Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill – Miami, FL

•April 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Here in South Florida, and really Florida in general, modern urban development has become dependent on the “village”. This concept of a pre-planned town center containing a smattering of shops, restaurants and maybe a theater or concert venue. In theory this sounds like a great idea, until you see identical copies sprout up in every town, the concept starts to grow stagnant, with all the personality of a spaghetti western set.

The problem with these villages is that the spontaneity that the great town centers all share from years and years of growth and change is lost. Every so often though, a restaurant rises above its pre-fab surroundings to deliver a truly interesting and delicious experience. The people behind Sushi Samba opened up Sugarcane Raw Bar, installed a menu that plucks the best dishes from Asia, the Caribbean and Mediterranean Europe, and seem to have broken the mold of lackluster eats that most villages offer.

Sugarcane Logo

Chef Timon Balloo (I’m going to take the high road here and avoid any Disney references), of Chinese and Trinidadian descent, showcases his wealth of experience and deep love for food in Sugarcane’s globetrotting menu. This was immediately clear in my cocktail, the Leche de Tigre, with coconut milk, yuzu, Kappa Pisco, simple syrup and cilantro. A mango purée and prosecco concoction joined the yuzu party with an added splash of Domaine de Canton, a French ginger liquor, fortified with eaux de vie and cognac.

Leche de Tigre & Mango bubbles

The menu at Sugarcane has a lot to absorb, with eight sections of tempting dishes to choose from. I homed in on the Crudo area and sprang for the scallop with apple, black truffle, lime and jalapeño as well as the akaushi beef carpaccio, sprinkled with pickled mushrooms and truffle ponzu. The dishes were a perfect compliment to each other, the scallop dish providing a shock of acidity, while the carpaccio brought things down to earth with grassy flavors in the beef and mushrooms.

Akaushi carpaccio and scallop crudo

My wife chose a winner of her own, a roasted kale and peach salad with fourme d’ambert cheese, walnuts and fennel. I’m not usually one to jump for kale dishes, but Chef Balloo has this dish locked with perfect seasoning and a satisfying crunch that had me inhaling the crispy greens like shrimp chips.

Roasted kale & peach salad

We sampled simple goat cheese croquettes with membrillo marmalade. Fried cheese with fruit spread is a no brainer and these little orbs served as a nice segue to the heavier dishes that followed.

Goat cheese croquettes

I’m talking about this masterpiece, the name of which made it an insta-order for me…duck & waffle, uh yes please. The fluffy waffle gets topped with duck leg confit and is then draped with startlingly bright fried duck egg. A mustard maple sauce added a sweet component to offset the richness of the duck and egg combo. Once pieced, the yolk creates a slurry with the syrup that is quickly absorbed into the waffle below, allowing the flavors to be enjoyed in perfect balance.

Duck & waffle

The bone marrow was another unanimous choice for my wife and I. A hearty veal cheek marmalade crowned each of the substantial leg bones. Another winner, this delivered a tongue coating flavor that satisfied our craving for meat.

Bone marrow with veal cheek marmalade

In between dishes, we happily noshed on a bowl of fried pig ears with BBQ spice. An unexpected favorite of my wife, these were packed up and brought home to continue the snacking session later that evening.

Pig ear with BBQ spice

I can always tell when I’ve found a great place, because my wife will suggest dessert, even after a procession of dishes like this. Of the half-dozen sweets on offer, the lemon pot de creme was the most enticing with its blueberry compote and brûléed peak. 

 Lemon pot de creme with blueberries & pie crust

The menu is so chock full of foodie buzzwords it can be difficult to cull down your choices. A few we had to pass on included pan seared foie gras, crispy pork belly, wagyu sliders with quail egg, five spice & honey spare ribs, rabbit paella, beef tongue carpaccio and that’s only a few. Sugarcane thoroughly impressed, more with impeccable execution than trendy ingredients. The Samba group landed a great talent in Chef Balloo, who has elevated my opinion of what can be accomplished in the manufactured “village” setting. 

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill on Urbanspoon

St. Petersburg Food Bonanza

•February 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’ve recently been tasked with some work that requires some traveling for the next 3 months or so. Sadly it’s meant that the lights at Eat a Duck world headquarters have been off for much of the past month. However, traveling means new restaurants, and as I’ve a moment to catch up on my latest food-ventures, I thought I’d share.

