Sushi Battle Tampa Bay happening this Thursday!

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post by Big City Events. I have been compensated for my time writing this article and am involved with the event planning. In addition, I will be judging the participants at the event and am being compensated for my involvement. I personally love sushi and any opinions represented below are my own.

This coming Thursday, September 29th, 2016 is the Sushi Battle Tampa Bay presented by Sapporo Beer at The Coliseum (535 4th Avenue North St. Petersburg, Florida) at 6:30PM. The event is organized by Big City Events. Restaurants will battle it out for who has the Best Sushi in Tampa Bay while attendees enjoy sushi samples and activities.

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Tickets are $45 in advance for General Admission and $75 in advance for VIP in advance. This event will SELL OUT as tickets are limited so if you want to attend, I would recommend purchasing a ticket in advance. There is also a $20 sake tasting ticket available. Purchase tickets from Ticketfly: http://ticketf.ly/2cuRdVW

Attractions include Tampa Taiko drummers, sumo wrestling, sake tastings, group sake shots, karaoke, live DJ music, group sake bomb, and a screening of the Godzilla movie. The USF J-Club will also be tabling at the event.

Facebook RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/259912931034738/

Here is a video from last year’s Sushi Battle:

Some participating restaurants include:

Hope to see you there!

YO! Sushi Ramen Mania Party

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post by YO! Sushi. I have been compensated for my time and writing and helped plan this event. These opinions are fully my own and do not represent the views of YO! Sushi. 

This past Thursday I hosted an event with YO! Sushi at the International Plaza and Bay Street in WestShore called Ramen Mania. During the event we partnered together on we featured new additions to the YO! Sushi menu including ramen noodles, udon noodles, limited-edition poke bowls, as well as new sushi rolls and menu items. Attendees were able to meet the staff and chefs who make sushi happen daily at YO! Sushi and see them in action – something you can do as well if you sit in front of the kitchen at the restaurant.

YO! Sushi Blue Mondays $3.50 deal

In addition, we featured a new promotion at YO! Sushi in the USA called Blue Mondays. On Blue Mondays at participating YO! Sushi locations, you can find 40 dishes on special for $3.50. 31 of these dishes on special are completely new. You can check out the current Blue Mondays special here. When I first met the YO! Sushi staff last year they mentioned rolling this out to the USA and I’m glad it is now in our market. It’s an easy way to take friends to try YO! Sushi out and try new things at a cheaper price.

We also featured the new Happy Hour at YO! Sushi. Happy Hour happens Tuesday-Friday at YO! Sushi between 3:30PM and 6:30PM. Participants can enjoy $1 off all plates, $2 sake shots, $3 domestic beers, and $4 house wines during this special and is only valid here in Tampa and in Sarasota.

I was joined by members of the Tampa Bay Bloggers Group including Orangespoken, Live.Sweat.Sleep.Repeat, and Pennies In My Pocket. We were also joined by the Foodies Club at USF, Tampa Bay Eats Out, and Hidden Tampa.

YO! Sushi Poke Bowls

One of the things featured during the tasting was the new poke bowls YO! Sushi is serving. Poke bowls have caught on pretty rapidly in the restaurant industry and I have yet to really enjoy one in Tampa from most places – it always seems overpriced (normally $10-$20) or just uninteresting – sometimes the sauce they are drenched in are also overbearing. The poke bowls at YO! Sushi have a good balance – and you have the option of adding sauce or spicy mayo if need be (personally I recommend the tuna poke bowl with some spicy mayo).

The three poke bowls available are chicken, tuna, and tofu. Of the three my favorite is the tofu. The sesame sauce used with it is excellent and the bowl is balanced. You can see a serving sample below. All three poke bowls are $4.50 which is fair and allows you to enjoy something else with it like a sushi roll or appetizer. One thing I appreciate is that despite the fact that poke bowls are a food trend, the price isn’t crazy on this menu item.

YO! Sushi Tofu Poke Bowl

Another addition to the menu that we tried during the tasting party was YO! Sushi’s new ramen noodles. There are a variety of ramen and udon noodles now on the menu for those who loves soups – just in time for colder months really (hopefully if Florida can finally cool off). They are less than $5 and a nice alternative to miso soup with plenty of actual noodles and broth. I can definitely see myself combining a bowl of soup with a protein or some sushi rolls. The garlic ramen is pictured below.

