Categories
Books

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?

Categories
Food Events

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!

Categories
Reviews

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/

Categories
Reviews

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/

Categories
Reviews

Timpano Italian Chophouse

Timpano Italian Chophouse is a restaurant and bar located across the street from CineBistro in Old Hyde Park. The exterior seems fancy and upscale and that wouldn’t be an incorrect way to describe Timpano. Inside the place is lit well, most of the people there are dressed up. My visit was during evening hours and the restaurant was booming with both a dinner crowd and a crowd surrounding their Frank Sinatra Bar.

There was live music playing the night I visited, the tunes were pleasant, but just a backdrop to the chatty conversations in the restaurant. The bartender that took care of us was friendly and quick to get us our drinks. He recommended me some drinks from their Martini menu and I decided to try their Flirtini, quite tasteful for someone like me who hates bitter drinks. There was a crowd of older women there, Tuesday nights are ladies night so they were probably just appeared to stop by while making their way around town.

My party and I ordered their BBQ Short Rib Flatbread Pizza and it was fantastic. The mushrooms and meat were great and the flatbread was appetizing and crunchy. What tasted like olive oil was used as a sauce on top and went well with the pizza. It was hard to not eat it all in a few bites. They have a couple other flatbreads that I would like to try in the future as well as their raw bar.

Overall, service and food at the Timpano Italian Chophouse was pretty good. Its a great place to sit at the bar and have a bite to eat and drink in an atmosphere that isn’t rowdy, but mature and reserved.

Timpano Chophouse and Martini Bar on Urbanspoon
Restaurant Name: Timpano Italian Chophouse
Cuisine: Italian
Address: 1610 W Swann Ave. Tampa, FL 33606
Neighborhood: Hyde Park
Phone Number: (813) 254-5870
Website: http://www.timpanochophouse.net/

Categories
Reviews

Bella’s Italian Cafe

I had dinner at Bella’s Italian Cafe the other night after driving up Howard Ave. looking for a place to eat. After successfully finding parking (the lot was packed) right in the front (score!) I walked inside to put my name in to eat. The restaurant was packed, but it only took about five to ten minutes to get seated. I was seated in a booth and the waiter immediately brought me some water and some bruschetta and started helping with my order.

Bread & Butter

I decided to order Fettuccine Alfredo (I’m quite a traditionalist) and the waiter, Andrew F., quickly put my order in and brought me some warm bread and butter. This waiter had to be one of the best severs I have ever had in Tampa Bay and frequently checked on me throughout the night to make sure my meal was satisfactory. Within about 10 to 20 minutes I had my Fettuccine Alfredo arrive at my table.

The Alfredo sauce was just as good as the waiter said it would be, a unique taste…reminded me of a sauce I had in San Francisco once. It was thick and creamy just how I like it, not watered down like the Fettuccine I had at The Italian Kitchen on 301. It has to be one of the best pastas I have had in Tampa and the price was $10.99, more than Olive Garden but cheaper than eating at Carrabba’s. The pasta had a great texture and wasn’t thin like I have also had at some Italian restaurants recently. The Fettuccine Alfredo won my love and I would recommend it to any pasta lover.

There was plenty of pasta and I was feeling full before I knew it. After some debate I decided to go with dessert, a half-size of Tiramisu for $3.75. Andrew F. quickly took my Fettuccine Alfredo and boxed it up and put the date and item on the box with a smiley face. I felt like a kid, but that is quality service. Who doesn’t like to be treated great in a restaurant?

My Tiramisu was out within a few minutes. The waiter was kind enough to pour the chocolate over it. They give you the same amount of chocolate whether it’s a half or whole size of dessert so I was in sweet heaven once the chocolate was poured. The Tiramisu was different from what I have had, much richer in chocolate and sweeter. It was great and the half-size was just right with an entrée.

The waiter brought me the bill after my dessert, but didn’t pressure me to leave. He kept checking on me and re-filling my water I requested during my dessert and that is quality service. The service kept going even after the waiter finished his duty of delivering the food. Bella’s impressed me with its tasty Italian food and phenomenal customer service (props to Andrew F. for making my first visit a great one). I spent less than $20 and ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo, a soda, and a Tiramisu. While browsing the menu I came across their lunch menu which has many dishes for under $5! Have to have lunch at Bella’s someday.

Bella's Italian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Bella’s Italian Cafe

Cuisine: Italian

Address: 1413 S Howard Ave. Tampa, FL 33606

Neighborhood: Hyde Park

Phone Number: (813) 254-3355

Website: http://www.bellasitaliancafe.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bellas-Italian-Cafe/47956797890

Categories
Restaurant News

Update: New Restaurants Opening in Tampa Bay in 2011

This photo from Cappy’s Facebook page makes my stomach growl with hunger!

