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

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Yamato Japanese Steakhouse

My friend recently treated me to dinner at Yamato Japanese Steakhouse in the Wiregrass Mall. I have been to their bar before (more on that soon), but have never had their Teppanyaki before. We arrived pretty late during a weeknight so the place wasn’t too busy. There was one other group sitting with us who were friendly. I’ve never sat with another party during a visit to a Japanese steakhouse so I thought it might be awkward, but we actually had a good time conversing with the other party at the table.

My friend went ahead and ordered my favorite drink I regularly have at this restaurant for me. It’s called a Blue Samurai and it tastes like pineapple juice, but it packs quite a punch. The taste is smooth and it’s easy to slurp it down (though the drink will hit you fast so beware). Japanese steakhouses always have these innovative tasty mixed drinks (it’s one of my favorite things about them) and Yamato is no different. Although I was missing the usual umbrella Benihana gives.

We were given a free sushi roll on the house. Shrimp on the outside and imitation crab with crunchy breading on the inside and a little mayo on top. The shrimp tasted fresh, normally I would prefer fried shrimp, however the shrimp delivered a solid taste and the crab and crunchy breading inside made it even better. A nice start to our meal, indeed. I decided to order their Steak and Calamari ($17) from their Teppanyaki menu and we also ordered some sushi and sashimi.

The soup came out first. The soup had an onion taste to it, but wasn’t powdery. It tasted good, but I couldn’t detect what about it made it taste good. It wasn’t heavy (like miso soup sometimes is) and still left plenty of room for the feast we were about to have.

The ginger salad or house salad left plenty to be desired. I will agree with other critics that the sauce has too much liquid. A ginger salad is better when the ginger is freshly added on such as how it is made at Sushi Ninja in Riverview.

This had to be the most interesting thing we ate that night. Bacon Scallions. It doesn’t sound quite appetizing, but it was pretty tasty. I continue to be shocked by all the wonderful ways bacon can be consumed. Chocolate Sunday’s chocolate and bacon is still my favorite.

Our Teppanyaki chef was attentive to our group and made our meal in a timely manner. He did a few tricks, such as the spinning egg and also the smoking onion volcano. There was also a big flame moment, which reminded me of Arigato Steakhouse (which used to be on North Dale Mabry). I’d say Kobe Ichiban in Brandon is probably my best experience with an entertaining and humorous chef, but Yamato was not far behind. It far outdid my experience last summer at Benihana in Orlando where the chef couldn’t do barely any moves and left my party feeling completely disappointed.

A very popular Teppanyaki chef trick. The smoking onion volcano.

The best part of our meal was interestingly enough the sashimi. I don’t expect sushi or sashimi to be high-quality in a Japanese steakhouse and our decision to order was merely an attempt to sample what they had. We ordered a Sashimi Platter and also Mackerel Nigiri. Mackerel has to be one of the fish I am most picky about. Either it is fantastic or downright disgusting. The mackerel at Yamato was amazing. I could have ten or twenty of them. All the sashimi was fresh and the salmon hit my taste buds in all the right places. Each bite of sashimi was savory and I almost forgot to pay attention to the teppanyaki as I bathed in the fish.

We also had some a California Roll and Salmon Roll. The California Roll was excellent, the crab was great and there was plenty of avocado and masago. The masago tasted very fresh and I had  to snap a photo of it to share with my readers. I was really impressed with how well the California Roll was made, it was clear the chef took some time to make it right. The Salmon Roll was just as great as the salmon sashimi, though I’d probably add some avocado to it next time.

The rice was appetizing and full of flavor. I am normally not too much of a rice consumer, but this rice tasted great and I finished most of it before I even was served my steak or calamari. I was really surprised with the amount of flavor in Yamato’s teppanyaki food. In my prior experiences to Japanese steakhouses the food has been regrettably bland and I constantly need to drench my food in the sauces provided to make my food have flavor, but Yamato actually had a natural flavor in their food. The steak, calamari, noodles, vegetables, and rice were all enjoyable and dipping them in sauce was less of a chore to make it taste good, but just something I sporadically did to test the difference tastes I could make with the food. It was this attention to flavor that truly made me enjoy Yamato as a Japanese steakhouse and make it a place that I would recommend others try as well.

