La Malinche Mexican Restaurant

During my visit to St. Armand’s Circle this past weekend, my parents and I were surprised to spot a new Mexican restaurant in the area.  Interested, we decided to give it a shot a few hours after visiting Tommy Bahama. The outside of the restaurant only says Mexican restaurant, we learned the name of the restaurant when we sat at the bar which had a Budweiser sign glowing with the restaurant name: La Malinche.  The bartender greeted us and informed us it was his first day. We soon found out why he was previously unemployed.

My parents and I decided to order some tacos and some drinks. I decided to have the Tacos al Pastor which consists of 4 tacos filled with marinated pork, onions, and pineapples with cilantro and onions on the side ($12.95). The tacos come with rice. The bartender had a comment for every step of our order and was completely passive-aggressive towards the party throughout the meal. The food came out lightning quick, we did not wait for longer than five minutes for our food and it was warm.

I was surprised with how great the tacos were. The tortillas tasted freshly made and the pork was seasoned perfectly. The pineapples were a great pair for the pork with the cilantro and onions. The rice tasted like canned rice as did the beans we ordered on the side, however the overall taste of the meal was great. After we received our food things took a turn for the worst.

The entire restaurant ran out of Coca-Cola (which everyone in my party was drinking – either in a mixed alcoholic beverage or as regular soda). Instead of the bartender offering anything else to drink, he simply went on his way and when questioned about the drinks only replied that they were searching other restaurants for soda donations. We had some salsa chips at our table which combined with salty Mexican food made lacking a beverage just uncomfortable.

I finally grabbed the attention of the bartender and asked him if they had anymore horchata. He had no clue what that was and brought me a liquor menu. In the middle of this conversation, a waitress approached us with some tacos looking for whose they were. The bartender leaped for joy because he was hungry and this was his. He then grabbed his food and marched to the back, completely ignoring the fact that I was in the middle of asking for a drink. When he came back to the bar he pretended like it never happened.

Luckily, another employee eventually grabbed me something to drink since apparently this bartender had no intentions of doing his job  and now I know why the majority of the Foursquare tips and Urbanspoon reviews for this restaurant denounce the service here. What I found to be particularly funny was that the restaurant itself has reviewed itself on Urbanspoon four times with stellar reviews each time. They aren’t shy, their username is even “La Malinche”. How blatant.

After this service debacle, I doubt I will ever return to La Malinche and if I ever did it would most certainly be a takeout order. The high prices certainly don’t reflect the quality of the service. The restaurant has almost been in the circle for a year so I think it’s time for them to fix this issue. It’s really a shame because the food there is great, if only they could hire better employees and have better management.

La Malinche on Urbanspoon

Restaurant name: La Malinche

Cuisine: Mexican

Neighborhood: St. Armand’s Circle

Address: 40 S Blvd.Of Presidents Sarasota, FL 34236

Phone Number: (941) 388-4444

Website: http://www.lamalincherestaurant.com/

Celebrating at Tommy Bahama

My Aunt celebrated her 39th birthday dinner at Tommy Bahama in St. Armand’s Circle this past weekend. It’s been a few years since my last visit to Tommy Bahama and from what I could remember the buzz about it was the mixed beverages that my family adored. This time around no one was drinking, they saved that for later excursions in St. Armand’s Circle. The menu had a few options that caught my eye, but I was feeling a burger so I decided to order their Smokehouse Angus Burger ($13.50) with crab bisque ($6.50) as an appetizer. My Step-Dad ordered the same thing. I ordered mine medium and him well-done. I had a hunch this was going to be a problem, but hoped the waiter would make sure to get the right one out.

The complimentary bread that came out first looked incredibly delicious at a glance. When you actually tear into it, it doesn’t have much flavor. The butter they serve with it is a cinnamon-flavored butter that is very sweet and turned off some of my fellow diners. I have no problem with sugar and found it satisfactory.

The crab bisque was amazing. It didn’t last more than a few minutes before it disappeared off my bowl. I almost liked it better than lobster bisque (my favorite soup on Earth next to clam chowder from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco).  The portion pictured is their small portion. Certainly a generous helping for a small. My sister ordered the chicken lollipops for an appetizer which were great and tasted like BBQ ribs.

When the main entrees came the waiter accidentally confused my burger and my Step-Dad’s burgers. If this would have been something more expensive (such as a steak) then I would have sent it back, but since it was just a burger we decided to proceed forth with our meal. The toppings on this burger were excellent, but were offset by the fact that my burger was well-done and burnt charcoal. In contrast, my Step-Dad learned burger meat served medium is the way to go.

