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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

Email: lreiley@tampabay.com

Twitter: @LReiley

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  1. Reviews: Orlando's Trattoria al Forno goes rustic; the Cowfish goes bold

    Food & Dining

    ORLANDO

    The gifts are unwrapped, but your guests are still camped out and hogging the hot water. Give them an extra stocking stuffer by guiding them to some of Orlando's many allures, including a couple of brand new dining spots, one at Disney's BoardWalk and the other at Universal's CityWalk. Equip them with the keys and a map, and the hot water's all yours.

    Replacing Kouzzina by Cat Cora, Trattoria al Forno is one of the surprisingly few rustic Italian restaurants in all of Disney's properties. It has blistery Naples-style pizzas, housemade mozzarella and pastas, imported charcuterie and cheese and a 100 percent Italian wine list. Debuted on Dec. 18, this reconcepted restaurant is gorgeous, divided up into smaller spaces that lend a more intimate feel. As with all Disney restaurants, there's a story behind it, a collaboration between Walt Disney Imagineering and their food folks....

    A Cowfish bento box has a miniburger, sweet potato fries, spicy-soy Thai cucumbers, edamame and sushi.
  2. Review: Tampa's Café Martí gets to the heart of Cuban food

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    Rodney Rodriguez was a professor of Spanish at Manhattan College. But in September he and his brother, Ricky, launched Café Martí at the site of a former Papa John's on Gandy Boulevard. As second acts go, it's a pretty big flying leap. But for this Tampa native, it made its own kind of sense.

    "We'd always like the foods of our heritage and we felt that a lot of Cuban food here was from exiled Cubans. It was food in a time warp, very different from the food that developed later in Cuba. We're using the recipes of our grandparents, who were all born in Tampa and of Spanish heritage."...

    Like several dishes at Café Martí, the arroz con pollo with yellow rice is served with cooked collard greens.
  3. Review: Red Mesa Mercado is a solid addition to St. Petersburg's taco scene

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG

    It's a growing menace. Without vigilance, St. Petersburg may soon be overrun. The peril? Tacos. And burritos. Also, very solid salsa and chips. St. Petersburg already had Tijuana Flats, Chipotle, Burrito Boarder, Nitally's, Red Mesa and its Cantina, and then Casita Taqueria and Taco Bus crowded in, along with El Gallo Grande. California Tacos is on the horizon, and in November, Red Mesa Mercado debuted in the EDGE District. The interesting thing is that each of these fills a slightly different niche, from the spicy Thai-Mex combos at Nitally's to the San Diego-style fish tacos of Cali Tacos. ...

    The space formerly occupied by Davidson Fine Art, next to Green Bench Brewing, has been transformed into the indoor-outdoor Red Mesa Mercado.
  4. Locale Market opens to gaga shoppers at St. Petersburg's Sundial

    Retail

    ST. PETERSBURG

    On the opening day of Locale Market, a Pop Craft artisanal popsicle stand offered free samples to the more than 200 people waiting in line Wednesday. Most of the would-be shoppers were saving their calories for what lay inside. A good call.

    The two-story, 20,000-square-foot collaboration between celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona was a smorgasbord of sights and smells, with 11 different kitchens going full tilt to offer an experience unprecedented in St. Petersburg....

    Fresh salmon is available at the Locale Market. The store also has a range of cheeses, wines, meats, seafood, produce, a bakery, a chocolate shop and an ice cream parlor. Shoppers can pick up prepared meals to-go or dine at the restaurant, which will have a seasonal menu based on locally available ingredients.
  5. Anna Maria Island excels at ecotourism

    Travel

    ANNA MARIA CITY

    Reach out and grab a leaf. Go on. Now pop it in your mouth. It's the moringa plant, ounce for ounce one of the most nutritious plants on earth, which tastes like a cross between a bean and a pea.

    Now look over there. It's a Seminole pumpkin. You can pick that, too, and tuck it into your handbag before you walk into this boutique. Perfectly legal, in fact encouraged. ...

    You’ll find loose leaf tea, gift sets and more at Spice Merchants, which is next door to the Olive Oil Outpost.
  6. Tampa's Ulele a winner in OpenTable's Top 100 Best Restaurants in America award

    Food & Dining

    From more than 5 million reviews submitted to OpenTable for more than 20,000 restaurants nationwide, Tampa's Ulele has been named a winner of OpenTable Diners' Choice Awards for the Top 100 Best Restaurants in America. Since its August debut (so hey, it only had half a year to make the cut), this Tampa Heights newcomer has been thronged, partly because of its stunning reinvention of the 1906 Water Works Building, partly because of brewmaster Tim Shackton's housemade beers and partly because of chef Eric Lackey's "native-inspired food and spirits." The vision of Richard Gonzmart, fourth generation co-owner and president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, and managing partner Keith Sedita, Ulele made the cut by scoring among the 100 highest reviews on the online reservation site. New York has the largest number of winners (12), followed by California and Florida with eight each. Ulele is the only Tampa honoree. — Laura Reiley, Times Food Critic...

    Photo by CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times
  7. Gourmet Locale Market set for afternoon opening at St. Petersburg's Sundial

    Retail

    At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Locale Market opens its doors in the new Sundial St. Pete.

    The much-anticipated collaboration between celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona represents a quantum leap for gourmet markets in Tampa Bay, with 11 different full kitchens, 15 professionally trained chefs and legions of high-priced equipment that together will blend the shopping experience with dine-in options. ...

