Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tampa Korean

Koreans make up less than 1% if the Tampa population, yet Tampa has one of the highest concentrations of Korean people in the state of Florida. A buddy of mine is a linguist specializing in Korean, so on Monday I decided to try out a Korean restaurant for the first time. Sa Ri One is a very authentic Korean restaurant located in the Westshore Business District on Cypress Street. Its been there for many years, has a small outdoor patio, and inside you feel like you are in a New York City style restaurant, with small booths, but authentic decor. The servers all speak Korean, as my friend would speak directly to them in Korean. The food was interesting but delicious. We started with Dumplings which were full with meat and cooked perfectly, and for meals we split a spicy Pork dish and the Short Ribs. All meals come with 6 traditional Korean veges which are unlimited(as soon as one vege runs out, they come to your table and replace it with a different one), some are spicy, but they are all very delicious and unique. We washed it down with a couple of very smooth Korean beers(Hite) served in small chilled glasses. Something else that I thought was cool was they had electronic buttons on the table that when pressed would light up your table number in the front area to advise a server that you need assistance. For a trip to another land, I would recommend dining here, and trying a different unique taste to the Tampa area. There are about 8 Korean type restaurant and food stores in the Tampa area, but I have been told this one ranks at the top. Most of the patrons were all Korean and also business visitors, so that should tell you something as well.

Work takes me to chilly Chicago this week, where it is -20 with the wind chill..BRRRRR! Be back in Tampa for SuperBowl Weekend!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Biking Pinellas Trail, Strolling thru Gulfport

Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day after a somewhat cloudy Gasparilla, so I made sure I took advantage of the blue skies and temps in the 60's. Started the day having a little Einstein Bagel and Tea with Debi in the Nursery she was working at, Exotica Nursery on 22nd Avenue South and 44th Street. Its a really nice nursery with lots of tropical plants, a huge Koi pond, and every species of Bamboo and Palm you could find. A perfect place for breakfast, up in the tree deck deck overlooking the gardens below. Our friend Jason that owns the place does an amazing job of Landscaping(he has done several projects downtown St. Pete). After breakfast I wanted to check out the Pinellas Trail, it starts at 34th Street and 5th Avenue and winds up over 30 miles to north of Tarpon Springs. I biked just the first 8 miles(16 round trip), I found it to very relaxing and peaceful, it follows an old rail track, so you are in heavily wooded area, or behind stores, housing, and mild industrial areas, the paved path is very well marked and wide. Overpass bridges take you over main roadways like Pasadena and Central Avenue. I made it to Tyrone Square Mall today and back to the start area. Next time I will start at the mall and head north again. One thing that is nice, is you cant bike more than 10 minutes without having a store of some sort to stop if you need water, or even a cafe or coffee shop, and the people watching was pretty good today with all kinds on bikes, blades and jogging, but not crowded.
After the bike ride, I went over to Gulfport, a great little village on Boca Ceiga Bay, also off 22nd Avenue South. There are great cafes, art galleries and small shops, and along the waterfront are a few bars and cafe's with a long pier into the Bay. A great little town with a lot of character and charm.