No doubt the new soups on the menu at YO! Sushi are a response to the ramen craze that is sweeping the nation (hence the name of the event: Ramen Mania). Ramen restaurants are opening left and right around Tampa Bay, offering gourmet ramen for about $14-$20 that is hit or miss. Sometimes though you just want a quick bowl and don’t want to shell out that kind of cash. That’s why I think these ramen and udon noodles options are a great addition to the menu from a purely business and consumer point-of-view.

YO! Sushi Ramen

YO! Sushi Seafood Udon Noodles

The spicy seafood udon noodles had a tasty broth and plenty of ingredients in it.

Shrimp Tempura Ramen at @YOSushi. #ramenmania #eatlikeTia

A photo posted by Tia Smith (@penniesinmypocket) on

Speaking of protein – my favorite thing to order at YO! Sushi that isn’t new to the menu, but I must mention simply because I order it EVERY single time I go there is their Chicken Katsu Curry. I am a HUGE fan of chicken katsu and especially well-made Japanese curry. Maybe it’s because YO! Sushi is based out of London, their chicken katsu curry is one of the best ones of I have ever eaten in the Tampa Bay area and only $5.

One of the hard parts of being a katsu fan and eating sushi is that you normally have to choose between katsu and sushi because katsu is normally $14-$18 for dinner and with a sushi roll you’re easily breaking $30. The chicken katsu curry at YO! Sushi is excellent and inexpensive in comparison and tastes more authentic than a number of competing restaurants in the area.

If I’m at the mall for a quick stop, I’ll grab a chicken katsu curry to-go and eat it in the car. It’s just that good.

We also tried a number of new sushi rolls, appetizers, and sushi options. In general, YO! Sushi is constantly expanding and changing their menu with food trends. It definitely keeps thing interesting. From the sushi menu there is quite a few twists from the original menu worth trying.

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YO! Sushi Chefs

Throughout the event we engaged with the chef and staff and saw them in action making sushi and all the things you’ll find on the conveyor belt at YO! Sushi. There is an open kitchen at YO! Sushi where you can see this happen daily – but since most people sit in the booth, some people might be unaware that everything is made fresh daily at YO! Sushi. All the chefs are really passionate about food and can roll some sushi out at quite a rapid pace.

YO! Sushi now also offers delivery through Grubhub and catering in case you can’t make it over.

Then there is dessert – mochi and doriyaki are light and an easy end to a meal. These are some great shots from Austin from Hidden Tampa:

YO! Sushi Tasting

Thus the tasting party came to an end, but it won’t be long until I am back at YO! Sushi for my next bowl of chicken katsu curry and tofu poke bowl.

YO! Sushi. International Plaza and Bay Street, 2223 N. Westshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607. (813) 569-7970. 

Beer & Burger Throw Down this Saturday!

The Beer & Burger Throw Down is happening this Saturday, September 17th, 2016 at Raymond James Stadium (4201 N Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33607) from 12PM-6PM. Over 15 restaurants and food trucks will be on-site selling $3 burger samples and full-sized burgers as well.

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Proceeds will benefit the Animal Coalition of Tampa, which aims to create a community where dogs and cats are safe and treated with respect and value. Participants will get to vote for the Best Burger and Best Brew of the Day.

Participating restaurants/vendors:

  • James Joyce
  • Eats! American Grill
  • Wow That’s Fresh
  • Square 1
  • Daily Eats
  • Carmel Kitchen
  • Prime 19 Grill
  • Bar Louie
  • 4 Rivers Smokehouse
  • Freddy’s Steakburger
  • Mobile Peluso
  • Jimmy’s Slider Truck
  • Got Lobstah!
  • Georgia Big Boys BBQ

Tickets cost $10 and includes multiple craft beer samples and several free event features. Kids also get FREE admission. Buy tickets: http://conta.cc/2a5lkP4

Features at the event include an adult game zone, 2000 square foot kids fun area, custom built dog park, and college football screening.

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Facebook RSVP: http://www.facebook.com/events/529900380545318/

Sponsors include:

  • GTE Financial
  • Big Storm Brewing Co.
  • Rent King Nebraska
  • Tampa Bay K-9 Solutions
  • 98 Rock
  • 620 WDAE
  • Newsradio 970 WFLA
  • Morgan Exteriors, Inc.
  • Creative Loafing Tampa
  • ShoutOUT Tampa Bay
  • Carlos Eats

USF Library Food Truck Rally today

There will be a food truck rally today, September 8th, 2016 at the University of South Florida – Tampa Library (4202 E. Fowler Ave, Tampa, FL) from 11AM-3PM. 4 local food trucks will be selling food to students and the USF community. The event is organized by Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally.

