2nd Yummy House location opens on Hillsborough Avenue and reflecting on the original

Update: Since writing this I have visited the new Yummy House location on Hillsborough Avenue and my experience wasn’t so hot. Read about it here: https://carloseats.com/2011/07/02/new-yummy-house-on-hillsborough-avenue-first-impression-bleak/

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It’s been over a year since I wrote my first review of Yummy House. Yesterday, Yummy House opened their planned 2nd establishment on Hillsborough Avenue, originally slated for an April opening. Yummy House is one of my favorite restaurants in Tampa Bay, but I have rarely covered it on this blog. It has been the location of graduation parties, going away parties, and friendly gatherings throughout the last few years. The flavors are hard to come by in Tampa Bay. I wasn’t privileged enough to try real Chinese food in San Francisco during my 9 years living there and came to hate the cuisine until I finally tried Yummy House. So THIS is Chinese food is what crossed my mind during my first visit.

Yummy House has been in the public eye for quite some time and this has led to quite the struggle for diners to secure a seat. I normally visit during non-peak hours, but those who come in during peak hours sometimes wait hours for a table and the demand became so great that Yummy House stopped accepting to-go orders. Their kitchen operates at max capacity and this has ultimately led to Mr. Zhao opening a new establishment on Hillsborough. Hopefully this will slow down the crowds and allow Yummy House to meet their demand of hungry customers and alleviate the kitchen and servers some. Most articles have mentioned an introduction of seafood and dim sum at the new establishment as well, something many diners are looking forward to.

I am planning on visiting their new location located at 2620 E. Hillsborough Avenue in Seminole Heights soon. I would like to take this blog to reflect on all the great food I have had at the original location Waters Avenue in case any readers of this blog have been unlucky enough to never have heard of Yummy House.

The Salt & Pepper Calamari is one of the main things people love about Yummy House. It is simply mouth-watering and it is normal for a few friends to order two to three orders of this dish during a family-style dinner. It is that good. The only calamari that has impressed me the way this dish did is the calamari at Roy’s, but it is a completely different type of batter and flavor so in a way they don’t compare. One mention of the Salt & Pepper Calamari at Yummy House and I start contemplating a trip there.

The Roast Duck Dried Grape Fried Rice is my favorite rice of all time.The grapes give the rice a sweet taste and the duck add moisture. I can take a whole order to myself and be perfectly content with just their rice. A visit to Yummy House feels incomplete without this entree.

I love their Crabmeat Fish Maw soup. Filled with tasty seafood and hearty, Yummy House does soup right. Normally the only soups I enjoy are thick soups, such as lobster bisque and clam chowder, but this soup is fantastic. The bowl is huge and there has barely been an instance where we ran out during our meal.

Observe the difference between a cup of soup for serving and the bowl size.

The Honey Walnut Shrimp is fantastic. Sweet and savory. It’s hard to have more than one because once a few people at the  table taste it, they will be vying for the rest. Nevertheless, I still love this dish. The walnuts are perfect with the large pieces of shrimp.

The Honey Pepper Steak is also excellent. The sauce it comes in goes great with everything and we practically wanted to lick the plate because it was just that good. These are just a few of the dishes that I love at Yummy House and have tried in the past few years. There are still many things I haven’t tried and I generally feel safe trying anything on their menu.

Ah, Memories at Yummy House. Your blogger is definitely ready to go out and try the new Yummy House.

Yummy House on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Yummy House

Cuisine: Chinese

Neighborhood: Carrollwood

Address: 2202 West Waters Avenue Tampa, FL 33604

Phone Number: (813) 915-2828

GrillSmith Chef Joe Guli Interview & Chef Guli’s Top 10 Fourth of July Grilling Tips

I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Joe Guli, GrillSmith‘s Chef Tech of Operations in this area, today at the Brandon location located inside the Westfield Brandon Town Center (located outside near the food court). GrillSmith was established in 2004 and is an affiliate of Front Burner Brands, a restaurant management company headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Joe has been a chef for 10 years and studied at the Florida Culinary Academy prior to becoming a chef. Prior to the interview I was served some bruschetta with smoked salmon that tasted great. We talked about Guli’s history and food interests in a brief interview before he gave me 10 grilling tips for families to use this 4th of July when having barbeques and getting together for the Independence Day holiday.