2008 Gasparilla....

WOW...with 2008 being my 20th Gasparilla, it has to go in the books as one of the best(in the Top three for sure!).....and believe it or not, this was a first as I only had about two beers and maybe a little of the Captain and Ginger..practically alcohol free this year and what a BLAST!!
Joe and I had a nice big breakfast at my house before heading out we parked the truck at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Tampa, and started the looong day from there. We met up with Lisa and Brian and headed over to Harbour Island. At 12 noon, there were already lots of people in downtown, the Midway area seemed a little rougher than usual as far as the carnies, but making it to Harbour Island was one the best things i've done for Gasparilla. Lots of great people lined up all along the waterfront from the Convention Center, over the bridges and onto Harbour Island. Jackson's had quite the party happening with great tunes, huge yachts and beautiful boats lined the marinas and harbor, LOTS of beautiful people. We found Dori, Darren and Caroline in front of the Westin along the water which was having their own party, all of us waiting for the massive Pirate Invasion. There were over a thousand boats this year in the Flotilla, and this was the BEST area to watch, (im usually on the other side by bayshore blvd watching the invasion), pirates came in and very close up, beads being thrown by the boaters, cannons and guns being fired, they docked at the Convention Center, and the Mayor handed over the key.
By 2pm, we left Harbour Island and headed over to the Parade route on Bayshore Blvd, we briefly met up with a few of our other friends, but as quickly as we met them, they had all disappered, and it was Joe and I making the Trek to some of the Gasparilla parties along the parade route. Walking along Bay Street there were some parties and bands in the street...we made it to Justin and Greg's who threw a great party along Swann, right off Bayshore Blvd. We were able to head to the parade after a few eats and drinks there...where there was another party with a band set up on the lawn along Bayshore just south of Swann. Seemed there were less people this year than usual, but lots of GREAT people watching. Plenty of room for catching the beads, and chillin with some of the awesome parade goers...I ran into quite a few people I havent seen in some time..thats one thing about Gasparilla thats nice, almost like a reunion of sorts, seeing people you may have worked with in another job, gone to college with in the past, or just came in from out of town for the event. After seeing a guy get tasered by the cops, a college dude showing the ladies his thinggy, a few other interesting moments, and having a neck FULL of beads(the hard rock casino beads were the best with slot machines around them)..we headed back over to Justin and Greg's where Big Earl had the megaphone shouting out to all the good looking people to lift their shirts for felt good just relaxing on the front lawn and watching the parade goers head back to their cars or wherever along Swann Ave..interestingly mostly guys were lifting their shirts for the beads..lots of great characters.
By 6:30 Joe and I headed back to downtown to change for the concert we were going to at the Forum, Alanis Morissette and Matchbox 20. On our walk back there, I couldnt believe the amount of trash on the streets, the very intoxicated straglers heading downtown for the Pirate Fest that lasts till 11pm. There was a Navy band playing cool tunes at Publix on Bayshore and Platt...on the walk to the Forum downtown Tampa we passed by FUEL that was playing at yet antoher stage, and had an amazing $6 soy burger(sarcasm)...
7:30pm we made it to the Forum, where yet another band was playing in front of the Arena entertaining those of us waiting to head into the concert...the area was thing I noticed about walking around downtown compared to Bayshore, was there were alot more "less than desirables" hanging out in the downtown streets, a bit rougher crowd, than along Bayshore none the less though...
The concert was incredible, excellent seats for Alanis Morrisette, she played about a 45 minute set, with all her old and new tunes, then we got a call from Kelly who invited us up one level to one of the Suites, directly on the side just in front of the stage, the BEST way to see a concert, the Suite was stocked with food and drinks, there were about 15 of us in the Suite,...Matchbox was incredible, they played for nearly 2 hours, Rob Thomas looked great, kept the crowd very entertained, he thanked the crowd lots, especially for getting started in the area years ago when they used to play Skippers Smokehouse..and mentioning the pirates led to beads being thrown up on stage a few times... it made for yet another awesome highlight to this years Gasparilla.
1230am - we made out of the Forum, and ready for bed...Kelly, Joe and I stopped by the 24 hour Village Inn on the way home for a little snack...and there ended a great Gasparilla in Tampa.

More fun to come this Gasparilla Season with the Pirate Farewell send off party at Channelside on the 9th, the Illuminated Gasparilla Night Parade in Ybor City on the 16th, the Gasparilla International Film Festival at the end of February, and ending with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts March 2nd, 3rd in downtown.

2008 Gasparilla Video Coverage - WARNING! May not be suitable for ALL.

Monday, January 21, 2008

2008 Gasparilla Officially Begins!

After a huge storm battered the Tampa Bay area last evening, only to cancel the Children's Parade and postpone the Pirate Battle to Sunday evening(tonight). It was an incredible show, and far less people were all along Bayshore Blvd this year, which made enjoying the show great, no crowds, having the Boulevard and plenty of room to enjoy. Before we went, Maida made a great Italian dinner, and we watched the AFC Championship(Pats win), then Joe and I went to the traffic and lots of parking, the night air show was happening, and then the 25 minutes firework show took off, all synced to about 7 different songs, with the Jose Gaspar pirate ship glowing in the Bay, a Full Moon and downtown Tampa in the background, around 50 degrees.
Joe and I headed back over to Maida's for the NEF Championship(Giants), and then went to see "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" which had us laughing throughout then movie out loud many times. It was nice to see Ybor pretty busy on this Sunday night, but tomorrow is MLK Day, so it was a three day weekend for most.
Work brings me to Sarasota, then the party gets going Friday for the start of the Big Event, GASPARILLA INVASION AND PIRATE FEST.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Tampa's Harbour Island - Eats and Cocktails!