Cappys Pizzeria: Cappy’s Pizzeria is opening it’s 4th location in the Winthrop Plaza where Cuenelli’s used to stand by Green Iguana. The new location is set to open in January 2011. Cappy’s Pizzeria has been around since 1995 when it first opened in Hyde Park. A partner was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times stating “Cappy’s is known for a simple menu of quality pizza, calzones and salads. The new location won’t stray from that successful formula”. Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/cappys-pizzeria-to-open-fourth-location-this-one-in-riverview/1140165

http://www.cappyspizzaonline.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cappys-Pizza/175562309134957

Ryuu Japanese Steakhouse: This new Japanese restaurant in the Westfield Brandon Mall will feature Teppanyaki grills and a sushi bar. Owner Robert Smith has been quoted in the St. Petersburg Times stating “You can watch the show if you want, but there’s also booth sitting if you want a more intimate experience.” The restaurant opens on New Years Day: January 1, 2011 at 11am. Quite a way to ring in the new year! Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/article1129234.ece

459 Brandon Town Center Brandon, FL 33511 http://www.tsunamijapanesesteakhouse.com/

The original Yummy House located on Waters Ave.

Yummy House: One of Tampa’s best choices (and many say the best choice) for Chinese food is opening a new location in Mid-April 2011 in Seminole Heights near I-275. The new location will be able to accommodate up to 200 diners in 5,500 square feet of space and serve seafood and traditional Cantonese dim sum. Hopefully this will make eating at Yummy House a little easier and allow the restaurant to deal with its wildly popular demand (an estimated 400 diners a day visit Yummy House!). Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/owner-of-sherrys-yesterdaze-opening-new-shop-in-seminole-heights/1137591

2620 E Hillsborough Ave. Tampa, FL 33610

It looks like 2011 will be a great year for dining out!

Categories
Food Challenge Reviews

Big Belly Burger Challenge

Note: Big Belly Burgers has closed shop.

Big Belly Burgers is a local restaurant chain in Tampa Bay. There is one in Bartow and one in Brandon. They are most famous for their Big Belly Burger Challenge: a challenge where you have 20 minutes to eat a 1 lb. fully topped burger and 1lb. of french fries. Should you succeed, your photo is taken and put up in the restaurant and you also receive a t-shirt. As an avid Man vs. Food watcher, I decided to take this challenge on Monday.

A plain exterior, I don’t know how I feel about their logo. Burger places must have a hard time designing them (I feel the same about Burger Monger).

When I walked in they told me I could seat myself. I found a table in the middle of the dining room. Many people eating there appeared to be regulars and when I told the waitress I wanted to order the Big Belly Burger Challenge all eyes turned on me. Feeling a little nervous…I looked to the waitress for some reassurance, but she told me she believed in me. What a cool waitress!

I waited about twenty to thirty minutes for my burger. While waiting I observed the restaurant. It has dim lighting and the crowds are mostly families and groups of friends, almost has a pub-like atmosphere. The 99 center drafts must attract lots of people there. They have a variety of burgers and also plenty of kids menu choices too. The restaurant is two open rooms and you can easily look at other people dining there.

The burger finally arrived and it was a monster. Tons of beef, tomatoes, bacon, pickles, onions, and lettuce. I had to start immediately after receiving the burger (that’s why the picture isn’t so clear). The only way to fit this burger into my mouth was to disassemble then put it back together in edible portions. The burger was initially very tasteful, but a little dry. The bun was nice and soft. Veggies tasted fresh. I think the burger would probably benefit from some sauce added on top. I had to keep dipping it in ketchup. I think trying one of their regular burgers in the future is in order.

The french fries were pretty salty (as pictured) and made me want to drink more water. I tried to resist so I could avoid filling myself up on drinks. They were big fries and not really too great, despite seasoning I didn’t like them too much.

Time started to slip away and before I knew it I had only four minutes left on the clock. I was starting to feel dizzy from having too much beef and not enough to drink or time to process it. I finished all the meat and the bun, but I had a bunch of large onions and pickles leftover that I couldn’t finish. I finished most of the fries, but couldn’t get to the bottom without exploding. So I sadly failed the challenge. I could have probably finished the rest of the toppings, but finishing the fries was too much.

The crowd was really cool and trying to give me encouragement to finish it. This probably wasn’t one of the best burgers I have the tasted, but the challenge made it a fun experience. The challenge isn’t cheap $14.99 (probably to keep people from wasting food and to pay for the shirts). I’d like to see someone else finish this challenge though. If any of you guys finish it make sure you let me know, I’ll plug you.

No clue how the Man vs. Food eats all that he does. He certainly has a gift.