Participating food trucks

Today's food truck lunch from #TheBaconBoss! 🐽 #JimmyConwaymacandcheese #tampa #foodtruck

A photo posted by Lindsay (@collorious) on

Good food #thebaconboss #foodtrucks #wesleychapel

A photo posted by Kevin (@kkey6117) on

The Bacon Boss: Who doesn’t love some delicious bacon?! The Bacon Boss has a variety of Bacon-American dishes for you to savor.

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The Fishin Chicken Food Truck: Fish or Chicken – this truck has both. Also a great option if you like fried desserts: fried oreos, fried cheesecake, fried s’mores…they have it all.

Today the #foodtruck will be @ FLORILAND (9309 North Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33612) from 12pm-3pm.

A photo posted by Nico's Arepas Grill (@nicosarepasgrill) on

Nico’s Arepas Grill: Legitimately one of my favorite food trucks in Tampa Bay. The arepas are on-point and pretty much everything else they have is delicious. They also have a restaurant you can visit when the food truck isn’t operating.

#tasty #breakfastburrito #rollinzoinks

A photo posted by Geoffrey Fahey (@geofffahey) on

Rollin Zoinks Truck: Wraps, salads, burgers – Rollin Zoinks is hard to pin down as a specific concept – but they lean towards the healthier side of food truck food.

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Ybor City’s 1st Cookoff for Kids this Sunday

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Junior Chef’s of America. Junior Chef’s of America was created by Ybor City Food Tours, Inc. with the mission of finding a creative way to teach children how to have fun cooking healthier meals. Children learn math, science, English, and reading through cooking classes.

This Sunday, September 4th, 2016 head out for Ybor City’s 1st Cookoff for Kids from 10AM-5PM in Centennial Park located at 1800 E. 8th Avenue. The Cookoff will occur from 2PM-4PM with children ages 4-17 participating.

The event is FREE to the public and will feature live music and food vendors, including kid-friendly vendors that will be perfect for families. An all-kids rock band will be present as well as children motivational speakers.

The competition dish this year will be the Cuban Sandwich. Ybor City is known for hosting the annual National Cuban Sandwich Festival each year in the spring. The festival draws thousands of people every year and showcases traditional and creative Cuban sandwiches. Tampa is so well known for Cuban sandwiches that a restaurant opened in Seoul, South Korea called Tampa Sandwich Bar featuring our signature Cuban Sandwich.

Celebrity judges for the cookoff including Victor Padilla, owner of Cuban Sandwich Festival, Chef Gaston of Gaston Culinary,  Ilya Goldberg, Ybor City Campus President. The MC  for the event is Cloe Cabrera of Cabrera Communications. I will also be participating as a judge at the event!

There will be a fundraiser event tonight at Gaspar’s Grotto for Junior Chefs of America from 7-11PM including an open bar from 7-8PM – info: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/labor-day-weekend-party-tickets-27273215923?aff=es2

Check out their Daytime TV segment: http://wfla.com/2016/08/30/young-chef-cook-off/

See you at the Cookoff for Kids this Labor Day Weekend in Ybor City!

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Event name: Ybor City’s 1st Cookoff for Kids

Venue: Centennial Park

Address: 1800 E. 8th Avenue Tampa, FL 33605

Date & Time: Sunday, September 4th, 2016, 10AM-5PM

Cost: FREE to attend

Website: http://www.juniorchefsofamerica.org/

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Summer of Rum Festival 2016 – September 3rd

9/2/16 Update: Unfortunately, due to Hurricane Hermine the event has been cancelled.

The Summer of Rum Festival is coming up on Saturday, September 3rd, 2016 at Channelside in Downtown Tampa from 12PM to 11PM. The new space doubles the event size from previous years and will feature an improved VIP experience as well. The event is organized by Big City Events and is for ages 21 & older only.

Reel Big Fish will be headlining the event. They are one of the legions of Southern California ska-punk bands to edge into the mainstream following the mid-90s success of No Doubt and Sublime. Local food trucks and food vendors will sell food around the event.

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Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. VIP costs $100 and $125 at the door (if available). VIP gets you unlimited drinks in the VIP tent, stage view, a seating area, and a cooled air-mist system to cool off.