    Locale Market at the Sundial complex in downtown St. Petersburg is prepared for Wednesday's opening. Shown here is the stairway connecting the first and second floors. [BOYZELL HOSEY   |   Times]
  8. Asian Pearl in Clearwater welcome addition in Pinellas

    Food & Dining

    CLEARWATER

    When you've been married a long time, certain set pieces emerge. There's the thing he says when there are too many previews at the movies. Or the harangue I launch into when a telemarketer "survey" turns into a sales pitch. My spouse will be happy that I'm crossing one off my list. It's the "why is there so little good Chinese food in Pinellas County?" wail.

    Tampa has Yummy House and the snazzier Yummy House Bistro, China Yuan and several other respectable Chinese restaurants. Pinellas County, on the other hand, has ABC Seafood and, well, that's about it. Yes, there are those guilty-pleasure palaces of neon sweet and sour pork, but upscale pick-your-own-live-fish Hong Kong-style Cantonese, or chile-garlic spicy Szechuan places are lacking. ...

    The menu at Asian Pearl in Clearwater is vast, with entrees that range from Peking Duck With Steamed Buns, above, to Calamari and Pork Tripe With Jalapenos and Bell Peppers.
  9. Author Laura Silver dishes on knishes

    Cooking

    TAMPA

    “For Hanukkah, we have latkes. But Christmas is an important holiday for Jews. Let's harness the knish for its power to harken back to what's great about being a Jew. It's about not feeling left out."

    So says Laura Silver before taking the podium at a recent Tampa Jewish Book Festival talk at Maestro's at the David A. Jr. Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Perhaps the suggestion is a little suspect coming from the world's leading knish expert. She probably thinks knishes are a dandy Easter or Columbus Day treat as well. But there's something to it....

    Mac Wachtler carries a tray of potato knishes at Brooklyn Knish in Clearwater, which his family founded in 2008. 
The family’s knishes also are sold at local outdoor markets.
  10. Early look at Stillwaters Tavern, another celebrity chef effort in St. Petersburg

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — Around the corner and upstairs from Beach Drive's BellaBrava, four men sit in a war room of sorts, poring over architectural renderings. Robert Sanderson, Dyce Craig, Lee Karlins and Top Chef contestant Jeffrey Jew are hashing out the details for their new Stillwaters Tavern, which will rise in the spring in the just-demolished Bruce Watters Jewelers space.

    But in a way, the principals of 2B Hospitality (which also owns BellaBrava) are waging a difficult and more subtle battle: changing the nation's mind-set about the Tampa Bay area food scene as celebrity chefs take a chance here....

    Jeffrey Jew from Top Chef will be the chef at Stillwaters Tavern in St. Petersburg.
  11. Review: Tampa Bay's first BurgerFi serves up sublime fast food

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA — Shake Shack, Smashburger, Burger 21, Burger Monger, Square 1 Burgers — surely the premium burger wars are so pitched that the battlefield is at capacity. Yet into the Tampa Bay melee steps BurgerFi, which debuted in the new Post SoHo Square building at the end of October. The North Palm Beach-based chain has seen massive expansion in 2014, making good on its name's promise to instigate "the Burgerfication of the Nation."...

    BurgerFi, which opened in October next to Ava on S Howard Avenue in Tampa, offers burgers free of antibiotics and hormones, and never frozen or microwaved, sublime fries and dreamy desserts.
  12. 'Hickory Daiquiri Dock' and other cocktail books go to market

    Bars & Spirits

    Tim Federle made his first professional leap from Broadway actor and dancer to children's author penning the middle school novels Better Nate Than Ever and Five, Six, Seven, Nate! Then, it seems, he got thirsty. His first book for adults was the bestselling Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails With a Literary Twist, a funny, punny lineup of 65 cocktail recipes that evoke the feel of classic works of literature. ...

  13. Review: Tampa's new Ava gets critic's highest marks ever

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    Michael Stewart flew around. Michael Stewart ate food. That's sort of the definition of a vacation: eating food in a place you've never been before. But Michael Stewart wasn't on vacation. He was scouting, scooping up good ideas from restaurants on a couple of continents. And in November, all those good ideas, and a whole bunch of others, came together in the opening of Ava, his much-anticipated collaboration with former Rays manager Joe Maddon....

    Ava is stunning but not fussy.
  14. Review: You'll be happy to find the Hideaway

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA

    The Grand Central in Tampa's Channel District is indisputably booming. On weekend evenings you can see people and their pooches settling in at Pour House and City Dog, date-nighters enjoying Michael Buttacavoli's excellent Italian at Cena before taking in a show at Stageworks. Then around the corner it's party time at Maloney's kinda-Irish pub and nightclubby indoor-outdoor sushi at the Hideaway, which opened in September. Owners Todd Wingard and Brian Pfeiffer are pros, having been in the Tampa bar business for years at places like Green Iguana and Whiskey Joe's. What they've done here is fit neatly into an untapped niche. ...

    One of the specials at the Hideaway in November was the Scallop Delight, seared scallops with a citrus miso soup and rice. The Hideaway, at E 1120 Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa, serves sushi and features DJs every weekend. There are happy-hour specials from 3 to 7 p.m. daily.
  15. Tampa Bay restaurants nab Golden Spoon awards

    Food & Dining

    This week Florida Trend's annual Golden Spoon awards were announced, honoring Florida's best restaurants.

    Although Florida Trend (its parent company also owns the Tampa Bay Times) serves the state's business community, the Golden Spoons are a valuable consumer tool. Because Florida restaurants seldom feature heavily in national evaluations such as Zagat, the James Beard Awards and the Michelin Guide (almost all of the Michelin-rated restaurants in the United States are in New York), the Golden Spoon, celebrating its 41st anniversary this year, provides a unique opportunity to assess Florida's dining scene as a whole and to compare one region with another....

    Chef Chris Ponte of of Cafe Ponte poses for a portrait at Cafe Ponte on April 10, 2014 in Clearwater.