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/

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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

Flicks and Food Trucks next Thursday – 04/19

Flicks and Food Trucks is next Thursday, April 19th, 2012 from 6PM-10PM at The Grand Central at Kennedy (1208 E. Kennedy Blvd 33602). Parking is available at the parking garage located at the Grand Central at Kennedy. The event is sponsored by Tampa Bay Markets. Make sure to bring cash in case some food trucks are cash-only.

10-15 food trucks will be in attendance at this event. Short films and live music will rotate every 1/2 hour and local beer will be provided by the Pour House in the courtyard at Grand Central. Rob Irie will be performing live music. I haven’t had the chance to make it out to this event yet, but hope to check it out in the future.

More information available at: http://www.tampabaymarkets.com/flicks-and-food-trucks

Carlos Eats is seeking sponsors!

Carlos Eats is seeking sponsors.

Are you interested in having your business promoted and help with promotion of upcoming food-related events? Carlos Eats has a growing network that you can connect with through this website and social media. The goal of this effort it to help me reach more people (possibly due a site re-design upgrade), grow the site, and help raise funds to increase the number of restaurants exposed on Carlos Eats and help me get to some restaurants that might be hard to access.

Note: Reviews cannot be purchased as I value my integrity and connection with my readers (as should you!). However, a food tasting is always a great way to get connect.

Alternatively, if you would just like to leave a donation, you can leave a donation here (no Paypal account necessary). Your support is appreciated! 🙂

If you’re interested please fill out a contact form!

Thank you! Expect some updates soon. (Back to exams… :()

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

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

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/