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Inspiration comes right from Verdi

Antonio Casamento's little bistro, Rigoletto, mixes ''Sicilian attitude with the Tuscany culture.''

By MICHAEL CANNING and AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 18, 2002


ARIAS ON A PLATE? Why not, wonders Antonio Casamento.

The Sicily native will attempt just that with his new restaurant, Rigoletto.

Yes, it's a Verdi reference, one that he says "Will be quite easy for Americans to remember."

Tony, we have a hard time remembering who Billy Ray Cyrus is.

Anyway. Taking shape at the northwest corner of Gandy Boulevard and Himes Avenue, the little bistro already sports an inviting interior of peach stucco, dark wood and modern ceiling fixtures. Burgundy curtains and pictures of the mother country are pending. Casamento says it will seat 40.

Though he was born in Palermo, he was raised in Florence. "I've got a Sicilian attitude with the Tuscany culture." He studied at Tuscany's Ferdinando Martini hotel school and came to Tampa five years ago. Waiting tables at Primadonna and Donatello helped fuel his dream to open his place.

Given his northern Italian nurturing, Casamento says not to expect a lot of cream and tomato sauces. Look elsewhere for lasagna. Expect tagliata agli odori, panzanella, orecchiette asparagi tartufo.

Dinner entrees will range from $10 to $16. Beer and wine, but no lunch, will be offered.

Casamento expects to open by the end of the month.

* * *

HAO WAH YA DOING? Just fine, if you ask Hao Wah co-owner Ung Quach. The perennial South Tampa favorite for Chinese American buffet reopened Sept. 23 after a total rebuild begun in March.

Apparently Hao Wah's fans have the patience of Confucius. The buffet has been thronged on numerous occasions since reopening. "Business is really good," said Quach. "We've been overwhelmed at times."

The new restaurant at 1713 S Dale Mabry Highway is virtually the same size as the old one, but seems significantly bigger inside. Credit the high ceiling and open floor plan. Wood blinds, Chinese lantern shades on ceiling fixtures, and an impressive wood model junk boat indicate decor improvements.

But apparently to the relief of the faithful, much of what inhabits the buffet is familiar from the old days: grilled pork on rice vermicelli, bourbon chicken, honey chicken, honey potatoes (a Hao Wah innovation), red velvet cake. Pudding and Jell-O vats? Back in business.

Menu additions include sushi, and pho and lemongrass, two dishes that reflect the Quach family's Vietnamese background (though they are ethnic Chinese).

* * *

BEADS ON BAY TO BAY: Beadlejules, the new store is called.

It's a play on words, John Clarke explained to us: jules, for business partner and owner Julie Kozlowski and bead, for the new store's large selection of raw stock beads that customers can assemble for jewelry.

Oh, we said. And also like the movie, Beetlejuice. Right?

Clarke looked at us funny.

Anyway. Beadlejules, 3210 Bay to Bay Blvd., aspires to be a destination as much as a shop. It occupies the ground floor of a restored 1926 two-story house with a playful whimsy. Bright colors and fairy tale murals adorn the walls and furniture. Rooms are designated for beading stations, classes and craft parties, and retail space for Kozlowski's jewelry creations.

Glass, sterling silver, turquoise, crystal and various stones and charms are among the extensive selection.

Clarke said Beadlejules is slated to open Saturday with a grand opening planned for mid November.

* * *

SO LAY AT SOLEIL: Or stand up, if you prefer. You can get a tan either way at Soleil Tanning. Opening Nov. 2 at 3409C Bay to Bay Blvd., the salon will offer eight ways to get your rays. Or dyes, in some cases.

Co-owner Eric Fischman says Soleil's premier device will be the Mystic Tan, a UV-free stand up booth that sprays a fine mist of tanning dye over the client. A magnet under the floor supposedly speeds the skin's absorption of the dye. The whole process takes no longer than 60 seconds.

For traditionalists who feel it's just not tanning without UVs, the salon will offer the Super Cyclone, an eight-minute stand up booth; two Giant Sun eight-minute lay down beds; one Orbit/Onyx 10-minute bed; and three Dr. Kern 15-minute beds.

Fischman chose the site for a reason. For a tanning salon, "Basically you choose the same demographics as a Starbucks," he said. Wouldn't you know it? Soleil will be two doors down from Starbucks. Its other immediate neighbors at the Bay to Bay Centre plaza will be Monstah Lobstah, and the pending Louis Pappas Market and Cafe.

Fischman says WSSR-FM "Star 95.7" will broadcast from Soleil on opening day from 1 to 3 p.m.

-- Do you know something that should be everybody's business? Call 226-3382, or e-mail citytimes@sptimes.com.

THE FIND

Handbag chic

Strut a peacock feather handbag, $40, left, or beaded mother of pearl purse, $76, two of the accessories to be found at Adria's, one of several boutiques sharing space at 4218 Henderson Blvd.

Three shop owners comprise Melange Trois Chic -- Adornment Unlimited (sterling and gemstone jewelry), MRI (fine gifts) and Adria's (clothing). School uniform shop the Golden Egg shares space, too. Call 288-0034 for hours.

-- AMY SCHERZER

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