Sushi Battle Tampa Bay 2016 Recap

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Big City Events. I have been compensated for my time and writing and am involved in the event discussed in this post. I helped to promote the event and was a Judge during the event for the restaurants. These opinions posted in this blog are my own and do not represent the views of Big City Events or the participating restaurants.

Last night was the 2nd Annual Sushi Battle Tampa Bay presented by Sapporo at the St. Pete Coliseum located on 4th Avenue North in Downtown St. Petersburg. Restaurants participated in a competition for who has the Best Sushi in Tampa Bay with a category decided by the audience and one decided by judges. Sake distillers hosted a special tasting upstairs and group sake bombs were enjoyed downstairs. The event was organized by Big City Events.

Have you been to our sake tasting? Well don't miss out.@ the #TampaBay #SushiBattle! #CarlosEats #foodies #sushi #food #events

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Participating restaurants included Ocean Prime, YO! Sushi, Pisces Sushi and Global Bistro, iThai Sushi, Kona GrillYume Sushi Restaurant, Wabi Sabi Fusion Cafe, and Ciccio/Water. Restaurants provided sushi samples to guests while they enjoyed Japanese cultural performances from Tampa Taiko, a live DJ set from DJ Fresh, sumo wrestling, and other festivities.

Sushi by the boat load@ the #TampaBay #SushiBattle! #CarlosEats #foodies #sushi #food #events

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Each restaurant brought something different to the table and the event definitely evolved from the year before with a larger venue and and a more controlled audience. Most of the restaurants also did good planning and many of them were still serving sushi samples well into the final parts of the event. The categories for judging the sushi were presentation, creativity, and taste for event judges. In addition, there was a people’s choice award.


I was torn between Ocean Prime and Wabi Sabi Asian Fusion as my two favorite sushi spots as a judge at the event. Ocean Prime has such delicious sushi rolls, the quality was really there – but the creativity was a little bit mixed for me. They went with a more traditional kind of sushi roll at least as far as the design goes. Wabi Sabi Asian Fusion provided 5 different types of sushi to people at their booth and each one showcased creative sushi chef talent that I really enjoyed. I want to definitely take a trip to Palm Harbor sometime to visit Wabi Sabi in the near future.


Another top choice for me at the event was Pisces Sushi and Global Bistro, they brought a truly delicious sushi roll to the event. It was somewhere between the delicious taste of Ocean Prime and the creativity of Wabi Sabi for me. Pisces ended up winning the judges category of the competition.

I was actually unaware that Ocean Prime served sushi prior to being involved in this event. Regardless of my top choices – all the restaurants did a good job and provided more than your California Roll to the event – many restaurants provided multiple options which was great for the consumer and there was variety in the types of fish presented.


Tampa Taiko stole the show again and provided excellent Japanese taiko drumming performances throughout the event. I’ve been working with Tampa Taiko on events since I was part of the Japanese Club at USF back in 2009 and they have always been a supportive community member that puts everything they have into their work.

The Japanese Club participated in the event again and tabled with the help of the Japanese-America Society of Tampa Bay and shared a booth with the Foodies Club that helped spread the event on social media using the hashtag #SushiBattle on Twitter and Instagram.

The judges are coming in. Who will win this year #TampaBay #SushiBattle! #CarlosEats #foodies #sushi #food #events

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Overall, the Sushi Battle Tampa Bay improved from last year and in my opinion it was a fun night filled with a variety of food, drinks, and entertainment. I’m looking forward to seeing where the event goes in the future and am thankful to everyone who helped make it a success for a second year in a row. It can only go up from here.


Impressions: Buya Ramen Pre-Opening Night

I visited Buya Ramen last night as a guest for their pre-opening night where they gave a sneak peek of the menu as the servers and cooks prepared for their opening happening tomorrow August 10th. Please note that this experience was a preview for the restaurant and may not reflect the actual opening or dining experience.