Some of the entrees my family enjoyed:

Dessert was an assortment of cakes my Aunt chose. A rich chocolate cake and a coconut concoction. Both were delicious and the chocolate was rich with a base of what tasted like brownies. The server was quick to get refills to the table and the wait for the meals wasn’t a problem.

Overall, Tommy Bahama is a nice restaurant to have some seafood and American choices if you have the money to spend. The restaurant is filled with windows and certainly fits what I would imagine to be a Florida vibe. My personal favorite restaurant in St. Armand’s Circle is The Columbia (which we visited later for some sangria and drinks).

Tommy Bahama's Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant name: Tommy Bahama

Cuisine: Seafood, American

Neighborhood: St. Armand’s Circle

Address: 300 John Ringling Blvd. Sarasota, FL 34236

Phone Number: (941) 388-2888

Website: http://www.tommybahama.com/TBG/Stores_Restaurants/Sarasota.jsp

Cuenelli’s Peruvian Restaurant revisited

I spent many days in South Korea dreaming of the delicious chicken sandwiches at Cuenelli’s. I even visited a Peruvian restaurant in Seoul hoping for a similar dining experience, but failed to find anything like it. Now I’m back in Tampa and can enjoy Cuenelli’s once again! I ran into the owner a few weeks ago and she invited me in for a complimentary dinner on the house. I, of course, accepted! The new location is still a bit of a hike from my house in a suburb of Brandon, but I’ll take it over it being halfway around the Earth.

We started our meal with two appetizers: the Papa a la Huancaina and the Ceviche. The first to arrive was the Huancaina. The name of the dish comes from the Peruvian highland city of Huancayo. The potatoes and sauce were excellent! I’m happy to say that the spiciness always perfectly hits the tongue. I have never been adverse to the taste of this delicious appetizer. I need to learn how to make this delicious salad someday.

The Peruvian Ceviche arrived next. Filled with my favorite vegetable: onions.:) The Peruvian version of this popular dish is spicy and brings a whole new level of flavor that I personally enjoyed. The pumpkin and corn served with it was a great addition. Fun fact: Peru has a national holiday declared in the honor of ceviche.

My friend and I disputed whether we should have the unique Cuenelli’s chicken sandwich or a steak. After a few minutes we decided to order both and split it between the two of us. Indeed, we had quite an appetite for some tasty Cuenelli’s food. Both arrived together to the table.

The chicken sandwich was exactly as I remember. Moist on the inside and packed full of flavor in a way that few places I have visited can hope to replicate. The yellow spice sauce they serve with it makes it even better. The homemade-style fries are always a nice finish to this dish.

The Bistec a lo Pobre was a great finishing to our meal. Egg yolk and plantains are always a good combination with rice and beans (a staple for Puerto Ricans). The steak itself was tender and flavorful. During days when I felt down or unwell, this meal was always a great pick-me-up and helped me feel energized again. If the meal proves to be too much for one sitting, a reheated version is just as good (some people might even say better).

Overall, it was great to taste the dishes at Cuenelli’s again and I am happy they are finding success in Tampa. I hope they have many more years of success and I look forward to returning for some delicious entrees in the near future and introducing more friends to Peruvian cuisine.

Cuenelli's Peruvian Style Rotisserie Chicken on Urbanspoon

Restaurant name: Cuenelli’s Peruvian Restaurant

Cuisine: Peruvian

Neighborhood: Northwest Tampa

Address: 4801 W. Hillsborough Ave. Tampa, FL 33416

Phone Number:  (813) 888-8790

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Cuenellis

Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen – now open in Riverview

I ordered takeout from the relatively new Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen in Riverview. When the Great Recession hit business almost hit a halt in this area. It is nice to see the area growing again now that the economy is in recovery. Normally I am a little cautious to order Thai takeout because my history with it has been pretty awful. Normally my Pad Thai is dry and sauceless by the time it gets home. I am happy to say that this was not the case with Lemon Grass!

The Chicken Pad Thai tasted as fresh as if I was in the restaurant for dinner and it was priced reasonably as well at around $10 if I remember correctly. The color of the noodles shows there was plenty of sauce and there was plenty of chicken mixed in. They were also quite generous with the noodles, normally unheard of in my past with Thai takeout orders.

The lady at the register was friendly as well. She informed me that they have a lunch buffet for under $10. Thai lunch buffet within minutes of my house!? You know I am going back. It is good to have a Thai restaurant closer to home (although I do still love Ploy Thai and Jasmine Thai). I’m excited for growth in Riverview.:)

Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Name: Lemon Grass Thai Kitchen

Cuisine: Thai

Neighborhood: Riverview

Address: 11106 Bloomingdale Ave. Riverview, FL 33578

Phone Number: (813) 654-0671

Website: http://www.lemongrassbestthai.biz

Soobak

I went to Soobak with some friends last month was impressed with how good the food there was. Arriving early (for friends who always arrive late), I decided to order a California Roll to start my meal and was surprised with the generous portions and fresh taste of the roll.