Yamato Japanese Steak House on Urbanspoon

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

Joy of Tokyo

Joy of Tokyo is a new restaurant in New Tampa by the University of South Florida. I dined there by a twist of fate when a friend and I found Soho Sushi closed at 2PM. We found Joy of Tokyo to be open for lunch still (they are open from 11am-10pm daily…you won’t find many sushi restaurants with hours like that). There were a few tables being waited on, but we were quickly acknowledged and allowed to pick our seat. The restaurant has a modern feel with plenty of decorations and it’s spacious so you don’t feel crammed next to other people dining there.

What a cool little crab.

My friend and I were hungry and found ourselves in luck. Joy of Tokyo has a $6.99 lunch special where you an order Chicken, Shrimp, or Steak in Teriyaki, Hibachi, or Tempura Style (they also have tempura vegetables). Normally this can cost well over $15, talk about a deal. Even their Dinner prices are under $12. My friend and I decided to share hibachi steak and noodles. We also ordered another special, Tempura Shrimp and Vegetables.

Gazing at the sushi menu at Joy of Tokyo we saw two sushi specials, 2 basic rolls for $8 or 3 for $10. Why not we said? So we ordered a Yellowtail Scallion Roll, California Roll, and Salmon Avocado Roll. My friend also had an Unagi nigiri. The orders were put in promptly and we quickly received our food.

The noodles tasted great, perhaps the most flavorful hibachi noodles I have had (normally at a Japanese steakhouse you have to add some kind of sauce to make it have some flavor) in Tampa Bay. My friend said they reminded her of drunk noodles. There was plenty of steak and it was cooked all the way, but still juicy. We could have probably been filled with just this plate, but there was more to come…

The sushi rolls were a little smaller then some restaurants, but still a good size for the price. The rolls were very fresh, I have to say that I enjoyed every bite of them without needing to dip them in any soy sauce. Some people argue that California Rolls taste the same everywhere, but there really is a difference in the quality of the rice, seaweed, and crab inside. The same rule applies to salmon, I am a bit of a salmon nazi…if my salmon is not fresh I instantly can tell and this salmon was fantastic. They weren’t cheap with the avocado either, there was balance in the roll. I was impressed because I originally thought that this restaurant was more of a Japanese steakhouse, but they did a great job with their sushi as well.

My friend’s unagi nigiri looked quite appetizing as well.

The tempura was also impressive. It has to be one of the best tempuras I have had in Tampa Bay. The batter wasn’t too thick and it wasn’t too oily inside. The shrimp tempura was crunchy and somewhat similar to the excellent tempura I have enjoyed in the past at I Ai Sushi (who I consider to be the Tampa King of Japanese authentic cuisine). The Tempura sauce was good, but a little bit messy to dip in (I’d put a napkin under it next time).

Brown rice came with my friend’s tempura. I will admit I am not much of a rice consumer so my friend ate it. She enjoyed it.

Overall, I found myself to be very pleased with Joy of Tokyo. The food and serve was on point and after my meal, I conversed with the owner who was very friendly and personable. She told me that they came all the way from Ohio down her to Tampa to setup business. With Joy of Tokyo being a short drive from USF (pro tip: take the shortcut on 42nd street), it is an easy draw in for college students and employees/residents in New Tampa and Temple Terrace. The hours are friendly to people who can’t make the typical 12 to 2 lunch openings at other sushi restaurants and the deals are attractive to the wallet in this economic climate. They also have free Wi-Fi (great for iPod Touch users like me and businessmen). I’ll be back soon!


Joy of Tokyo Sushi & Grille on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Joy of Tokyo

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 14913 Bruce B. Downs Blvd. Tampa, FL 33613

Phone Number: 813-978-8222

Neighborhood: USF

Website: http://joyoftokyo-newtampa.com/

Update: New Restaurants Opening in Tampa Bay in 2011

This photo from Cappy’s Facebook page makes my stomach growl with hunger!

