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Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic

Laura Reiley

Laura Reiley is the Tampa Bay Times' restaurant critic and a former critic for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Baltimore Sun. She is the author of four books in the Moon Handbook series: Florida Gulf Coast; Walt Disney World and Orlando; Tampa and St. Petersburg; and the Paradise Coast. She has cooked professionally and is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy.

Phone: (727) 892-2293


Twitter: @LReiley

  1. Local whiz's FusionPrep app helps restaurant kitchens nationwide

    Food & Dining

    Chon Nguyen, 32, was a veteran entrepreneur back in high school, fixing folks' printers and connecting peers' PlayStations. After graduation he founded three Tampa-based companies: Digital Aspire, AVIT and 212 Digital, the last of which developed an app called Fusionprep that now powers approximately 300 professional kitchens nationwide. Fusionprep is an iPad-based kitchen tool that helps restaurants go paperless and maintain consistency, with clients like PDQ, World of Beer, Tijuana Flats, Carmel Kitchen and Wine Bar, Lee Roy Selmon's, Rooster & the Till and Besito. We caught up with Nguyen, who grew up in Trinity and New Port Richey, to find out how Tampa Bay diners may benefit from his innovations....

    Chon Nguyen’s 212 Digital developed the app that’s used in about 300 professional kitchens nationwide.
  2. Review: Food quality high, prices low at Clearwater's Volcano Japanese Cuisine

    Food & Dining


    Ordinarily, a volcano roll is true to its name, more eruption than sushi, packed with too many ingredients and squiggled and swirled with glops of sauces. It's the acme of the more-is-more aesthetic in which American sushi bars often specialize. So when I swung by on a reader's recommendation to check out Volcano Japanese Cuisine, I kept expectations modest.

    Strip mall location, big square dining room still decorated with Greek Isles photos from a past restaurant: expectations still in check. But Vincent Wang's 2-month-old restaurant won me over fairly swiftly. It has a broad menu with sushi front and center, presentations quite lovely and prices modest. An array of hibachi dinners, udon dishes, teriyaki options and tempura items round out the offerings, with bubble teas, frozen mochi treats and fried ice cream keeping things interesting all the way to meal's end....

    The Sashimi Deluxe at Volcano Japanese Cuisine in Clearwater is presented artfully. It features tuna, salmon, yellowtail, red snapper, white tuna, octopus and mackerel.
  3. Souzou, an upscale Asian fusion concept, will join foodie scene in St. Petersburg in June

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — Despite a densely populated restaurant landscape, downtown St. Petersburg in recent years played second fiddle to South Tampa, which welcomed a more notable array of high-end "destination restaurants."

    The tide may be turning, says Mike Harting, owner of St. Petersburg's 3 Daughters Brewing and co-owner of Souzou, which will tentatively debut June 22 at 435 Fifth Ave. N....

    Souzou will feature a “bar-centric” main room that seats 70, another dining room and a 34-seat private dining room.
  4. Yummy House owner to open a fast-casual noodle concept

    Food & Dining

    John Zhao, 35, says he's been in the restaurant business for 24 years. Not legally he hasn't, but he started working at a tender age in restaurant kitchens in Belize, going on to debut Yummy House on Waters Avenue in Tampa in 2008 at the age of 28. Despite no reservations, no booze and a decidedly bare-bones interior, it was a nearly instant hit, one of the area's first true Hong Kong-style restaurants....

    John Zhao, left, with executive chef Tommy Tang, will open a noodle house. 
  5. McDonald's adds kale to menu, pushing kale over the shark


    The single best example of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" ever: McDonald's will start serving kale. Just months ago the world's largest restaurant was mocking the world's most annoying vegetable in television ads. Now? Nine restaurants in Southern California are testing McDonald's new breakfast bowls (mmm, eggs with kale) and Canadian McDonald's are experimenting with three kale-based salads (Caesar, Greek and harvest garden)....

    Mmm. Kale.
  6. Beards are big — and in restaurants, so are beard hairnets

    Food & Dining

    It's like kudzu, a kind of facial hair mission creep. Big beards are booming.