St. Logansburg

My first assignment was in St. Petersburg, a city I’ve come to love over the years due to constant trips back and forth from home to concerts. As food goes, ten years ago, downtown St. Petersburg could have been the inspirational backdrop for Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, a desolate wasteland. You had bars and concert venues, the occasional jerk chicken shack and not much else. After I got married, my wife and I developed a mutual love of the local baseball team. We searched for places to eat before the game, but it was an ordeal to find those great local places back then, as we had only word of mouth from friends and associates to rely on.

Nowadays complete strangers are more than willing to give you insight into just about every dining room, hot dog-cart, or kitchen that exists. From those strangers I’ve conversed with over the most years, some of them have actually become great friends. I give my most heartfelt gesture of respect to these new friends I’ve met along my journey, with a goal to eat the best that I can, every single day. Of course there’s James (my bro and co-conspirator), always spit balling with me about anywhere either of us eat. It’s less a question of needing the approval of the other to eat at any place in particular, and more of a desire for that stamp or blessing from a trusted friend that good eats are ahead.

To Mr. Jeff Houck of Tampa Tribune fame, who is a walking Gastropedia, as well as Todd Sturtz, who proves every week, that he can out do any of us when it comes spending one’s per diem.  For me though, on this trip, I have to tip my pickled daikon filled hat to Ms. Marissa Nguyen, a true ambassador to the greater St. Pete food scene. I felt bad, but almost everyday she would get a message, asking where I’d be going for lunch? With her recommendations in hand, I ended up eating my way through her stomping grounds, 4 out of 5 days. That’s why we’re better for wear when it comes to technological advancement. I probably would never have discovered all the fantastic places in neighborhoods like as Pinellas Park and off everything off 4th st, as those areas have just never pinged on my radar.

How about some food?

The banh mi stands alone at the top of my sandwich pantheon. When you get a great baguette, fresh herbs and pickled vegetables with some sort of fabulous pork product, well, things don’t get much better. You’ll end up feeling like King Friday XIII or Queen Sara Saturday living in the magical world of make-believe.

Banh Mi Neighbor small

Here are three banh mi’s, so tasty they’d make Mr. Rogers slap his Viet-ma-knees! I ate four banh mi from three different places on my lunch breaks, each one having a distinct personality that made me love em all.

Banh Mi Trio

This first one is the special banh mi from Season’s Café & Bakery. Tightly packed and full of sliced pork, pork skin and a smear of paté.

Second,  the meatball sub from Saigon Sandwich. I was hesitant about this one since I hadn’t received much feedback and the place was empty. I’m happy to report that the meatballs had great texture and the generous amount of mayo was sweet and lemony which helped soften the interior of the bun.

I tried going to Thuy Café on Wednesday but they were closed. Timing was off until my last day when I got this lemongrass and grilled beef beauty. The bread here was superior. However, each banh mi offered distinct qualities worth going back for. On my way out of Thuy Café, I stopped in the market next door for a drink. What I found was a lesson in marketing with the most amazing impulse buys laid out for the taking. BBQ pork soft baked buns and shrimp sui mai sitting at the register as I made my purchase. At just a buck, I couldn’t pass up that deal son.

Impulse Dim Sum

Sandwiches are well represented in St. Petersburg. Although I didn’t photograph everything, it’s worth mentioning the many bread encapsulated lunches, from the imposing hunk of burger at El Cap, to the Bones Brigade meets haute cuisine manner Z Grille presents their unreal burger, to a possible top 5 best cuban sangwich ever had at Bodega on Central.

Everyone has that one place to get a classic burger, where they’ve been making it the same way for decades. It’ll never let you down and will always amaze. If you don’t have that, move. El Cap, St Petersburg’s version. Get it all the way for a perfect condiment conglomerate.

