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SPONSORED: Valentine’s Day Brunch at Keel & Curley Winery – 2/11

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Keel & Curley Winery. I have been compensated for this post.

Keel & Curley, Florida’s second largest winery, will celebrate Valentine’s Day early on Sunday, February 11th, 2018 from 11AM-3PM in a formal brunch. Reservations are required.

The Plant City winery, farm, and home to Two Henry’s Brewing Co. will offer a formal brunch atmosphere with live music and choices including Prime Rib, Shrimp Scampi, and Cordon Bleu as entrees. Sides include tossed salad, a roasted vegetable medley, baked potato, and rolls.

Brunch will include one bottle of wine per couple and may be substituted for 4 drink tickets for wine, beer, or cider. Individuals receive 2 drink tickets for wine, beer, or cider.

Tickets are now on-sale and cost $85 for couples and $45 for individuals.

To purchase tickets visit http://keelandcurleywinery.com/valentines-day-brunch-winery/ or call (813) 752-9100.

Keel & Curley Winery is located at 5210 Thonotosassa Road in Plant City located minutes off I-4 Exit 17 next to Dinosaur World. It is open 7 days a week from 11AM-9PM Sunday to Thursday and 10AM-11PM on Fridays and Saturdays.

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Articles Food Trucks Restaurant News

Empamamas now open at Armature Works

Local food truck Empamamas has joined the vendor list at Armature Works for the Heights Public Market today. Several empanadas have appeared on the soft opening menu and it will expand with some time.

This is a huge deal for local food trucks and shows their gourmet power, especially after Surf & Turf is already doing great inside Armature Works. Today I had the signature dish, Tampa Girl Empamama, which is pretty much like a Cuban sandwich inside an empanada.

Here’s hoping to see more from them soon!

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Articles Restaurant News

Armature Works food hall now in soft opening

The long awaited Armature Works Heights Public Market is now in soft opening in Tampa Heights. The building opens at 7AM and most concepts are open by 11AM.

The food hall features over 10 different food concepts and bars throughout and is waterfront right off the Tampa Riverwalk near Waterworks Park.

I visited the soft opening preview last night and I’m back today trying out the menu at different concepts throughout the building. Everything has been delicious so far and you’ll find almost everything you might want to eat.

Visit them online at http://armatureworks.com/

Here are some photos:

Chicken slider samples from the all-day breakfast and lunch spot called Graze 1910.

Salmon Poke Bowl sample from Zukku Sushi.

Horchata Latte from Union Coffee (more popularly known as Commune and Co.).

Korean Philly Sandwich from BNB BBQ.

Pork Belly Bowl from Ichicoro Imoto.

Steak samples from Cru Cellars.

Delicious seafood from Surf & Turf Truck!

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Articles Reviews

Ichicoro ANE in Downtown St. Pete impresses

I crossed the bridge last weekend for the Distant World’s Final Fantasy concert at The Mahaffey Theater and needed a bite to eat after. Geniabeme raved about Ichicoro ANE when I last saw her at Keel & Curley for U-Pick Strawberries the day before so I had to check it out for myself.

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Ichicoro ANE is located downstairs from Station House in Downtown St. Petersburg. The inside is beautifully done and has plenty of seating both in the bar and in the restaurant which is a huge difference between this location and the original in Seminole Heights.

I can best describe it as an Izakaya or Japanese pub. The best way to think of most of the menu items is similar to the concept of Spanish tapas. Ramen is also on the menu but there are a number of Japanese appetizers and dishes that we decided to try during our visit.

The dim lighting and ambiance is masterful and takes the best parts of the original location’s foundation.

You’ll find wooden decor throughout and an open kitchen that is unlike most restaurants in Tampa Bay. The music sets the mood for a perfect and intimate night out with friends or for a chill date. I was in love with the atmosphere.

The food was also a winner. The meal began with a gyu bao bun. Spicy and flavorful with a gochujang mustard inside. The price was the standard for Japanese and Asian bistros in Tampa Bay these days ($7). I appreciated the complexity of this dish compared to average pork belly bao.

