Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hook's - St. Pete's BEST Sushi; and a Concert at State Theater

A St. Pete friend and I went over to Hook's for some of the BEST sushi this side of the Bay. On 9th Street and 11th Avenue, its a small place, very casual, about 10 tables and booths, and a dozen chairs at the Sushi Bar. Extremely friendly service by both the Sushi master(not sure what they call them), and the server. Rolls are always very fresh and large portions, there are probably 3 dozen or so types of rolls, they will make them how over you like. SOme Edamame to start, Ginger Salads, and then we dived into the pretty display of Spider Roll, Mexican, and St. Pete Roll. YUMMM!
Afterwards we headed downtown St. Pete to the State Theater, and old small theater that now has no seats, and shows independent and small national live music acts on stage. It holds a few hundred people..the FLOBOTS were playing this evening, a great new national Raggae-Ska type outfit(think Sublime meats Cake as my friend put it), very entertaining troupe, of course everyone was familiar with the song "Handlebars" but they had lots of other great tunes of course.

Work takes me to Baltimore, MD for the rest of the week...

Looking forward to First Friday downtown St. Pete Friday, and 13th annual WaZoo on Saturday at Lowry Park Zoo, one of the 10 best Beer Festivals in the country.

Channelside - A Great Movie; Margarita Mama's - Horrible

This past Sunday afternoon, cloudy and rainy, a few of us went downtown Tampa to Channelside to see the IMAX experience of "The Dark Knight" the new Batman movie. To our surprise, Channelside was packed this Sunday afternoon, and ALL shows at the IMAX experience were sold out. Lucky for us, there were a few good movies that none of us have seen, so it was off to Will Ferrel's new movie "Step Brother" for some off the wall, laugh out loud comedy--a Good Flick!
Afterwards we got out of the movie and were a little hungry, it was nice, yet awkward stepping out into the Courtyard of Channelside, and instead of seeing water from the Channel, there was a 10 story Cruise Ship docked..looked like a high rise hotel above the entertainment complex. We walked over to Margarita Mama's to sit outside, listen to some live music and enjoy some eats. Enjoy anything was the last thing we did, from the very beginning, we did see the sign outside that said"Great Food, Lousy Service" but didnt know it was for real. Our server, Megan, was just as rough as they come, apologized for taking her time getting to our table(about 10 minutes--then we had to wave her down), but she said she had to split a bill 40 ways for a bunch of teenagers...I then asked whats good on the menu, with a shrug of her shoulders, she just rolled her eyes and said Tacos...that's it...so my buddy ordered the Buffalo Chicken Burrito, and I decided to have a Cheeseburger, she never asked what type of cheese, so I had to ask her..Megan just said all the cheese looks and tastes the same anyway....on boy, major attitude here..we joked around a little to try to keep our sanity, we just couldn't believe what we were going through with her...then 5 minutes later she comes back and forgets what we wanted....it gets worse...the burger comes out with the wrong kind of cheese..I let her know, she didn't care, my other buddy brought the burger back in to tell the cooks...Heath the manager came out asked what type of cheese....but again the burger came out with the wrong kind of cheese, they didn't have the cheese I asked for....Megan grabbed our stale Nachos and jarred Salsa before we were done, then tried to take the check from us, before it was even filled out or we were ready to go.....it's no wonder not many people were here in this Sunday afternoon....Heath did apologize and offered a Gift Cert for a return...sometimes you can only take so much...and the food wasn't that good to begin with..this was my third time here...it might be good for a cocktail sitting at the bar, and listening to some live tunes, but that's about it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Eating and Playing in Seminole Heights, Ybor and South Tampa

Getting back from Boston on Wednesday, I was invited to a birthday dinner for a good buddy and luckily it was at my favorite Italian places, The Laughing Cat in Ybor City. There was over a dozen of us, the owner always comes out to greet you, and mentioned he had a special Italian Family style dinner he could provide for us since we were a large group with Apps, Salads, Main Courses, and desserts...we opted to just order off the menu,,,I write about the Cat many times...and again, a winner..just fresh, flavorful, large portion Italian at it's best in a great atmosphere.