El Cap & Z Grille Burgers

Z Grille was my first dinner as it was highly recommended. My buddy Todd even decided to meet me for this one. I think he tried to kill me, because our choices were anything but light fare. We started with sweet and tender, leperous-like Dr. Pepper ribs. I say that because the meat was cooked so exquisitely, that it fell right off the bone. The name got me immediately as I’m a huge fan of any soda boasting 23 unique flavors. They were better than I could have dreamed. We followed that by a couple of entreés, that of sage and cornflake crusted chicken and waffles and Chef Zack’s attempt to kill a couple of Tampa food stalwarts in one fell swoop, by way of house ground steak burger. The chicken and waffles were great on their own, as they remained crispy throughout the meal, even after been drenched in a fantastic peppercorn infused maple syrup. The syrup initiated the most conversation, as it was thought provokingly floral as syrups go. The burger, on the other hand, hit us like a Peterbilt. It’s not enough that they make it using fresh ground ribeye and brisket, or that there’s a plank of Neuske’s bacon and house roasted garlicky tomatoes topping it off. Ordering it “Z style” will also afford you the opportunity to add a slab of pork belly, an over easy egg, as well as a nice seared piece of foie gras. Oh and they serve it with a side of truffle frites.

Z Grille Spread

The next meal was at Nitally’s. I’d heard this was a must try from multiple friends. If you love food with spice, I think you’ll meet your true love, as Nitally’s mashes up the cuisine of Mexico and Thailand in a way I’ve never seen before. The menu is vast and I was mentally exhausted after working extremely long hours. I put the decision in the hands of my waitress. You should only do this if you trust them implicitly…or if you’re just too wiped out to read the menu. A good measuring stick is to ask them what they like to eat. If the response is lightning quick, you’d do well to heed their recommendation. If you hear a lot of ums and uhs, it probably means that A. They don’t eat there much, or B. The food sucks. I was treated to a whirlwind of geographic cuisines as she brought me Mexican baos filled with grilled pork, with an abstract slathering of sweet and hot sauces. My main course was red curry pad Thai. More of an ode to Southeast Asian, however I didn’t care where the food came from at that point, just as long as it blew my mind. The heat from the chiles made me sweat and I was only halfway though the plate, but the flavor kept me coming back for more.

Nitally's Spread

My last dinner was at La V. It might have been the most modernized Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever been to. It was a nice change of pace to what we’re used to, as I felt more relaxed in this setting. At least for me, Vietnamese food is set aside for a hurried day time meal with no fuss, it’s get in and get out!! With La V, I was more inclined take my time. The wife made the trip for this one, so we agreed this was going to be the place for us. She ordered the lemongrass bùn, and proceeded to devour it so quickly I failed to get a shot! We shared the garlic and sweet chili wings, which our host basically insisted we order. He was right, they ruled. Me and the little guy shared a fajita-like seared filet  with mushrooms and onions. This five year old is a definitely a steak snob, as nothing but filet will do. I wonder who he got that from? Couldn’t be his dad, as I will eat any part of the cow set aside for legal consumption in the state of Florida. These were fine dishes and a pleasant departure from the norm, with a touch of elegance. Looking back, dang I ate a ton of cilantro..

La V Spread

Honestly, almost every place I went last week deserves a full-blown slow clap review, picking all the finest points about why we should all be eating there now. Nitally’s is going to get that somewhere down the line, the same goes for Z grille. As always, every restaurant that graces the pages of Eat a Duck is approved for your future consideration. Be on the look out for more of my travels as I go all over the west coast this spring! If you’re interested, come out and meet me one night so I’m not so lonely. If you have a place in mind that I missed, let me know and I promise to hit it up!

2013 Eat a Duck Food Crawl – Tampa Edition

•January 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Everyone has their own special way to wave goodbye to the past 12 months. Fireworks, champagne, kisses with strangers. Here at Eat a Duck, as you’d expect, our farewell involves food…and lots of it. Logan and I had been stewing over embarking on a food crawl for some time, and seeing 2013 out with a feasting trip seemed like a perfect fit. Todd from Tasting Tampa and his lady friend were kind enough to join us, rounding out a foursome with the ability and appetite to conquer the larder of any given municipality.

Food Crawl

Naturally, as we were in Central Florida, we had a choice of Orlando or Tampa. We went with the latter and in our best Lemmy impression, we played it fast and loose, adding and substituting eateries on the fly, the final lineup is seen below.