The restaurant has plenty of seating with 104-seats and the decor of the restaurant has a swanky-upscale vibe with a touch of hipster that is at home with many of the options in the EDGE District and Downtown St. Petersburg. Plenty of natural light exists from the windows at the entrance and the dimmer lighting sets a more relaxing mood for the evening.

Food fight art @buyaramen #stpete #CarlosEats #foodies #local #shoplocal #ramen #instaburg #buyaramen

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I was a fan of the wall art that included what appeared to be a ramen battle ensuing between hungry and nude geishas. It caught my eye more than the rooster  wall painting.

Drinks could not go wrong with local mixologist Ryan Pines at the helm. Two drinks were served for tasting.

1) The Geisha: Reyka vodka, cocchi americano, thai basil, and peychaud’s bitters

2) Mr. Sulu: Knob Creek rye, buya vermouth, dolin dry, and bitterman’s chocolate mole bitters

I leaned on the rye heavily – both drinks were not for a light-weight drinker. The bar at Buya Ramen is beautiful and could easily be a popular place for drinks after work or on the weekends with some appetizers.


Speaking of the appetizers I really loved the Seaweed Salad that mixed in some delicious hijiki (which I normally detest at most restaurants in bentos) and the Pork Belly Bun was excellent and rivaled Tampa favorite Anise Gastrobar.

Back to the drinks – the wine selection was exquisite and really made me excited for what was to come. Restaurants who have a great wine program usually are in tune with their taste buds.

I was a fan of both the Giminez Riili ‘Buenos Hermanos’ Torrentes and the Clos de Chacras ‘Cavas de Crianza’ red blend. Both Argentina wines were easy to drink and wouldn’t detract from a meal and could easily be enjoyed on their own.

I tried all three of the ramens between different people’s bowls available for tasting: Crispy Duck, Wagyu Brisket Ramen, and Mushroom. The first two were tonkotsu (pork) ramen which is one of my favorite types and the last was shio (salt).

My favorite by far was the Wagyu Brisket Ramen – the flavor was rich and enjoyable. It was quite different from the shoyu (soy-sauce) based ramen at Japanese Kitchen Dosunco. If I could any of the 3 ramens I would choose the Wagyu Brisket.

One of the nice things about having new ramen shops in town is that chefs can display different ramen types. The lack of ramen shops in the past has made that difficult.

The shio ramen was my least favorite by far and tasted quite like a clear onion soup with mushrooms on-top. Normally I am actually a fan of this type of soup, but didn’t find it to be comparable to the tonkotsu broth. Still, it’s an option for many people who cannot or choose not to eat pork broths.

All the servers we encountered were friendly – especially considering the chaos of having over 100 guests around the restaurant sampling all kinds of food and drinking from the bar. Most servers seemed to have some experience and were often checking on all the guests despite the crowd.

The kitchen in the back seems to be small and considering the number of seats in the restaurant – hopefully the turnaround time for ramen after opening will be efficient and quick. 


Buya Ramen has plenty of potential. I could see it growing and helping to spread ramen culture across the bridge. Pretty much everything I tried was delicious and seemed to aim for a savory palate. I will return after they open and have some time to get settled to see how the full menu is and how the kitchen and service keeps up with demand.

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.


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

Tampa Bay becomes a Yelp Elite City

Yelp was the first food community I joined online back in 2006 after I was introduced by a Xanga friend living in San Francisco. Since then I have gone on to write over 500 reviews on Yelp and been a member of their Elite squad since 2006 as well. Yelp always had aspirations for Tampa and sent me free Yelp goods (including a t-shirt and hoodie) during my first few years as a member. I was one of the first reviewers, plowing my way through Tampa Bay. Reviewing every restaurant and business I interacted with.