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After that I decided I needed something a little filling since I skipped lunch and went for the Tonkatsu ($10). This dish was cooked practically to perfect. There was a slight chew in the middle, but it was minor enough that is didn’t cause the dish to falter. The ends were perfectly crispy. They used bulldog sauce which I also use at home (the only proper way to serve this dish as approved by Japanese cooking tv shows and documentaries). It was beautifully presented and the cabbage underneath was a nice bit of greens.

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The Smokey Yucca Korroke was also enjoyable a nice starch to be enjoyed during the visit. Many of the dishes on the menu are traditional Japanese pub food and there are also some hard to find items such as Okonomiyaki which I certainly want to try in the future.

Our waitress was chill and friendly and I am happy with all the seating choices at Ichicoro ANE. She didn’t rush us to make decisions and also was quick to put in orders. It’s completely different from the rushed environment at the Seminole Heights location and I like it much more for that. I dine more for experience than because of necessity or because I’m in a rush. I like to savor every moment.

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For drinks it was hard to make a decision and I finally went with The Chocobo Lure (in honor of Final Fantasy). Imagine my surprise when the drink was inside a ramune glass which shook me with excitement. The drink features umeshu, yuzu cordial, Cappelletti, Aperol, Velvet Falernum, Agnostura and plum bitters. I normally don’t like plum wine but this one was enjoyable.

In the future I would like to certainly try more of the Japanese whiskey selections. The matrix charts for spirts seem to be the rage lately in restaurants.

I didn’t even dent the fish or meat menu and I hear the wagyu is delicious, but I’ll have to do that another day. Ichicoro ANE leaves plenty of things to try and an incredible environment to enjoy it in.

I’m impressed and I’ll be back soon and I recommend you also make a trip if you find yourself in St. Petersburg.

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P.S. Make sure to check the photobooth in the entrance. It’s pretty neat!

Restaurant Name: Ichicoro ANE

Cuisine: Japanese, Asian

Neighborhood: Downtown St. Petersburg

Address: 260 1st Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701

Phone Number: (727) 300-0281

Website: http://www.ichicoroane.com/

Menu: http://www.ichicoroane.com/menu/

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Articles Restaurant News

Valentine’s Day 2018 at Del Frisco’s Grille Tampa

Some people are celebrating Valentine’s Day 2018 early and some are celebrating late due to it falling on a weekday. Del Frisco’s Grille has an option for these couples.

Del Frisco’s Grille Tampa will offer a special for 7 days for Valentine’s Day. Customers can enjoy a 12 oz. Wagyu Bone-In Steak topped with truffle butter for $58. The item will be available off-menu from Sunday, February 10th to Sunday, February 18th. The restaurant recommends pairing the dish with a Portillo Malbec or Aquinas Cabernet Sauvignon on the wine list.

Del Frisco’s Grille is located at 4138 West Boy Scout Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33607.

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Valentine’s Day 2018 specials at Ocean Prime

Looking for an upscale and elegant Valentine’s Day option? Ocean Prime Tampa will offer a special Valentine’s Day menu for guests on Wednesday, February 14th in addition to regular lunch and dinner menus.

The main course features a 10 oz. Imperial Farms Reserve Wagyu New York Strip Steak with Truffle Scalloped Potato, Haricots Verts, Cipollini Onion and Sauce Bordelaise for $85 or a Sauteed Chilean Sea Bass with with King Crab Fingerling Hash, Onion Marmalade and Shellfish Sauce for $65. Salted Caramel Brown Torte with Vanilla Mouse and Bourbon Caramel will be available as special dessert for $12.

The Chilean Sea Bass will available on the menu until February 18th.

Napa Valley Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon will be available on-special at $37 per glass. The wine carries a 94-point rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The wine has notes of chocolate, dark fruits, and mocha.

Ocean Prime Tampa is located at 2205 North Westshore Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33607 at the International Plaza & Bay Street next to Crate & Barrel.

Ocean Prime serves lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30AM to 4:00PM and from 12:00PM to 4:00PM on Saturdays. Dinner is served from 4:00PM to 10:00PM from Monday to Thursday and 4:00PM to 11:00PM  on Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner hours are 5:00PM to 9:00PM on Sundays.

Lounge open daily. Happy Hour is offered Monday to Friday from 4:00PM to 7:00PM and Saturdays from 12:00PM to 4:00PM.

