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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Buya Ramen shop opening August 10th

Word on the street: St. Petersburg’s first full-on ramen shop and izakaya, Buya Ramen, is opening for business on Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 at 4PM. The shop is located at 911 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida 33705.

Reservations are now being accepted online through OpenTable: http://www.buyaramen.com/

The ramen and izakaya scene is certainly seeing an uptick in Tampa Bay. Ramen has been taken the U.S.A. by storm for years with Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC setting the stage for a ramen renaissance of sorts. The trend took some time to catch on in the Tampa Bay area but has proven to be successful with Ichicoro and Japanese Kitchen Dosunco leading the way to ramen-mania.

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Like BUYA RAMEN on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/buyaramen/

Follow BUYA RAMEN on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/buyaramen/

Tweet BUYA RAMEN @buyaramen

Photo credit: Buya Ramen on Facebook

Izakaya Japanese pub ‘Noble Rice’ now open

Tampa residents can enjoy a whole new experience with the soft opening of Noble Rice, an izakaya or Japanese style pub in South Tampa on Platt Street. These pubs normally serve Japanese appetizers and beer/sake wine to customers in an intimate setting used for socializing or meetings.

The restaurant is aiming for a traditional Japanese environment and menu with some inspiration from the south. Head Chef and Co-Owner, Eric Fralick, feels “southern comfort food and Japanese comfort food are so compatible, they were meant to be together”.

Fusion dishes include Sake Ribs utilizing Japanese sake to kick up a southern favorite and Tan Tan Men Wings inspired by buffalo wings. Many of the traditional dishes also incorporate fusion elements into them.

Traditional Japanese izakaya finds include yakitori (meat and vegetable skewers), takoyaki (octopus balls), gyoza (pan-fried dumplings), yamakake (grated yam), and a number of nigiri/sushi options. Ramen lovers will also find a variety of Shoyu ramen soups (soy-sauce base).

It wouldn’t be a true izakaya if we were not also discussing the drink selections. Sake lovers can find a wide-selection of rice wine. Noble Rice serves a Japanese distilled spirit, called shochu, which is derived from a variety of ingredients including sweet potato, barley, buckwheat, and sugar cane. Popular local craft beer will also be available on tap.

Here is a current list of beer/wine (7/21/16):

Shochu

  • Satsuma Shiranami – Sweet Potato
  • Hakutake Shiro Kome -Rice
  • Chiyonosono 8,000 Generation – Rice
  • Kintaro – Roasted Barley

Sake

  • Ama No To Heavens Door
  • Junmai
  • Kikusui Blue Junmai
  • Southern Beauty
  • Born Gold Konteki Pearls of Simplicity
  • Tozai Snow Maiden Nigori
  • Hiko’s Reserve Junmai
  • Eiko Fuji BanRyu
  • Sword of the Sun

Wine

  • Cabernet Savignon – Grayson Cellars
  • Pinot Noir – Block Nine
  • Chardonnay -Annabella
  • Sparkling – Francois Montand Brut

Beer on Tap (rotating to local companies)

  • Big Storm – Wavemaker
  • Coppertail – Free Dive
  • Coppertail – Unholy Tripple
  • 3 Daughters- Beach Blonde
  • Darwin- Parata Pils

Bottled Beer

  • Duchesse de Bourgogne
  • Nest Red Rice Ale
  • Seadog Blue Paw
  • Stella Artois
  • Woodchuck Granny Smith Cider
  • Motorworks – V Twin

Here are some photos via Noble Rice Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NobleRiceCo/

Yakitori

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Blood Orange Ramen

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Noble Rice. 807 W Platt St, Tampa, FL 33606. (813) 284-7423 noblericeco.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

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: Gaya-Gaya 가야가야 (がや-がや) ramen shop in Edae (이대)

During my second week in Seoul a friend who I met in Florida took me to a small ramen shop in an alleyway by Ewha University in Edae (이대). This shop makes Japanese style ramen for under 10,000 won. The shop is quaint and has lots of wood inside…its atmosphere felt very Japanese to me. The ramen we had on my first try was their simple 7,000 won ramen. I was surprised at the fresh taste of both the noodles and the liquid broth. I ended up eating every last drop of it. The tastes  of Japanese cuisine are so different from Korean cuisine…it is refreshing to taste something different.

This past weekend I brought some Canadian friends from Vancouver to the restaurant for some ramen at Gaya-Gaya. This time I decided to try the miso ramen for 7,500 won. Miso ramen was created in Hokkaido, Japan and became popular in the 1960s. The broth normally consists of miso blended with either chicken or fish broth and strays from traditional soy ramen.

These two sides are given with the ramen. I have only nibbled on some, but the taste wasn’t powerful.