Q & A with Joe Guli

Carlos Eats (CE): How did you get started as a chef? How did you get into your current position with GrillSmith?

Joe Guli (JG): My grandfather inspired me to become a chef and I was also influenced by a family-owned establishment growing up. I worked for the Cheesecake Factory in Las Vegas and then moved to Florida, landing a position at GrillSmith through a contact from my former employer.

CE: What is your favorite entree at GrillSmith? What’s your favorite sauce?

JG: Chicken Milanese is my favorite entree (sautéed, herb-crusted chicken finished with a lemon-butter white wine reduction, sun-dried tomatoes, golden raisins and capers, dressed with arugula and pine nuts in GrillSmith’s lemon-feta vinaigrette, served over seasoned rice). I love breaded chicken. My favorite sauce would have to be our port wine sauce.

CE: Social Media Day is coming up on June 30th. What do you think about the relationship that Social Media and Food have found today?

JG: I think it’s great. It allows people to get recommendations to restaurant and interact with food.

CE: Here’s a fun question. What is your favorite food network show and why?

JG: Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible. I personally enjoy going into a restaurant and making it a success the way Robert Irvine does on his show.

CE: What toppings do you like on your burger?

JG: It might sound weird, but my favorite burger toppings are fried pork belly with egg (laughs).

CE: What is a 4th of July tradition for you and your family?

JG: Grilling with the family is definitely a 4th of July tradition for my family. We’re Italian and French so there has to be pasta at our 4th of July family gatherings as well.

CE: Thanks for your time, it was great talking with you.

Joe Guli’s Top 10 Fourth of July Grilling Tips

1.    Go with gas. Use a gas grill to help control cooking temperature. Most gas grills have a number of heat settings and many include built-in temperature gauges to determine the correct cooking temperature required for a certain food.

2.    Use multiple burners for multiple food items. When grilling several different foods that require different cooking temperatures, it’s helpful to use a gas grill that features multiple burners to better control the temperature for each food.

3.    Add wood-grilled flavor. Add grilled flavor to food by using wooden grilling planks that are designed to provide added flavor to food during the grilling process.

4.    Know the difference between direct and indirect heat grilling methods.

    • Use direct heat for thinner meats. Direct heat grilling is the best approach for grilling foods such as hamburgers, steaks, hot dogs, brats, pork chops, chicken breast and fish. To grill with direct heat, place food on the grilling grate in the area directly over the heat source.
    • Use indirect heat for thicker meats. Thick meats are best cooked with a heat source that is not directly under the food. This allows them to cook slowly to ensure that the food does not burn on the outside before the inside reaches the necessary level of doneness. Whole chickens, whole turkeys, beef roasts and pork roasts are good choices for grilling with indirect heat.
    • Alternate direct and indirect heat grilling for large meat cuts. It’s a good idea to sear large meat cuts directly over high heat to help seal in the juices and maintain tenderness. Then, place them in an area of the grilling grate that is away from the heat source to allow the indirect heat to cook the meat slowly until it’s done.

5.    Choose the right lean-to-fat ratio for burgers. Use ground beef that contains 77 perfect lean and 23 percent fat. This will result in juicy, flavorful burgers that won’t flare up on the grill due to too much fat content.

6.    Don’t overwork burger meat. When making burger patties, touch the patties lightly and be careful not to overwork the meat. Overworked meat will become tough, dried out and could fall apart on the grill.

7.    Cut and coat your vegetables. Cut vegetables into uniform-sized pieces to help them cook evenly. Rub vegetables with vegetable oil or toss them with a clear or light marinade prior to grilling over indirect heat.

8.    A digital meat thermometer can be your best friend. Use this tool to help you avoid overcooking. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, hamburgers and medium steaks to an internal temp of 160 degrees and pork to 150 degrees.

9.    Add some flavor the easy way. Pre-mixed seasonings, marinades, rubs and sauces can be a big help! Poultry such as chicken breasts should be marinated for 30 minutes to one hour. Marinate tender steaks like sirloin for 15 minutes to two hours. Less tender steaks like flank should be marinated for six to 24 hours.

10. Give it a rest. Let meat rest after removing it from the grill for at least three minutes, 10 minutes for larger cuts, before slicing it so that the juices redistribute evenly and the flavor stays in the meat rather than leaking out onto your cutting board. Place the meat on a hot serving plate and cover it loosely with foil while resting to keep it from getting cold.