Check out my other article about the new outdoor dining terrace at Ocean Prime Tampa.

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Articles Events Food Events Restaurant News

Valentine’s Day Dinner 2018 at Hard Rock’s new The Rez Grill

The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino‘s newest 5,000 square ft. American grill restaurant and casual-dining concept in Tampa, The Rez Grill, will have a special Valentine’s Day dinner with a 5-course meal available for $75 per person. Reservations are now being accepted.

Some interesting options on the special menu include Maryland Crab Cakes, Beef Tartare, and a Crispy Snapper Filet. The Rez Grill will offer a complimentary glass of champagne and a wine pairing with the dinner.

Frank Anderson

The Rez Grill features Creative Culinary Director, Frank Anderson, whose background includes running James Beard restaurants in Los Angeles Animal and Son of a Gun as Chef de Cuisine.

The bar program features made-to-order drinks using house made syrups and juices as well as an array of bourbon and whiskey choices and American-made vodkas and gin. A signature option: “The Rez Cocktail” features house-infused pineapple tequila, mint, lime, and club soda.

Craft beer fans will find Cigar City, Coppertail Brewing, and Barrel of Monks on tap. Wine enthusiasts have over 100 options to choose from at The Rez Grill.

The Rez Grill

Reservations can be made by calling (813) 627-8120 and begin at 5PM on Valentine’s Day.

Here is the menu:

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Articles Restaurant News

The Fresh Market celebrates Valentine’s Day 2018

Looking to spend a quiet Valentine’s Day at home this year? The Fresh Market is offering a take-home Valentine’s Day option for the special day this 2018 at just $49.99. Available for ordering immediately online with in-store pick up and purchase February 12th-14th.

Shoppers can choose two Chateaubriand-cut filet mignons or North Atlantic lobster tails or one of each. The main dishes will be served with Yukon whipped potatoes and asparagus tips, ready to be seared. It includes dessert with chocolate-covered strawberries and even a dozen roses.

Roses and Chocolate-covered Chocolates

Orders can be made online at http://www.thefreshmarket.com/our-products/holiday-meals

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Articles Reviews

Sunday Brunch at O Cocina (South Tampa)

Full disclosure: I was invited to try the brunch menu at O Cocina for a complimentary tasting in exchange for my opinion. These opinions are my own and do not represent O Cocina.

I am normally skeptical of the phrase “Modern or Contemporary Mexican”. It usually means expensive food that pretty much ditches all the things that make Mexican cuisine what it is minus some tortillas or guacamole. I’m happy to report that my experience at O Cocina was the furthest thing from that and truly represented a thorough understanding of Mexican cuisine in a gourmet twist.

I specifically came to try the brunch menu on my visit. What I found is that O Cocina maintains the freshness of Mexican cuisine and doesn’t ditch but embraces the spices or flavors that make it so great as it tries to reinvent it to a more elegant audience than your taqueria or dive food truck.

The meal began with an order of Huevos Rancheros ($11). To me the standard will always be represented by dishes such as this one. It sounds like an easy dish, but there is so many complications to it such as the ranchero sauce used, quality of the sides, tortilla, and of course the egg. O Cocina includes chorizo in their brunch dish and masterfully complements it with their version of beans that maintained true to Mexican staples.

The ranchero sauce has a fresh tomato taste as you can see. Nothing spicy here (not a problem for me). The fresh avocados were a plus – but for an even greater experience, I recommend adding sour cream to this dish as a side. The tortilla could be a little crispier for my liking, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless. The egg was also cooked just right (commonly ruined at many restaurants trying to adopt this dish).

I added Carne Asada ($7 extra) to my dish simply because I knew I wouldn’t be able to order both and stay hungry to finish.

The thing I found to be great was the seasoning of their Carne Asada, many chefs when creating their Mexican steak on the menu ditch the traditional seasonings that are honestly perfect to begin with and I was happy to find that O Cocina seasons their Carne Asada perfectly.

You can order a bowl of Carne Asada for around $11 which is a great price for brunch considering how much brunch seems to cost at some restaurants these days.

