DeVito’s Italian Specialties, James DeVito’s downtown Tampa restaurant, is a wonderful success story. Opened just days before the COVID-19 shutdown, in 2020, it has survived the pandemic to thrive as one of Tampa’s finest Italian restaurants.
The interior is sleek and modern, with a black and white color palette and a flourish of art deco. Potted olive trees soar over the dining room, almost reaching the intricate ceiling that looks like an antique tin ceiling from the late 1800s. And, as glamorous as the room is, diners come back again and again for the food. Meticulous attention is paid to every detail. Consideration goes to every ingredient. And the result is a labor of love that customers love to experience over and over again.
TAKE A QUICK DIP
Bread service doesn’t typically get much press. But at DeVito’s, it deserves special attention. The bread is focaccia, made in-house with double-zero flour, an 80 percent hydration and a 72-hour rise. The dough is very wet going into the oven and produces slabs of golden-brown focaccia. A delightfully crisp, paper-thin, crust hides a soft interior full of irregular holes you can only get with such a high hydration level. The bread is absolutely delicious, warm and perfect by itself or for dipping into any sauce.
Order the bread along with the polpette della casa because, as luck would have it, the meatballs come swimming in a pool of marinara. The marinara has a bright tomato flavor tempered by the earthiness of the meatballs. The meat and grind are the most important things about making good meatballs. DeVito’s combines veal, beef and pork, and the mix runs through a three-stage grind. The grind is important because it dictates the texture of the finished meatball. If the grind is too fine, the meatballs are heavy and dense. If the grind is too coarse, the texture is chunky and the meatballs fall apart.
DeVito’s serves the Goldilocks of meatballs. The texture is just right and the flavor is hard to beat. Eating the focaccia and meatballs will transport you to an Italian grandmother’s kitchen, where you dip bread into the sauce to taste it before dinner starts.
Other appetizers include burrata e prosciutto de parma di tartufo. Fresh, housemade burrata pairs with prosciutto de parma, basil and a drizzle of truffle oil. It’s creamy, salty and herbaceous with a sublime finish from the truffle oil. Another option is parmigiana di melanzane. Thin slices of eggplant layer with mozzarella and fresh herbs, then bake in marinara. The cheese pulls from the fork, the taste is divine and all is right with the world for that moment in time.
ART ON THE PLATE
The most surprising dish on the menu is carpaccio di polpo. Octopus is served in a form unlike anywhere else and creates an artistic presentation. Fresh octopus tentacles are blanched with garlic and herbs, then packed tightly into cylinders. Once the cylinders are removed, the tube of octopus tentacles is sliced thin, like beef carpaccio, and laid across a white plate. The octopus is crowned with a simple arugula salad, sliced cherry tomatoes and capers. The octopus forms a beautiful white, pink and aubergine-colored mosaic on the plate. With one bite, you will forget everything you know about eating octopus. It’s very tender and the flavor is a spray of the sea. Capers give a little brine while the lemon vinaigrette lends a little burst of citrus. You may not have a lot of faith in octopus when you step inside DeVito’s but if you order this dish, you will be a believer by the time you head home.
The pasta section of the menu offers several strands, shapes and sauces. All varieties of pasta are housemade with a semolina blend. They are all delicious but the one you want to try first is buccatini truffle pecorino e speck. It’s the most comforting dish on the menu and showcases the thoughtfulness of the chef. The dish is studded with speck. Speck is smoked Italian pork, rubbed in spices and cured for around 22 weeks. The chef could have used any ham product, but the choice of the speck was perfect. Its dark color, dense texture and deep flavor make it the perfect choice. The thickness of the slice is perfect as well. Any thinner and the meat would render away like prosciutto. Any thicker, like lardons, the flavor consistency would change from bite to bite. It’s a great example of how tending to the finest detail can spell the difference between a good dish and a great one.
LIGHT AND SAVORY
The branzino showcases the light, and subtle, side of Italian food. Mild and flaky, the fish is nuanced with flavor from white wine, garlic and herbs and is served alongside roasted vegetables. For something more substantial, order salti in bocca di pollo. DeVito’s uses an airline chicken breast in this dish, which ensures a juicy and flavorful bite. It’s served with aged parma ham and topped with fontina cheese. Demi-glace, kissed with a little marsala wine and sage, completes the dish. The demi-glace is rich and flavorful and balances the mild chicken and fontina cheese.
A classic New York-style cheesecake gets gussied up with macerated berries. The berry sauce drizzles down the side and pools around the cheesecake, ensuring every bite is creamy, and sweet. If you can only try one dessert, order chocolate temptation cake. It’s three layers of dark chocolate, caramel and chocolate ganache.
Devito’s Italian Specialties checks all the boxes for a special evening out. It’s a beautiful space with a big-city feel, the menu offers authentic and thoughtful dishes, and the presentations are artistic and unique. La dolce vita, indeed. ♦
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