El Puerto Argentinean Grill

El Puerto Argentinean Grill may be the first Argentinean restaurant I have dined at in my life and I was completely impressed with the food at this hidden gem in Ybor City. The restaurant is found on 5th Avenue near a cigar shop and various housing, nestled away behind the 7th Avenue strip. My family was originally out to have some Japanese cuisine, but after a mention of El Puerto as we drove on Adamo past Ybor, my family immediately made a detour.

The restaurant has a modest look, clearly a hole-in-the-wall with one dining room and a bar. Two main entrances. The smell outside the restaurant was fantastic and when we entered the restaurant, the pleasant aromas only became greater. We sat ourselves and within about ten minutes our waitress arrived at our table. Like many hole-in-the-wall restaurants the service at El Puerto could have been better. Many have noted the servers don’t seem primarily happy to be working and as long as my food comes out hot and flavorful without any rudeness, I can live with that. The wait time on the food is lengthy as well, don’t come in if you aren’t willing to wait more than an hour to receive your food.

The waitress understood English, but it was clear Spanish was her preference. I had an Inca Kola and the waitress was quick to bring our drinks. She dropped off some bread and then the wait began. We had plenty of time to talk about anything and everything, each time the waitress came in with a huge plate of meat we became more excited for what was to come. El Puerto gives you a bang for your buck, the dinner entrees range from $10-$20, but can feed 2-3 people.

I was particularly hungry and ordered their $2 Empanada Argentina (Argentine-style beef turnover in a fluffy pastry shell) in addition to the $12 Lomo Saltado (strips of skirt steak sautéed with red onions, served with French fries and white rice) as my main course. The waitress brought us some bread and butter to start our meal.

The bread was soft and the warm. The pieces were large enough to help hold over the wait.

The Argentinean empanada arrived. Different in appearance from the Puerto Rican empanadas I am used to. The shell was soft instead of crunchy. The meat inside was seasoned well and full of flavor, it did not need cheese or any additions. The empanada also came out hot, clearly fresh. It did not take long for this empanada to disappear from my plate.

About an hour later the Lomo Saltado arrived.

The steak came out sizzling hot. The rice warm and soft. There was so much steak that I had a whole portion to take home after eating. The red onions on top were juicy and crunchy, only adding to the steak. The steak needed no sauce, it was perfect just the way it was made. It has been quite a long time since I had a steak this tender that was cooked all the way. The steak just melted in my mouth, there was no need to cut it down into tiny pieces. The French fries were fantastic, and I would go as far as to say this Lomo Saltado was the best I have ever had.

The silence at the table spoke for the excellence of the food. The wait was worth it. I haven’t eaten that much in a long time and I credit the excellent flavors of El Puerto Argentinean Grill. There were many things I saw on the menu that interested me for future visits. My parents rave that El Puerto has the best chicken they have ever had. The Chicharron de Calamar, Baby Churrasco, and Peruvian pastas were just a few of the entrees I contemplated having during my visit. El Puerto also has a lunch menu with a modified menu and sandwiches/burgers that I would like to try as well. I am sure I will be back.

El Puerto Argentinean Grill on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: El Puerto Argentinean Grill

Cuisine: Spanish, Argentinean, Peruvian, Seafood

Neighborhood: Ybor City

Address: 1623 E 5th Ave. Tampa, FL 33605

Phone Number: (813) 248-8222

Website: http://www.elpuertoybor.com/

5th Annual Ybor Aficionado Days Stop 1: The Dog’s Bollocks Pub

Ybor Aficionado Days was the biggest restaurant tour I have been on to date. 17 restaurants in 3 hours. The tapas trail event was sponsored by Chevy who provided rides to each restaurant through Chevy vehicles. The drivers helped alleviate some of the distance between restaurants, but with the huge rush of people and the sometimes close distance between restaurant it was sometimes easier just to walk to each restaurant.

I documented each restaurant visit and will be positing each review individually. The first place we went to was The Dog’s Bollocks Pub.

The food was setup around the bar. The two employees at the bar were friendly with us and were happy to explain the tapas they were serving to us. I could see myself having a drink here and chatting with the employees.

