Joy of Tokyo

Joy of Tokyo is a new restaurant in New Tampa by the University of South Florida. I dined there by a twist of fate when a friend and I found Soho Sushi closed at 2PM. We found Joy of Tokyo to be open for lunch still (they are open from 11am-10pm daily…you won’t find many sushi restaurants with hours like that). There were a few tables being waited on, but we were quickly acknowledged and allowed to pick our seat. The restaurant has a modern feel with plenty of decorations and it’s spacious so you don’t feel crammed next to other people dining there.

What a cool little crab.

My friend and I were hungry and found ourselves in luck. Joy of Tokyo has a $6.99 lunch special where you an order Chicken, Shrimp, or Steak in Teriyaki, Hibachi, or Tempura Style (they also have tempura vegetables). Normally this can cost well over $15, talk about a deal. Even their Dinner prices are under $12. My friend and I decided to share hibachi steak and noodles. We also ordered another special, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables.

Gazing at the sushi menu at Joy of Tokyo we saw two sushi specials, 2 basic rolls for $8 or 3 for $10. Why not we said? So we ordered a Yellowtail Scallion Roll, California Roll, and Salmon Avocado Roll. My friend also had an Unagi nigiri. The orders were put in promptly and we quickly received our food.

The noodles tasted great, perhaps the most flavorful hibachi noodles I have had (normally at a Japanese steakhouse you have to add some kind of sauce to make it have some flavor) in Tampa Bay. My friend said they reminded her of drunk noodles. There was plenty of steak and it was cooked all the way, but still juicy. We could have probably been filled with just this plate, but there was more to come…

The sushi rolls were a little smaller then some restaurants, but still a good size for the price. The rolls were very fresh, I have to say that I enjoyed every bite of them without needing to dip them in any soy sauce. Some people argue that California Rolls taste the same everywhere, but there really is a difference in the quality of the rice, seaweed, and crab inside. The same rule applies to salmon, I am a bit of a salmon nazi…if my salmon is not fresh I instantly can tell and this salmon was fantastic. They weren’t cheap with the avocado either, there was balance in the roll. I was impressed because I originally thought that this restaurant was more of a Japanese steakhouse, but they did a great job with their sushi as well.

My friend’s unagi nigiri looked quite appetizing as well.

The tempura was also impressive. It has to be one of the best tempuras I have had in Tampa Bay. The batter wasn’t too thick and it wasn’t too oily inside. The shrimp tempura was crunchy and somewhat similar to the excellent tempura I have enjoyed in the past at I Ai Sushi (who I consider to be the Tampa King of Japanese authentic cuisine). The Tempura sauce was good, but a little bit messy to dip in (I’d put a napkin under it next time).

Brown rice came with my friend’s tempura. I will admit I am not much of a rice consumer so my friend ate it. She enjoyed it.

Overall, I found myself to be very pleased with Joy of Tokyo. The food and serve was on point and after my meal, I conversed with the owner who was very friendly and personable. She told me that they came all the way from Ohio down her to Tampa to setup business. With Joy of Tokyo being a short drive from USF (pro tip: take the shortcut on 42nd street), it is an easy draw in for college students and employees/residents in New Tampa and Temple Terrace. The hours are friendly to people who can’t make the typical 12 to 2 lunch openings at other sushi restaurants and the deals are attractive to the wallet in this economic climate. They also have free Wi-Fi (great for iPod Touch users like me and businessmen). I’ll be back soon!


Joy of Tokyo Sushi & Grille on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Joy of Tokyo

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 14913 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. Tampa, FL 33613

Phone Number: 813-978-8222

Neighborhood: USF

Website: http://joyoftokyo-newtampa.com/

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Chocolate Sunday Part IV

Read Chocolate Sunday Part III

Meeting the friendly people at the Palm Harbor House of Beer booth was a fun time. They had a number of beers for us to sample from chocolate stout to raspberry beer. The raspberry beer was smooth and sweet. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but the raspberry beer sample left me wanting more. You can visit their Facebook here.