Big Belly Burgers on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Big Belly Burgers

Cuisine: American

Address: 109 W Bloomingdale Ave. Brandon, FL 33511

Neighborhood: Brandon

Phone Number: (813) 685-1911

Website: http://www.big-belly-burgers.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Big-Belly-Burgers/121152617416

Categories
Food Holidays

Belated Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas. I spent mine with my family. We ate and ate and ate (today I hit the treadmill for sure). We spent Christmas Day at Downtown Disney in Orlando, fun and chill time. Our Christmas Eve dinner was a feast!

So many things. The arroz con gandules was excellent!

My sister’s drunken chicken.

My Mom’s ham and pineapples. Mmmm.

My Aunt’s delicious deviled eggs! I always sneak one in before dinner.

My sister made an El Salvadorian dish called Panes Con Pollo (a different version of the original Panes Con Pavo) that was excellent. The sauce is sweet and goes perfectly in a sandwich. It was delicious and really stole the show at dinner.

As you can see I had a great Christmas dinner, I hope you guys did as well. Drop me a comment with what you did or what you ate, I’d love to know and Happy Holidays 🙂

Categories
Drinking Adventures

Yuengling Tampa Brewery Tour

While browsing Yelp yesterday I read that there is a Yuengling Brewery near USF that offers free parking, tours, and free beer at the end of the tour of the brewery. One Yelper said “FREE BEER…I could end the review there” and I was already starting to think that I have to go to this place and try this out.  The Yuengling Brewery is located on 30th Street (aka Bruce B. Downs) right between Fowler Avenue and Busch Boulevard and tours are given daily at 9am and 1pm. My friend and I decided to visit the 1pm tour today and constructively spend some of our copious amounts of winter vacation free time at the Yuengling Brewery.

We arrived and found ample parking. There was more people than usual today because of the holiday season and inside there were people from all over. Some people were from Ohio or states even farther than that. The crowd was mixed with some families and couples and then groups of friends. They split us off into two tour groups because of the high number of people. Unfortunately most of the workers were on vacation because of the holidays so we didn’t get to see everything in action, but the tour guides did a good job of explaining things without the busy workers around.

A bike rack with Yuengling pimped out on it. There is a store here where you can buy all kinds of Yuengling merchandise from rugs and t-shirts to backpacks and toys. Prices were average though there were some cool items that I don’t think I have seen anywhere else being sold here.

Our tour guide was very informative and humorous. You could tell she really did her homework and knew vast amounts of things about beer and Yuengling. I took down a few facts I learned today via my personal twitter:

  • Yuengling first opened in 1829.
  • Yuengling is in 13 states behind Samuel Adams which is in 50.
  • Yuengling used to make dairy and ice cream during Prohibition.
  • 1 brew is 500 barrels.
  • Yuengling’s Hops come from Minnesota. Barley from Washington State.
  • Light is the biggest contaminent of beer. That’s why kegs are the best.
  • Only brown bottles protect the beer. Green bottles don’t protect it…they only use them for marketing.

One interesting thing I learned is that Yuengling family members do not automatically inherit the company. They have to invest in it, this ensures that the people who are involved in the company really care about the company’s future and put themselves into the business. It’s the first time I have heard of this and actually makes lots of sense to me (they didn’t want to just hand things to their kids, they want their kids to work for things and appreciate what they have worked hard on).

We were taken to the back where there are railroad tracks below and a train directly enters the brewery to drop off goods and pick them up.

Our next stop was in the Quality Assurance room where I learned that there are about 2000 attributes to tasting beer (Wow that’s a big number). Their main chemist Randy was not in, but the tour guide did a good job of explaining to us what he does and that it is very difficult to be on a beer tasting panel because it requires a special kind of palette. I have heard great things about Randy via Yelp reviews and the tour guide informed us that he has been working there for 38 years. Quite a long time.

We then entered where you can see the beer bottles actually being made and see it all in action. Pretty cool to see in person, a photo simply cannot do it justice.

Our last stop was these huge tanks of beer. Apparently one of these has enough beer to last you over 50 years if you drink a six pack of beer every single day! I think they look kind of eerie like alien space pods or something.

A showcase of different Yuengling beers.

Once the tour was complete (took about an hour) and we had learned all kinds of new things about beer and Yuengling we headed back to the place where we started and were given free Yuengling beer. It doesn’t get much better than this.

The Yuengling Brewery Tour was well worth our time and was completely free. There really is no reason not to check it out and it was entertaining, informative, free, and something fun to do during our free time. I’d recommend it to any of my friends and even if you’re not 21 you can still get some free soda at the end. I have probably driven past this brewery a thousand times and never know what a cool place I was passing by.

Yuengling Brewing Company of Tampa

Address: 11111 N 30th St. Tampa, FL 33612

Phone Number: (813) 972-8500

Website: http://www.yuengling.com/breweries/tampa/

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/yuengling-brewing-company-of-tampa-inc-tampa