2013 Food Crawl Lineup

Eight restaurants are no laughing matter. With this many places, one must pace themselves or run the risk of hitting a wall long before you reach the end, which in our case, would have been a tragedy. We made our rendezvous with Todd at our first stop, Yummy House. We had sampled the dinner menu on Christmas day, but today it was all about dim sum. Pork and ginger dumplings, pork siu mai, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and fried calamari in their famous salt and pepper preparation. I’m cautiously confident in stating that this dim sum is the best in Central Florida. The only thing to keep it from knocking Ming’s off its throne is the lack variety on the menu.

Yummy House Spread

It took everything I had not to overdo it here as I was famished, but we had a long road ahead of us. So I laid my chopsticks down and hopped in the car for our second stop, Cigar City Brewery. Both Logan and I had decided not to spend any of our crawl money on alcohol, but the call of a hoppy IPA was too much for my colleague. For eats, we kept it light with a small bowl of duroc pork chicharrones with mojo salt and lime. It was a perfect intermission to get us ready for our stop number three…

CCB Chicharrones

Woodfired Pizza. As is usually the case in the Tampa area, Todd was received like a conquering king, this time by a wise looking pizzaiolo working a smoking wood oven. Introductions were made and we were granted a VH1 style story from the owner himself, Peter Taylor, of his decades long quest to make (not bake!) the perfect pizza. Needless to say, we were anxious to get a taste. Todd took the lead and ordered two “must have” pizzas, the Pistachio and the Dante. The former came with pistachios, fresh mozzarella, raw red onion, olive oil, pecorino romano, rosemary and organic herbs. This was by far the most aromatic pizza we had ever sampled. The pistachio and herb mixture made a sort of pesto that filled your nose with an earthy aroma. Subtle and creamy with a slightly sweet crust as a compliment. The Dante on the other hand was bold, with its sriracha spiked tomato sauce. Smooth ricotta managed to shine through the heat and served to balance the dish. Sliced meatballs and grated Dante cheese rounded it out. We unanimously agreed it was the best pizza we had all had in a while.

Woodfire Pizza Spread

After a bit of a drive, we landed at stop 4, Anise Global Gastrobar. Logan has sung the praises of this eclectic temple of food before, so I had taken this opportunity to try it for myself. Half a dozen oysters with hibiscus mignonette got us started. Crisp, clean and tender, they were a perfect appetizer for the stinky bunz that followed. The Eat a Duck boys covered four out of five of the bunz, Chinese BBQ pork, beer battered shrimp, red curried crispy chicken and braised pork belly. After a bit of each I was sold. They more than lived up to Logan’s praises. I was sad to leave without being able to sample more of the menu. The food crawl giveth and the food crawl taketh away, we had to continue!

Anise Spread

Not far from Anise, we arrived at our fifth stop, Pané Rustica. Lo and behold, Todd spotted a couple more friends and lovers of food. After little coaxing, we managed to detour them from their plans in favor of joining us on the rest of our crawl, but not before we each devoured a quarter of a two storey burger topped with ham and cheese.

Pané Rustica Burger

No building sized sandwich was going to slow us down. Élevage was our sixth stop, and I had high expectations following Logan’s recent post. We set up shop in the bar, just outside the main dining room. The menu in the bar was only a fraction of what Élevage has to offer, but in the name of efficiency we ordered the first three items the group agreed on. Deviled eggs with blackened blue crab, escargots parmesan and reuben beef tartare with comte, 1000 island, brussels kraut and rye bread. Surprisingly, these three items were underwhelming. The deviled eggs were a tasty but hardly eye-opening. Sadly the flavor of the escargots was lost beneath the layer of cheese and tomato sauce and the beef “tartare” was cooked all the way through. From what I read about this place in Logan’s post, Élevage is set to be a food destination for any serious eater in the country. However the lounge menu needs some work to say the least. The items sound amazing, but the execution leaves much to be desired. In any case, I’m in no way writing it off as every new venture needs time to work out the kinks. Onwards and upwards stop seven…

Élevage Spread

Sidebern’s. Anyone with an appreciation for food in Central Florida has been here, so we knew what was in store. We wasted no time and ordered up a pile of moules frites, duck rillettes, oysters, a stack of fresh ham with stone ground mustard and a couple of beautiful scallops with a striking herb pesto. Each item was executed to perfection. Fresh mussels bathed in a broth that could satisfy the strongest hunger all on its own. Moist duck settled in a layer of fat coated the tongue, only to be cut by the clean flavor of the oysters. This is what the folks running the Bern’s empire are truly capable of once they get in the zone.