All the sushi rolls were delicious, including the eel handroll I tried. I am normally not a huge fan of complex rolls, but the Soobak Signature Roll, which features katsu lobster, salmon, krab delight, avocado, masago, tempura deep-fried with eel sauce, was delicious! Prices were extremely reasonable with their most expensive roll being under $10.

The galbi bento box (pictured below) has plenty of rice and the ginger salad was excellent – trust me it will be hard to find LA galbi (the one you see in the USA) for less than $10 anywhere (even for lunch). The pieces of galbi were savory, sweet, bone-licking goodness.  The miso soup that I added on was also worth the extra $1.

One of the most interest parts of the meal was the Korean Taco with Bulgogi. It was absolutely amazing. $6.95 for two, but fully-loaded with plenty of ingredients inside – there is nothing like it in Tampa Bay.

We sampled the frozen yogurt and it was surprisingly delicious (I’m not a huge fan of frozen yogurt because it normally hurts my sensitive teeth) – the taro was flavorful and went down easy. The place is small, but they have a big enough table for lunch with a few friends. Location-wise it’s close to Downtown and South Tampa – easily accessible from a bridge in the middle of the two. Parking is in the street – you might not be able to park in front, but there are plenty of public parking spots in the area.

Overall, this place has plenty of different Asian dishes at affordable prices and with great tastes so I will be back for many more trips to this Asian spot on Davis Island. Make sure you sign up for a rewards card!

Fun fact: Soobak means watermelon in Korean.

Soobak on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Soobak

Cuisine: Korean, Japanese

Neighborhood: Davis Island

Address: 218 E. Davis Blvd. Tampa, FL 33606

Phone Number: (813) 258-3377

Website: http://www.facebook.com/soobaksushi

Carlos Eats Seoul: Huku (후쿠) Sushi Take-Out (Edae)

Sushi is one of my favorite things to eat in the United States. When I arrived in Seoul, I was anticipating an endless amount of sushi due to the proximity between Korea and Japan. Unfortunately, I soon found out sushi is often over-priced and the taste of fish in Korea is frequently either frozen or spoiled. There are a numerous buffets in the area, but you get what you pay for. My discouragement was remedied when I decided to stop by a small sushi stand by Ewha Women’s University one day as I walking home to Yonsei: Huku (후쿠) Sushi Take-Out. The stand is located between Bob & Dogs and not too far from the Pharaoh Nightclub and bowling alley, you’ll notice bamboo on the outside.

The sushi chef is a Korean man from Australia. His dream has always been to have his own restaurant and now he is living his dream. We had plenty of conversations about sushi and his opinion on various aspects of Japanese food culture. He told me normally people don’t converse with him during their meal, but as a sushi enthusiast I believe the smart diner (looking for the best fish) will always sit at the sushi bar and strike up a conversation with their host.

The price of the sushi has to be one of the best aspects about Huku Sushi.  The owner keeps his prices low to cater to his dominant crowd of college women in the area. You can have either 6 pieces of nigiri (full piece of fish on top of Japanese rice) for 5,500 won or 12 pieces of nigiri for 8,000 won. Also on the menu are Nori Maki (rolls) for 3,000/3,500 won and Sanuki Udon for 3,500 won. I decided to order the 12 pieces of nigiri.  As the name of the restaurant states, all orders can be made to-go and you can call in advance to place your order. If you decide to dine-in, don’t bring more than 2 friends since there are only 3 seats in the sushi booth.

These two items are sea bass (suzuki) and flatfish (hirame) and these two fish normally are not on the menu in Florida. Both were refreshing. The chef puts a small amount of wasabi between the fish and rice and you can feel it open your nostrils. The taste of the wasabi was fresh. I only slightly dipped the rice into soy sauce, enjoying the fresh flavor of the fish. I told the chef my favorite fish was salmon (sake) and he mentioned I was in luck as the salmon was really fresh today.

The salmon was amazing, I think there are very few places where it has been this flavorful. It literally melted in my mouth. An indiviual order of salmon is 1,200 won, but someday I may just go on a salmon binge and go for just salmon. The salmon brought my meal to a whole new level.

Complimentary miso soup is provided when you order a set of fish. The miso soup was light and and had an enjoyable broth that was quite different to what I am used to (either tons of tofu or tons of onion).

The vinegared shrimp was enjoyable. Sometimes shrimp can have this over-powering taste, but this shrimp went down nicely.

