IHOP Free Pancake Day: Tuesday 3/1/2011

Tomorrow is IHOP Free Pancake Day. Expect a rush of people at IHOP tomorrow getting their fix of pancakes for free from 7am to 10pm. IHOP has a goal of raising 2.3 million dollars for Children’s Miracle Hospitals and other local charities. IHOP has given away more than 10.1 million buttermilk pancakes since 2006. Don’t miss out on this national event. Visit http://ihoppancakeday.com/ for more.

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Bangkok Jazz

Bangkok Jazz is a restaurant that I passed on my way to school maybe 600 times or more in the time that I’ve been a university student in Tampa. The Victorian-style building always caught my eye, but before I could read the sign I would already be passing 56th street and speeding away. Bangkok Jazz’s choice of location may not be the best spot, they are more or less not visible to drivers who are passing by, but the venue itself is a beautiful and unique setup for Thai restaurant.

The outside has a picnic table and is surrounded by Victorian-style architecture, perfect for an outdoor lunch date during a beautiful sunny day. Inside, the restaurant has your typical Thai setup on the left side of the restaurant with lavish gold decorations. The right side of the restaurant is where the restaurant is unique. The stage for local jazz performers is surrounded by red walls and a bar. The tables are made of fine wood and the overall feeling of the room is romantic. Although, I wasn’t able to see a live performer during my visit I did see the stage and watched them practicing. It looked like restaurant diners were in a for a treat.

For an appetizer I decided to order their Cococnut Chicken Soup ($2.95). It was savory, but also not the best I have had in terms of flavor of the broth. I enjoyed the ingredients inside which really brought it some zest with the exception of the mushrooms they used…which I really didn’t care for. It was pretty big bowl for the price so quite a good deal.

The Chicken Pad Thai ($9.95) came out quickly. Probably not even 10 minutes after ordering. The Pad Thai looked much darker than the Pad Thai I have had at any other Thai place in Tampa. There was plenty of sauce and flavor to it and it was large. The chicken was great, probably some of the best I had in a Pad Thai. They used lots of vegetables, plenty of peppers, bean sprouts, and scallions. The waiter was satisfactory, but he had a slight language barrier.

Overall, Bangkok Jazz was a good experience. I want to return for lunch and try sitting outside, lunch prices here are pretty cheap ($5.95).

Bangkok Jazz on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Bangkok Jazz

Cuisine: Thai

Adddress: 6840 E Fowler Ave.Temple Terrace, FL 33617

Phone Number: (813) 374-8879

Neighborhood: USF

Website: http://www.bangkokjazztampa.com/

The Columbia Cafe

My family and I dined at The Columbia Cafe tonight. It is located next to the Tampa Bay History Center. The outdoor patio doesn’t seem to be part of the restaurant at first glance. A branch of the famous Columbia chain, this cafe offers are more simplified menu and a beautiful waterfront view of Tampa Bay. Channelside is just a few minutes away from Columbia Cafe so we walked over from Channelside in just under 10 minutes. I honestly don’t think the restaurants in Channelside are appetizing so I think with some promotion it wouldn’t be difficult for The Columbia Cafe to steal the thunder for Channelside restaurants. Harbour Island restaurants are far superior to anything at Channelside.

Like many restaurants in this area, live music is available on Friday and Saturday nights (6-9PM here…an earlier show than some other places in the area, such as That’s Amore). Tonight there were two Spanish performers, a man running the instrumentals and a woman singing several covers of popular Spanish music, such as Olga Tanon and Celia Cruz. Her voice was pleasant, but more of a backdrop to make the mood then a show.

The waiter was quick to come and get our drink orders. He took a couple of minutes to bring us our drinks and then took our orders. We put our orders in. I decided to try their Chicken Salteado ($9.95). The food came out quickly and was on our table in less than 20 minutes. The waiter seemed pre-occupied for a portion of our meal, and just when I was starting to think that the waiter should come and check on our drinks he appeared and refilled my drink (almost like he read my mind or something). The restaurant was moderately busy, but there was still plenty of empty tables for Friday night. I don’t think many people are aware that Columbia Cafe is located here.

The warm Cuban bread at The Columbia is one of the reasons people love it so much and The Columbia Cafe does not disappoint. I negotiated with my little cousin and was able to have both my bread and hers, it’s just that good.

The menu reads the Chicken Salteado is “inspired by the Chinese who lived in Cuba in the 19th century, a very hot iron skillet with extra virgin olive oil is used to sauté boneless pieces of chicken, onions, green peppers, fresh garlic, mushrooms, diced potatoes and chorizo, splashed with a hearty red wine. Served with yellow rice”. The dish was still warm when it arrived on my table. The chicken was a little rough, but flavorful. The potatoes were great as were the vegetables. I was surprised that I actually did not like the chorizo on my plate (since I’m a fan of chorizo), perhaps it was just the way it was cooked. The yellow rice was moist, but a little plain. It might have been a little better with a side of black beans. I added some sour cream to give it a little more flavor. Overall, the dish was average but I probably would not order it again because it was just average. My Step-Dad had the 1905 salad which looked amazing. Maybe I will have that in the future.

