I'll get a larger size! And for all you daiya-haters, they also offer Follow Your Heart's Vegan Gourmet cheese. Pizza Fusion also offers a vegan brownie, but we were too full to try it this time around.
On New Year's Eve, I closed out 2011 and rang in 2012 with my vegan friends. I LOVE my vegan friends -- we always eat like royalty at these get-togethers! I didn't get pictures of everything, but here's a portion of our spread.
These are Loving Hut's seasoned "passion fries," which are pretty good, but made AMAZING by whatever dipping sauce comes with them. Wow!
These seitan skewers are also from Loving Hut. I didn't try them because seitan ruins my guts (although I did eat other wheat things that night, bad girl I am).
We had two different kinds of chili, chips and Veggie Booty, corn breads, a Chinese noodle dish and a stir-fry, a fruit tray, and a veggie tray.
And Dean brought cheesecake! Ahhh! Banana-nut and gingerbread, served with a glop of Healthy Top.
All that food fueled us for a night filled with amber Woodchuck; lots of dirty, That's What She Said-type jokes; Guesstures and Taboo, and watching the ball drop AT MIDNIGHT! (When I lived in Missouri, we always watched it at 11pm. Stupid Central time.)
I rang in 2012 with the exact same people I was with to ring in 2011. Only this time, I'd known these people for over a year, instead of just a month. The only difference is that we've only gotten more crass.
Happy New Year!