The English Muffins at Dog Bullock’s were delicious. The muffins were soft and easy to chew. The beans and sauce were packed with flavor and the muffins had more flavor than they appeared to have. I was surprised there was such good food inside this small bar. I have probably passed the place tons of times when walking around Ybor City and never thought that stopping inside would get me a tasty meal. The owner mentioned that these were just a few of many creations they had been creating for the pub.  The place had a clear European ambiance with flags everywhere and free pool tables, foosball, and darts…certainly a nice bar to hang out at during a night on 7th Avenue. The pub was empty since it was the middle of the day and I am curious to know what crowd spends their time in here.

It didn’t take long for us to finish our food and be on our way, but the food at The Dog’s Bollocks impressed us and was the beginning of a great food adventure on the Chevy Tapas Trail.

Venue Name: The Dog’s Bollocks Pub

Cuisine: Pub

Neighborhood: Ybor City

Address: 1704 E 7th Avenue Tampa, FL 33605

Phone Number: (813) 506-1889

Website: http://www.dogsbollocksybor.com/

Go on to Ybor Aficionado Days Stop 2: Bernini

SoHo Sushi North

I have been by SoHo Sushi North numerous times, but never stopped in until this past week. It is the same plaza as the fantastic Wood Fired Pizza, and these two restaurants really do make this plaza boom with foodie activity. I first heard of SoHo Sushi when they became a sponsor for the Japanese Club at USF‘s “A Night in Tokyo” cultural event (a Japanese cultural-themed dinner).

We came during their “Happy Hour” which is from 5:00PM-7:00PM everyday and offers $5-7 special rolls and appetizers as well as 2-4-1 house wine, draft beer, and hot sake. USF students can get 10% off with their student ID making SoHo Sushi North affordable for the college students nearby and for diners who don’t mind having dinner early.

We decided to order two appetizers: their $5 Sunomono (cucumber salad topped with crab, steamed shrimp, octopus, and fined with rice wine vinaigrette) and $6 Geso (Japanese style calamari, flash fried and dressed in ponzu sauce).

The sunomono was excellent and had a very refreshing taste to it. It was a nice start to our meal and whenever we wanted to refresh our taste buds throughout our meal the rice vinaigrette really hit the spot. The shredded crab and shrimp were delicious and although I don’t like cucumbers on my sushi (I feel it detracts from the taste of the fish), I love cucumber on the side with some sauce. There was enough for two people to share so I say $5 is not a bad price for some sunomono.

The geso was quite a change in taste buds from the sunomono we had before it. The calamari was a little rough, but still quite tasty and the ponzu sauce was the best part of this appetizer. We could have dipped almost anything into the sauce and been happy. Although the geso wasn’t my favorite food of the night it was pretty good and I think I would try it again and see if maybe the chef just timed the cooking a little off on the appetizer. $6 is a great price for calamari. It is a nice switch from the usual calamari found in most restaurants and the batter was noticeably less greasy as well.

We decided to order four rolls and went with the K-Town Roll ($6), Lobster Tempura Roll ($6), SoHo Roll ($5), and Tuna Fresh Roll ($7). They came rather quickly and it wasn’t long before we had a pile of food in front of us. The Lobster Tempura Roll (top right) was tasty on the inside, but the outside tasted a little odd…like the tempura didn’t reach the amount of crunch one desires when having a tempura roll. Still definitely worth the price, but a little off what we wanted.

The fish was good in the other rolls, but the mayo was a little off-putting. My friend mentioned that the mayo tasted American and I couldn’t help but agree. The mayo was detracting from the roll and indeed the two rolls that had mayo on them would have been better without it. On the other hand, the rice paper was a refreshing change from your average sushi roll and kept the sushi from becoming too heavy. I also thought the tuna and salmon were both appetizing and my friend commented that the tempura chips were great.

Overall, I would say the sushi at SoHo Sushi North was good, but not the best I have had. They face fierce competition in the area with Tomo Sushi and Joy of Tokyo within a few minutes of driving distance and Tokyo Sushi Japanese Restaurant down on Fowler Avenue. SoHo is really a seller because of the good deals they offer with their Happy Hour and USF 10% student discount that few sushi restaurants will match nearby. With the rough economic times everyone faces today you can’t deny a good deal.

As we were about to close our check we decided we would have some dessert and order their fried ice cream for $6 (pictured below). The ice cream tasted satisfactory (not too sweet and the fried piece on top was a pleasant finish) and was a nice close to our meal.