Sideberns Spread

Seven restaurants down and we were still going strong, our stomachs hadn’t betrayed us yet as we steeled ourselves for the eighth and final stop, Rooster and the Till. In hindsight, the place that excited me most. The entire restaurant is the size of a large living room. The kitchen resides just behind the bar, so everything is on display. The chef and his minions, armed only with three hot plates and a meticulously prepared mise en place, were pumping out food to the crowded room at an impressive pace. Even more impressive is that the menu changes with the wind, so don’t expect to find everything we did on your own visit. We had to wait about 30 minutes, but once we took our places at the bar, we were rewarded with truly inspired food for Tampa, or anywhere for that matter. Lamb heart tartare with a golden duck yolk was outstanding. Raw littleneck clams with pickled radish and grapefruit was addictive. Pork belly with cornbread and pickled apple with peppercorn honey showcased genius flavor combinations. Cauliflower in brown butter with pickled raisins and braised turnip with white beans and pickled celery in a pork fat vinaigrette wowed even this staunch veggie hater. Dessert was a pear and cranberry parfait with granola and homemade whipped cream. Rooster and the Till has the hunger and passion of a newly formed band looking for a label. I hope they hold tight to that hunger in the years to come as I plan on becoming a regular so as not to miss a single dish.

Rooster & the Till Spread

The first ever Eat a Duck food crawl was more than successful, starting with an explosion of salt and pepper and ending with a lamb heart attack. This could very well turn into a tradition, so keep your eyes and ears open this year for more Eat a Duck crawls, we’d love to bring some of our readers along on our next adventure!

Élevage at the Epicurean (Sneak Peek) – Tampa, FL

•December 20, 2013 • 3 Comments

When you think of Bern’s steakhouse what comes to mind? Not much comes to mine, as I’m forced to live vicariously through the myriad fables and tall tales told to me by friends, who relish in rubbing salted butter in my wounds. You might consider this is sacrilegious, considering I claim to be a food and resto lover. Yet, facts are fact, and the fact is, I have never been to the place that has built an empire serving some of the finest beef and wine combinations available in the Western Hemisphere. I got no excuses. Yes, Bern’s is fine dining on the highest level. That hasn’t stopped me from unloading way more money than I should at other places. I’m ashamed.

As reconciliation, allow me to share a sneak peek of what’s coming next from the people who also brought you Sideburns. If Bern’s is the personification of classic cuisine, Sideburns should be known as Xanadu, the restaurant of the future! And the mesh that binds these two vastly different approaches? Elevage, a concept housed inside the newest venture from the Bern’s constituency, a boutique hotel known as The Epicurean.

Logo

It has been some time since I was blessed with an insiders look at what to expect from Elevage, as Sideburns boarded itself up one week in Mid-October, to focus on their soon to be newborn creation.

I refer you to read my friend Jeff Houck’s more in-depth coverage of Elevage, where he describes it as “classic American comfort food with a fine-dining touch.” I wholeheartedly agree with Mr Houck’s description. You want to know where Bern’s and its neighbor to the side meet and give the everyman a chance to partake? It’s at Elevage. From what I saw of the sampling, there will be nothing overly stuffy or excessively avant-garde about the dining experience. Here’s exactly what to expect broken down to its most cellular level. Picture the dish your mom made for dinner growing up, or if you have a little age on you think about every clichéd restaurant food from the 50’s and 60’s. Do you have it yet? Did your mom not cook for you as a child? You didn’t ever go out to eat? Oh, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t aware. How inconsiderate of me. For everyone else, I’m sure you’ve pictured a dish or two that fulfills these criteria. Maybe you live too far away and you don’t get that home cooking from mom anymore, or forgot that duck a l’orange was the ramen burger of the Mid-20th Century.

With dishes like Quail Cordon Bleu, flounder almondine stuffed with rock shrimp and black garlic aioli, and foie gras matzo ball soup, you’d think you’ve stepped into some alternate reality, where Ozzie and Harriet are next door neighbors with John and Sarah Conner, who live across the street from the Jetsons.