    And in the restaurant world, so, too, are beard snoods.

    The use of beard hairnets has skyrocketed in the past year as "statement beards" have grown in number and sheer audacity. A hipster phenomenon that gained purchase in places like Brooklyn, big beards have made their way onto male models, George Clooney and T-shirts emblazoned with "Fear the Beard." They've made it to the deli case at Publix, the seafood counter at Whole Foods and the salad station at your local pizzeria — and beard snoods have followed. ...

      Jason Schwartzwalder has sported his beard in kitchens of restaurants including St. Petersburg's Lucky Dill, Burrito Boarder and Crowley's.
  7. Restaurant review: Chief's Creole Cafe full of homey food, hospitality

    Food & Dining


    Good manners can be taught. But graciousness? That stuff is tucked somewhere along long strings of DNA nucleotides. Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy drip with it. Visit their 6-month-old Chief's Creole Cafe and they greet you warmly, slide into easy conversation, make you feel special and expertly attend to your needs. It's like being in someone's home for dinner, someone adept at keeping track of a thousand pesky details while maintaining a beatific calm....

    Elihu and Carolyn Brayboy, pictured in the courtyard of Chief’s Creole Cafe in St. Petersburg, opened the restaurant six months ago. It’s named in honor of Elihu’s mother, Mary Brayboy Jones, a Louisiana native affectionately nicknamed Chief.
  8. Does Tampa Bay have what it takes to be a food destination?


    ST. PETE BEACH — Dozens of heavy hitters from Tampa Bay's restaurant industry got together Thursday and agreed on one thing: The area is a grape that's about to burst.

    While beaches and theme parks have been the heart of Tampa Bay's tourist economy, the food scene here is at a pivotal moment. That's a good thing according to Erik Wolf, executive director of the World Food Travel Association. Speaking at the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce 2015 tourism lunch, and then at a smaller roundtable discussion with a group of tourism and restaurant industry people, his focus was food tourism....

    The Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Tampa Bay's regional cuisine "message" is a bit muddled: Seafood at the beaches, historical Cuban food in Ybor City, hipster hotspots in South Tampa, craft beer and cocktails.  [Times files]
  9. Chefs, students join to make dinner for Ryan Wells Foundation

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER BEACH — This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Ryan Wells Foundation's Evening with the Chefs. In a decade the foundation has awarded 75 high school students $514,000 in scholarship money and donated $283,000 to the culinary programs of Dixie Hollins High, Northeast High, Osceola High, Pinellas Technical College and Tarpon Springs High.

    It's named for Ryan Michael Wells, a Palm Harbor Eagle Scout who died at age 18 after losing control of his car on Interstate 75. He was returning from an elite summer cooking institute in North Miami, with the dream of becoming a chef. Through these annual scholarships, his family has enabled other culinary students to pursue that same dream. And on May 16 at the Sheraton Sand Key, Tampa Bay diners can get in on it, watching 11 notable local chefs joining area culinary students in a multi-course meal....

    In a decade the foundation has awarded 75 high school students $514,000 in scholarship money and donated $283,000 to the culinary programs of Dixie Hollins High, Northeast High, Osceola High, Pinellas Technical College and Tarpon Springs High.
  10. Locale Market's Rajat Parr nabs second James Beard award

    Food & Dining

    Despite a dramatic uptick in notable new restaurants, the Tampa Bay area was once again shut out of what has come to be known as the Academy Awards of food. On Monday night at a ceremony presented by TV host, author and chef Alton Brown at Lyric Opera of Chicago, winners of the 2015 James Beard awards were announced. It was the first time the annual black-tie gala took place outside of New York City, something of an irony given the dominance of New York restaurants and chefs among this year's winners. The state of Florida was summarily shut out of the proceedings: Bern's Steak House, named a finalist in the Outstanding Wine Program category, lost out to A16 in San Francisco....

  11. This Mother's Day, present a perfect breakfast in bed


    When you broach the subject of breakfast in bed with just about anyone, folks are wont to sigh and get a little moony-eyed recalling the early-morning nourishment they've enjoyed while prone. It's a kindness as rare as hen's teeth.

