Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Dining

Restaurant review: Noble Rice is doing the most exciting izayaka dining in Tampa Bay

TAMPA

When Eric Fralick first fell in love with Japan, it was with anime and video games. It was much later that other kinds of love settled in.

He moved to the country for five years after college, living in the city of Shizuoka and in Tokyo and learning the allures of izakaya, the casual pub-style restaurants frequently equipped with picture menus and a communal small-plate approach. Back stateside, he met his wife Adriana, a Tampa native, in New York. Together they started an iced tea company called Sweet Dispositions (it's huge in Switzerland and Germany), and later began bottling their tea via a company in Dade City.

Fralick may not have had a rough time finding Japanese anime and video games in this country, but the Tampa Bay area was exceedingly lean on the kind of izakaya he had fallen in love with. And so Noble Rice was born in July in an old guitar shop on Platt Street.

What's interesting is that a number of other people had loosely the same good idea at the same time. Prior to 2016, Japanese food in these parts meant mostly sushi, often of the cream-cheese-and-extra-eel-sauce variety. Ichicoro shook things up in Seminole Heights and Buya Ramen in St. Petersburg and others followed.

Still, what Fralick is doing is a bit different from anything we've had around here. True World seafood is bringing him fish species straight from the Tsukiji fish market in Japan; he's getting Hawaiian fish from Hawaiian Fresh; and he's sourcing Ora King Salmon, a highly prized farmed fish, from New Zealand. In short, his fish is exceedingly good, flown in several times a week, offered in a range of pristine nigiri, sashimi, hosomaki (the traditional thin rolls), uramaki (the rolls with the rice on the outside) and temaki (cone-shaped hand rolls). There's an uni omakase, the sea urchin served three ways ($25), and specialty rolls that show a deft and nearly spare sensibility so the fish shines (the Tengo roll, $15, marries crab, scallop and scallion in a roll and tops it with shrimp).

But you'd be missing out if you hewed narrowly to the sushi menu alone. There's an extensive list of yakitori and kushiyaki, essentially little grilled nibbles. Chicken takes center stage in this lineup (thigh, tail, heart in two preparations), but my favorites included a grilled, scoopable avocado with a citrusy ponzu and swipe of wasabi ($5), a skewer of grilled shishito peppers glossed with a black pepper soy basting sauce ($3), and a couple medallions of super tender beef tenderloin topped with disks of black truffle and scallion compound butter ($8).

These are meant to be shared, chopsticks flashing in the charming small dining room (exposed brick, lots of reclaimed wood and rustic, unclothed wooden tables). There's a short beer and wine list, but sake is the bev of choice here, ranging from a clean, light Kirinzan classic ($15 per carafe) to a sweet and fruity Amabuki Junmai Ginjo Nama Strawberry ($70 for a big bottle).

Fortify yourself and keep going to the next page of the menu. The ramen options feature wavy noodles from Sun Noodle in New York and broths with real depth of flavor, the Noble version and shoyu (both $15) layering chicken broth with pork stock and soy tare. The most distinctive option is the Tan Tan Men ($16) with thicker temomi noodles in an intense chicken broth given a little kick of heat from hot chili paste and crowded with ground pork, bean sprouts, fermented bamboo shoots and green onion. A gorgeous bowl of soup.

An array of hot and cold small plates may complicate your decision making — although Noble Rice's small and fiercely enthusiastic staff knows this menu cold, so they can help. Cider-braised brussels sprouts ($10) are a revelation, as is the karaage ($10): spicy fried chicken, super crunchy, paired with a sweet sesame mayo (you can have this same chicken in a pair of pillowy buns with red-eye gravy and micro greens, $10).

Fralick, six foot four with salt and pepper hair, doesn't look much like Jiro Ono or other sushi masters, but in an unassuming space he's brought us some of the most exciting izakaya this area has yet seen.

Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.

