Surprisingly great Italian in downtown Tampa Bay

Rocca continues to deliver. I've waxed eloquent on this place before, so let me highlight a few of the dishes.

My favorite pasta dish is cacio e pepe. This is a dish that was designed for the working poor. An insanely creamy and punchy (from the peppercorns) pasta that is delicious and satisfying. Because the poor could not afford luxury ingredients like eggs or cream or butter, the entire dish has none of them, which - if made correctly - you will shake your head at. The creaminess comes from just 4 ingredients - pasta, pecorino romano cheese, peppercorns and the all-important pasta water. That's it. That the entire ingredient list.

If cacio e pepe is on the menu, I'm ordering it. And most of the time, it is a supreme disappointment. Because most restaurants don't follow the rules with it. Recently, we went to a higher-end local Italian restaurant. The minute it was set down, you could see the butter in the dish. A few bites in, the server asked how it was. "Is there butter in here?", I asked - working hard to not give anything away. He immediately smirked. He knew. He knew that I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew.

So as a cacio e pepe fan(atic), I ordered it here tonight. It's not on the menu, but they can do it. And MAN was it good. Made properly and super delicious. I could have used more pepper in there, but it was so satisfying to eat an actual cacio e pepe.

Teresa did the same for carbonara. It's not on the menu. "Sure, we can do that." I don't even like carbonara, and this was fantastic. It shows such a full understanding of Italian cooking in the kitchen that they have these skills and are happy to share them. 

The standout of the night was the Kohlrabi and sea bean salad. A 2 star dish to be sure, with individual components brought to an extreme - crunchy, cold, acidic - all merging to make a glorious bite. Again - it shows a real maturity in the kitchen that warrants their Michelin star.

While the lamb shanks were disappointing (overcooked, and that does it for lamb), the fish remained such a stellar and impressive dish. 

Rocca is our favorite restaurant in Tampa. See all those visits listed on this page? There will be many more to come, I assure you.

Yep. We came back. If you haven't read the review from yesterday, you should. These visits go together.

Coming back to Rocca the 2nd straight night was exciting. But I have to admit thinking "Are we really going to like it as much 24 hours after we were just here?" (Spoiler alert: we did.)

With my dad in tow as well, we sat in the extended dining room (they expanded into the space next door a few years ago) and Gary made his triumphant return as our server. Dad didn't love his previous visit here so I was very interested to see what he would think this time.

Appetizers were out of the world. Dad loved his beet salad. I got the crab and lemon pasta, which was far better than I remembered it the previous time. Teresa went back to her egg yolk ravioli. The standout though was the bread and butter! Wow! That sourdough is some of the best I've ever had. And the accompanying butter (with olive oil) was tremendous. For $6...get that. Every time.

We steered Dad towards the fish we had the night before - this time with red snapper. It was still terrific, but down a notch. The tomatoes didn't have the heft of last night. The potatoes seemed sparser. And the fish was overcooked. Still...Dad loved it. Had we not had the turbot perfection the night before, I'm not sure I would have noticed any of that.

I wanted to complete the trifecta of their large plates, so I ordered the steak. Ribeye this time (though they often have a strip). Beautiful presentation, but the steak was definitely leaning rare, not mid-rare. But who cares?? The quality of that meat was superb. And the rub they added to it was bark-y and phenomenal. A 28oz steak following two plates of pasta (wait for it...)? I figured I'd eat maybe half and take the rest home.

Nope. I ate it all. I just couldn't stop taking one more piece. I will be very hard pressed to not order that again. One of the better steaks I've had.

So why did I say TWO pasta dishes? Because true to his word, Gary brought out an off-menu pasta dish before our mains. Complimentary for the table. Spaghetti, butter, garlic, sage and fried eggplant. As Gary checked back on us, I urged him "HOW IS THIS NOT ON THE MENU???" He smirked and said they like to keep some things off menu for times such as this. (I asked if cacio e pepe - my favorite - was one of those secret dishes. He confirmed. A sure "demand" on my next visit!) This eggplant pasta was off the charts. I don't even like eggplant. So beautifully prepared and seasoned and married and plated. 

We shared that chocolate gelato to round out the meal. Had to show Dad how amazing that was. (He absolutely loved everything this time, by the way.)

I'm a little embarrassed by how many dates I have listed on this page. But they are sure to grow. I'm so delighted to have a restaurant of this quality so close by. We'll be back with regularity. 


For Teresa's birthday, I had booked her (our) favorite restaurant Friday and Saturday night, thinking I'd cancel one of them depending on our plans. Teresa's wish? "Let's go both nights!" And so we did. 

It was glorious.

Tonight was night 1 and we went fairly "up the middle". Teresa got her favorite egg yolk ravioli. I ventured out to the octopus squid-ink pasta. The octopus was out of the world as was the (clearly house made) pasta. The dish was let down by the sauce, which was good, but "meh". It needed a kick of heat or sharp acidity. Where was that calabrian chili in the description? Instead, the sauce fell flat and the dish suffered because of it.