One interesting dish I also tried was the Churro Waffles ($5 for a side). Clearly playing to a trend happening in the restaurant sphere with churros literally being used for anything, this dish masterfully played both the flavor a waffle and a churro into an excellent breakfast item. I was impressed and would order it again. It was clear the creator of the menu wanted to do more than provide a sugary adventure and this dish was successful at this fusion dish.

For libations, I tried the mimosa which is standard and met my expectations (they are available bottomless by the way).

Although, the real winner to me was the cocktail I tried called Jose Gaspar (pictured above). This cocktail has milk, rum, bourbon, Madagascar vanilla bean, Mexican cinnamon, and nutmeg, It is a powerful and tasty concoction that reminded me of Rumchata but was a thousand times superior.

During my visit I decided to sit at the bar and watched the bartender at O Cocina carefully making cocktails from scratch. They all looked good and I can’t wait to try more in the future.

Speaking of the bar at O Cocina, it is one of the most beautiful bars I have seen in town. It brings up thoughts of Alice in Wonderland or Secret Garden. It is truly underrated how few bars in Tampa actually have a good ambiance so this was a welcome addition to me at O Cocina.

The chips and salsa were also great as was the guacamole, but at $10 for a fresh spread of guac – you’ll want to make sure you’re sharing with someone if you choose to order it (the portion was quite generous). I found it went well inside my Huevos Rancheros and with the steak.

I recommend visiting O Cocina if you haven’t had a chance to stop by yet. The operators will also be opening a second location soon at the new Armature Works food hall in Tampa Heights called Cocina Taqueria so look out for that soon.

Restaurant Name: O Cocina

Cuisine: Mexican, American

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Cost: $$

Address: 4110 Henderson Boulevard, Tampa, FL 33629

Phone Number: (813) 289-0649

Website: http://www.ococina.com/modern-mexican

Menu: http://www.ococina.com/modern-mexican#menus-1-section

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Film Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of my most anticipated films of 2017. There were numerous unexpected great films this year though and in the end Star Wars: The Last Jedi was good, but not great.

During my first viewing of the film, I was overwhelmed with all the things happening. The Last Jedi had multiple intertwining plots that ironically ended up taking us nowhere by the end. A second-viewing providing more clarity and focus to me.

Let’s start off with the good: Kylo Ren. When I saw The Force Awakens in 2015, I was unimpressed with Kylo Ren. He was that typical Disney Channel star. Completely whiny. Annoying. Lacks depth. We knew he was “conflicted”, but without clarifications from Abrams – it wasn’t clear why this kid was throwing tantrums every 5 minutes and why any of it should matter to the audience. The Darth Vader wannabe. The Last Jedi developed Kylo Ren better.

This film humanizes Kylo Ren. When he hesitates to kill his mother. When you realize he is really lonely and feels abandoned by his family. When he suggests that he wants to run away from who he is to be someone else. Those are things people can relate to much more than just crying all the time about your daddy issues that nobody wants to hear. He is still terrible, but at least now you can understand why.

Rey wants to believe in Kylo Ren switching sides and by the time you get to their epic fight scene with Snoke and his bodyguards, some part of you wants to believe Kylo Ren too. It takes acting skill to be able to mislead an audience in that kind of way. I wanted to believe.

Then he throws away all your hope puts it in a trash can. That’s actually a good metaphor for The Last Jedi.

The Last Jedi takes all your expectations for a Star Wars sequel and throws them all away. The entire legacy and history literally goes up in flames. Rian Johnson brought back Yoda in a play to get fans to let the past go and move on from the Star Wars they once knew.

Star Wars without Jedi isn’t Star Wars though. People go to the movies to watch lightsaber battles. They love the Skywalker family. They have poured billions of dollars of support into it. Would you really pay to go see a movie without them? Disney is testing the field for this in The Last Jedi and it was divisive as evidenced by the abysmal Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score that is miraculously now worse than the prequels.

There is nothing worse than having a creator disrespect something you love and if watching Han Solo die in The Force Awakens was difficult, The Last Jedi turns the dial to 100.

Luke Skywalker further exemplifies this wish to exit the history and legacy of Star Wars. Luke like his father Anakin were the basis for all things Star Wars. We have known Luke as a force for good, who never stops believing in the power of good. The dude didn’t even get a girlfriend because he was too busy saving the universe.

