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Tampa trip report - variety


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Restaurants & Bars Florida Tampa Trip Report

Tampa trip report - variety

Gin n Tonic | | May 14, 2009 04:17 PM

So I'm in Tampa on business (still here, actually), thus this is a trip-in-progress report. Some of these destinations were based on recs, some on researching this board and some on serendipity.

As I noted elsewhere, I don't have a lot of time for driving around, so while I might like to get over to Indian Rocks or something, that isn't in the cards.

Monday night, based on a rec from kentski, Mitchell's in Westshore Plaza. I was coming off a travel day, so it was calm and all, but kind of uninspiring. I can get air-freight seafood almost anywhere; a mile from salt water I should be able to do better. A five-oyster sampler was $8.50, which is a lot, and the closest origin was the James River. No Apalachicolas on the menu. Jeez, I'm in Florida, why not? And nearly every fish entree was from the airport as well; only the snapper and grouper were local. The Shang Hai style red snapper was very good, but again, I thought I could do better here in FL. One drink, one app, one entree, one dessert and I was in the $60 area. The place was largely empty, but it was a Monday.

Tuesday lunch I shot up to I Ai Sushi, based on some reading here. It's in a plaza on the northwest corner of Waters and Dale Mabry. A hit. This place is the real deal. I had cold soba noodles with shrimp tempura, quite a bargain for $8 -- excellent noodles, two large shrimp and five pieces of vegetables tempura-fried just about perfectly. Eating lunch at 1:30, there were two customers besides me.

Tuesday dinner I went to Tampa Bay Brewing in Ybor. Frankly I was more interested in beer, and I had a pint of a fairly uninspiring blonde ale followed by a pint of a really good IPA. Full menu service at the bar, so I had the Cuban-style pulled pork, which came with black beans, rice and fried plantains. The meat and beans were good, richly flavored and amply portioned; the rice was weak; the whole thing wasn't plated all that well, as the meat or beans had too much residual liquid -- I really don't like puddles on my plate. But did I mention I really liked their IPA? Once again I was struck by the emptiness of the place, both TBBC inside, and the neighborhood. It was my first time in Ybor, but it was a veritable ghost town.

Wednesday lunch I lucked into Guadalajara, which I drove past on the way to my work, and I thought since it was nearby and looked decent, I'd give it a try. A nice, authentic-looking American Mexican place in a plaza on the south side of Hillsborough near the airport. Lunch specials were $6.99, and more than adequate in quality and quantity. Above-average enchiladas, and really quite surprisingly good refried beans. 1:00 pm lunch, and the place was pretty well hopping, with half or so of the patrons looking like Mexicans. Later read decent reviews here, so my instincts were OK.

Wednesday dinner was at Sa Ri One, a Korean place on Cypress between Lois and Dale Mabry. I'm not an expert on Korean, although I have eaten in Korean places both in NY and in LA's Koreatown, so I'm not a novice, either. From the outside this looked like the sort of place that might have the grill in the table, but no such luck. But the people were very nice, and to my eyes looked Korean. I had yaki man doo (fried dumplings, like Japanese gyoza) for an app, and Gal Bi (short ribs) for a main. The dumplings were very good, certainly not seeming like they came from a Costco bag, and served with a sesame-chili dipping sauce that could have been spicier. The gal bi were served on a fajita plate, since there was no in-table grilling, and with about five small plates including spinach in a sesame sauce, dried squid, tiny anchovies with some kind of sliced green hot pepper, "fish cake" and a really ho-hum kim chi. Oh, the gal bi were nicely done and richly flavored in a smoky, sweet-ish sauce, and quite a large portion for $17.95. I wasn't able to finish everything. The resto itself looks a bit sketchy from outside, like it should be a strip club or something, but I was reasonably impressed. It was no more than half-full at 8:30 pm.

Thursday lunch was at Pho Quyen on the south side of Hillsborough east of the airport. I had the "all-in" pho (my name, not theirs) with flank, brisket, tendon, tripe, etc. I was mostly impressed -- a really well-flavored, complex broth with ample portions of every sort of meat. The only demerits were that the bean sprouts served on the side were just not super-fresh, and the rice noodles in the pho gave the impression that they had been pre-soaked too early in the day -- they just didn't have that light freshness I like. But then again the last few times I've had pho were at street stalls in Hanoi, so my standards for freshness are high. The resto is large and inviting, and at 1:00 for lunch was fairly full, although it seemed there were more Chinese than Vietnamese patrons.

All in all, the variety has been good so far, and I've not had any serious disappointments, nor had to drive all that far. I'll probably go back ti I Ai for dinner tonight to see how they do with sushi.

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