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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.

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The Cake Girl dessert food truck opens August 27th

Local vendor The Cake Girl is opening a mobile food truck to the public on Saturday August 27th, 2016. The Grand Opening event will be held from 11AM-6PM at Gables Motorsports of Wesley Chapel located at 28009 Wesley Chapel Blvd. Wesley Chapel, FL 33543. Local food trucks will join The Cake Girl for the opening event and have food available for sale. Live music and giveaways will be held throughout the event.

grand opening final flyer

The event will feature a FREE cupcake giveaway to the first 100 people who show up at the food truck.

Here is a sample of some of the sweets Cake Girl makes:

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Joining The Cake Girl for the Grand Opening at Gables Motorsports:

  • Moca Loka Frappe: specializing in Puerto Rican gourmet smoothies  – well known for their delicious Nutella smoothies and pineapple colada conconctions
  • KC’s Crepes: serving sweet and savory crepes inspired by French and Japanese cuisine culture
  • Burger Lab: known for their signature black angus blend beef burgers with condiments and sauces made in-house daily

RSVP on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/1563206073986256/

For booking inquiries for The Cake Girl – Call (321) 438-2981 or e-mail thecakegirlllc[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Impressions: Buya Ramen Pre-Opening Night

I visited Buya Ramen last night as a guest for their pre-opening night where they gave a sneak peek of the menu as the servers and cooks prepared for their opening happening tomorrow August 10th. Please note that this experience was a preview for the restaurant and may not reflect the actual opening or dining experience.

The restaurant has plenty of seating with 104-seats and the decor of the restaurant has a swanky-upscale vibe with a touch of hipster that is at home with many of the options in the EDGE District and Downtown St. Petersburg. Plenty of natural light exists from the windows at the entrance and the dimmer lighting sets a more relaxing mood for the evening.

Food fight art @buyaramen #stpete #CarlosEats #foodies #local #shoplocal #ramen #instaburg #buyaramen

A photo posted by Carlos Eats (@carloseats) on

 

I was a fan of the wall art that included what appeared to be a ramen battle ensuing between hungry and nude geishas. It caught my eye more than the rooster  wall painting.

Drinks could not go wrong with local mixologist Ryan Pines at the helm. Two drinks were served for tasting.

1) The Geisha: Reyka vodka, cocchi americano, thai basil, and peychaud’s bitters

2) Mr. Sulu: Knob Creek rye, buya vermouth, dolin dry, and bitterman’s chocolate mole bitters

I leaned on the rye heavily – both drinks were not for a light-weight drinker. The bar at Buya Ramen is beautiful and could easily be a popular place for drinks after work or on the weekends with some appetizers.

 

Speaking of the appetizers I really loved the Seaweed Salad that mixed in some delicious hijiki (which I normally detest at most restaurants in bentos) and the Pork Belly Bun was excellent and rivaled Tampa favorite Anise Gastrobar.

Back to the drinks – the wine selection was exquisite and really made me excited for what was to come. Restaurants who have a great wine program usually are in tune with their taste buds.

I was a fan of both the Giminez Riili ‘Buenos Hermanos’ Torrentes and the Clos de Chacras ‘Cavas de Crianza’ red blend. Both Argentina wines were easy to drink and wouldn’t detract from a meal and could easily be enjoyed on their own.

I tried all three of the ramens between different people’s bowls available for tasting: Crispy Duck, Wagyu Brisket Ramen, and Mushroom. The first two were tonkotsu (pork) ramen which is one of my favorite types and the last was shio (salt).

My favorite by far was the Wagyu Brisket Ramen – the flavor was rich and enjoyable. It was quite different from the shoyu (soy-sauce) based ramen at Japanese Kitchen Dosunco. If I could any of the 3 ramens I would choose the Wagyu Brisket.

One of the nice things about having new ramen shops in town is that chefs can display different ramen types. The lack of ramen shops in the past has made that difficult.