The cuttlefish was enjoyable and one thing I started to really notice about the nigiri was none of the fish smelled fishy. One of the ways to tell if fish is bad is to use your nose, bad fish will almost always have a strong fishy scent. The color of the fish is another good indicator and as you can see, the colors of the fish here were still vibrant.

The octopus (tako) came with a slightly spicy sauce on top that the chef notes Koreans enjoy on their fish. Although I have an aversion to some spicy foods, this fish was excellent.

The seasoned fried tofu (inori) and the egg (dashitaki) that followed were both a nice balance to the sushi assortment and brought an enjoyable balance to the meal. I hardly ever order egg at sushi restaurants in Tampa because it normally comes out all wrong, but this egg tasted closer to what I would enjoy in San Francisco restaurants (the mecca of sushi in the United States).

The last fish I had was the eel (unagi). Eel was one of my favorites when I lived in California, but when I moved to Florida it quickly fell off my list. The fish was either bony or drenched in sauce or smeared in cream cheese in Tampa restaurants. This eel at Huku Sushi was closer to what I would have in San Francisco and hit the spot. When you taste it, you just know the place is legitimate.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with Huku Sushi Take-Out. The owner and sushi chef was welcoming and all the food was fresh and packed with mouthwatering flavor. The prices are perfect for college students and for anyone trying to dine on a budget and with take-out orders you just cannot help but consider this place to be one of the hidden foodie finds in Edae. Ewha and Yonsei University students should put this restaurant on their to-do list. I know I’ll be back.

Restaurant Name: Huku (후쿠) Sushi Take-Out

Cuisine: Japanese

Neighborhood: Edae

Address (Korean): 서대문구 대현동 37-32

Phone Number: 010-2088-0535

Carlos Eats Seoul: 400 Won Wing Night Tuesdays @ Beer O’ Clock

During my freshman year of college, I spent every Monday at Wingstop with the Vietnamese Student Association eating 35 cent wings. It was an experimental event that become a weekly tradition. There is nothing better than cheap and delicious wings (my two favorite words). Sometime later, Wingstop changed some of their policies and we stopped our visits. Last week, I started craving wings in Seoul and a quick Google search directed me to Beer O’ Clock.

Beer O’ Clock is a Canadian bar in Sinchon. When you enter you find American football on televisions and plenty of foreigners around. We came for their 400 won wing night. There are plenty of tables and open seating to provide ventilation to the room. The wing promotion has five varieties and to get the deal you must order a beverage. The waiter was quick to bring us our drinks and take our order.

Soda and basic beers are both 3,000 won. I decided to order a coke. I drank it down it down fast and then learned after asking that there were no free refills. You’ll want to be careful about this since I find it very difficult to enjoy wings with water. Some American food, mainly burgers, wings, fries, and pizza just taste great with some soda or beer.

Our table ordered two types of fries. The bacon and cheese fries cost 9,000 won and are delicious. The cheese is melted perfectly between the fries and the bacon tastes great as well. The price is certainly high for french fries, but split among a few friends it wasn’t too bad. Each person at my table order 10 wings for a total of 4,000 won per person.

The regular plate of fries costs 7,000 won and is also great. They went much faster than the other fries, but were enjoyable down to the last bite. The wait for the wings was a little long, I would say we waited at least 30 minutes for our wings. When they arrived we were ready to get our wing fix on.

The BBQ wings were appetizing, but needed to be dipped in a sauce. I asked the waiter for some ranch dressing, but he disappeared after dropping off the wings and never came back to ask if we needed anything else. Nevertheless, it was nice to have some BBQ as finding food in BBQ sauce is a rare find in Seoul.

The plain wings were just that: plain. Make sure you have something to dip them in.

The hot wings were quickly being eaten by my friends. I personally don’t eat hot wings so I can’t comment on the taste. However, they looked pretty appetizing.

The Rancho-Relaxo wings had an interesting sauce to them. Different, but not particularly my favorite. I could take or leave them.

My personal favorite were the Greek wings. They had a lemon pepper taste to them that was invigorating. I could not stop myself from grabbing more and I actually felt a little sad when they were all gone. It was the most memorable part of my meal and in the future I would be sure to order these wings again.

Overall, Beer O’ Clock is a decent pub with some delicious and cheap wings. Perfect for a college student and someone who wants to spend some times in a sports bar without spending too much cash. I would return again for their wing night in the future. I invited some other friends who came later at night (past 9PM) but found the wings sold out so make sure you head early if you’re planning to eat dinner there.

Restaurant Name: Beer O’ Clock

Cuisine: Pub grub

Neighborhood: Sinchon, Itaewon

Address: Seodaemoon Gu, Changchun Dong 52-53 2nd floor

Phone Number: (02) 3339733

Website: http://www.beeroclock.ca/