After travelling around Florida this week for work(Melbourne and Orlando), it was finally back to Tampa, and Kris, Kelly and I went over to Harbour Island downtown Tampa for some dinner and a few drinks. We stopped by Thats Amore for some martini's out on the waterfront patio overlooking downtown. Beautiful area, the restaurant reminded me of an Italian Family reunion when walking in, all Italian decor, long tables, there was a Frank Sinatra like guy playing the piano and singing, very entertaining. We had reservations at Cafe DuFrain just next door, also along the waterfront with great views of downtown. Promptly seated inside, they had a small but great wine list that changes weekly. We started with some Edemame, Tomato and Fresh Mozzarella w/Basil, and Cesar Salads, all prepared perfectly and fresh. Entrees were the Ahi Tuna - perfectly rare and seared, a Bouillabaisse with Lobster, Shrimp, Scallops- very flavorful with tomatoes and a very light sauce, and the Argentinian Skirt Steak, with a garlic/pesto light sauce, the steak was so tender and came with Yuca Fries, thick and amazing dinner, service was top notch,,this place is now on my list of favorites in the downtown area.
Afterwards it was back home and a walk over the Green Iguana Westshore where I ran into some people I havent seen in about 15 years from college - seems you are always running into someone at the Green Iguana Westshore, never a dull time with live musci every night, and John tending to the bar and managing the shop.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tampa Eats-717; Biking Tampa's Flatwoods; Laughing at Tampa Improv

Friday after work, Kris and I met up with his personal Trainer Dave and his wife Jen to have a nice dinner in Hyde Park at 717 South. This Pan American/Italian restaurant(one half the menu is new age Italian, the other half is new age PanAmerican) on South Howard Avenue in Hyde Park/SOHO area has been consistent with it's quality of food, as this is the forth time I have visited. There is a large bar, it's a bit upscale in decor and lots of pretty people to see, they play jazz throughout the establishment, on Wednesday's its live Jazz. Although each of our meals was cooked perfectly(Filets with Gorgonzola cheese, Asian Pot Roast and Tuna all served with salads and garlic bread with a tomato and cheese sauce for dipping), the service was mediocre on this visit. Our server, Mike, seemed a bit preoccupied with...well we don't know, he just wasn't all there...regardless it's the food and company at the table that made the meal. Afterwards we walked a few blocks to the Las Casa Dolce, to sit outside and enjoy some of the best Gelato - Jen had the chocolate cake which was a bit too rich and not sweet enough....they also have some amazing Canolli's and serve Seattle's Best Coffee. They are now also serving wine and beer on the patio that faces Howard Ave, it makes for excellent people watching, the area was hopping this Friday evening, MacDintons across the street was packed, and there were lots of people walking around the Avenue.

Saturday, I took brought the bike up to Wilderness Park off road biking trails, located about 1/4 mile east of I-75 off Fletcher/Morris Bridge Road. It was a little busier than usual, the trails were in very good shape, a new bridge was being built on one part of the Main Trail. I did the Heartbreak Ridge trail for the fist time, one of the most technical of the trails, lots of roots made for a very difficult path...after a few hours of biking it in the woods, I headed back home.
The evening brought Kris, Kyle John and I to dinner at Samarai Blue in Ybor City prior to the Margaret Cho performance at the Improv, also in Ybor City. At 530pm we were able to get a table immediately for some very good Sushi in the Tampa area. Its a bit more expensive than your average Sushi place, but the atmosphere and location were ideal, the Improv Comedy Club was just below us, so we were able to eat and get some great seats for Margaret was a sold out crowd at our showing, she had us laughing through her entire act..such a dirty Asian girl...we liked that!! We were not ready to go home yet after the show so we stopped by Lounge 7 at 14, then Kris and I had a few slices of excellent NY Style pizza at New York New York Pizza on 7th Avenue.