The shio ramen was my least favorite by far and tasted quite like a clear onion soup with mushrooms on-top. Normally I am actually a fan of this type of soup, but didn’t find it to be comparable to the tonkotsu broth. Still, it’s an option for many people who cannot or choose not to eat pork broths.

All the servers we encountered were friendly – especially considering the chaos of having over 100 guests around the restaurant sampling all kinds of food and drinking from the bar. Most servers seemed to have some experience and were often checking on all the guests despite the crowd.

The kitchen in the back seems to be small and considering the number of seats in the restaurant – hopefully the turnaround time for ramen after opening will be efficient and quick. 

 

Buya Ramen has plenty of potential. I could see it growing and helping to spread ramen culture across the bridge. Pretty much everything I tried was delicious and seemed to aim for a savory palate. I will return after they open and have some time to get settled to see how the full menu is and how the kitchen and service keeps up with demand.

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Tampa needs more Korean BBQ

For as happy as I am about the Japanese ramen and izakaya food gods shining on us lately in Tampa, there is another food concept that I am not seeing enough of in Tampa: Korean BBQ.

Korean restaurants are sprinkled around Tampa with Sushi Ninja perhaps leading the pack with the biggest menu of authentic Korean dishes (we even have a delicious Korean food truck called Mmm Bap) – but concepts usually lack Korean BBQ grilling. The popularity of Japanese hibachi/teppanyaki steakhouses and all-you-can-eat concepts (see Koizi, Saki, Ginza) suggests that given the right promotion and effort – Korean BBQ could be huge for the Tampa Bay area.

Izziban Sushi in Orlando has made the concept thrive and now has two concepts in Orlando and one down south near Miami. Izziban offers Korean BBQ with the option of a la carte or buffet with as much meat as you want and the addition of classic sushi rolls and appetizers with prices ranging from $20 for lunch/late-night and $30 for dinner.

samgyupsal

Other restaurants in the Orlando area have caught on and are offering their own take on Korean BBQ with some sticking to just pork belly or samgyupsal and other more basic meat choices. The prices are comparable to what it costs for just one dish of Korean food here in Tampa and perhaps an appetizer.

Another case for more Korean BBQ in Tampa is the communal vibe that eating Korean BBQ has. This is representative of Korean culture where often co-workers, family members, or friends will enjoy a meal today and share their food. It makes food part of the bonding process in eating out and makes food more social. This could be big for corporate events, birthday parties, and family get-togethers.

Grills for Korean BBQ are smaller than those used in Japanese steakhouses and provide for more conversation –  you also are usually in charge of cooking your own food in these concepts.

I’m not sure if I even have a preference on how the concept should arrive here in Tampa. All I know is there is a serious lack of options for Korean BBQ in the Tampa Bay area and that it could be a popular concept if someone would invest in bringing it here.

Here is a quick look at Korean BBQ via Eater:

So who wants to be first and help turn Tampa Bay on to the K-BBQ craze?  I’m waiting.

Buya Ramen shop opening August 10th

Word on the street: St. Petersburg’s first full-on ramen shop and izakaya, Buya Ramen, is opening for business on Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 at 4PM. The shop is located at 911 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida 33705.

Reservations are now being accepted online through OpenTable: http://www.buyaramen.com/

The ramen and izakaya scene is certainly seeing an uptick in Tampa Bay. Ramen has been taken the U.S.A. by storm for years with Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC setting the stage for a ramen renaissance of sorts. The trend took some time to catch on in the Tampa Bay area but has proven to be successful with Ichicoro and Japanese Kitchen Dosunco leading the way to ramen-mania.

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Like BUYA RAMEN on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/buyaramen/

Follow BUYA RAMEN on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/buyaramen/

Tweet BUYA RAMEN @buyaramen

Photo credit: Buya Ramen on Facebook

Shake Shack

Shake Shack looking to open location in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Business Journal (TBBJ) reported earlier this summer that Shake Shack is looking to open at least one location in the Tampa Bay area. They are joined by a number of competitors in the area serving fast-casual gourmet burgers including Burger 21, Burger Monger, BurgerFi, and a planned Wahlburger’s entry into the market. Most of these burger chains are concentrated on Dale Mabry Highway and in South Tampa along Howard Avenue. The TBBJ held a poll recently asking where people would like to see Shake Shack open up.