I love classics done right. I adore the idea of the figurative elevation of traditional cuisine, done in a setting that doesn’t include a TV tray. Elevage has proved its worth before the doors have even opened for business, before the first reservation has been honored. To forecast more of what the diner has in store, I see nostalgia playing a big part in their success. To be taken back to a place and time with food as the sole teleportation device, a place that can only exist in one’s mind, is a pretty exciting notion.

Like I told Mr. Houck when he queried about my expectations, I said, “I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. I expected it to be amazing, and they exceeded that.” I urge you to check out his story where he delves into some of the more enticing homages Elevage will be offering, including my warped, nay distorted, albeit delicious choice for dessert.

In the meantime take a look at some of the dishes made available to us at the pop-up hosted by Sideburns. Special thanks to Thai Vo, who shared some of the better pictures below, as many of mine were sub-par.

Elevage Sneek Peek

Elevage on Urbanspoon

I WANNA WOK – Tampa, FL

•December 5, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I awoke one morning not so long ago with my first cold of the season. I felt the aches pulsing through my joints, and a flop sweat that had not occurred since my last blissful sandwich binge at Dochos Concessions, sadly this time, no sandwiches were involved. The thing about my profession is, you always come to work. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a lovely case of hemoptysis and your eyes are glazed over like crullers. It’s a blessing and a curse. Your co-workers begin to despise you for coming in looking like its been 28 days later. Yet, still we all push on.

“So”, you may wonder, “what do you turn to for comfort when you’ve reached the point of full communicable exposure?” I think we all agree that there are certain things that make all of us feel better, or at least forget how bad we feel for a fleeting moment in time.

For me, it must be something from my adopted relatives to the east. Just about anything from Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Taiwanese or any combination therein, done properly of course, will do the trick. Now you probably haven’t heard me say this, but I did a rant on Asian fusion a while back, and while I won’t necessarily retract my hatred full hodgepodging cuisine to excess, I will say this; there’s actually a few restaurants in the Florida food scene doing yeoman’s work. For example Anise Global Gastrobar in Tampa, Hawkers Asian street fare in Orlando, and Pubbelly in Miami.

I Wanna Wok truck

There happens to be a newcomer over in Tampa starting to build up a rolling boil with enough power from the rock gods to steam balls of flour and water into delightful buns with extraordinary flavor. They call themselves I WANNA WOK, a clever name that matches the cute but deadly logo on the side of their truck,  a cross between the comforting fluffiness of panda and the braggadocious spirit of Paul Stanley’s Starman.

All the food items are nods to genres or icons of music. For example a recent weekly special was called the Beasty Boygah, which in my head was half Beef Bulgogi, half Big Mac and half Philly cheese steak.

But I needed spice, and I craved Bao. If I had to specify what I Wanna Wok did best, it would be the Bao selection. This is where the pan-Asian part comes in. Every Bao is like traveling to a different country.

Headbanger's Bao, Piggy Marley & Motley Cue

Piggy Marley with char siu style pork belly, pickled radish, cilantro and crushed peanuts was like stepping into a Taipai night market. While the Motley Cue livened up my dulled sense with thoughts of Korean BBQ, as it had been stuffed with charred pork and kimchi. Finally on my tour of Bao, the most surprising of all was the Headbanger’s Bao. Not only did it bring me back to when I used to listen to Use Your Illusion parts 1&2 in class in 1992, but it was great execution of what many a heartless chain restaurant tries to accomplish, yet fails miserably. This might sound crazy, however they actually fried shrimp, tossed it in a sweet and spicy sauce, then allowed the shrimp to remain intact and crispy, while ram jamming a crunchy pungent slaw in as an accompanying gesture.

I Wanna Wok Bao

I was so happy to hear that I Wanna Wok has burst on to the food truck scene in the Bay area, as it is the best place for them to blossom seeing that Tampa was voted the second best city to start a mobile food business. I am even happier that they’re part of the rotating lineup that park at the Tampa Airport cell phone lot, as I can literally see them arrive from my office window. They had the chance to hit up the Downtown Lakeland Food truck rally for the first time last month, and completely threw the good people of Lakeland’s taste buds into the Iron Maiden. Sorry, I couldn’t think of a Little River Band connection that fit.

