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

SoHo Sushi North

I have been by SoHo Sushi North numerous times, but never stopped in until this past week. It is the same plaza as the fantastic Wood Fired Pizza, and these two restaurants really do make this plaza boom with foodie activity. I first heard of SoHo Sushi when they became a sponsor for the Japanese Club at USF‘s “A Night in Tokyo” cultural event (a Japanese cultural-themed dinner).

We came during their “Happy Hour” which is from 5:00PM-7:00PM everyday and offers $5-7 special rolls and appetizers as well as 2-4-1 house wine, draft beer, and hot sake. USF students can get 10% off with their student ID making SoHo Sushi North affordable for the college students nearby and for diners who don’t mind having dinner early.

We decided to order two appetizers: their $5 Sunomono (cucumber salad topped with crab, steamed shrimp, octopus, and fined with rice wine vinaigrette) and $6 Geso (Japanese style calamari, flash fried and dressed in ponzu sauce).

The sunomono was excellent and had a very refreshing taste to it. It was a nice start to our meal and whenever we wanted to refresh our taste buds throughout our meal the rice vinaigrette really hit the spot. The shredded crab and shrimp were delicious and although I don’t like cucumbers on my sushi (I feel it detracts from the taste of the fish), I love cucumber on the side with some sauce. There was enough for two people to share so I say $5 is not a bad price for some sunomono.

The geso was quite a change in taste buds from the sunomono we had before it. The calamari was a little rough, but still quite tasty and the ponzu sauce was the best part of this appetizer. We could have dipped almost anything into the sauce and been happy. Although the geso wasn’t my favorite food of the night it was pretty good and I think I would try it again and see if maybe the chef just timed the cooking a little off on the appetizer. $6 is a great price for calamari. It is a nice switch from the usual calamari found in most restaurants and the batter was noticeably less greasy as well.

We decided to order four rolls and went with the K-Town Roll ($6), Lobster Tempura Roll ($6), SoHo Roll ($5), and Tuna Fresh Roll ($7). They came rather quickly and it wasn’t long before we had a pile of food in front of us. The Lobster Tempura Roll (top right) was tasty on the inside, but the outside tasted a little odd…like the tempura didn’t reach the amount of crunch one desires when having a tempura roll. Still definitely worth the price, but a little off what we wanted.

The fish was good in the other rolls, but the mayo was a little off-putting. My friend mentioned that the mayo tasted American and I couldn’t help but agree. The mayo was detracting from the roll and indeed the two rolls that had mayo on them would have been better without it. On the other hand, the rice paper was a refreshing change from your average sushi roll and kept the sushi from becoming too heavy. I also thought the tuna and salmon were both appetizing and my friend commented that the tempura chips were great.

Overall, I would say the sushi at SoHo Sushi North was good, but not the best I have had. They face fierce competition in the area with Tomo Sushi and Joy of Tokyo within a few minutes of driving distance and Tokyo Sushi Japanese Restaurant down on Fowler Avenue. SoHo is really a seller because of the good deals they offer with their Happy Hour and USF 10% student discount that few sushi restaurants will match nearby. With the rough economic times everyone faces today you can’t deny a good deal.

As we were about to close our check we decided we would have some dessert and order their fried ice cream for $6 (pictured below). The ice cream tasted satisfactory (not too sweet and the fried piece on top was a pleasant finish) and was a nice close to our meal.

Soho Sushi on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: SoHo Sushi North

Cuisine: Japanese

Neighborhood: USF

Address: 2826 E. Bearss Avenue Tampa, Florida 33613

Phone Number: 813.977.8744

Website: http://www.sohosushinorth.com

Wasabi Food Challenge @ Yamato Japanese Steakhouse Wiregrass


T.B. tackled the Level 10 Wasabi Oil with Fish Eggs Food Challenge at Yamato Japanese Steakhouse at Wiregrass this week. People can tackle this challenge at the sushi bar, but be warned that Level 10 is just the beginning.

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

The Rack (Brandon)

The Rack has been in Brandon for quite some time now and although I live near it, I haven’t made it a point to stop here…visiting the location in South Tampa more often. Before visiting I grew a little concerned when I read online that The Rack in Brandon was more like the Blue Martini (known by many for being pretentious) and that there was strict dress-code. We were relieved to find out  there wasn’t as strict a dress-code and decided to I visit The Rack earlier tonight and the experience was pretty disappointing.

The main thing The Rack has going for it is that it is perhaps the only late-night sushi spot in Brandon (almost every restaurant in Brandon closes at around 10PM). The Brandon location is larger than the South Tampa location, but loses all the ambiance of the original in favor for a more upscale kind-of-lounge feel (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing). Unfortunately, it also loses the friendly-atmosphere and employees you find at the SoHo location as well.