Cappys Pizzeria: Cappy’s Pizzeria is opening it’s 4th location in the Winthrop Plaza where Cuenelli’s used to stand by Green Iguana. The new location is set to open in January 2011. Cappy’s Pizzeria has been around since 1995 when it first opened in Hyde Park. A partner was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times stating “Cappy’s is known for a simple menu of quality pizza, calzones and salads. The new location won’t stray from that successful formula”. Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/cappys-pizzeria-to-open-fourth-location-this-one-in-riverview/1140165

http://www.cappyspizzaonline.com/ http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cappys-Pizza/175562309134957

Ryuu Japanese Steakhouse: This new Japanese restaurant in the Westfield Brandon Mall will feature Teppanyaki grills and a sushi bar. Owner Robert Smith has been quoted in the St. Petersburg Times stating “You can watch the show if you want, but there’s also booth sitting if you want a more intimate experience.” The restaurant opens on New Years Day: January 1, 2011 at 11am. Quite a way to ring in the new year! Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/article1129234.ece

459 Brandon Town Center Brandon, FL 33511 http://www.tsunamijapanesesteakhouse.com/

The original Yummy House located on Waters Ave.

Yummy House: One of Tampa’s best choices (and many say the best choice) for Chinese food is opening a new location in Mid-April 2011 in Seminole Heights near I-275. The new location will be able to accommodate up to 200 diners in 5,500 square feet of space and serve seafood and traditional Cantonese dim sum. Hopefully this will make eating at Yummy House a little easier and allow the restaurant to deal with its wildly popular demand (an estimated 400 diners a day visit Yummy House!). Source: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/owner-of-sherrys-yesterdaze-opening-new-shop-in-seminole-heights/1137591

2620 E Hillsborough Ave. Tampa, FL 33610

It looks like 2011 will be a great year for dining out!

Tomo Sushi

My friend and I have been planning to eat at Tomo Sushi for months, but something always comes up. We finally had a chance to have lunch yesterday, and I really enjoyed my first visit to this sushi restaurant. It’s located near USF on Bearss a short drive from Campus Lodge or Collegiate Hall. We were seated right when we entered.

They have some visual representations of things on the menu on the table and the menu has a few pictures as well. After spending some time deciding I decided to have the Tomo Lunch Box, a bento (おべんと) box ($10.95) which comes with one piece of salmon, one piece of tuna,  teriyaki chicken, rice, 4 pieces of California Roll, tempura shrimp and vegetables, miso soup, and salad. It didn’t sound like much at first thought, but I was stuffed in just a short while. My friends ordered some sushi rolls from their sushi menu.

The Ginger Salad was excellent! Not the best I have had, but up there with plenty of ginger sauce that didn’t make the salad bland, but kept it tasteful down to the bottom.

The Miso Soup was also pretty good, plenty of seaweed and tofu inside, however it did taste a little too much like onion powder.

The Tomo Lunch Box was excellent. There was plenty of food. The salmon and tuna nigiri tasted great and fresh. The California Rolls were good, but I probably take out the cucumber from them on a future visit. The tempura was great and the shrimp tempura is some of the best I have had in quite some time. They included plenty of teriyaki chicken and rice with several vegetables in the mix as well. It was more than enough to feed one person and well worth ($10.95).

My friends with their sushi.

I really like the decor inside of Tomo. You can see the booths are very personal and have dividers in between booths separating your party from other ones in the restaurant. There are paintings on the walls of fish and a number of traditional Japanese paintings around the restaurant. The sushi bar also looks nice and I would like to sit there in the future. They play some traditional music in the background as well, which is low enough to allow your party to have a nice conversation, but still enjoy some music while dining.

Mmm looks appetizing.

Overall, the food was great and service was on point. They have a number of Korean BBQ dining options as well, being Korean owned so I will have to return in the future to try their Bulgogi or Galbi. Tomo has traditional Japanese food as well such as Yakisoba, Don Katsu, and various types of Udon. I’ll be back in the future.

Tomo Japanese Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Tomo Japanese Sushi Bar

Cuisine: Japanese, Korean

Address: 15021 N Florida Ave. Tampa, FL 33613

Neighborhood: North Tampa

Phone Number: (813) 962-1560

Sushi Ninja

Sushi Ninja, located in the Bell Shoals shopping plaza off Bloomingdale Avenue in Brandon, is a quiet little sushi restaurant and bar that we decided to visit yesterday. The restaurant was empty at around 3pm and we made our way to the bar. All you could hear was water falling from their little waterfall. The restaurant itself was full of wooden booths made to look traditionally Japanese and decorations can be found all over, giving the restaurant a relaxing vibe to it.