You can visit Palm Harbor House of Beer online at http://www.palmharborhob.com/

Effen Vodka had complimentary chocolate liquor samples, but I found them to be too bitter for my tastes.

Buddy Brew Coffee offered samples of chocolate covered organic cocoa seeds. We learned plenty about their business (and freshly roasted coffee) from the owner there and I have read great things about them on my friend Tracy’s food blog. You can find Buddy Brew on Facebook here and also at http://www.buddybrew.com/

One interesting sample at Chocolate Sunday was Pirate’s Booty Chocolate. It was a test sampling, they haven’t released it to the market yet.  Popcorn with chocolate on top and healthy to top that. It tasted great…can’t wait to buy some in stores soon.  Their products are vegan friendly and cholesterol free as well as Trans Fat and Gluten Free. You can visit Pirates Brands online at http://piratebrands.com/ and on Facebook as well.

This concludes my coverage of Chocolate Sunday. It was truly a great event and I was honored to be in the presence of so many vendors and to learn about so many local businesses.

Chocolate Sunday Part III

Read Chocolate Sunday Part II

We made a stop to the Watercolour Steakhouse and Grille booth to try their chocolate covered shrimp.

The chocolate shrimp has to be one of the weirdest mixes I could imagine (next to bacon of course), but it was actually pretty good. LATimes Food Twitter had a ball with it earlier today on Twitter. The shrimp tasted like cocktail shrimp, I’d probably like to see this tried with fried shrimp (oh the thoughts that are going through my head at the moment) but this was a nice tasting. We were one of the lucky ones because the crowd cleaned out their supply about halfway through Chocolate Sunday. Watercolour was also handing out $15 gift cards for dinners of two or more. They have live lounge entertainment on the weekends as well.

You can checkout Watercolour online at http://www.watercolourgrille.com

Watercolour Steakhouse and Grille on Urbanspoon

Kilwin’s was present. Their booth didn’t have many things to sample. They were featured on my blog just the other day when I was writing about Chocolate Sunday.

The Melting Pot gave out the sample (pictured above) with a toasty marshmellow, strawberry, and brownie to be dipped in chocolate. It tasted great..makes me really want to visit The Melting Pot. They were swamped with visitors at their booth. I have never been to the Melting Pot, but my friends always talk about it. My friends say that the Melting Pot also has excellent burgers? I never knew!

Melting Pot on Urbanspoon

Viktoria Richard’s Chocolates is chocolate made into art. A cool gift for a date or an early Valentines Day present, the chocolate almost doesn’t look real because of how well designed it is. There are a variety of flavors available from Coconut to Wild Berry Pino Noir. New flavors are developed throughout the year. Retails stores are in New Port Richey, Clearwater, Tampa, and St. Petersburg and you can also shop online at http://www.vrchocolates.com/.

Their booth did not seem to have any samples, but they were selling boxes of chocolate (one of which Justin bought). The prices of the boxes ranged from $10-$15.

Affordable chocolate bars were available as well.

You can find Viktoria Richards Chocolate on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Viktoria-Richards-Chocolates/146304192046521

The Pie Factory and Toucan’s Coffee House booth was full of tasty looking pies. They were giving out samples which tasted pretty good. The Pie Factory has been around since 1990 and is family owned. They are happy to work with customers for custom creations as well. You can visit The Pie Factory online at http://www.piefactoryfl.com/

Continue to Chocolate Sunday Part IV

Chocolate Sunday Part II

Read Chocolate Sunday Part I

Costco had a booth and was selling a number of things as well as giving away M&M’s and various chocolate goods. All the sweets we tried at their booth were great. The last time I went to Costco was over ten years ago, but maybe it’s time to make a trip back there. Their Marketing Rep, Debbie Butterfield, was very friendly and personable.

Costco Food Court on Urbanspoon

A veterans help booth was nearby serving ice cream and candy.

