05/28/15 Food & Dining
One of Ybor City's more colorful watering holes is getting its close-up. Andrew and David Fung, the brothers behind FYI network's series What the Fung, headed over to Gaspar's Grotto in January to investigate the signature conch fritters served with tequila chili jam sauce. The setup: The comedian brothers get $50 each to spend on the best and most iconic regional foods each city has to offer. After a bit of noshing, hip-hop and one-liners, they storm into the kitchen for some face time with the chef, in this case Mark Hook (that's Capt. Hook, to keep with the pirate theme, mateys). The half-hour episode featuring Gaspar's Grotto and other local eats airs on FYI (Channel 104 on Bright House) at 9 p.m. June 4. The Fung brothers' million YouTube fans and would-be buccaneers can swashbuckle over that day to Gaspar's Grotto, 1805 E Seventh Ave. in Ybor City, for a viewing party with owners Eric and Shere Schiller. Specials will include the conch fritters in question. — Laura Reiley, Times food critic...
Host of Food Network's Dinner: Impossible, Worst Cooks in America, Restaurant: Impossible and Restaurant Express
"People misunderstand vegetarianism and veganism. One may be completely different from another. If you're a vegan I want to talk to you about what you like and what you don't like. I love to cook with beans. Chickpeas are one of my favorites, and I don't mean hummus, either. I don't really have go-to things, but I use a lot of fresh herbs and vinegars and acids to alter the flavor of things. Harissa is another thing I (use). I'm a big believer in taking what's natural and enhancing it to bring out the flavors, but it takes time. Let's face it, we're a nation of instant gratification. We just want to get it done."...
05/25/15 Food & Dining
Remember when veganism was a punch line for joke-telling carnivores? These days it is estimated that 33 percent of the population eats mostly vegetables, 5 percent is strictly vegetarian and 2.5 percent is vegan. Still a fairly small percentage, but folks who eschew all animal products are growing in clout, with lots of celeb vegans helping to raise awareness (yes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Alicia Silverstone, but also Al Gore and Bill Clinton). Rationales for taking the plunge vary from animal rights issues to environmental concerns to health choices, so it should come as no surprise that the style and focus of vegan restaurants varies dramatically....
It may be dwarfed by the truly amazonian Amazon fulfillment center across the street, but Fitlife Foods' expanded culinary center in a brand-new 100,000-square-foot facility in Plant City represents a new phase in CEO David Osterweil's plan to get Tampa Bay eating right. What is now the leading Southeastern independent retailer of healthy, fresh-prepared meals has experienced meteoric growth since its debut in 2011....
05/24/15 Food & Dining
NEW YORK — Gwyneth Paltrow likes Tampa-style ramen.
Thursday evening, with paparazzi set up across the street, Paltrow and friends slurped their way through the three offerings at New York City's red-hot Ramen Lab. It was an unusual opportunity for an incoming Tampa restaurant to get some major exposure on a big-city stage.
Run by Sun Noodle as a test-kitchen restaurant, Ramen Lab this month embarked on a guest chef program. Its inaugural visitor was restaurateur Noel Cruz, who will open Tampa's first ramen house, called Ichicoro, in Seminole Heights at the end of June. It will have an open concept, and about 50 seats....
05/18/15 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....
05/18/15 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....
05/14/15 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....
05/12/15 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....
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)....
05/12/15 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. ...
05/11/15 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....
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....
05/06/15 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....
05/05/15 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....