Registry Tampa Bay

The first time I ate branzino, the first time I heard of it, was in the mid-2010s in a nice seafood restaurant. It was about that time that I’d resolved to eat more fish, and the whole Mediterranean sea bass — filleted at the table — was so remarkably good that it strengthened my resolve.

In the intervening years, I’ve eaten branzino infrequently — it’s on the pricey side — but I’ll never forget that maiden voyage. So let’s revisit the fish for Friday Food Fight.

In another edition of Tampa Bay vs. The World, our two contestants are: Forza Storico, an Italian restaurant in the West Midtown part of Atlanta, and Allelo on Beach Drive in St. Pete.

Forza Storico

Forza Storico (“historical force” via online translator) is located in what appears to be a converted industrial space not unlike Tampa’s Armature Works — except without the huge lawn and the riverfront.

On this mild Friday night at 7:30, the courtyard seating was full, so our party of four was led indoors to a bar area with a view of train tracks and a steel bridge. A guy who turned out to be the bar manager greeted us as soon as we were seated, and poured some generous wine tastings. But after that the half-dozen bar servers bustled by us without so much as a glance for about 15 minutes. I got annoyed, pounced out of my seat, intercepted the manager, and conveyed my displeasure. After that, our service improved.

I ordered the Branzino ($31), which, the server said, came without the head. I told him I was okay with it. We passed on starters. I got a bottle of Birra Dolomiti ($8), a light but flavorful pilsner brewed in northern Italy.


The fish looked just fine without the head. It had an attractive char, and was topped with thin shavings of fennel. The mixture of roasted fingerling potatoes and heirloom tomatoes, lightly coated with salsa verde, looked equally appetizing.

Texture and Taste

The branzino’s consistency fell somewhere between flaky and oily, which suited me, and was a notch or two more potently flavored than other white fishes I’ve had, which also suited me. The black (but not blackened) skin added moments of agreeable chewiness. The flavorless fennel added crunch, but it basically got in the way.

The potatoes were nicely cooked, as were the tomatoes, which provided small flavor explosions in my mouth. Both were punched up by the tangy salsa. This side dish proved an ideal match for the fish. The portion size was spot-on. I ate the entire entree and left Forza Storica pleasantly sated.


At 6:30 Monday, it was a little too toasty for al fresco dining, so we opted for a hightop near the front window in the bar area.

Allelo’s space combines two former companion restaurants: Annata  and Alto Mare. The interior has been classily revamped, with arched openings between the bar section and restaurant seating. Business was brisk for a Monday, but the place wasn’t loud.

Big kudos to our server, Greg, who was highly professional and attentive without hovering. He informed us that the branzino is shipped in from Turkey twice a week.

We ordered a Half Branzino ($47) to split. Because it came with quinoa, and I’m not a fan, we added Pesto Linguini ($23). We also opted for “Bread Service” ($9), which is what restaurants who charge for bread call it.


A simple, sophisticated presentation. This branzino did not have a head either, although it did have a tail. I couldn’t help but thinking, “That’s not a lot of fish for forty seven bucks.” The colorful pasta looked enticing.

Texture and Taste

The branzino was superb. The skin had been lightly salted to give the mild fish some complexity. It was ideally moist. And the portion ate bigger than it looked.

I understood the quinoa as accompaniment — it’s crackle provided textural contrast — but it was a tad too salty and I didn’t care for it. Enter the bowl of linguini, a more than capable partner. The pasta was properly al dente and expertly sauced with a pesto that was on the gentle side. Pea pods and small pieces of asparagus provided brightness and crunch.

The “bread service” included khobz, a Moroccan white roll, and focaccia, by far the better of the two. The “bread service” came with two infused butters: black garlic and olive oil. They were interesting, but too salty.

We finished our meal — save for a few pieces of the “bread service” — and left feeling good about eating Mediterranean.

And the Winner of the TB-vs.-ATL Branzino Battle Is …


The decision boiled down to the St. Pete restaurant serving a superior piece of fish. However, that fish did cost $16 more than Forza Storico’s, and the Atlanta restaurant served a notably superior side dish that was included in the price.

But another deciding factor was the far better service at Allelo … Then again, it was a Monday vs. a Friday night. On the other hand, Forza Storico’s waitstaff ignored us to the point of annoyance.

What I’m saying is — it was a tough call, given all the variables.

In the end, I’m glad I got to dine on branzino twice within the space of four days.

(For you extra-curious readers who’ve gotten this far, the restaurant where I had my first branzino was Sea Salt in downtown St. Pete.)



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2 Responses

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