I don’t want to wait to get sick before I sample more Bao, but if that’s what it takes, I’ll be licking petri dishes infected with mitochondrion spores  for the time being.

I Wanna Wok on Urbanspoon

Kaisen – Tampa, FL

•November 21, 2013 • 3 Comments

Eating sushi is like going to war. It’s an all out, tactical assault on the senses. It will have you guessing with every bite.While you’re trying to decide what exactly you’re actually eating. Sushi builds a stronghold around your taste buds, driving out blandness, leaving you teetering on the brink of total flavor annihilation.  Sushi is not weak. You’re weak! You not say sushi weak!

Sadly, I’d venture to say that 90% of the sushi I’ve had would not be considered good to the rest of the world. It’s a danger you face with any cuisine, if it falls into the wrong hands, it becomes a joke. That’s why we search out these places. So you don’t have to eat cold garbage fish. This latest joint required no effort on my part, as my food loving friend Todd Sturtz from Tasting Tampa basically provides a constant stream of food porn, flooding every social media outlet. So it was my turn to sink into the den of Kaisen.

kaisenfish

Sometimes you just have a feeling about a place, you know it’s going to impress. When a reputation of such quality and tastiness precedes it, you can help but have the highest of expectations. My counterpart Todd, who based on his photo album of Kaisen shots has been at least 20 times, swore on a stack of foie gras terrine that he had yet to even open the menu. The omakase, or chef’s tasting meal, is simply too good and too random to pass up. Especially for people who will literally eat anything. Natto nachos anyone? They ask you how much you want to spend and then tailor the menu accordingly. Todd informed me that you’ll be fattened up long before they break your bank. Twenty-five to thirty dollars per person is a fair price. You’d spend $60-$75 elsewhere and leave questioning your own infatuation with fish.

Here’s the rundown of my first jaunt.

Fried grouper cheeks. Awesome is the word that comes to mind for a batter that finished slightly biscuity, like you just drank a weiss beer. Succulent fish, wonderfully crispy, swimming in a pool of bright, lime tinged ponzu. Sunomono. chiffonade red snapper, yellowtail, octopus. The fish was mild and reminiscent of ceviche from the pungent acidic pool. A heavy, yet almost floral vinaigrette settled on the bottom of the bowl. The octopus preparation was most impressive, as the chef manipulated the tentacles to keep them from a inheriting the texture of a kickball.

Grouper Cheeks

Sushi.
Enoki and salmon roe. I’m not normally a roe guy, but my dining companion was going on and on about some of his favorite roe based adventures. I was on the verge of suing him in the landmark case of Roe vs Wade: Return Of Equity. In which Dwanye Wade staves off a marauding band of fully ripened salmon eggs. It made me get happy about one of my least favorite foods. Maybe it’s because they paired the gigantic orange globes with meaty roasted mushrooms that caused my tune of lukewarm reverence to adjust, ever so slightly toward roe. From the sheer length of this piece I knew it was a two biter. On my first attempt, I didn’t get any ikura. Maybe it was a psychological battle waged by my subconscious to reject what it perceived to be offensive. This approach gave me a great opportunity to get my first taste of Kaisen’s rice. I could decipher every single grain of rice because it was cooked and then cooled in the most amazing way. I noted that touch of rice wine vinegar, which is always warranted. Then the next bite came and my mouth was engulfed in a combo platter of meatiness and sea breeze. A thinkers version of surf and turf. The salmon roe burst and a wave of calm came across me as I was surprised how well it all went together.

Albacore, Enoki, Flounder

Next, albacore tuna that practically melted from the warmth of my fingertips and completely disintegrated in my mouth. Flounder, but not the normal sliced filets. The little squiggly side part that it swims with. Sweet like candied rain. Salt cured egg salmon, marinated ahi, and unadulterated uni came into our field of vision as the plates cleared out a spot at the bar. I found the egg salmon along with its day old salt cure my most treasured dish at this lunch date. You take one really amazing piece of fish encased in salt. Let it sit for a day. That’s it. It’s simple but perfect. You think you know, but you have no idea. This is the Diary of Egg Salmon.

Egg Salmon, Ahi, Uni

Dessert?..Tonymaki chopped smoked mackerel, scallion, toasted sesame.

