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CAPPUCCINO DOESN'T EVEN COME CLOSE

Here's one Italian word you won't learn at Starbucks: Affogato.

Affogato is hot espresso topped with a scoop of gelato. Watch as the world's creamiest ice cream sinks slowly into intense rich coffee.

You can replicate this at home but it's best with great gelato.

THE NEW Paciugo (300 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg; (727) 209-0298) has both espresso and gelato, 32 flavors made daily from Italian ingredients.

Gelato starts at $3.39; affogato at $4.99. By the way, although it's more lush than ice cream, gelato has less fat and is about 140 to 170 calories for more than you can eat.

EATING LARGE (AND SMALL)

- The Palm steak houses have never been all steaks and cartoon sketches; they have always had an Italian side and monster 3-pound lobsters.

NOW THE Tampa Palm (205 Westshore Plaza, Tampa; (813) 849-7256) has expanded the surf side of the menu with salmon, tuna, swordfish, halibut and barramundi, the fashionable game fish from Australia, buttery and delicate. Fish entrees run $26.50 to $31.50 at dinner, a few bucks cheaper than beef.

- Locals have already turned out for a menu of chophouse classics at Parkshore Grill at Parkshore Towers, the newest condo on the St. Petersburg's waterfront (300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg; (727) 896-9463).

A busy open kitchen, headed by Chef Tyson Grant, formerly of O Bistro, serves two big clubby dining rooms, a bar and a patio with lunches of salads, wraps, paninis, spinach dips, salmon and pastas ($8 to $20) and dinners of blackened tuna, grouper cakes, lamb chop, steak and lobster ($14 to $37).

- The wine bar of La Maison Gourmet cooking school (471 Main St., Dunedin; (727) 736-3070) now sets out a dozen appetizers and small entrees nightly from dips and pot stickers to chipotle shrimp, small steak and fish entrees with 28 wines by the glass.

Prices are modest: most wines, $4.75 to $8.50; most food, $10 or less. Wine also available by the bottle.

FAST FOOD LANE

- ADD Panchero's Mexican Grill to the burrito wars among Chipotle, Moe's and Tijuana Flats for the bucks and taste buds of Gen Y.

Panchero's has 40 locations, including Wesley Chapel (1656 Bruce B. Downs Blvd.; (813) 907-7667) and St. Petersburg (2510 22nd Ave. N; (727) 322-6200). Tortillas are made fresh daily and fillings run from grilled veggies to meats. Tacos start at $4.25.

- Put another chicken on the char grill. South Florida's Pollo Tropical has fired up a grill in Pinellas Park (3900 Park Blvd.; (727) 362-9600) with chicken, shrimp and steak plus a Latin lineup of roast pork, soups, rice and beans. Next stop: Tampa's Town 'N County.

WORLD OF FLAVORS

TO THE LOCAL GLOBAL, ADD MORE PERSIAN, INDONESIAN AND A TASTE OF TAIWAN.

- SAMPLE KHORESHT, THE UNIQUE STEWS OF PERSIA MADE FROM MEATS, BEANS AND OTHER VEGGIES WITH DRIED LIMES AND OTHER FRUITS AT THE NEW Abshar Grill in Largo.

Abshar, as a mural and small fountain hint, means waterfall. Abshar (Tri City Plaza, U.S. 19 N; (727) 415-4292) has a lunch buffet, dinners from $6.95 to $14.95, belly dancing on weekend nights.

- House of Boba in Tyrone Square Mall brings the bubble tea craze to the land of pretzels and lemonade. The "bubbles'' are soft XXL pearls of tapioca made from cassava and sweet potatoes. The drink itself can be made from a smoothie or green tea of various flavors, but it always has bubbles and a large straw to vacuum them up.

- Tiny Cafe Kita (1155 S Dale Mabry Highway, Suite 22, Tampa; (813) 286-8187) explodes with temptations chef Henrique Budiman calls "Indo-fusion.''

The Indo part is coconut, ginger, curries and fried treats at lunch on weekdays and larger spreads on Friday and Saturday nights. There are eggs and espresso for breakfast, plus handmade chocolates and smoothies as well as the ice cream and candies.

Chris Sherman, Times food critic

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