Valentines Day Dining in Tampa Bay

It would seem that almost every restaurant in Tampa Bay is having some kind of Valentines Day special for the big day of love. Here is a listing of some of the specials I have noticed, for the late-minute diner like myself. Even if you don’t have a Valentine – you might want to have a bite on some of these deals.

Bernini: This delicious Italian restaurant in Ybor City is offering 1/2 price pastas and entrees all week long until 7PM. $2 Finlandia Martinis. (813) 248-0099

BurgerMonger: Famous for its delicious Akaushi Kobe Beef – BurgerMonger will be giving away chocolate-covered strawberries to couples (while supplies last) on Valentines Day. They say the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – and a BurgerMonger burger sure does please my stomach! (813) 968-6860

Cafe Kili: Dixie Blue will play an eclectic mix of country, early rock and roll, and cajun songs for visitors starting at 7PM. Special drinks will be on the menu including the Red Velvet Frappe and Raspberry White Mocha.  (813) 988-2879

Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant: The usual $4 tapas menu will be in effect Tuesday at Ceviche, in addition to two lovers specials: Mixed Grill and Mixed Fish specials for $39. First-come, first-serve basis. Numerous locations around Tampa Bay and Orlando.

Datz: Special cocktails, entrees, and desserts will be sold for V-Day. Some examples are pink polka dot pancakes and cherry martinis. (813) 831-7000

Fly Bar & Restaurant: Open 4PM-3AM. Patio dining and rooftop deck in Downtown Tampa. Live jazz music from 8-11PM and dinner. (813) 275-5000

Origami Sushi (Hillsborough): Free dessert on Valentines Day. Happy Hour 3-7PM with $1 sushi rolls. All beverages reduced price. (813) 878-2145

Pelagia Trattoria: This hidden Italian restaurant in the International Plaza will have a special Valentines Day menu available fro 5:30-10PM. Some things on the menu include lobster bisque, veal osso buco, and Godiva chocolate cake. (813) 313-3235

The Rack: Valentines Day blues troubling you? The Rack will have happy hour all night long on Valentines Day, in addition to their regular Tuesday specials. (813) 250-1595

The Refinery: Special Valentines Day menu available at this hot spot Tampa restaurant. The steak tartare sure caught my eye. Make sure to call ahead – they may already be filled to max capacity. (813) 237-2000

Senor Taco: Lots of buzz online for this Pinellas Park Mexican restaurant lately. Taco Tuesday brings tacos to the amazing price of $1. (727) 289-7080

Soobak: This excellent Davis Island Asian restaurant is offering a 5-course Valentines Day dinner which includes salad, appetizer, sushi, choice of meat, and dessert for $35 per person (+tax). Be sure to call ahead as space is limited. (813) 258-3377.

SoHo Sushi North: USF-area SoHo Sushi will feature a $55 (+tax) special for couples featuring 2 soups, 2 salads, 2 drinks, 2 sushi rolls, and dessert. (813) 977-8744

Spain Restaurant & Toma Bar: Offering a 4-course pre-fix menu for $45 per person (+tax) includes 1 alcoholic beverage, appetizer, salad , entree, and dessert. Live romantic music from 6-9PM. Regular menu also available. (813) 223-2831

Wimauma: The current talk of Tampa Bay. Special Valentines Day menu available for $40 per person (+tax).  (813) 793-1687

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Tampa Mayor’s Food Truck Fiesta this Wednesday 01/04/12!

You can catch the Mayor’s Food Truck Fiesta at Lykes Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa this Wednesday, January 4th of 2012. There are 4 newcomers that will appear this week.

Keepin’ it Reel – NEW
Jimmy Meatball – NEW
Americanwiener – NEW (featuring “The Buckhorn”: All beef wiener with chili, cheese and pickled jalapeno)
Bollywood Cafe– NEW
Maggie on the Move
Wicked ‘Wiches
The Killer Samich Truck
Burger Culture
Fire Monkey Food Truck
The Taco Bus

2012 is certainly going to be a good year for food trucks and food lovers!

Where to Ring in the New Years in Tampa Bay

Looking for a restaurant to spend New Years Eve with friends and family in Tampa Bay? I have you covered. :] Look below for some recommendations.

The Columbia – Ybor City: 3 dinner menu options for New Years Eve: Limited Ala Carte Menu, Dinner with Flamenco Dance Show, or New Years Celebration in the Ybor Cafe. You can make reservations here or call (813) 248-4961 for more information. St. Petersburg: Pre-fixed, 5-course menu for $49.95. The Columbia Cafe: Regular menu – open until 5PM on New Years Eve.