Participating rum brands around the event:

  • Papas Pilar
  • Malibu
  • Bad Monkey
  • Yolo Rum
  • Ron Barcelo
  • Doc Brown’s Really Bad Rum
  • Koloa
  • Captain Morgan
  • Zacapa Rum
  • Carmelita’s Rum
  • Liquor 43
  • Bayou
  • Gubba Rum
  • Rhum Clement
  • Tanduay Rum
  • Dos Madaras
  • Appleton Estate
  • Chaste No. 850
  • Wicked Dolphin
  • Twisted Sun Rum
  • Florida Mermiad
  • Bumbu Rum
  • Prichards

Also as a bonus – VIP participants will receive 1 rum tasting pass good for unlimited rum tasting at the Island Rum Tasting, as well as a collectible Summer of Rum shot glass.  Additional rum tasting passes can be purchased. Rum tasting opens from 2PM to 6PM ONLY!  No refunds/cash value for unused passes.

Purchase tickets online: http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1229913

There will also be a Rum Run before the event begins – more information: http://www.summerofrumfest.com/#!rum-run/lxapo

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Morimoto Asia Tasting @ Disney Springs

Last week I had the pleasure of heading to Disney Springs for a tasting at Morimoto Asia and STK. Both restaurants are fairly new to the area and part of the new developments happening all over the shopping, restaurant, and entertainment complex.

This year both restaurants will be participating in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month from August 29th, 2016 to October 2nd, 2016. Magical Dining Month features over 90 restaurants in the Orlando area with 3-course prix-fixe dinners for $33. This is a great way to try a restaurant and see if you want to go there for an anniversary or get-together without breaking the bank. Many of the restaurants are also in the higher-end category and would be costly as a regular diner. The prix-fixe choices matter – of course.

Here are my thoughts from the tasting:

Morimoto has 3 appetizer choices: miso soup + house salad, assorted dim sum, and kakuni pork buns. The soup/salad option are great for people who want a light start to their meal and offers plenty to start. Personally I was a huge fan of the kakuni pork buns. Kakuni is a Japanese braised pork dish meaning “square-simmered” – the pork belly in this bun literally melted on your tongue…it was exquisite. Personally I love pork belly, but there are still options available for those who may not be as interested.

Entree options include orange chicken, lo mein (meat or veggie), LA BBQ kalbi, and a sweet & sour branzino filet. All 4 entrees are appealing depending on your taste.

The orange chicken was clearly prepared using the more authentic orange peel tart recipe and not the American sugary orange sauce. It was very enjoyable and cooked just crispy enough. The side bok choy was incredible too – the sauce on top of it excellent. Personally I am not a huge fan of lo mein – this one was better than what I am used to – but wouldn’t be my first choice on the menu.

The LA BBQ kalbi was easily my favorite. I am picky with my Korean food after living abroad and in general whenever I eat kimchi that I can enjoy (more restaurants get it wrong than right in Florida) and as a fan of Korean BBQ – this BBQ was true to the original flavor of LA kalbi while also spicing it up for a more classy experience. The cuts of meat were great and the dish was balanced. I would probably order the LA BBQ kalbi on every visit to Morimoto if possible (or the delicious peking duck not on this special menu).

I want to say that it is very interesting how Morimoto’s restaurant features a wide variety of Asian cuisines, but represents them all well. Sometimes chefs take too much liberty when preparing Asian dishes to the point where the actual root of the food is lost – but Morimoto Asia puts their own sauces and twists on dishes while keeping the authenticity there and I really like that.

Finally there is the sweet & sour branzino filet which features a seabass. This dish was flavorful and made well – but to me not my choice when I have Korean BBQ and great a great chicken option as well. Still – the sauce and preparation of this dish were far from what you’ll normally find.

Then on to dessert! Options include the MM soda float made with Japanese Ramune soda (my favorite!), boba, mixed berries, and gelato, churro fondue, and red bean sesame balls. There dishes also really depend on your preference. The churro fondue is the safest choice of the 3 – but is by no means lacking in flavor with nutella and vanilla cream.

I have never seen Japanese soda used for a dessert before and I really thought it was original to see on it on a menu at Morimoto. In fact, most restaurants don’t even carry Japanese soda – but personally I love it and prefer it against American soda brands. The MM soda float was fun to enjoy as well – pouring the soda over the gelato and watching it bubble up. Side note: If you’re feeling an alcohol drink at Morimoto – I really recommend trying the white lily martini which is made with Calpico – an uncarbonated Japanese soft drink…it is perhaps the best martini I have ever had.

Finally, the red bean sesame balls live up to expectations – but may be an acquired taste and something people who are not used to Asian flavors may be shy against trying – which is understandable – but definitely worth trying.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on STK!

Morimoto Asia. Disney Springs Marketplace, 1600 Buena Vista Dr, Orlando, FL 32830. (407) 939-6686.