One particular problem I identified during our visit was the portion of their children’s menu. My sister ordered my nephew chicken tenders and chips. They only gave him 3 pieces of chicken strips. We asked the waiter about the order and he confirmed that this is the standard…I honestly don’t know how they can even call this a meal. It was a good thing my six-year-old nephew was not hungry because it would have then taken two children’s menu items to fill him. My seven-year-old cousin had their macaroni and cheese, which was a more appropriate portion for a child.

Overall, The Columbia Cafe is a nice spot in Downtown Tampa. The view outside is fantastic at night (and I’m sure it is also great on a beautiful sunny Florida day). The menu leaves a little to be desired, but has the classic Columbia choices. There is a full bar and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. If this restaurant was open a little later and promoted better it could be a popular spot for the night scene in the area and easily dominate the area with its signature Spanish dishes.

Columbia Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: The Columbia Cafe

Cuisine: Spanish

Address: 801 Old Water Street #1905 Tampa, Florida 33602

Phone Number: (813) 229-5511

Neighborhood: Downtown Tampa

Website: http://www.columbiarestaurant.com/cafe.asp

Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar

Part of my USF Dining Guide

Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar is a unique experience into pizza. When most people think of a pizza joint, they think of fountain soda machines, kids screaming and running around the place, and large families taking a trip out to eat. Wood Fired Pizza is none of those things. Wood Fired Pizza is elegant and a great place to take a date or a close friend, I have seen plenty of people on dates during visits. The restaurant is dimly lit and the tables and chairs aren’t what you find in a normal pizza restaurant, they are sleek and stylish. My friend and I decided to order their Michaelangelo pizza during our last visit (House Made Fresh Mozzarella, Pepperoni, San Marzano Tomatoes, Caramelized Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Organic Herbs) Grandi size ($20). The waitress during our visit was very friendly and helpful throughout our meal and the pizza expert himself, Peter Taylor, came to our table to let us sample a slice of a new pizza he was concocting made out of pork. My friend and I agreed it was the best free sample we have ever had.

Our pizza was a work of art. Each part of it from the crust, to the sauce and cheese, and the toppings was enjoyable. The onions and mushrooms were sweet and crunchy, melting away in our mouths. The cheese and sauces were unique and flavorful. The crust had a crunch to it. Any piece of our pizza that might fall off was instantly picked up with a fork and consumed. The flavor of the pizza hasn’t been matched by any place in Tampa that I have visited. Everything tastes so fresh, it is hard to relate the pizza to other pizzas because most pizza places try and fail to deliver this level of quality in a pizza. Normally after eating a bunch of pizza you feel a little sick because of all the grease that you just put into your body, but Wood Fired Pizza left us feeling great. One thing we haven’t been able to try yet that we want to try is their vintage sodas.

At the end of our meal the waitress brought us the dessert menu, but we were too full to try anything. The cannoli caught our eye and we debated for about twenty to thirty minutes before deciding we just too full. Wood Fired Pizza is located near the University of South Florida on Bearss Ave. near Soho Sushi and Collegiate Hall. The price range may be a little bit too high for a college students budget, but splitting the bill with a few friends may remedy that. The pizza creations at Wood Fired are worth the prices, in my opinion. Wood Fired also offers beer and wine specials on various nights and a happy hour (check their website for details on that). If you’re ever craving pizza and want to take a date out or go to dinner with a few friends, drive over to Wood Fired and experience pizza in a way you never have before.

Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Wood Fired Pizza Wine Bar

Cuisine: Pizza

Address: 2822 E Bearss Ave. Tampa, FL 33613

Phone Number: (813) 341-2900

Neighborhood: USF

Website: http://wood-firedpizza.com/

Tampa Bay Blogger Shoutouts

Here’s what I’ve been reading about lately on Tampa Bay blogs:

Dena Loves Food is loving Banh Mi Saigon Cafe in St. Petersburg. I love banh mi! Check out her post for more.

Tampa Bay Bites reviews the new St. Petersburg Taco Bus. Taco Bus has had the buzz all week, opening their new location on Valentines Day. I plan to visit during my next visit to St. Petersburg and see how the St. Pete bus fares against the Tampa bus. Love the fact that authentic Mexican cuisine is spreading around the area. Once Tampa Bay was exposed, everyone was instantly hooked.

Inkwatu visited the Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant in Tampa. This restaurant has been on my list for some time, I don’t think I have ever really tasted African food. Queen of Sheba is quite popular online and according to Inkwatu, I have to stop delaying this visit and make my trip there.

Re/Creating Tampa highlights some political blogs in Tampa with useful commentaries.