Pupcakes Etc. was selling cannolis that looked tasty at Chocolate Sunday. They are known for selling dog treats and have a handy guide on their website about why certain foods are bad for your dog. Pupcakes was founded after the owners dog died and the owner decided that her next dog would have a natural diet. A baker for over 30 years, the owner transitions into cakes, treats, and cookies for pets. You can find out more on their website at http://www.pupcakesetc.com/

Treats for Troops is an organization that sends care packages to American troops. They were giving away free Hershey’s chocolates at their booth, but they’re cause truly moved us so we decided to donate some money. Treats for Troops ships 6 TONS of care packages every week. Postage bills run from $35,000 to $60,000 per month. Donations and supplies for troops are at an all time low after the holidays and Treats for Troops has organized a “Ziploc bags full of goodies” drive for Troops. You can help by filling a gallon size Ziploc bag with items for the troops or by passing them out to anyone willing to contribute. The deadline is February 15th, 2011. There are plenty of other ways to help out if you want to get involved just visit their website.

You can find more information online at http://www.treatsfortroops.info/

This booth was advertising a meet and greet with some stars. The chocolate at this booth was superb! We decided to head outside for a breath of fresh air after this.

Play 98.7 was outside. They are a new radio station in Tampa Bay playing Top 40s music (minus the Rap). They were giving out free prizes if you name a Top 40s song (that wasn’t a rap song)…it was hard for me to do on the spot, but I eventually won a lanyard.  They gave out some free stickers too.

Our next booth was The Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar. They stock over 400 different bottles and serve over 50 different types of wine by the glass. The Vine only serves Meyer Natural Angus Beef, their Duroc pork comes from the award winning Vande Rose Farms of Iowa, and they use natural fresh American Cedar Springs Lamb.

Their free sample was a chocolate and bacon mix that was amazing. If Adam Richman would have been there, he would have mentioned something about God being great. The bite certainly left me wanting more and I may have to make a trip out to this restaurant in Lutz sometime.

You can check out The Vine online at http://thevinebar.net/

Vine Bar on Urbanspoon

Continue on to Chocolate Sunday Part III

Chocolate Sunday Part I

First off, I would really like to thank my friend Justin Rita for helping me out to hold all the samples and shooting video footage. Couldn’t have done it without him. Now let’s get this Chocolate Sunday coverage going!

GateauOChocolat prides itself on “luxiourious, organic, flourless, and gluten-free cakes”.  Normally when you think of all those things in the same sentence you don’t imagine that cake will taste very good, but after I was provided with a free sample I was blown away with just how good their cake tasted. The booth exhibitors were very friendly and welcoming to us and provided us with some information pamphlets. Gateau uses Ecuadorian Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate, organic butter and eggs from small farms, and organic, carbon-neutral Florida cane sugar.

A visit to their website has informed me that Gateau are currently waiting for organic certification, but do use 100% organic products. Their website is very informative and has information on how to best serve their cakes (available in either 6 or 9 inches). I met the founder, Emmanuel Roux, at their booth and he was really enthusiastic while telling me about their cakes, I couldn’t wait to take my first bite.

The cake was was rich and had a very soft texture. I loved the taste of the chocolate, it wasn’t too sweet, but just right. The strawberries and whipped cream on the side went well with it and the nuts on top were fantastic. My favorite thing was that this cake tasted homemade and not like something you’d find at Publix or some other grocery store. My photograph was taken as we were surrounded by about 100 people in a tight space so I do apologize that the photo isn’t clearer, but if you look below you can see the beautiful presentation of these cakes.

You can order Gateau O Chocolat’s cakes at their website: http://www.gateauochocolat.net/

Next we stopped at Casey’s Cookies. Casey’s is a not-for-profit company with the mission to “promote independence and improve the quality of life for developmentally and physically disabled adults” and was started by Casey’s parents after their daughter was born with Goldenhar Syndrome, “a congenital birth defect that includes deformities of the face and spine, and sometimes mental retardation”. Casey’s parents been through many struggles as Casey has grown up, but Casey’s Cookies is something positive that they have come up with. The booth was selling cookies for a dollar and so we decided to buy one, the cookie was pretty great and my friend only took a few seconds to finish it. Casey’s Cookies caters and accepts donations and volunteers as well.

You can visit Casey’s Cookies online at http://www.caseyscookies.org/ You can also find them on Facebook.