Today it looks like a playoff football day from the couch, cloudy and overcast, about a 70% chance of rain, which is due as it's been over two weeks since we have seen a cloudy day here in Tampa...

Biking one of the numerous off road biking trails at Winderness Park

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tampa Bay Kayaking, Strange Music ending and Food

Great Weekend, I took advantage of the warmer temps(its was in the 50s and 60s earlier in the week), to get the kayak out in the Bay Saturday. Launching from Picnic Island, which is a great area to launch from, very serene and quiet, I explored many new islands and mangrove trails closer to MacDill AFB area. Its amazing the amount of nature and serene conditions that exist in the Bay.
Later Saturday evening, one of my fav local bands was performing for the last time-Buffalo Strange. Debi, Joe and I headed to Gators on Johns Pass for their "Farewell Tour". The food was very good, clam chowder was thick and full with clams-served hot, French Dip had at least a half pound of thinly sliced beef, and lots of cheese, with plenty of aus juice for dipping, and came with a large helping of cole slaw. We also had typical chicken fingers cooked buffalo style, and the Gators Cuban, which I was told was also very delicious. Rob and the guys played an amazing last show, these guys had to be the most entertaining of local bands I have seen in the bay area, they Jam like no other. The crowd was a mixed bag of the usual beach drinkers, Buffalo Strange devoted fans, and the out of town visitors. They had everyone dancing and standing during both sets, it was a very sad ending. At least we will still be able to see Rob solo at a few places around the Bay(Friday afternoons at The Hut on Johns Pass).
Sunday was football, and the Bucs just didn't look Super Bowl ready after being defeated by the Giants. The weekend ended with Chinese Buffet at Hoa Wah on Dale Mabry in South Tampa, a decent buffet with very fresh food, and VERY friendly service.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Tampa I Am Dining Preferences

I thought I'd start the new year listing my favorite dining spots around Tampa, and review/update the list each year. I dine out alot and prefer to patronize the local establishments. I hope to get some new favorites/recommendations to add next year.

Here's my 2008 list:

Diner: Three Coins, Mama's Kitchen
Sandwich's: Wright's Deli, Pane Rustica, Moxie's, Lenny's Subs(chain)
Mexican: Algusto's, Miguel's, Red Mesa
Italian: Laughing Cat, Bella's, Cellini's
Steak: Malio's, Bern's
BBQ: Jimbo's, Kojak's
Sushi: Yoko's, SOHO Sushi, Hook's
Seafood: Oystercatchers, Salt Rock Grille, Collanade, Crab Shack
Mediterranean: Acropolis, Byblos, Genghis Khan
Cuban/Spanish: Arco Iris, La Teresita, Columbia, SPAIN
Pizza: Cappy's, Eddie & Sam's, East Coast Pizza
Thai: Royal Palace, Thai Corner
Breakfast: Pach's Place, Mama's Kitchen
Chinese: Yummy House, China Yuan, Peking(take out)
Ice Cream/Gelato: La Casa Dolce, The Junction
Beachfront: Caddy's, Frenchy's

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

NYE Tampa---Skypoint, ZINGO and a Streaker!

I had some people over for the Sun Bowl game, and after a very poor performance by the USF Bulls against the Oregon Ducks, Kris and I joined Kelly and about 6 of her very attractive and friendly girl friends to an awesome party on the pool deck of Skypoint, the new Residential condo tower in downtown Tampa. There were close to 100 people out on the pool deck, overlooking all of downtown Tampa at 8 stories up, once midnight came, we could easily watch the fireworks over Channelside, it was a great way to bring in 2008 in Tampa.

We decided to check out a new service called ZINGO. After a call, Greg showed up on a small foldable scooter that easily stores away in your car, and he is your driver to take you home, and then hop on his scooter. What a GREAT concept and for a bit more than a taxi ride, you get your car and you home safe.

Regarding the streaker, we stopped by a party in the neighborhood, and as the night was getting very late, while hanging out in the kitchen of this house, some guy runs through the house and yard totally naked....HAPPY NEW YEAR!!