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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.

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

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