Despite all the reviews Yelp Tampa never seemed to kick-off. I began losing interest as I noticed no sense of community was being built in Tampa like other cities. Over time Yelp grew and in 2009, a few consistent members began to have Unofficial Yelp Events (UYEs) around town. I joined a few and some dining trails included an Asian tour, pizza tour, and many trips to The Wat Thai Temple. Many Yelpers were bitter that Yelp would not allow them to become Elite members because Yelp did not recognize Tampa as an Elite city.

The Yelp Tampa crew on the 4th of July in 2009 at Pine Tree Karaoke Cafe (now called One Family Korean Restaurant) during our Asian tour weekend.

They continued reviewing and contributing for years on, hoping that Yelp would finally someday give Tampa Bay a chance. Finally, earlier this year Yelp announced it would be hiring a Community Manager for Tampa Bay…a sign that Tampa would soon be developing into a Yelp Elite city. Yelp Elite members contribute regularly to the site and have exclusive events they can attend around town, usually at local restaurants or bars with exclusive promotions and it is a great way for Elite members out of town to meet the locals. The Community Manager helps organize official events and find events around the city to promote on the website. A foodie network is vital to this growth.

This week an Events tab appeared for Yelp Elite members to submit events and Review of the Day (ROTD), a way to recognize excellent reviews, also appeared on the home site for Tampa. It’s exciting to think where this could go and how this can help Tampa’s food scene grow as the powerful social media site Yelp backs the way. I know I’ll be motivated to keep contributing as much as possible. Congrats Yelp Tampa reviewers! Your hard work has now paid off.


Where to Dine on Father’s Day in Tampa Bay

In case you haven’t heard, 50 million Americans are expected to dine out for Father’s Day this weekend. Trying to figure out where to take Dad to eat on Father’s Day? I have you covered. Here are some suggestions of dining deals happening around Tampa on Father’s Day (Sunday June 19, 2011 for those of you who didn’t know).

Stump’s Supper Club in Channelside is offering a free appetizer for Dad’s on Father’s Day (with the purchase of an entree).

Yamato Japanese Steakhouse has Morgan Chardonnay for $5 down from the usual $17 for Father’s Day.

The Yacht StarShip has a Father’s Day Brunch Cruise with tickets selling at $39.95, boarding at Noon on Father’s Day.

Father’s get free food and get to bowl for free at Splitsville in Channelside when they come with their kids.

Charleys is offering free 24oz Ribeye steak for dads, along with a signature salad and French bread (with a purchase of equal or greater value) on Father’s Day.

The Bearded Clam in Sarasota has a buffet with live music for families. $20 for adults and $6.95 for children 10 and under.

IKEA is having an all-you-can-eat Father’s Day brunch. $9.99 for adults and children 12 and under are just $2.49. Quite a deal with the amount of things on the menu.

Spaghetti Warehouse in Ybor City will be offering free Lasagna or Spaghetti for Dad’s on Father’s Day. No coupon necessary.

The Columbia will be open for Father’s Day and is accepting reservations. They have a number of specials for Father’s Day including a Coca de Langosta y Chorizo tapas special and two entree specials: New York Strip Sirloin “The Bambino” and Vieiras y Ibérico “Canarias”. Note: The Columbia Cafe on the Riverwalk will have their usual menu and not be offering Father’s Day specials.

Grille 54 has a special Father’s Day menu. They will be opening at Noon on Sunday.

Beef O’ Brady’s will give Dad’s a free meal for Father’s Day (with the purchase of an entree of equal or lesser value and a limit of $10, some restriction apply…check with your local Beef franchisee for details).

Fleming’s Steakhouse has a 3-course Father’s Day Brunch for $32.95 and you get a free $25 gift card for your father with your purchase.

Visiting the Cheesecake Factory for Father’s Day? Print out this coupon for a free cheesecake for every $30 purchase. Valid until 6/28/2011. Even if you aren’t going for Father’s Day print it anyway. Who doesn’t love free cheesecake?

Hope everyone has a Happy Father’s Day!🙂

Did I miss your restaurant? Shoot me an e-mail to carloseats [at] gmail [dot] com and I will add you to the list.

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/