    It can be cereal sloshing on a teetery tray, or just a mug of coffee and buttered toast — either way it sends a message of love. Our advice is to keep it classic but always include a dab of color (a bowl of fruit? a single fresh flower?) and prepare something savory and something sweet to gently wake up all of your loved one's senses. Just in time for Mother's Day, here are some strategies for expertly feeding someone still snuggled in the sheets....

  12. Restaurant review: Tampa's Blind Goat a hip sip spot for the in-the-know

    Food & Dining


    During Prohibition, rough, working-class speakeasies were sometimes referred to as Blind Pigs or Blind Tigers (not sure which was the tougher kind of establishment, but I'm going tiger). The operator of the saloon would levy a cover charge for showing customers an animal attraction and then serve "complimentary" alcoholic refreshments. Crafty, eh?

    Siegfried & Roy hung up their whips more than a decade ago, so cocktails-and-fierce-mammals aren't as seamless a marriage these days. Still, we have a steady nostalgia for Prohibition: classic cocktails, secret knocks, the whole nine yards. A couple of years back Sharon Stewart debuted the Wine Studio in a former 1970s-era dentist office with a groovy porte-cochere. It was all low-slung couches and classic black-and-white movies playing against one wall. It didn't last, and George Tsambis and Perry Dube, FSU college buddies, took over in January. They unveiled the Blind Goat Food and Drink Co. in March, a clear homage to Prohibition-era speakeasies....

    Among the pizza offerings at the Blind Goat Food and Drink Co. in Tampa is the Tuscan Breakfast variation, with pancetta, tomatoes, garlic, sunny-side up eggs, ricotta and mozzarella.
  13. Review: Pom Pom's in St. Pete has promise but needs to refine recipes

    Food & Dining


    Pom Moongauklang is a sandwich virtuoso in Orlando. Her Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria has been a longtime hipster destination, her nearby Tako Cheena just as packed, both of them known for their gutsy, often wacky juxtapositions of East-West ingredients. For almost a year there was word that franchise rights for a second location had been purchased by retired Orange County deputy Tom Woodard, who aimed to open his colorful boho hangout in a former gas station in the bustling Grand Central District of St. Petersburg....

    Craig Palombine, 24, the front of the house manager at Pom Pom’s in St. Petersburg, stirs gravy before a recent lunch.
  14. Review: Besito Mexican in Tampa a solid, date-worthy Mexican restaurant

    Food & Dining


    It means "little kiss" in Spanish, and Besito Mexican is certainly seasoned restaurateur Chris Sullivan's latest smooch to the Tampa Bay area. The Outback Steakhouse founder debuted the wine bar Carmel Cafe (now Carmel Kitchen) a few years back, but it wasn't until he ran across John Tunney's "polished casual" Mexican concept, with two locations in Long Island and one in Hartford, Conn., that he took the plunge with an all-new cuisine. Opened in April, this newcomer suits the space, fits a new niche and, perhaps best of all, provides a no-brainer for this year's Cinco de Mayo festivities. ...

    Besito Mexican opened in WestShore Plaza this month next to Maggiano’s Little Italy and P.F. Chang’s.
  15. A roundup of new picture books for children


    Goodnight Already!

    By Jory John and Benji Davies

    Harper, $17.99; ages 4-8

    "Hey, I'm bored. Want to hang out?" And so it begins, the push and pull between wide-awake Duck and time-to-(yawn)-hibernate Bear. It's an interspecies example of why fences make good neighbors. In Jory John's story, Duck (who looks a bit like the Aflac duck) wants to play cards, borrow a cup of sugar — anything to keep Bear from packing it in for the night. Illustrator Benji Davies renders Duck's pages in all sunny yellows and vibrant reds; Bear's are inky with bruise-colored shadows and soft blue sheets. It's all in good fun, a lively call-and-response book to read aloud to prereaders, with the most charming image of Duck sporting multiple Band-Aids: "I stubbed my beak." And in the end? Duck succumbs to the sandman while Bear is left baking insomniac cookies....