Donatello – Offering live music from Dwight Champagne, Jerry Kenny, and a surprise guest. Make reservations at (813) 875-6660

El Puerto Restaurant & Grill – Open until 2AM on New Years Eve for some delicious Latin American cuisine. They will provide the traditional Spanish 12 grapes of luck called doce uvas for customers as well.

The Fox – Offering a 4 course dinner, champagne toast, and party favors, in addition to live jazz music for $85/person or $170/couple. Walk-ins are accepted for $50 at the door with a champagne toast and party favors only. Call 813-289-8446 for reservations

Ocean Blue Sushi – Featuring a New Years party with the usual 1/2 off beers, wells, house win, sushi, and appetizers after 10PM in addition to $60 bottles of Absolut (bottle-service available), $30 bottle of champagne, $6 on all premium liquors/$4 on all absolut vodka, $4 Ocean Blue Cocktail Champagne, $2 jello shots. DJ Bootron will be spinning until 3AM.

The Rack – $10 all you can drink special from 11PM-1AM and 50% off everything for everyone after 1AM. Call 813-250-1595 for more details.

Spanish Restaurant & Toma Bar – New Years Eve dinner including a New Years hat and favors, glass of wine/sangria/beer, choice of appetizer, specialty house salad, entree, dessert, grapes, and a champagne toast at midnight with live music and flamenco dancing. $65 per person.

Carlos Eats Korea: The 1st Korean Food Tour for Foreign Foodies

My second food tour in South Korea brought me down to Jeollanam – the Southern tip of South Korea. This food tour was sponsored by Hansik – the Korean Food Foundation. My team was called The Nakji Hunterschosen by our team leader Juanita Hong. We visited a number of towns during my trip and although the trip was lots of work (we were being filmed by KBS and camera work for a documentary is much harder than I imagined…especially when most people speak a foreign language) – the trip was still a great success. I met many people in Jeollanam and learned much about Korean cuisine and culture.

We rode in a charter bus around the region. Our first day was spent at a seafood market in Mokpo.  During our visit to the market we were able to see live fish and then enjoy some fresh seafood. The restaurant used every piece of the fish during our visit and the owner mentioned that in Korean culture they do not believe in wasting food – so the parts of the fish that were not used as sashimi we used in a fish soup and then also as side dishes or banchan in Korean. The banchan were numerous and indeed Jeollanam is known for its lavish and tasty variety of banchan.

The most interesting thing I tried was a bloody clam – it was slimy and actually not as bad as I imagined, although I am unsure if I would try it again without some other kind of sauces mixed in.

The sashimi was made Korean style and tasted good, but didn’t quite melt in my mouth like I hoped it would. The seaport itself had a great view of the water and our hotel, the Muan Beach Hotel, had a beautiful beach-front view at sunset.

After we settled into our hotel, we departed to a town where a man is famous for making octopus or nakji in Korean. He brought out live nakji and together we made the nakji that is traditionally used by Koreans for funeral processions and other ceremonies. Nakji is very expensive (just one can cost at least 25,000 won or more).

The restaurant owner has cooked nakji for more than 17 years and showed us his techniques and how to make nakji soup and nakji on a stick. We also tried nakji raw – which I found to be unappetizing but some of my teammates enjoyed. I was a little disturbed by the nakji and I am sure many foreigners might feel the same way during their first encounter – but for Koreans this just another one of their delicacies and I think learning about that was an important and valuable experience.

After we finished we retired to our hotel and then woke  the next day and headed to meet a fisherman who was going to take us hunting for nakji (hence our name The Nakji Hunters). This was a true workout during a chilly day, but one of the best experiences of our trip. We headed out with our boots and raincoats into a boat that brought us to mud islands where nakji wash up in the early morning.

The fisherman (full of energy) ran around the island with us chasing behind (shovels in hand) and guided us to the small mounds where the nakji are trapped in mud. Nakji eventually escape into the water from the mud and it was essential that we work as fast as possible before they all made it back to sea.

We managed to catch nine nakji. When you step on the mounds they are trapped in, the surrounding water releases and if you dig in the middle you will find a nakji sitting in the middle of the mud. You use your hands to pick it out of the ground. The feeling of a nakji on your hand is an experience itself and I think many travelers to Korea would be interested in this. Some Koreans eat the nakji whole after discovering it, but I decided to hold-off on that, feeling adventurous enough with the blood clams the day before.