Pure Magic Ice Cream was our next stop (just the name makes you want some). Located in Kissimmee, Florida, these vendors were a little far from home, but we were glad they made the trip out to Clearwater for the day. Pure Magic uses Liquid Nitrogen to make fresh frozen ice cream, which according to their website is 320 degrees below zero. Pure Magic has been around since 2007 and was founded by Doug Mayhew and John Eustace. They can also serve alcoholic ice cream (interesting) and popular flavors are Pina Coloda, Strawberry Margarita, Kahlua, and more. I didn’t see these at their booth, but would love to try some! They cater all kinds of events and serve Tampa, Orlando, and Central Florida.

You can watch the process below:

Liquid Nitrogen freezing the ice cream. Justin had some ice cream and loved it, he claims its some of the freshest tasting ice cream he has had. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it back to the booth to try it myself, but it looked appetizing.

Pure Magic on Urbanspoon

You can visit Pure Magic Ice Cream at their website: http://www.puremagicicecream.com/. You can also find Pure Magic on Yelp and Facebook (as well as Urbanspoon-just click the button above this).

We backtracked and visited Taste Cafe at this event as well. It’s been a few months since I last visited Taste Cafe for their Bloggers Dinner. It was great seeing an old friend again and sure enough Taste Cafe had some great choices of food to sample here.

This dish (almost all gone when I visited their booth) was Taste Cafe’s chocolate bread. One bite of it and I wanted to eat the whole thing…no wonder it was almost all gone. They offered two toppings: Irish Whiskey Dark Chocolate and White Chocolate Mousse, both were amazing! As usual the owners mouth-watering descriptions of their food remains true!

Taste Cafe also was offering another sample, which quickly became my favorite at Chocolate Sunday…

Black Bean Chili with chocolate in it. I’m not much of a chili-eater. I will eat some here and there…but this chili was so good. It could convert me into a daily chili lover. I wanted to take the whole pot home (maybe I will next time I stop at Taste Cafe).  The chili was appealing to all my taste buds and in the right way. Describing this chili in any other way than perfect would be wrong. It’s no wonder Taste Cafe won the most unique use of a chocolate award at Chocolate Sunday.

Continue on to Chocolate Sunday Part II

Chocolate Sunday

Chocolate Sunday just passed over the weekend and what an event it was! The sheer massive amount of people and vendors all interacting was quite an experience. Attempting to cover this whole event in one blog would probably be impossible (or kill your internet speed with all the photos I took), therefore this blog will split into parts. No one part is better than the other so be sure to check it out all out and see what Chocolate Sunday was all about and the great food that was brought there by vendors around the Tampa Bay area and Florida state.

Chocolate Sunday

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

In Search of The Perfect Meal

I recently re-activated my public library card. Perusing the aisles I found Anthony Bourdain’s book A Cook’s Tour: In Search of the Perfect Meal. I’ve seen it on many websites and decided to check it out. Right now I’m on the second chapter called “Back to the Beach”, Bourdains trip back to his hometown in France and finds that almost nothing remains the same of how it once was. The first chapter where Bourdain recounts a trip in Portugal was interesting. I have never known much about Portugese cuisine and his chapter on his viewing of a pig festival intrigued me. Bourdain’s writing style is very personal, I feel like he’s sitting right next to me telling me his stories as I read. The way he describes things is vivid enough so that you can visualize what he describes. I’ll post my thoughts here and there as I keep reading his book. I’ve requested his other books as well as Adam Richman’s America the Edible. Looking forward to these reads.

One quote I particularly like from Bourdain’s book so far is “Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great meals in one’s life”.

What makes a perfect meal? It’s something most food critics probably try to envision each time they have a meal and start writing a review. Quality service is something everyone can appreciate, but atmosphere is important too. Sometimes that whole in the wall restaurant is filled with local flavor that can’t be imitated. Memories are important too. No doubt, no place can replace the first sushi restaurant where I had my first sushi roll ever in my head. It’s a strong memory that enhances an experience the next time I visit. The people you spend your time eating with matters as well.  Is the person you are with a Debbie Downer or a good friend who you haven’t seen in years? There are so many factors to consider…

What makes the perfect meal to you?