We entered around 10PM and the place was only slightly packed. We grabbed a table in the restaurant side and the waitress immediately left a sour taste in our mouths (she didn’t seem to want to be there). My friend signed up for their mobile mailing service and received a text message for a free drink and the waitress almost ignored his inquiries about how much the message was worth. She evaded this until the check was closed and then proclaimed it was too late to do anything about it. The Manager wasn’t much more help and his demeanor was like that of a bouncer, not welcoming and almost confrontational.

Now I can understand there is some confusion when it comes to mobile deals (especially in large franchise chains, such as Chili’s and their Foursquare deal). However, there are only 2 locations of The Rack, therefore I don’t really see how they can make such an issue over a deal they opt to provide customers. Why offer deals if you are going to hassle customers to honor them? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of mobile deals? Indeed, we seemed to be getting treated different because we are younger. The waitress seemed to be hovering over us and honestly if it wasn’t for her and the crappy service and dead crowd, we might have actually had fun and enjoyed our night here.

We ordered a good amount of food and drinks. The $5 Three Olive Bomb special was satisfactory and went down well. I special ordered a Salmon Roll and it ran me about $7.45. The salmon was fresh and the avocado was great as well. The sushi was perhaps the best part of our experience (although it is pricey, at least they make it good). We split a Small Deuce ($10.95), an assortment of appetizers: crab rangoon, coconut shrimp, chicken tender, and fusion rolls. The menu says it can feed 2-3 and I would say it can feed either one hungry person, or two people just snacking. You would really need to upgrade to the next size for 3 or more (add $8). The food came out quick and the best days to come to The Rack are definitely Tuesdays/Thursdays for the $20 all you can eat and drink special (cash only) from 9-11PM or on Wednesdays for their $5 Volcano Rolls. Otherwise, you are better off going to Samurai Sushi for some cheap eats in Riverview.

It costs $8 an hour to play pool and there was a good amount of tables there. You won’t have much of a problem grabbing a table (you sometimes can’t dream of grabbing one in South Tampa because it is really packed).

Overall, I prefer The Rack in Hyde Park to the location Brandon. The Hyde Park location is livelier, the people working and crowd are very friendly and it is the kind of place you can strike up a conversation with anyone. The Hyde Park location occasionally has bumps like any other restaurant, but is usually a good experience. The Brandon location made everyone look disconnected and the lack of people there on a Friday night was pretty surprising. The food lives up to the name and is convenient to Brandon residents, but I would recommend driving out to Hyde Park and visiting The Rack there for the full experience.

Restaurant Name: The Rack

Cuisine: American, Sushi

Address: 1025 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511

Neighborhood: Brandon

Phone Number: (813) 571-7225

Website: http://www.hittherack.com/

The Rack on Urbanspoon

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

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/

The Rack (Hyde Park)

The Rack has long been one of my favorite spots to grab some sushi and chill. The food is consistently good, the bartenders are chill, and there is a crowd there from evening to close. Although they have billiards there, I have never played there. My last visit there was on a Tuesday night. It was freezing cold outside and the inside was at max capacity so I decided to sit outside and have a drink and some food.

I have never tried sake before so I decided to try their Gekkeikan small sake ($6). The sake was pretty bitter, but packed a punch. Hardcore drinkers might like this, but someone with an aversion to bad tasting liquor like myself would probably never have that again after a first try. Service outside was spotty, but still not bad. I had a California Roll ($5.95), which includes crab stick, avocado, and cucumber…though I asked for the cucumber to be removed because I feel cucumber detracts from the taste of sushi.

The California Roll was pretty disappointing.  The crab was good and helped kill that sake taste in my mouth, but as you can see they barely gave me any avocado once the cucumber was removed. Maybe a sprinkle? For the price of almost $6, a California Roll should have plenty avocado and masago on it, when places like Samurai Japanese Restaurant only charge 3 or 4 dollars for that same roll with plenty of ingredients. Being cheap with these toppings is really cutting corners.

However, The Rack does have some quality special rolls such as their extremely popular Volcano Roll (only $5 each on Wednesdays) and a number of other quality rolls I regularly have there. I just wouldn’t order from their regular rolls in the future. I have also tried their wings and American food and it’s usually great. The Rack also has started an unlimited menu from 7-9PM in Hyde Park and 9-11PM in Brandon which includes appetizers, sushi, and drinks (really want to try this out). Their unlimited menu has started a trend in South Tampa and now Koto Japanese Restaurant and Cheap are offering the same thing. Once I finished my California Roll I closed my bill outside and went inside to the warm bar.

The bartender inside was really friendly and personable. She took good care of me and my time inside was much more enjoyable and made up for my time spent outside. It was loud and busy inside, but I’m young so I like that kind of atmosphere. They have free Wi-Fi inside as well, which is a plus. The shots and drinks were good and inexpensive. I left The Rack happy.

The Rack on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: The Rack

Cuisine: Sushi, American

Address: 1809 W Platt St. Tampa, FL 33606

Neighborhood: Hyde Park

Phone Number: (813) 250-1595

Website: http://www.hittherack.com/