Once we left the fisherman behind we headed to a Traditional Korean Market where we visited stands and eventually sold our nakji and seafood off to local townspeople. It was a fun experience and elderly lady managed to haggle down the price of our fish to just 3,000 won! A lesson was learned: never haggle with the elderly – they are experienced.

After our experience we headed to a Korean meat shop and purchased Korean beef and mushrooms for dinner. It had to have been one of the best meals of our trip. One of the Hansik employees posted a photograph on Twitter of my huge smile as I devoured the food. The quality of the meat was superb and during my interview I noted that Westerners would love to have the experience to purchase and make their own meat in this self-cook Korean style. The meat rivaled the taste of some steakhouses I have tried in Tampa and that means a lot since Tampa is the home of Outback Steakhouse and highly esteemed Bern’s Steakhouse – as most of you readers are aware.

After dinner we headed to Boseong and retired in a traditional Korean house there right on the tea farm. We met with the employees on our film and Korea crew and had some late-night snacks while playing some Korean games before heading to bed. We awoke early the next morning to head to the Daehan Boseong Tea Plantation.

The plantation was absolutely beautiful when we awoke in the morning and headed outside. The valley was stunning and although the key blooming season for the fields is in spring and summer – the leaves were still surviving through the autumn. We walked through the field as the camera crew filmed us and discussed some of the health properties of green tea that has made it become famous through the world. You can read some more about my experience on Hansik’s website.

Our last stop was at a Boseong restaurant, Che Heom Jang, that specializes in dishes made from a patented green tea extract. The restaurant owner guided us through the process of making green tea kimchi, a dish that was excellent and unknown even to many Korean people I know in Seoul. The beauty of green tea is it neutralizes the smell that kimchi tends to acquire over time and also tastes great. We put oysters inside the kimchi to enhance the taste even further.

The two women at the restaurant also guided us through other dishes and one looked especially cool in her traditional Korean outfit called a hanbok. We made green tea rice cakes and also green tea rice balls among other dishes and enjoyed several green tea banchan including a nakji soup with green tea thrown inside. Being a huge fan of green tea since my childhood, this experience was special to me and brought me some new understanding about Korean cuisine being innovative and working hard to attempt new heights.

I felt the green tea restaurant was a fitting end to our journey and as we boarded our charter bus back to Seoul – I headed back home with a new perspective about Korean food and culture that I will carry with me as I experience many new foods in the future.

Make sure you check out our Tumblr at http://www.thenakjihunters.tumblr.com and our Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/thenakjihunters for more updates and insights on Korean food and culture and look for the KBS2 documentary to air in the near future on Korean television! 🙂

GrillSmith Carrollwood VIP Party on the Patio

Carlos Eats team member Jenn Nguyen visited GrillSmith in Carrollwood this Friday for their VIP event. Here is her post on the event.

Two bruschettas were served at the event: smoked salmon and portabello.  They both contained capers, basil, red onion, sun dried tomatoes and Parmesan cheese.  I personally enjoyed the smoked salmon much more.  It was fresh tasting and unlike the portobello bruschetta, the flavor weren’t drowned out by the accompaniments.  My guest favored the portobello one.  He personally enjoyed the fact that he could taste all the flavors in the bruschetta.  The toast was on the oily side even though it did add a nice depth to the hor d’oeuvre.

Basil made another appearance in the Caprese stack.  A jumbo grape tomato (surprisingly flavorful) with basil and mozzarella (nothing special).  The salty, creamy mozzarella played well with the crisp, juicy tomato.

The fourth sample was the Spicy Thai Shrimp, the restaurant’s successful take on Bonefish Grill’s Bang Bang Shrimp.  A nice crunch to the succulent shrimp with a hit of tang to cut the rich Sriracha aioli.  The Creative Loafing freelance writer who joined me at the table noted that this was her favorite item even though she did not like fried foods.

The final sample item available was the Crab and Shrimp Cake.  Since no utensils were provided, it was a little hard to eat.  Unlike the Spicy Thai Shrimp, this fried item was quite greasy.  I thought the construction of the item was a little awkward; the breading was only on the outside and it was quite heavy.  The jumbo lump crab was plentiful and flavorful.  The shrimp was unnecessary especially because the crab overpowered the delicate shrimp.  It did serve as a great textural contrast.  There was a small bit of Sriracha dolloped on top, but did nothing for the crab and shrimp cake.

The signature cocktail we tried was the Signature Strawberry Lemonade. Made with Grey Goose Vodka, I expected it to have that lemonade twang with a smooth finish. Yet, it was surprisingly sweet and floral.