Thursday it was off to Fort Lauderdale for the day for work(nice to have 5 daily non-stops on Southwest to Lauderdale, quick 45 min and easy flight),and arriving back I met with a buddy at the Wooden Door Irish Pub a few blocks from my house for some dinner. We decided to check out thier wings, and a Cheesesteak Sandwich and a Cuban Sandwich. The wings were ok, nothing spectacular, the sandwich's were horrible to say the least. The Cheesesteak came on a very tiny roll, barely any cheese or toppings, just some very small amount of chewy meat, with a side of some chips. The Cuban was barely a cuban at all, as in barely any meat, my buddy took the meats and cheese off one one half and just pout them on the other half...and I wont go into the rest of his night..let's just say he advised me he didn't get any sleep. I like the fact there is another watering hole in my neighborhood, but I think it be wise to keep with the liquid refreshments.....

Friday, about a dozen of us decided to go see a play, Choosing Your own Shakespeare, in Ybor City from Hat Trick Productions. A friend I know is an actor in this very small, independent troupe. There plays take place at the Silver Meteor Gallery off 6th Avenue near 22nd Street(just near the Columbia Restaurant).
Before the show, we decided to grab some eats at the Columbia, we were having our typical late afternoon torrential downpours so it was easy to valet park in front of the place, and decided to eat in the Bar area, ..very authentic and historic decor, very large bar area and tables for dining, they also usually have a live band playing jazz or the like. Professional service, we ordered the Imported Red Sangria which they make fresh in front of your table, and also shared the 1905 salad, which they also prepare tableside, and a few tapas items including meatballs, calamari, and an crab dip with artichoke and fresh Romano cheese...very good, although we unfortunately tasted the meatballs for the rest of the night.
The play was one of the Best I have seen in a while, and had the whole sold out audience, about 2 dozen of us - obviously a very small, intimate theater- laughing out loud, excellent stage presence, acting and comedy, It was perfect how they blended so many of Shakespeare's plays together and also involved the audience.
After the play, we walked along 7th Avenue, Ybor was starting to come alive with the numerous bars, clubs and restaurants, we went over to Streetcar Charlies, as some of us wanted to eat, then it was over to Spurs, Club Czar-which had two different DJ spinning, and a very fun and entertaining atmosphere, then 7/14 and The Forge.

Saturday we returned a friends truck to his house in the South Seminole Heights neighborhood after using it to move some furniture. He has done alot of work to this 1920's bungalow, nice wrap around front porch, and great detail to the structure, many of the homes in this area are all unique and well cared for.....we grabbed some lunch in that neighborhood at Bungalow Bistro. A quaint small restaurant along Florida Avenue. Ive read about their burgers, and the reports are correct, one of the tastiest burgers, juicy and thick, I had mine loaded with portabella Mushrooms and Provolone cheese. We also had a crab cake sandwhich and Roast Beef sandwich were were both very good as well, although my buddy said the roast beef lacked some flavor and was a little small on the portion size. Very friendly service, when in this area, I recommend the place. Towards the end of Saturday and after helping my buddy spend some money on new furniture and a nice flat screen TV, we had some slices of pizza at Westshore Pizza, and am very happy to see my favorite Gelato is back, La Casa Dolce gelato is now being served at Westshore Pizza, and just a few blocks from home!!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Dinner on Harbour Island; and Flugtag

Went over to Cafe Dufrain for a last dinner before leaving town for the weekend. Seated outside is always nice overlooking downtown along the waterfront of this very nice casual downtown Harbour Island restaurant. Always have had prompt, friendly service. We dined on Hummus to start, two scoops of thick pureed Chick peas with lots of garlic and Oyster mushrooms, served with warm pita triangles. There house salad is excellent, a plate of mixed greens with tomatoes, craisens and candied walnuts, the thick vinaigrette is delicious. For entrees we tried the Kobe sliders, three tiny mini burgers, with a side of fries - good tasting, but a bit pricey for the Kobe, and also a Bouillabaisse of Lobster, Shrimp, Scallops and Mussels-again very delicious, but I expected more seafood for the price, it is a small, light dish with no sides, just seafood and a rich, tomatoey sauce.
On the way back over Harbour Island bridge to downtown, we noticed the HUGE Flugtag ramp, where they will be having a big party downtown Saturday at the Convention Center area along the water, stages have been set up and thee were 2 story high monitors along Bayshore Blvd, I believe any vantage point from Davis Island, Harbour Island, or the downtown Convention Center riverfront park areas will be a great time to see this once in a lifetime spectacle, as they only do this in three cities a year, and Tampa just happened to be picked this year along with Chicago and Portland, OR.