Shake Shack

Personally, I think Shake Shack would be a good choice in the university area along Fowler Avenue or on Bruce B. Downs in New Tampa. There is a true lack of gourmet burgers in this area with the only options being Five Guys and maybe Burger 21 further along Bruce B. Downs heading towards Wesley Chapel. The addition of Portillo’s to the university area in late September/early October sets the stage for new restaurants to open in the university area.

There also seems to be few gourmet burger locations in the Brandon area besides Ford’s Garage and Square 1 Burgers in a densely populated area. The Brandon area is booming lately with new movie theaters, Dave & Buster’s, and new apartment complexes appearing rapidly.

No doubt the first location will also draw in plenty of traffic to wherever it opens and provide an economic advantage to that area. Parking considerations should hopefully drive Shake Shack to a location that will allow plenty of access. My visits to Shake Shack in Winter Park were always met with congested parking (where it shares space with Trader Joe’s market) when that location opened in 2014.

Wherever they decide to open – let’s hope it opens soon! I am ready to chow down.

Photography credit: Evan Sung

Local Legendary Burger @ Hard Rock Cafe Tampa

Full disclosure: I was invited by the Hard Rock for a complimentary tasting of their new burger. The opinions expressed are my own based on my experience.

This past Monday I visited the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino restaurant, Hard Rock Cafe, to taste their Local Legendary Burger: Old Bay Burger. The idea of the burger is to prepare something in-house that has “local flavor and flair”. During my visit I also tried an appetizer, drink special, and dessert.

Southwest Chicken Flatbread

I started off with the Southwest Chicken Flatbread as an appetizer. Flatbreads always sound great when I order them and they are usually disappointing. Not the case with the Southwest Chicken Flatbread at the Hard Rock Cafe. This was one of the best flatbreads I have eaten in the Tampa Bay region. It captured a nice mix of flavors and had fresh avocados served on top. The crust had just the right crunchy – not too crispy or too tough. I highly recommend this.

Summertime Blues drink

The Summertime Blues drink is a special added to the menu currently. It is made with Blueberry Real syrup, house-made lemonade, and Red Bull Yellow energy drink. The mixture is sweet and packed with plenty of energy. This beverage is non-alcoholic.

Local Legendary Burger

Local Legendary Burger

After the appetizer was gone, the main course arrived: the Local Legendary Burger called the Old Bay Burger. Named after Old Bay Seasoning – a product of Maryland where crabs are plentiful. The burger utilizes a crab cake mixture laid on top of the burger (important to note for anyone with allergies).

I really enjoyed this burger – it’s totally different from what you’d normally find on a menu and it’s really filling as you can see in the photograph. You can taste the seasoning in each bite and how the different parts of the burger interact. Part of me wanted to actually just have the crab cake part and cut out the beef just to see how that might change the mix of flavors – it was enjoyable regardless though. The chef also made a sauce to accompany the burger.

I’d love to hear people’s opinions on what they think of the Local Legendary at the Hard Rock Cafe and see how it compares to my experience.

Key Lime Pie

Finally, the meal ended with the dessert. The newest addition to the Hard Rock Cafe is their Key Lime Pie so I decided to go with that. The filling was reminiscent of a flan due to it being soft and almost like pudding. The taste was not too sour or sweet – somewhere in between. The crust was excellent and definitely the highlight of the dessert.

Thus the meal came to an end. There are plenty of new things worth trying at the Hard Rock Cafe whether you are looking for a snack or a meal.

Hard Rock Cafe. 5223 Orient Rd., Tampa, FL 33610. (813) 627-7757 seminolehardrocktampa.com