Chocolate Sunday – January 23rd, 2011 in Clearwater

Update: Due to time constraints the 4 winners will be drawn from the comment box below by 11:59pm 01/20/2011. Thanks!

-Carlos

I am quite the chocolate enthusiast. No trip to Channelside is complete is complete without a visit to Qachbal’s Chocolatier. When I am visiting Downtown Disney in Orlando I have to grab a shake from Ghirardelli. Finally whenever I am in Sarasota in St. Armand’s Circle I make it a point to stop at Kilwins.

An inviting exterior. You can look right into the chocolate shop and see them making some of the treats. St. Armand’s Circle is packed with lots of little shops from tiny pizza and ice cream parlors to bars and chocolate shops. Plenty of stores to occupy tourists or visitors for hours.

Look at all that chocolate. It’s a tease!

You can watch them at work…making the goods! Look at all those candy apples.

Kilwins has a variety of ice cream flavors as well. My favorite? Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. The employees at Kilwins are very friendly (and mostly high schoolers) and helpful when you’re trying to find the right taste and they are happy to let you sample flavors until you find the right ice cream flavor.

A cup full of happiness.

Entering Kilwins must not be recommended by dentists, but what is life without the sweet little things right? As one famous chocolate quote reads: “I could give up chocolate but I’m not a quitter.” Now that I have made everyone (including myself) want some chocolate read below for some information on an upcoming chocolate event next Sunday that Kilwins will be present at!

Kilwin's Chocolate & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Chocolate Sunday, Tampa Bay’s 1st annual chocolate event and biggest day in Chocolate will be next Sunday the 23rd in Clearwater from twelve to six. This event is being brought to you by Tampa Bay Woman Newspaper. Many vendors lined up to be at this event such as The Melting Pot and Kilwins. Your favorite local food blogger (his name is Carlos and he is always eating!) will be in attendance as well. Chocolate Sunday is meant to bring something new and refreshing to Tampa Bay like never before so don’t miss out on this event.

Address: 1111 North McMullen Booth Road Clearwater, FL 33759

Time: Noon – 6:00 p.m

Price: Advance Tickets are $20 for Adults, and $25 at the Door. Children’s tickets will be available for $10 for those ages 11 and under.

For Advance Ticket purchases please call the Ruth Eckerd Hall Box office at 727-791-7400.

For vendor/sponsor information, please contact TampaChocolateSunday@gmail.com.

For updated chocolatiers and other exhibitors, or for the Menu of events, go to http://chocolate-sunday.com.

Follow CHOCOLATE SUNDAY on Twitter at http://twitter.com/TampaChocSunday.

I am going to be giving away 4 Chocolate Sunday tickets to my blog readers  so pay attention and you may find yourself at Chocolate Sunday for free! Your opportunity to win is in the comment box below. Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite kind of chocolate is and I’ll pick four random commenter to win free tickets to Chocolate Sunday!

The Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (Tampa Thai Temple)

The Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (or as I like to call it the Thai Temple in Tampa) has to be one of my favorite places in Tampa. Located right by Palm River, the temple grounds are simply beautiful with tall trees, picnic tables, a dock, and a golden Buddhist temple. Every Sunday they have a market where they sell Thai groceries, Thai teas/juices, and Thai food such as pad thai, curry, friend bananas, and various desserts. The grounds have a community feel with temple volunteers running stands and locals visiting every Sunday for their dosage of cheap and tasty Thai food.

I have been visiting the temple for about 5 years now. When I first visited the place was mostly just for Thai visitors, but has now exploded in popularity after some newspaper articles exposed this Tampa gem. The temple grounds have had to expand in parking and stands to handle the rush of visitors, but it’s still a beautiful and relaxing spot to spend a Sunday morning and afternoon. It’s located right between Tampa and Brandon, so not far from either side of town.

One of my favorite stands has fried bananas. I cannot resist these. A small amount is $3 and is plenty to get your fix. They also have a variety of other choices such as taro root and sweet potatoes, but banana is my favorite.

