Make us your home page

Review: Kelp Sushi does to-go right


I'm just going to admit it flat out. Sometimes I pick up grocery store sushi for dinner. I'm not proud of the plastic clamshells lined with zigzag grass-green plastic fronds, or their spicy tuna rolls and blowsy tamago nigiri. It's about expedience. And also about something reasonably healthy that my people will eat. Also, about not cooking but being able to eat three minutes after I turn the car off.

In a number of cities around the world there are restaurants and kiosks that specialize in grab-and-go sushi: the conjoined chopsticks awaiting your liberating snap, tiny globs of wasabi already parsed into plastic ramekins. Tampa has lots of sushi restaurants that do takeout, but their primary business is dine-in. Wesley Chiu is doing something a little different with his new restaurant Kelp, opened in September.

Working with his parents at their Town 'N Country restaurant, Origami, for the past five years, he felt it was time for a second location. He felt South Tampa was missing something: good, quality sushi at a faster pace. He took over a former frozen yogurt spot behind Starbucks in Bay to Bay Plaza, hiring Lisa Gilmore Design to come up with a sleek, industrial-urban look that features a big, open kitchen.

In fact, the fledgling restaurant has only 10 seats inside. And on both my recent visits, these seats were largely taken up with folks awaiting their takeout orders. The staff is still familiarizing itself with the computer system, but once an order goes in, a small kitchen crew kicks into high gear. Of the 24 specialty rolls, many of them are cooked. To me, this seems a decision calculated to appeal to South Tampa families. Kids don't like raw fish? How about tempura-battered chicken breast tucked into a roll with some cuke and Sriracha? And vegetarians have options that are far from perfunctory: A "gold leaf" roll ($9.75) marries mango salsa, shredded carrot, spring mix and sesame seeds with a dab of Thai chili sauce in an appealing way.

Rolls have lyrical names drawn from natural phenomena. I'm not exactly sure what a broiled salmon and krab stick roll ($14.25) has to do with an "ice volcano", other than a juxtaposition of cold and hot, but its accessories of avocado, cuke, tempura flakes, red roe, sesame seeds and drizzles of spicy mayo and chili sauce are balanced and lively. This one looked a little messy in its plastic to-go tray, but the flavors were lovely.

Wholesome and satisfying miso soups ($2.95) get packaged up to thwart automotive mishaps, and side dishes such as seaweed salad ($5.95) and an unusual cold edamame salad ($4.95) with cabbage, cilantro, carrot and bell peppers make refreshing counterparts to the array of rolls.

Many rolls tip upward of $14, which is fairly expensive in this market. This means dinner for four can creep quickly toward triple digits. It will be interesting to see if South Tampa embraces these kinds of prices in what seems to be a prototype for an upscale to-go restaurant. Chiu clearly focuses on quality ingredients, often in interesting juxtapositions: The "rose cave" pairs tempura shrimp with raw tuna, avo, green onion, sweet eel sauce and a bit of kicky mayo ($13.75). No doubt, the flavors and textures of rolled-while-you-wait sushi are a quantum leap from the grocery deli case version, and the prices reflect that.

Laura Reiley can be reached at or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.


Kelp Sushi Joint

3401 W Bay to Bay Blvd., Tampa

(813) 831-2222;

Cuisine: Quick-serve sushi

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Details: AmEx, V, MC, Disc.; no reservations; no alcohol

Prices: $2.95 to $14.95

Rating out of four stars:

Food: ★★★ Service: ★★ Atmosphere: ★★

Overall: ★★ ½

Review: Kelp Sushi does to-go right 09/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 5:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Recipe for Nutty Quinoa Carbonara


    If you've never made carbonara, consider adding it to your weekday dinner lineup. It is a traditional Italian pasta dish in which eggs are mixed with cheese and then swirled into cooked pasta just before serving. The result is a luscious bowl of food you won't believe contains so few ingredients. This recipe swaps …

    Quinoa Carbonara. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times food editor.
  2. Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly talks family, songwriting and more before Tampa show

    Music & Concerts

    A while back at the Grammys, Charles Kelley found himself in the same room as Paul McCartney. The Lady Antebellum singer, a seven-time Grammy winner in his own right, couldn't work up the courage to say hello.

    Lady Antebellum perform at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson
  3. Taste test: new products including S'mores English Muffins, Town House crackers, Keebler Cereal with Real Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies and Birds Eye pasta

    Taste Test

    My summer memories always included being hungry. I'm pretty sure it was boredom, but it was always dangerous for my mom to bring me and my siblings along on a July grocery run. We would always reach for sugary cereals or salty snacks. Apparently, we weren't alone. The grocery store aisles are full of new snack offerings …

  4. Discovering the true meaning of Black Forest cake in the German region itself


    The first time I had a taste of the Black Forest, it wasn't by way of cake.

    Black Forest Cake in Germany was granted legally protected status in 2013. It must use the gateau’s original ingredients, including kirsch, a brandy made from fermented sour cherries from the region.
  5. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of July 24-30


    Tampa Bay Comic Con: The geek fest returns to the Tampa Convention Center from Friday-Sunday, bringing celebrity appearances including Val Kilmer (Batman Forever), Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek's Uhura), Kate Beckinsale and numerous comic book artists and writers. Also, comics, videos, toys, action …

    Shaun Audit poses for a photo at opening day of the 2015 Tampa Bay Comic Con at the Tampa Convention Center. (Friday, July 31, 2015.) [Photo Luis Santana | Times]