At the bar my sister and I sat and had lunch. The owner made our sushi rolls, she was friendly and we found out that we actually know some of the same people. My sister ordered salmon skin with cream cheese and I ordered a California Roll ($4.00) with miso soup and ginger salad. The ginger salad was fantastic, savored it down to the very last bite. The miso soup was also great, enough flavor without tasting too powerful.

Ginger salad and Miso Soup.

When we got our rolls though, that’s when I decided this place is pretty awesome. The rolls were eight pieces and large. They weren’t cheap with the masago or the avocado (one of my sushi pet peeves). There was plenty of fish and it tasted fresh and flavorful. I ate my California Roll so fast that I ended up decided to order another one because it was just that good.  My sisters salmon and cream cheese was also great, though I am not a fan of cream cheese. The service was quick and painless and my sister and I were pretty much the driving voices there. They have a selection of Japanese sakes and Korean liquors as well, though we decided against it today and there were a wide variety of rolls on the menu.

You can see in this photo they were not cheap with any ingredients.

Prices for regular rolls were average, but many of the specials were over $12 or even $15 dollars. We did not make in time for their lunch special, but may have to try that out someday. The food here was unexpectedly great (it’s been a few years since I last ate here) and I would return again in the future.

Sushi Ninja on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Sushi Ninja

Cuisine: Sushi

Address: 887 E Bloomingdale Avenue Brandon, FL 33511

Neighborhood: Brandon

Phone Number: (813) 662-3377

Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar is a popular spot among many people because of it’s late night half-off sushi special. It’s open until 2am from Sunday-Wednesday and 3am from Thursday-Saturday, which is pretty late for a sushi restaurant. Many of my friends frequently drive from Tampa out to St. Petersburg to enjoy some late night sushi with their pals. The place is alive with loud music and a packed bar as well a many customers at the tables and hibachi. The sushi is cheap, indeed, but there is a slight trade-off in quality of the roll when you eat late night there. However, the atmosphere makes up for it.

Most of the sushi rolls are heavy on the sauce to mask the sushi because sometimes it doesn’t taste very fresh, in my opinion. You get what you pay for though. If you just want some cheap sushi to enjoy with friends then Hiro’s is for you. They have a number of appetizers which are half-off as well.

The mussels there are pretty good.

The California Roll was average though neither the Alaska Roll nor the mackerel were appetizing (with the Mackerel having a very strong fishy taste that wasn’t anything like my amazing mackerel at Tokyo Sushi) and I probably would not order either again.

Despite some rolls not tasting  fresh, Hiro’s still has that unbeatable late-night special that attracts many and it is a really cool place to hangout at night with friends, the atmosphere is enjoyable and nothing like some sushi restaurants that are dead silent around night time. I don’t think I would ever go here alone (unless I was sitting at the bar) because it is the perfect place to bring a few friends.

And here are two of my friends: Jason & Mikey

Hiro's Tokyo Steakhouse & Sushi Bar (St. Pete) on Urbanspoon

Restaurant name: Hiro’s Tokyo Steakhouse and Sushi Bar

Cuisine: Japanese

Address:5250 4th St N St Petersburg, FL 33703

Neighborhood: Northeast St. Pete

Phone Number: (727) 522-4476

Website: http://www.hirostokyosteakhouse.com/

Pacific Grill: An Asian Fusion Experience in Brandon


Spicy Pork Bulgogi

I recently went to Pacific Grill with some friends. I was pleasantly surprised with the authenticity of their food and the low prices for Korean cuisine. You can read more about my experience on my Creative Loafing article here: http://blogs.creativeloafing.com/dailyloaf/2010/10/07/pacific-grill-brandons-asian-bistro-experience/

Pacific Grill on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Pacific Grill
Address: 3452 Lithia Pinecrest Rd Valrico, FL 33596-6301
Phone Number: (813) 657-8744
Website: http://www.pacificgrillvalrico.com/home/

See more pictures below:

Continue reading “Pacific Grill: An Asian Fusion Experience in Brandon”

Dinner @ I Ai Sushi

My Japanese friend from Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka, Hiroki-san, and I went to dinner a few weeks back at I Ai Sushi. I wanted to take him somewhere where he could look at a Japanese menu and maybe have something a little closer to home for an affordable price. No other place but I Ai Sushi came to my mind.