One thing many people do not know is that Japanese ramen served in a restaurant is completely different from the instant noodles you have at home. Japanese ramen takes hours to make (sometimes over 24 hours) and is a delicate process that requires much attention to details (an art the Japanese love). The miso broth was more powerful than the soup I had during my previous visit, but quite enjoyable. The ingredients on top were all fresh and gave the noodle soup an invigorating taste. The pork was integrated well into the soup.

The arrangement of the ingredients on the bowl was also made perfectly.

My Canandian friend was sick and felt the soup soothing his throat. Both friends frequently eat ramen in Vancouver and although the taste was different from how they have it at home, they both enjoyed their noodle soups and finished it all as picturesd. We were happy customers. I hope to visit other ramen shops in Seoul and see how they match up against Gaya-Gaya, though the convenience of being right next to Yonsei University is a nice plus.

Restaurant Name: Gaya-Gaya 가야가야 (がや-がや)

Cuisine: Japanese

Neighborhood: Edae

Address: 서울시 서대문구 대현동 56-21 1층

Phone Number: 02-363-7877

Map: http://map.naver.com/?mid=bl01608268

Yamato: June 1/2 Off Wine Promotion

Yamato Japanese Steakhouse located in the Wiregrass Mall in Wesley Chapel is currently offering a wine promotion for the month of June. Everything is $5 a glass, half-off their normal price.

Some of the red wines available include:

Swanson Merlot

Penfolds “Thomas Hyland” Shiraz

Four Vines “Maverick” Zinfandel

Some of the white wines available include:

St. Francis Chardonnay

Kenwood White Zinfandel

Pouilly-Fuissé White Burgundy

Checkout my review of Yamato for more on their sushi and steakhouse food.

Restaurant Name: Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 100 Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Neighborhood: New Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 907-8701

Ichiban Sushi (Gainesville)

During visits to Gainesville I am never quite sure where I should eat. About 3 years ago my friends and I discovered Dragonfly Sushi and it quickly became the default sushi spot to visit during trips to the University of Florida. However, my last visit to Dragonfly was less than satisfactory and prompted us to search for a new sushi spot during this visit. A Yelp search of the area yielded many restaurants with mixed reviews. We decided to give Ichiban Sushi a shot and I was glad we did.

We arrived at about five in the evening, early birds by sushi standards. The restaurant was relatively empty and had a slight sports bar look with a bar in the middle and televisions with the current March Madness game playing around the sushi bar. We were quickly seated in a booth and the waitress was quick to get us our drinks and was a little pushy for us to get our orders in. There were a variety of items on the menu from Japanese cuisine to other Asian cuisines, such as Thai, but the general praise for sushi rolls here led me to the Bento Box 4 (~$16) and included shrimp and vegetable tempura, 5 sushi pieces (chef choice), a California Roll, Miso soup, house salad, and green tea ice cream. The waitress quick to put our orders in and our food did not take much time to reach our table.

My friend ordered Ichiban’s katsu curry (which I sampled) and the presentation was oddly not Japanese (he is Japanese and noted that the katsu usually goes on top). The curry also had a peculiar taste to it and upon sampling it some more I noticed that the curry tasted like it was using Indian seasonings, not Japanese seasonings. It was definitely an odd item.

The miso soup was really good. It wasn’t bitter and actually was a little sweet. They put plenty of tofu inside and the tofu was appetizing. The soup bowls were smaller than some other restaurants, but it was still enough to start the meal off and satisfy my stomach before the main course arrived.

The bento box was a little larger than I was expecting. The sushi that came with it looked fresh and I couldn’t wait to start eating. The California Roll was appetizing, but I should have asked for them to remove the cucumber (as usual it detracted from the taste of the fish). The ginger salad was fantastic and the ginger sauce on top tasted fresh. The shrimp and vegetable tempura tasted savory, but the batter was less flavorful than I am used to. The best part was the sushi pieces which were fantastic and really hit the spot on flavor with or without soy sauce. The green tea ice cream that arrived after the box was a nice conclusion to the meal and I felt that the bento box special covered everything I wanted to have during a sushi visit.

Overall, Ichiban Sushi provided a pleasant meal and a more affordable option to Dragonfly Sushi. The sushi was fresher and there were much more Japanese options (although they might want to work some more on their dishes authenticity). The service could have been a little better (our waitress disappeared every so often and didn’t stop by to check on us very often), but the food arrived quickly and for the most part were quite satisfied with our visit. I would recommend Ichiban Sushi to friends and would return during future visits to Gainesville.

Ichiban Sushi on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Ichiban Sushi

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 4401 NW 25th Pl Ste J Gainesville, FL 32606

Phone Number: (352) 375-8880

Website: http://www.ichibanflorida.com/

Twitter: @ichiban_sushi