The Last Jedi almost feels like a fan-fiction tale where Luke is now an angry, hermit man. Luke abandoned his family, friends, and the universe. This isn’t the Luke we know. His final battle with Kylo Ren ends up being both epic and then disappointing when he survives all the attacks and we find out he isn’t actually there. The moment of hope we get for him and the film quickly ends when he dies right afterward and just vanishes into the sunset.

For the second time – audiences are forced to watch an icon who survived an epic war in the original trilogy go down without any real struggle. It’s frankly insulting. It probably would have been better to never introduce those characters back if they were going to die in this kind of way. I’m sure the lead characters could have been developed without staining the legacy that brought them here.

This brings us to Luke’s successor: Rey. The Force Awakens set the audience up to believe Rey has an epic life planned ahead. She went from wandering alone on Jakku to befriending Han Solo, Princess Leia, and even training with Luke Skywalker in one movie. Then The Last Jedi throws the entire thing out the window.

Kylo tells Rey that she is a Nobody. Irrelevant. Running against pretty much everything that The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi has led us to believe. Is that inspiring? Not really. We’ve been following a nobody with a lightsaber who has no legacy and no real mission. She has received no real training. Her allies are pretty much decimated. Now what? The movie never tells us.

Now to the numerous plot holes in The Last Jedi. There are many.

Finn and Rose go on a pointless mission that leads nowhere and actually ends up making things worse for the Rebels. The relationship between the two feels forced and their journey hardly has anything to do with the rest of the movie.

Poe Dameron only really brings value in the first few minutes of the movie. His intertwining storyline with Finn is uninspiring and his arguments with the Rebels are also boring. This movie may have had the least epic battles in space of any Stars Wars movie and that is disappointing. The final battle Poe was in was shockingly unexciting. If you compare this to Rogue One it is a world of difference.

Luke Skywalker hardly trains Rey. The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi both emphasize this island that Luke lives on often and pan across the island regularly, but the events on the island are almost irrelevant. Rey hardly gets 3 lessons from Luke but nearly an hour there. She could have had her telepathic conversations with Kylo while actually doing something interesting somewhere else. At least she takes the Jedi books with her.

The spaceship chase plot is as boring as it is ridiculous. It feels quite like a bad episode of television. The numerous explanations for why the storyline even exists are confusing as heck. The First Order can track ships in lightspeed? The Rebels have no fuel, but just enough to last almost the entire film? Leia has an escape plan – or does she? Poe is taking over the ship, but then isn’t? In the end none of it matters because pretty much the entire Rebel group is eliminated by the time they reach Crait. The entire space chase could have been 20 minutes instead of 2 hours and the scenes of Crait could have instead lead to an epic showdown with Snoke if this movie was edited correctly.

The botched Snoke death is really interesting. Kylo Ren and Rey kill off Snoke and his guards without much adieu. This can work in storylines where the ascending villain is actually a big bad (see The Defenders with Elektra). However, Kylo Ren is still just as weak and bratty as before and we just spent time humanizing him – not making him sinister. It isn’t clear what would make him into a villain you fear. The reason villains normally develop over time is to create sense of urgency for the audience that a big challenge is ahead.

Plot and pacing issues are spread throughout. These are things that you will notice more and more as you dissect this film.

Episode IX could spend time fixing many of the issues that Episode VIII created. That would be less time to enjoy a juicy ending to this trilogy though that might not recover from this filler episode.

Don’t get me wrong – this film is still watchable. The Last Jedi has great acting, cinematography, and a wonderful soundtrack. Unfortunately, this could have all been utilized better if the writing was better.

It doesn’t make it great. I watched the prequels afterwards to see if the fan anger matched up, I still believe the prequels are inferior to The Last Jedi. Mainly because the acting and casting is so hilariously bad in the prequels. The Last Jedi is not cheesy or badly acted, it just suffers from what seems to be a complete shift in the force that wasn’t clearly or correctly presented to the audience.

So – Does The Last Jedi take Star Wars to the next level of cinema? Not quite.

Score: 7 out 10