When Todd asked if he would make him a Tonymaki, I had no idea what that was all about, since this Tony fellow replied “you want a Tony maki?” Obviously wasn’t even sure myself since I didn’t even get to open a menu. So Tony gets a twinkle in his eye and looks at the ceiling for a split second. Then snaps out of it and says he has an idea. Grabs two small filets of unspecified fish, then walks to the kitchen. I’ve seen that look. I’ve had that look. It’s the look someone gets when they are about to make something out of nothing. When the plan is, there is no plan but to create. Last time I had that look, I made the best pie I’ve ever created, it was an amazing feeling. I can’t imagine how much joy it must bring the chefs at Kaisen to have two gaijin give them free rein. Sadly, you still see mango tango mumbo jumbo rolls flying out of sushi bars. I don’t think we will ever see the demise of some of these ridiculous maki, until we can come to terms with an appreciation of fish in its most natural and best tasting form, with as little manipulation as possible. It would take a culture-wide lobotomy to accomplish.

Kaisen puts all sushi in Tampa to shame, stacking up to some of the best I’ve had in large market cities. I’d venture to say it easily cracked my top 5, and that’s just after one visit. In the meantime my buddies are snapping away, posting pics from Kaisen as I type. Don’t eat it all, I’m on my way!

Kaisen Sushi on Urbanspoon

Piquant – Tampa, FL

•November 2, 2013 • 3 Comments

As I stood, hunkered down under a small awning, the rain began to sway horizontally, denying me any chance of staying dry. Impatiently, I kept hoping for those doors to open, as I yearned for the privilege of being first in line, to get the pick of the litter.

The rain fell harder. I then attempted to secure a better spot to hide more successfully than the last, behind a small wall, intermittently coexisting with the glass windows that wrapped around the entire façade.

piquant-logo

When the doors opened promptly at 8:00 A.M. the host jumped back a bit, as did I when I heard the door abruptly cause a loud clang. She didn’t know I was there, I am certain.

Piquant display

Before I could speak she inquired as to my intentions. You see Piquant is known for selling out of a particular item everyday almost instantly at 8 am. I am allowed to say the formula for creation they’ve figured out is the illustrious cronut. They however do not, as the original idea has since been trademarked by its celebrity pastry chef. If you find yourself searching in their display case, just look for a scientifically rule bending crown of pastry. Do not be intimidated by the height of each individual cronut. Although on the outside they kinda look like puffed up hockey pucks, you will find on the inside hundreds of layers butter, pastry and air. They are as light and as sweet dream creating as a Sobakawa pillow. Piquant offers a cavalcade of rotating flavors from a basic plain, which should be the first choice if this your maiden voyage, to a fantastically compatible vanilla creme filling which adds depth, but thankfully not too much sweetness. As the quarter Cuban that I am, I’m always magnetized to anything guava related. Their guava cronut is reminiscent of the best guava turnover you might find down in Little Havana

Guava Cronut Piquant cronut display

Not to go unnoticed, I sampled an individually sized brioche-like muffin thing that housed a sugar cube, which melted quite nicely into the dough. Try one of those too!! We also enjoyed a cinnamon roll that my brother deemed the best he’d ever eaten. He said it wasn’t what he expected, as it had a touch of golden raisin purée or maybe some crushed baked apples that mingled with the gooey cinnamon sugar swirls. I had just a small bite but wouldn’t disagree with his opinion. It was indisputably a special cinnamon roll. One which I could only compare to Dough’s stellar version, or if you happen to a child of the 90′s, a certain Buddy’s Bunz that might hold a special place in your heart.

Cinnamon roll

As I was handed my order, a thought crossed my mind. On a whim I ask if they had any baguettes. There were none on display. My host said that one could be baked on command if I was willing to wait ten minutes. I obliged and ten minutes later, a hot, toasty, crisp skinny baguette was presented. How sweet was that? I don’t deserve this kind of specialized service, but I get the feeling they treat all their customers this way.

Assorted cronuts

Piquant is a full service restaurant with quite possibly the best selection of French pastry and bread in the area. I have failed to enjoy an actual meal though, and struggled contemplating if Eat a Duck should only speak of one specific menu item. I’d have to say the sweets merit a whole bunch of words all on their own. See above for such words.

Piquant on Urbanspoon

 
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