Tampa Bay Food Monster visited the Florida State Fair recently. I did as well (look for my post soon!). He tries fried pickles and oreos, something I am just not adventurous enough to do. He also had fried butter, red velvet funnel cake, and a Krispy Kreme donut burger. I commend him on his adventurous spirit and willingness to sacrifice a few years of his life for a food adventure.

Zest Florida Foodie reviews Bianchi’s Enoteca on her food blog, adding another restaurant to my to-do list.

Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

My friend recently treated me to dinner at Yamato Japanese Steakhouse in the Wiregrass Mall. I have been to their bar before (more on that soon), but have never had their Teppanyaki before. We arrived pretty late during a weeknight so the place wasn’t too busy. There was one other group sitting with us who were friendly. I’ve never sat with another party during a visit to a Japanese steakhouse so I thought it might be awkward, but we actually had a good time conversing with the other party at the table.

My friend went ahead and ordered my favorite drink I regularly have at this restaurant for me. It’s called a Blue Samurai and it tastes like pineapple juice, but it packs quite a punch. The taste is smooth and it’s easy to slurp it down (though the drink will hit you fast so beware). Japanese steakhouses always have these innovative tasty mixed drinks (it’s one of my favorite things about them) and Yamato is no different. Although I was missing the usual umbrella Benihana gives.

We were given a free sushi roll on the house. Shrimp on the outside and imitation crab with crunchy breading on the inside and a little mayo on top. The shrimp tasted fresh, normally I would prefer fried shrimp, however the shrimp delivered a solid taste and the crab and crunchy breading inside made it even better. A nice start to our meal, indeed. I decided to order their Steak and Calamari ($17) from their Teppanyaki menu and we also ordered some sushi and sashimi.

The soup came out first. The soup had an onion taste to it, but wasn’t powdery. It tasted good, but I couldn’t detect what about it made it taste good. It wasn’t heavy (like miso soup sometimes is) and still left plenty of room for the feast we were about to have.

The ginger salad or house salad left plenty to be desired. I will agree with other critics that the sauce has too much liquid. A ginger salad is better when the ginger is freshly added on such as how it is made at Sushi Ninja in Riverview.

This had to be the most interesting thing we ate that night. Bacon Scallions. It doesn’t sound quite appetizing, but it was pretty tasty. I continue to be shocked by all the wonderful ways bacon can be consumed. Chocolate Sunday’s chocolate and bacon is still my favorite.

Our Teppanyaki chef was attentive to our group and made our meal in a timely manner. He did a few tricks, such as the spinning egg and also the smoking onion volcano. There was also a big flame moment, which reminded me of Arigato Steakhouse (which used to be on North Dale Mabry). I’d say Kobe Ichiban in Brandon is probably my best experience with an entertaining and humorous chef, but Yamato was not far behind. It far outdid my experience last summer at Benihana in Orlando where the chef couldn’t do barely any moves and left my party feeling completely disappointed.

A very popular Teppanyaki chef trick. The smoking onion volcano.

The best part of our meal was interestingly enough the sashimi. I don’t expect sushi or sashimi to be high-quality in a Japanese steakhouse and our decision to order was merely an attempt to sample what they had. We ordered a Sashimi Platter and also Mackerel Nigiri. Mackerel has to be one of the fish I am most picky about. Either it is fantastic or downright disgusting. The mackerel at Yamato was amazing. I could have ten or twenty of them. All the sashimi was fresh and the salmon hit my taste buds in all the right places. Each bite of sashimi was savory and I almost forgot to pay attention to the teppanyaki as I bathed in the fish.

We also had some a California Roll and Salmon Roll. The California Roll was excellent, the crab was great and there was plenty of avocado and masago. The masago tasted very fresh and I had  to snap a photo of it to share with my readers. I was really impressed with how well the California Roll was made, it was clear the chef took some time to make it right. The Salmon Roll was just as great as the salmon sashimi, though I’d probably add some avocado to it next time.

The rice was appetizing and full of flavor. I am normally not too much of a rice consumer, but this rice tasted great and I finished most of it before I even was served my steak or calamari. I was really surprised with the amount of flavor in Yamato’s teppanyaki food. In my prior experiences to Japanese steakhouses the food has been regrettably bland and I constantly need to drench my food in the sauces provided to make my food have flavor, but Yamato actually had a natural flavor in their food. The steak, calamari, noodles, vegetables, and rice were all enjoyable and dipping them in sauce was less of a chore to make it taste good, but just something I sporadically did to test the difference tastes I could make with the food. It was this attention to flavor that truly made me enjoy Yamato as a Japanese steakhouse and make it a place that I would recommend others try as well.

Yamato Japanese Steak House on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 100 Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Neighborhood: New Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 907-8701

Poll: What are the best french fries?

After writing my BurgerMonger blog I started to wonder after being asked by Tampa Bay Food Monster, what are the best fries?

Personally I love Checkers and McDonald’s fries and I haven’t found any other fries that compare, but I want to know what you think! So let me know in the poll below.:)