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Reviews: Doc B's, Rise Pies, YO! Sushi and TAPS come to International Plaza

TAMPA

The term "hangry" has gone mainstream, and nothing makes one hangrier than several hours of shuffling around Sharper Image and Bath & Body Works trying to find something, anything, to finish off your holiday shopping list. You can grab an Auntie Anne's pretzel and keep schlepping, or you could take a pause and eat a real meal.

If you're at International Plaza in Tampa, which continues to be the area's "destination" mall, there are lots of options along Bay Street, the vaguely Caribbean-themed pedestrian promenade lined with restaurants and bars. Like the stores, dining options at the shopping center are an ever-evolving lot of chains, independents, food court quickies and destination restaurants. Here's what's new.

Frequent I.P. shoppers will have watched Doc B's Fresh Kitchen go up over the past few months in the Gallery Eclectic Bistro space on Bay Street. The finished restaurant, opened just in time for December holiday madness, is handsome and contemporary in design, with enormous slabs of white Carrera marble on the walls and wide windows overlooking a broad patio and the pedestrian hubbub beyond. The concept, the brainchild of Chicago native Craig Bernstein, is the third of its kind and the first outside of the Windy City. A Fort Lauderdale location will open next year.

So what is it precisely? It's heathy New American fare. There are grilled California artichokes ($13) that make a great shared finger food, a Brussels sprouts salad with kale and marcona almonds ($12) and "wok out" bowls with brown sticky rice and tofu ($13). But wait a second, it's also sinfully, comforting unhealthy food as well: fried chicken ($21) and fat burgers ($11-$15) and retro lobster Louie ($23) slathered in tangy-sweet Thousand Island. Bernstein describes it as a yin-yang approach, harkening back to his dad, Doc B's, mantra: everything in moderation.

With a thoughtful wine and beer lineup, it's stylish enough for date night but definitely family-friendly (so, squarely between Cheesecake Factory and Capital Grille), with the kind of menu that merits no vetoes. Vegetarians will find something ("The Plate" is actually a nicely conceived veg plate with hot and cold grains, salads and sauteed veggies; $15), as will traditionalists (solid steak frites, $26, but its chimichurri packs a garlic wallop) and those trying to watch the calories (quinoa salad gets a lift from a frizzle of crispy leeks, mint and feta; $13). I wouldn't say it brings something entirely new to the center, but it feels contemporary enough that shoppers seem already to have embraced it.

Dinner dishes $12-$29; hours 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and until 9 p.m. Sunday; (813) 498-6200.

On the other hand, the award for the most dining hilarity at International right now goes to YO! Sushi, which opened in the mall's Grand Court right around Halloween. All bright orange and lime green and hard edges, this is a visual feast, the central focus a 203-foot-long conveyor belt that meanders around the room loaded with sushi and other goodies. There are 89 of these conveyor-belt sushi bars worldwide and this is the third U.S. location.

Take a seat and start watching the sushi and hot-food chefs getting busy. Like the look of that kimchi salmon steamed bun? The chef places it on the conveyor belt. But there's this to consider: There are two tracks, one headed in each direction, so you've got to chart that bun's progress as it makes its way around the room — every dish contained in a color-coded plastic bubble like an armada of tidy little spaceships — maintaining contact like a futuristic air-traffic controller until it slides past your table.

I've visited a couple of times, learning quickly to fly fast and loose with the green pods ($3), blue ones ($3.50) and purple ones ($4), but to be more circumspect when considering dishes clad in gray plastic ($6) or yellow ($7). At meal's end your server will stack up your empties and get busy with the addition. In short, it's a hoot, many of the rolls and dishes like chicken yakisoba ($4.50) or veggie gyoza ($3.50) about as tasty as your favorite neighborhood sushi joint, things moving swiftly enough that the cold dishes remain cold and the hot dishes hot (although condensation sometimes makes a pod's contents tricky to deduce).

A concept that started in London in 1997, it's lively and kid-friendly with a mix of counter stools and booths, so it's comfortable for a range of party sizes. (Even solo dining here is fun.) Despite a serious stack of empties (best dish: eggplant salad in a thin, soy-inflected sauce), I couldn't manage to break the $70 mark.

Lower level near Dillard's; dishes $3-$7; hours 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; (813) 569-7970.

Opened at the beginning of July, TAPS brings a French brasserie-inspired hot spot to the mall with its new location on Bay Street next to Capital Grille. Owner James DeVito has had a restaurant of the same name in downtown Tampa for seven years, next to what is now Anise Global Gastrobar (where DeVito once had the excellent RawBar), and has had several others around the state in Winter Park, Naples and Fort Lauderdale (now sold).

Combining a former Starbucks and a macaron shop into a single space, the new TAPS has a much larger kitchen than the downtown location, and thus the menu is dramatically expanded. It doesn't hew to traditional French brasserie fare, but chef Jason Dame (Datz, Café Dufrain) keeps things lively with a menu that zigzags from Irish nachos ($14) to a taco trio ($12, best one: short rib). As the name implies, this is a beer-forward establishment with an exemplary lineup of local and regional crafts that hover around $10; the wine list is more of an afterthought, but mixologist Vicente Lavayen's cocktails are stylish, with some smart barrel-aged options.

With live music regularly on the patio, TAPS can get a little zoo-ish late night (not Blue Martini zoo-ish, but still). For my money, I'd share a butcher board of cheese and charcuterie ($24), which heaps Iberico, sopressata, aged Gouda and other goodies, appropriately accessorized with crusty baguette, and then split a homey, seasonally appropriate bricked chicken ($18), a crispy-skinned breast set against lush Parmesan portobello risotto and crisp-tender asparagus. Which leaves you with a little room left over to finish the evening nursing an espresso barrel-aged old fashioned while watching the frazzled holiday shoppers rush by bickering about whether they got Aunt Gladys a Brookstone backscratcher last year.

Dishes $5-$29; hours 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and until midnight weekends; (813) 876-5100.

In June the food court nabbed another one, Rise Pies, this the third location for a quick-serve concept that started in 2013 in Boardman, Ohio, by Ed Muransky and his son, Eddie. They teamed up with an Ohio pizza heavy-hitter by the name of Vernon Cesta to tinker with customizable Neapolitan-style beauties that are ready in 160 seconds (that's a number that sounds just about right after a long day of holiday shopping). This is their first food court location, their others more freestanding ventures at the University Town Center in Sarasota and, the newest, at the Chicago Premium Outlets.

Order at the counter, choosing between white, wheat or gluten-free crust, all of them made in-house daily along with sauces like classic tomato, spicy tomato, pesto, garlic and olive oil, barbecue, Buffalo or balsamic glaze. You can choose your cheeses as well (mozzarella, ricotta, etc.) and then go down the line and pick your veggies and meats. There are 23 different topping choices, but don't get crazy — if you do, you're better off going "Big Ed," $9.75, which means unlimited toppings. Then they slide it in a 600-degree wood-fired oven and box each individual-sized pie for you to wander off and eat where you will.

Pies are ample for one hangry person or two just for a nosh, and the best toppings are the house meatballs, served slightly crushed on pies, or the tangy-spicy house banana peppers.

Pizzas $6.75-$9.75; hours 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; (813) 327-4704.

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

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International Plaza and Bay Street

2223 N West Shore Blvd., Tampa

Hours most days are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., some extended holiday hours

Reviews: Doc B's, Rise Pies, YO! Sushi and TAPS come to International Plaza 12/14/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 10:53am]
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