Soho Sushi on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: SoHo Sushi North

Cuisine: Japanese

Neighborhood: USF

Address: 2826 E. Bearss Avenue Tampa, Florida 33613

Phone Number: 813.977.8744

Website: http://www.sohosushinorth.com

Father’s Day at The Columbia in Ybor City

My family decided to spend this Father’s Day at The Columbia in Ybor City. We decided we wanted to surprise my step-father and we succeeded. My step-sister and I arrived around one o’ clock, The Columbia was busy but seemed to be handling the father’s day rush just fine. We were seated about twenty minutes early and the waitress kindly serviced us while we waited for my step-father to arrive. Before he arrived we already had fresh Cuban bread in front of each seat and a fried calamari on the way. The look on his face when his children were in wait was priceless to say the least.

The fried calamari came out quickly and was delicious. The tangy sauce it came with complemented it well and it wasn’t long before the calamari disappeared off the table (hence no photograph). My parents ordered a 1905 salad for the table and it was quite delicious, though I am used to enjoying this salad at regular visits to The Columbia Cafe. I decided to order a George’s Burger for my main course (not available at The Columbia Cafe), remembering a fine taste to it at The Columbia in the St. Petersburg Pier (are you starting to see that my family loves The Columbia now?😉 ).

The description of a George’s Burger on the menu is “grilled seasoned choice ground beef topped with cheddar cheese, Ruskin tomatoes, lettuce, onions, ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard on Cuban bread”, and I had almost all of those except for mustard (I only like mustard on hot dogs and corn dogs). The Cuban bread was a little harder to chew than a regular bun, but the flavor of their fresh Cuban bread was worth it. I also made quite a mess with the ingredients inside. Overall, the burger was great and seasoned well, although I was starting to feel full when I got the first half.  I saved the other half and it was just as delicious when I re-heated it for lunch the next day. The french fries were also tasty and although it looked like a small portion at first glance, I found myself struggling to finish them.

The service was impeccable as The Columbia in Ybor City consistently delivers customer satisfaction on each visit. I always feel a little guilty dining out during a holiday because I sympathize with the employee who is missing their family to earn a little extra cash (especially during these hard times), but our server and her co-workers were friendly and didn’t show any signs of longing to be elsewhere. Until next time Columbia, I’m sure we will meet again.

Columbia Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: The Columbia

Cuisine: Spanish

Neighborhood: Ybor City

Address: 2117 East 7th Avenue Tampa, FL 33605

Phone Number: (813) 248-4961

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

Brio Tuscan Grille @ International Plaza Disappoints

My first experience at Brio Tuscan Grille was one of fine excellence. My friend had a birthday dinner and we were all treated like kings. My glass would be refilled before it was even half-empty, my meal came out with great timing, and that waiters were so friendly it almost felt surreal. Impressed with their lobster bisque, I was excited to return to Brio for my aunt’s birthday. Unfortunately, my next visit wasn’t so stellar.

During this visit we sat outdoors and the waiter was less than attentive to our party. When we arrived to meet my aunt, the waiter never asked whether I wanted to order a drink and would slip away before I could ask about a drink. This was tolerable during the first-half of my meal, which was a lobster bisque, but it became considerably irritating when my pasta arrived and I had no drink to wash down my pasta.

The lobster bisque was as amazing as my last visit. I would honestly come to Brio just for their lobster bisque. It is affordable and has that creamy and sweet consistency that makes you love the soup.

The fettuccine alfredo is where the meal really took a dive. My favorite pasta is fettuccine alfredo and this was not a fettuccine alfredo. There was barely any sauce on it and the pasta was tasteless and rough, clearly under-cooked. The waiter barely returned to our table until the end of our meal for me to ask for more alfredo sauce and the main course was pretty much a disaster that could not be saved when the sauce finally did arrive.

I was disappointed in the dip Brio Tuscan Grille took in both food and service during this visit. I am not sure if it was because we ate outdoors, but I would honestly never order another pasta here. Olive Garden and Carrabba’s are far superior as far as chains go and Brio fails to even pack a punch against the amazing fettuccine alfredo at Bella’s Italian Cafe. I hope Brio will go back to having incredible service and food in the future.

Brio Tuscan Grille on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Brio Tuscan Grille

Cuisine: Italian

Address: 2223 Westshore Blvd. Tampa, FL 33607

Neighborhood: Westshore

Phone Number: (813) 877-3939

Website: http://www.brioitalian.com/