Cucina South is located on A1A in the Palmetto Walk Shopping Village. Walking into the restaurant is a comforting experience, like entering the home of a friend, one who has a beautiful pizza oven in their living room. Warm and inviting, the oven fires out some incredible pizzas, but to my surprise, my date was feeling adventurous.
We were seated upstairs at a table with a window and greeted warmly by our server, Jenn, who delivered some of Cucina South’s delicious bread with olive and red pepper tapenade, which is packed with big, sharp flavor. Lydia chose to start with a Shirley Temple and I, already eyeballing the scallops, chose a glass of Attems Pinot Grigio from Venezia Giulia, Italy and an order of mussels.
I love mussels, and while I tried to make Lydia understand how delicious they were, her adventurousness stopped short of shellfish. The mussels are sautéed with shallots and garlic and deglazed with Sambuca, which gave the broth a lovely sweetness that complemented the delicate flavor of the mussels. We decided to share a salad, enjoying the butter lettuce tossed in a champagne vinaigrette with Parma ham, aged cheddar cheese, and walnuts. The vinaigrette was the perfect accent to the subtle flavor of the butter lettuce, and the Parma ham and aged cheddar got Lydia’s attention.
For dinner, I was surprised when Lydia opted for the Chicken Picatta over the pepperoni pizza. (She reminded me that she had eaten pizza just other day.) Served over fettuccine, the sauce is light and tangy with lots of fresh lemon, and the chicken was perfectly tender and full of flavor. I decided on the scallops. How could I resist? Risotto is one of my favorite things, and scented with the rich smokiness of bacon, it was a sure hit. The scallops came perfectly seared; crisp yet still a little opaque in the center, perfect. As it turned out, the Attems Pinot Grigio was the unerring choice, juicy with hints of citrus and strawberry, making everything on the table even better.
When dessert was offered, the trouble began. Neither of us was sure which cherry to put on top of this splendid evening. Lydia was drawn to the bread pudding, but she really had the chocolate gelato on her mind. Our server Jenn said it wouldn’t be a problem to have a couple of small scoops by themselves, and that sealed the deal. I chose to to stay with the chocolate but opted for the mousse. We traded bites, and while I always love gelato, I was very happy with the light and deceptively rich mousse. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m. For more information or to make a reservation, call (904) 432-7920 or visit cucinasouth.com.