I take off for Boston this morning, to play over the weekend, and work next week.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Saturday in Tampa: Downtown to Ybor City to Davis Islands

Got out of the house pretty early Saturday morning with a buddy of mine and went for some breakfast at First Watch in downtown Tampa. I still had some Manager Gift Cards sent to me from a not so good experience late last year(its in the blog)...First Watch tends to be a very consistent for breakfast, fast and fresh, interesting omelets and brunch menu items in a nice diner like atmosphere...this trip was one of my best, immediately seated, nice large pitcher of ice water with lemon brought to the table and fresh squeezed OJ. We dined on the Bacon, Avocado and Cheese omelet, very fluffy and light, served with diced potatoes and English Muffin, and a Chicken Breakfast Burrito with potatoes and fruit...service, food and all was at its best this morning, it is also nice to run into good friends here that you normally don't see to kind of catch up....after breakfast we walked over to Indigo Coffee for an Iced and Hot Green Tea, and wanted to check out the Police Museum, but it is was closed on the weekends, disappointing to have a museum closed on weekends...so we walked over to the Riverwalk and Curtis Hixon Park where they are re-doing the entire riverfront park, its kind of a big mess right now, the whole area is torn apart from Kiley Gardens to the area where they are building the New Tampa Museum of Art...the renderings look nice, it should be a great asset to the area.....
we then headed over to see some friends that were having a Yard Sale on Davis Islands...i've always like the Islands, its so close to downtown, but you feel like you are in another small town with a main street and great historic architecture in the apts and homes, with the Tampa downtown skyscrapers peering out over the islands.

The afternoon brought us to Ybor City and Muvico theaters to see "Wall-E"...cute movie, kind of wish I had my niece and nephews with me, the Pixar effects were amazing, had a cute story line as well....after the movie we walked around 7th Ave in Ybor, went into a few of the funky shops, and then wanted to play some pool maybe throw some darts so we went to check out Lounge 714, but the pool room was in the dark, so after there we walked down to Double Decker, too many people in there for happy hour playing pool and darts, they did have a really nice outdoor courtyard in the back that opened up...so we ended up at the Boneyard, very funky place, a few pool tables, couches were made from old bath tubs cut in half, and some of the seating included some interesting commodes, definitely worth a visit, interesting crowd as well, all watching wheel of fortune during happy hour....wanting some munchies, we were told about a great hidden gem of a restaurant, kind of underground like, attached to a Wine Store on 22nd Avenue, West Plam Wines and Beaune's Wine Bar...interesting very small menu, you can choose a bottle of wine from the very extensive wine store and bring into the wine bar to have with dinner...we munched on a great cheese and meat tray, you choose from over a dozen different types of cheeses and several meat selections...we got two different cheeses, and a sliced salami meat, that comes with fresh sliced bread, grapes and fruit, nuts, pickles and olives....nice socializing over a few glasses of wine and a light meal. The server was very knowledgeable and friendly, I believe dinner is served only on Thursday thru Saturday evenings, and the menu changes constantly.

It was late in the evening, and some Friends of ours that were having the Yard Sale were at Yeoman's Road Pub on Davis Islands, so we went there after dinner and had some great drafts with a very entertaining band...hangin out in the alley, listening to the tunes, with some great conversation amongst our friends and other friendly patrons in the crowded, English pub like bar in the main Blvd on Davis Islands where there are a dozen or so other restaurants, bars and shops....later we went to a friends apartment a few blocks away to end the night listening to tunes till the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday Brunch was at my friends place in Port Tampa City neighborhood here in South Tampa...and Sunday proved to be a fine day for relaxing and hangin with the dogs...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tampa's "Cheap" and a Hyde Park evening