     
Comments
Where to eat and drink around Safety Harbor: Gigglewaters bar, Parts of Paris, Sno Beach and more

Where to eat and drink around Safety Harbor: Gigglewaters bar, Parts of Paris, Sno Beach and more

Not that many years ago, downtown Safety Harbor was a little lean on places to eat. Green Springs Bistro had been an anchor, Whistle Stop and Cello’s Char House, too. But no one would have called it a dining destination. It was too bad: The city of 1...
Published: 07/18/18
Eat and drink your way through Tampa Heights with stops at Hall on Franklin, Armature Works and more

Eat and drink your way through Tampa Heights with stops at Hall on Franklin, Armature Works and more

Five or six years ago, if you were to stand on the steps of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and look north along the Hillsborough River, there wouldn’t be much to see. Just a couple of old warehouses and some rubble in the area ...
Published: 07/18/18
In South Tampa, create a dinearound with stops at Bern’s, Haven and the Epicurean Hotel

In South Tampa, create a dinearound with stops at Bern’s, Haven and the Epicurean Hotel

I had a specific vision for my 35th birthday.Relaxation mostly. Bathrobe. Wine. Maybe a massage or a pool. Food, food, food. A handful of close friends. I did some research at beach hotels in Clearwater and St. Pete Beach and found the price range ou...
Published: 07/18/18
Ybor City mainstay La Segunda opens second location, introduces seating

Ybor City mainstay La Segunda opens second location, introduces seating

TAMPA — It’s like stepping off Kennedy Boulevard right into Ybor City.From the exposed brick and wrought iron accents to the street lamp-styled globe lights hanging from the ceiling and the signage — blue and red divided by a ribbon of gold — the new...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Bowled over: From acai to poke, the top 10 bowls in Tampa Bay

Bowled over: From acai to poke, the top 10 bowls in Tampa Bay

Why, exactly, are bowls the new plates? The Wall Street Journal declared it so. Tableware companies like Fiesta have reported serious double-digit growth in the sale of bowls, salad bowls, cereal bowls, you name it. Fast-food restaurants have jumped...
Published: 07/17/18
This Florida burger joint is one of the 10 best in America, travel website says

This Florida burger joint is one of the 10 best in America, travel website says

A 2½-hour drive south could land Tampa residents at one of America’s best burger joints, according the review and travel website TripAdvisor.com.The website released a list of the "10 Most Delectable Burger Joints" in America on Wednesday, placing Na...
Published: 07/14/18
Friday is National French Fry Day. Find (free!) fries in Tampa Bay.

Friday is National French Fry Day. Find (free!) fries in Tampa Bay.

Guess what Friday is? It’s National Fry Day (#FRYdayThe13th, see what they did there?). Fun fact: Their origin story may not lie in France but in Belgium. So why do we credit France? Thomas Jefferson is said to have introduced deep-fried potatoes at ...
Published: 07/11/18
We got a preview of the food at Osteria, the new Tampa restaurant from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani

We got a preview of the food at Osteria, the new Tampa restaurant from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani

TAMPA — The evening began with chef Fabio Viviani telling the group to fork the fluffy coccoli in front of us, break it open then stuff it with the cold smoked prosciutto de Parma and stracchino cheese delicately laid out on wooden boards. "Stracchin...
Published: 07/10/18
Restaurant openings: The Donut Experiment, Oak and Stone, new offerings at Disney Springs

Restaurant openings: The Donut Experiment, Oak and Stone, new offerings at Disney Springs

NOW OPEN: DONUT EXPERIMENTDebbie Waldecker has just opened the Donut Experiment in Indian Shores. Things start with a fresh-made, warm cake doughnut and then you pick from a huge selection of icings and toppings. Yours can be as simple as plain or gl...
Published: 07/05/18
Updated: 07/06/18
Restaurant review: At the new Getaway in south St. Petersburg, you’re mostly paying for the tiki beach vibe

Restaurant review: At the new Getaway in south St. Petersburg, you’re mostly paying for the tiki beach vibe

ST. PETERSBURG - When the original Getaway opened in 2014 at the old Banana Boat spot, two huge-beamed open-sided tikis flanked by waterside tables, fire pits in the sand surrounded by low-slung Adirondack chairs, and a whole bunch of palm trees, the...
Updated one month ago