Having previously had their (insane!) duck, we went for the whole fish. Tonight, it was turbot, overnighted from Spain. Let me tell you - this dish was out of this world. The fish was beautiful and treated wish such respect. Cooked absolutely perfectly - quite a feat for a whole fish! The butter/garlic sauce, tomatoes, potatoes - every item on its own was stupendous. Together, they sang gloriously. This was truly spectacular.

Service was excellent. Our server (Gary) was just the right amount of friendly and available. When asked for details on a dish or the wines, he was all ours with seemingly no other responsibility at that moment. I asked for his recommendation between two wines. "Why don't I just bring you a taste of each?" Perfectly handled for a Michelin place. 

I'll add here that the host stand lets this restaurant down almost every time. It is tucked away and hard to find, and the greeting is typically far from jovial. More often than not, you feel as though you are bothering them by showing up for your reservation. It is a standout subpar experience in an otherwise VERY well-oiled machine.

I got my favorite dessert, which is still awesome. Teresa got the chocolate gelato. If you've ever had gelato in Italy, you know it's a different animal. So stinking good. This one was cut from that same cloth. Really mindblowing in terms of quality and flavor, right down to the hazelnuts and unctuous olive oil. 

When we mentioned to Gary we would be back the next night, he said he would make sure he waited on us again and ask the kitchen to make a special off-menu dish for us. (Yes please!!)

The next night did not disappoint either. Rocca's still got it. While Michelin is accelerating the dining scene here, Rocca continues to be the best restaurant in Tampa. I would gladly eat here once a week.


We can't stay away from this place. This time, we got the duck at the insistence of good friends who had enjoyed the same. They were not even remotely wrong. The visual of the plate itself is a sight to behold. And the flavor? You just want to keep diving back in. I'm not a huge confit fan but those legs were extraordinary. The plate included fois gras as well and it too was excellent.

Everything here is just outstanding. Such an enjoyable place to have a meal. And the cooking is sublime. I'll keep this short (again) because I have so many reviews you can read through. But Rocca remains unquestionably our favorite restaurant in town. It just never disappoints.

I can't wait to see Michelin's thoughts when the ratings come out later this year. My gut that a star is on the way remains.

Coming back to our favorite spot in Tampa, and WHOA! This was our first visit following the Michelin Guide's granting of a Bib Gourmand - a step below getting a star. That first dish arrived (the mushroom appetizer) and I said to Teresa "They are absolutely going for a star." The sourcing, plating, flavors - all were clearly at another level. Even service had taken a step forward.

I'll keep this writeup short. I have written plenty on this place. And I'm sure I'll be back. So allow this to serve as pictures. And my prophesy that a star is coming. I have no doubt.

It's always fun to revisit a favorite restaurant. Is it as good as last time? Consistent? Innovative? I had solid confidence coming back to Rocca. You can just feel that the place is run well. In terms of the food, I was not wrong.

Everything was just as good if not better than my first visit. Delicious, visually appealing and you can taste the freshness and the quality of the ingredients, the pasta that's clearly made in-house. All of these little details show the attention and care required to deliver a consistently outstanding experience. Rocca has that.

While the food remained outstanding, service slipped a bit. Our server took our order by memory, not writing anything down. This always bothers me because it puts the diner on edge. "Will they remember the dishes? The small detail I requested?" This guy didn't. He had to come back twice to clarify a specific piece of our order. (Just write it down!) Appetizers didn't arrive together and were delivered to the wrong guest. Not the end of the world, of course. But I'm also guessing that it's not the experience the owner is shooting for.

The mozzarella cart guy described what he was doing in muddled terms, difficult to hear. He clearly wasn't enjoying his lot for the evening. But that mozzarella, prepared fresh tableside, with tomatoes, balsamic and basil and liberally seasoned throughout the preparation - it is still the best I've ever had. 

Rocca remains my favorite place in Tampa thusfar. Great vibe, fun menu, delicious food. Can't wait to go back again.

This restaurant was recommended to me by the chef at Koya, who blurted it out so quickly, I knew I had to get here. The menu had me salivating and the actual experience definitely lived up to the hype.

I am a firm believer that thoughtful and well-executed desserts demonstrates a quality restaurant from start to finish. Nothing is an afterthought - not even the very end of the meal. These desserts were stupendous, especially the basil custard. I would come just to have that again.

The pasta dishes were also outstanding. Flavorful with properly cooked pasta (always my biggest concern). But the hand-pulled mozzarella steals the show, literally but also in flavor and taste. It's not just show for show's sake (though some of that, which is fine) - but produces a truly memorable plate of food.

This place is a credit to Tampa. I asked for the manager to tell her how excellent the entire experience had been. When I live here permanently, they will see me with regularity. 

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