They are put in deep batter. Not sure how healthy it is, but hey it makes it taste good!

Voila! Crunchy fried banana goodness!

Their noodle soups are appetizing and my friend used to give me some all the time when I volunteered at the temple back in 2006. I am not a big soup drinker so I spend my money on sweets nowadays.

Look at that view!

The patio area is full of red picnic tables where you can enjoy your Thai food and hangout with friends and family. The trees are all around. There aren’t many outdoor areas like this in Tampa where you can grab your food and enjoy it outdoors.

My favorite stand where they serve Thai Tea and Fruit Juices ($1 donations are awesome!) and also occasionally serve my favorite Thai dessert, Kanom Krok (coconut custards). The wait for the Kanom Krok has gone to hours and I waited a good two hours for mine, but it was worth it. I love it that much. They don’t serve it every weekend, but when they do and I’m there I make it my mission to have some.

$1 Thai Tea? I’ll take 10 please!

The process of making the Kanom Krok. They use a special pot that takes about 20 minutes to cook. The orders pile up and increase the wait times, so get there early for yours!

My beautiful coconut custards (some missing due to immediate consumption). Totally worth the wait.

The Thai Temple in Tampa has a number of events throughout the year to celebrate Thai or religious holidays and invites the public out to these events. My favorite was their Songkarn or Water festival, which I checked out last spring. It was lots of fun, especially the water fight with the little kids and various adults. This temple is truly a great addition to the city of Tampa.

Wat Mongkolrata Temple on Urbanspoon

Name: The Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida

Cuisine: Thai

Address: 5306 Palm River Road, Tampa, FL 33619

Sunday Market: approx. 10:30am to approx. 2:00pm

Website: http://www.wattampainenglish.com/

The Rack (Hyde Park)

The Rack has long been one of my favorite spots to grab some sushi and chill. The food is consistently good, the bartenders are chill, and there is a crowd there from evening to close. Although they have billiards there, I have never played there. My last visit there was on a Tuesday night. It was freezing cold outside and the inside was at max capacity so I decided to sit outside and have a drink and some food.

I have never tried sake before so I decided to try their Gekkeikan small sake ($6). The sake was pretty bitter, but packed a punch. Hardcore drinkers might like this, but someone with an aversion to bad tasting liquor like myself would probably never have that again after a first try. Service outside was spotty, but still not bad. I had a California Roll ($5.95), which includes crab stick, avocado, and cucumber…though I asked for the cucumber to be removed because I feel cucumber detracts from the taste of sushi.

The California Roll was pretty disappointing.  The crab was good and helped kill that sake taste in my mouth, but as you can see they barely gave me any avocado once the cucumber was removed. Maybe a sprinkle? For the price of almost $6, a California Roll should have plenty avocado and masago on it, when places like Samurai Japanese Restaurant only charge 3 or 4 dollars for that same roll with plenty of ingredients. Being cheap with these toppings is really cutting corners.

However, The Rack does have some quality special rolls such as their extremely popular Volcano Roll (only $5 each on Wednesdays) and a number of other quality rolls I regularly have there. I just wouldn’t order from their regular rolls in the future. I have also tried their wings and American food and it’s usually great. The Rack also has started an unlimited menu from 7-9PM in Hyde Park and 9-11PM in Brandon which includes appetizers, sushi, and drinks (really want to try this out). Their unlimited menu has started a trend in South Tampa and now Koto Japanese Restaurant and Cheap are offering the same thing. Once I finished my California Roll I closed my bill outside and went inside to the warm bar.

The bartender inside was really friendly and personable. She took good care of me and my time inside was much more enjoyable and made up for my time spent outside. It was loud and busy inside, but I’m young so I like that kind of atmosphere. They have free Wi-Fi inside as well, which is a plus. The shots and drinks were good and inexpensive. I left The Rack happy.

The Rack on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: The Rack

Cuisine: Sushi, American

Address: 1809 W Platt St. Tampa, FL 33606

Neighborhood: Hyde Park

Phone Number: (813) 250-1595

Website: http://www.hittherack.com/