I was a little apprehensive because sometimes service there is lackluster, but service was actually pretty good during this visit with no complaints that I can think of at all. There weren’t many people since we came on a weeknight as well so our food came quickly.


Hiroki-san, the special guest in this review.

Miso Soup
Full of plenty of ingredients, a hearty miso soup ($2).

The first thing we ordered that came out was the Kaki Fry ($4.50). Great quality as always…Hiroki-san accidentally put it into his mouth when it came out hot and when the juices inside came out he burned himself pretty bad. >_> However, the Kaki Fry was excellent and had great texture and flavor as usual.

Tempura-Don
Hiroki’s tempura-don looked appetizing. I’d like to try it on future visits. Hiroki noted that in Japan many of the vegetables that were made into tempura in his batch were not common to have put into tempura.

Sushi!

I ordered two sushi rolls. Their Alaskan Roll ($4.25), pictured on the top, was phenomenal, their Salmon is always really fresh and just hits the spot. The price is good for that roll as well, which can sometimes climb over $5.50 at some restaurants. I was feeling experimental and gave the ❤ Ai Ai Roll ($5), pictured on the bottom, a shot and boy was I glad I did! It tasted great, really fresh and flavorful. It contains crab, shrimp, mayo, and roe…a nice combo indeed.

2 Thumbs Up
Hiroki-san gave I Ai Sushi two thumbs up and I couldn’t agree more.

I Ai Sushi on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: I Ai Sushi
Address: 3691 W Waters Ave Tampa, FL 33614
Phone Number: (813) 932-1111
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 am -10 pm

Benihana

This past weekend was my step-father’s 50th birthday. To celebrate we went to our timeshare in Orlando and had dinner at the Benihana on International Drive. I used to eat at Benihana in San Francisco’s Japantown all the time as a kid with my father, so I was excited to go to this Benihana and re-experience it. The tall hats, shrimp that goes in your pocket, umbrellas in your drink,  koi fish, among other things are ingrained in my childhood memory.

My Mom made the reservations and we all arrived fairly on time. This location was pretty small compared to the one in San Francisco. The chefs also seemed to have shorter hats, though I’m not sure if this is different or I just have forgotten that detail since my last time in San Francisco. They had to separate our twelve person party in two, which sucked a bit.

I went with the Rocky’s Choice which includes steak and chicken among the other things served with most meals at Benihana. The chef was friendly…but really was the most disappointing part of my experience. Maybe he wasn’t trained enough, but every trick he tried to pull off failed pretty bad. He was quiet and all his jokes seemed forced. He dropped his cooking instruments during a trick and when he tried to do the popular shrimp in a pocket he missed and the shrimp just fell. After awhile I think we all got bored with him and started to look at my parents chef, little did I know that they were looking at the chef at the table next to them as well…It was also one of the shortest shows I have seen and we found ourselves eating our food instead of watching the chef do his job, which quite frankly is the opposite of how my visit to Kobe’s was when I went for my birthday last year.

The soup and salad were decent, but nothing to brag about. The chicken and steak were both bland and despite constantly dipping them in their ginger and mustard sauces, the taste just would not come. I tried their Orange Sorbet and really disliked it. After a few bites I was just poking at it.  For $26 it is pretty disappointing to not be able to taste any flavor.  I understand that most people visit these restaurants for the show, but since that wasn’t going to be any good this whole visit was pretty much spoiled.  I will say, however, that that their green tea is quite good. Maybe the only thing I enjoyed there.

To make matters worse after the shows were over they came out to sing Happy Birthday to my Step-Father and my Mom and half of the party were in the bathroom. They came out of the bathroom to find that the singing was already over…that is not a great way to treat someone who made the reservation to go there in the first place.

Overall just a really disappointing experience. Reviews seemed favorable, but none of them seemed to mention these things. Most reviewers claimed that Benihana beats any other Japanese steakhouse such as Kobe or Arigato’s, but after this experience I have to disagree at least about this location.

Restaurant Name: Benihana

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 12690 International Drive Orlando, FL 32821

Phone: (407) 239-7400

Website: http://www.benihana.com/

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/benihana-orlando-3

Benihana on Urbanspoon