Overall, a good tasting! A talented artist, Shaun Hopper, was there playing his acoustic renditions of popular songs. I thought the service could have been a little bit more efficient; there were times when I had to hunt down a server to get an hor d’oeuvre.  There were giving out samples of cocktails (a Bacardi spiced rum with Coke and Orange flavored Grey Goose with Cranberry Juice) which the crowd enjoyed. The chef even made an appearance and mingled with the crowd to answer any questions. All in all, I had a great time and a memorable experience, no doubt.
Grillsmith on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: GrillSmith

Cuisine: American, Steakhouse

Neighborhood: Carrollwood

Address: 14303 N. Dale Mabry Highway Tampa, FL 33618

Phone Number: (813) 269-1500

Website: http://www.grillsmith.com/

Bokuchoi Ramen launched – first Japanese ramen restaurant in Tampa Bay

My good friend in Tampa informed me that a ramen restaurant opened in August and she was surprised at how great it tasted.  As you know, I had some great ramen here in Seoul at Gaya-Gaya and South Korea has no short supply of ramen shops. The idea of a ramen restaurant in Tampa interests me. I hope this small operation can find its place in our great city of Tampa. I investigated and learned about the restaurant owner and his plans.

You can read the article on Creative Loafinghttp://cltampa.com/dailyloaf/archives/2011/10/11/bokuchoi-ramen-restaurateur-brings-first-japanese-ramen-restaurant-to-tampa

Check out Bokuchoi Ramen on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BokuchoiRamen

Mema’s Alaskan Tacos closing shop, last day to visit October 14th

Mema’s Alaskan Tacos, a popular taco eatery in Ybor City that opened shop in 2004, is closing down and having their closing bash Friday, October 14th, at 4:00PM. There will be a limited menu with tacos, nachos, burritos, and beer. They will stay open until they run out of food and beer. Restaurateur Sean Godin’s grandmother, Mema, learned how to make their tacos in Alaska during the 1950s.

Mema’s Facebook page reads:

“To all of our loyal customers.I want to thank you for the good times. Our closing is an unfortunate result of many things, most of all the deadstill economy and rising prices. Rather than sacrifice quality and service, the decision was to close the doors. So, thank you Tampa, for everything.”

I personally was only able to visit Mema’s Alaskan Tacos once during my many years of living in Tampa, but the experience was a positive one. I still remember the great taste of their chorizo taco and the refried beans. For many years I remember reading the raving reviews online (over 100 on Yelp) and always being curious about the late-night taco shop in Ybor City. Mema’s Alaskan Tacos will be missed and I am sad I will not be able to have their tacos one last time  before they close shop.

Carlos Eats Korea: Headed to Jeollanam for the 18th Namdo Food Festival & Boseong Tea Farm

The Yonsei University Mentors Club is taking 30 exchange students on a trip to Jeollanam-do today. During our trip we will attend the 18th Namdo Food Festival, known to have food from over 22 cities in Jeollanam-do. I am quite excited to visit this food festival and experience an area outside of Seoul. After we visit the festival, we will head to Boseong Tea Farm (which grows over 70% of South Korea’s green tea). It should make for some great photos and I hope we have a chance to try the green tea products sold there. I will return to Boseong during my Korean food tour at the end of the month so expect lots of coverage on this location (first brought to my attention while watching the Korean drama Summer Scent).

Food! I’m there 🙂

The Boseong Tea fields

Follow Carlos Eats on Twitter @carloseats for live updates (assuming I have phone service ^^).

Renzo’s Gourmet on Kennedy Celebrates 2 Year Anniversary Sept 28-Oct 1

Renzo’s Gourmet, an Argentinean steakhouse in Tampa, is hosting their 2 year anniversary event from now until Saturday. They will have a free wine tasting with Malbec, Carmenere, and Torrontes wines for visitors and free hors d’ oeuvres. You guys know I love free stuff! This is a great opportunity to go check out the food and wine menu there. Two Carlos Eats team members visited a tasting at Renzo’s Gourmet a few weeks ago and really enjoyed the food and atmosphere there (post coming soon!) and plan on making a trip back before the anniversary promotion ends. Photographing and filming of the event is allowed, the event is open to the public, and no RSVP is necessary.

Restaurant Name: Renzo’s Gourmet

Cuisine: Argentinean

Neighborhood: South Tampa

Address: 3644 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, FL 33609

Phone Number: (813) 870-3606

Website: http://www.renzosgourmet.com/

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/