A buddy and I went up to check out a new restaurant in Hyde Park/SOHO area called "Cheap". First off, it's definitely not Cheap, unless you are there for Happy Hour which is 5pm to 8pm daily and 5pm to 10pm on Thursday's, and last night was Thursday...a variety of Menu items and all drinks, speciality drinks and beers are half off the menu price. Free valet parking is essential in this part of town, so i'm glad they offer it, an extremely friendly and attractive server greeted us at the door, and immediately sat us...at 730pm, they place wasn't too busy, a dozen or so patrons at the bar and table area. They did a GREAT job renovating the entire building that used to house my one of my favorite Sushi places and Tapas places, which have moved to other locations. Cool, funky, retro, modern, two dining areas with bars, and a billiards area with a few arcade games. We dined on the Surf and Turf(9 oz Sirloin Steak and Grouper) - very tender steak, ordered it medium, it came out a little medium rare, but that was ok, very flavorful and tender, the Grouper was very lightly battered and fried, with a twice baked potato and small salad...very good. We also ordered and shared the Goat Cheese, Lobster Sushi Roll, and Chicken Lollipops...all VERY good, the server did a great job explaining all the menu items and specials to us. Meals start with very soft and fresh baked breads with their Strawberry butter. It was nice to be able to try the place at with everything we ordered being half price, otherwise it would have been a not so cheap meal, but never the less, delicious meal.
After eating we then checked out a new place called the SOHO Tavern on the corner of Platt and Howard..it was once a Laundromat, then Italian restaurant, now a Sports Tavern. Not very tavern like at all, I realize its new, but just very plain place, lots of flat screens for such a small place, about 6 tables and two small bars with an outdoor patio along Howard Ave.
It was then back to Cheap to meet some other friends of ours, we sat outside along Howard Avenue on some nice Director style chairs, while another very friendly server waited on us, along with the owner, Tommy, who came by a few times to check up on us. Specialty Mojitos, Martini's and Premium drinks, still half off until 10pm....
The night later took us to Mangrove's for a few of us wanted to eat, they have a great late night menu at Mangrove's, there wasn't too many people here, we enjoyed the cool music, and lately we ended the night at MacDinton's, busy, wild and crazy as usual on this Thursday evening, lots of beautiful people.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Independence Weekend in Tampa!

Another good buddy of mine flew in from Chicago on Wednesday night, after picking him up from the rooftop short term parking deck at TIA(one hour free parking and great views), we headed for Cityside and Green Iguana Westshore to catch up and mingle with the locals in the area. Thursday we headed for Vero Beach, straight across State Road 60 from Tampa, about a 2.5 hour ride, to his sisters place on the water in Vero Beach...beautiful home, great catered party, LOTS of fireworks!

Saturday we drove back into Tampa, and did some relaxing at my friends pool down in the Port Tampa City neighborhood, a bit south of where I live in South Tampa. Dinner Saturday night was at Yoko's for Sushi, we all shared some of the best rolls in the area, Ive blogged lots about this place before, still my fav. It was then off to Ybor City to partake in the 1st annual Gaybor Days. Starting out at Spurs, there was a brief power outage and one block in Ybor was out of power for a few hours, Spurs happened to be one of those places. It was then onto Streetcar Charlies, where we met up with a bunch of other friends, enjoyed the videos that played to music. Next up was G.Bar, where there was no cover and $1 drinks till 11pm, it seemed each place was busier than the next. On to Club 714 and The Forge for a bit, then it was back to G.Bar to close out the night....don't go out to these places much, but this end of Ybor was ROCKIN' this evening, I believe the 1st Gaybor Days was a success, and was glad to be able to contribute and run into alot of people I haven't seen in quite some time.

Sunday was brunch at Mad Dogs and Englishmen on MacDill Ave in South Tampa, GREAT food on the Brunch menu, but service today was a bit slow, as we had the bartender for a server who had to come out from the bar anytime to tend to us, and he forgot about us a few times. Very apologetic, it was the food that made the Brunch worth the visit(we had Crab Benedicts, Bacon and Cheddar Omlet with English Sausages and Steak and Eggs and an order of Hummus. Back over to Ybor and the Muvico Premiere theaters, a bunch of us really enjoyed the move "Wanted", and as we left the theaters a major storm was brewing so we hopped on the elevator in Centro Ybor and had some dinner at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Ive always ate outside , and this was my first time inside, nice casual with the Brewing Vats inside to view, and a pool table, very long bar area. Seems that weren't ready for the rush of people this Sunday in Ybor City, as service was EXTREMELY slow, again a very apologetic server...we did finally get our food which consisted of Pizzas, Calzones as big as your head, Salads, French Onion Soup, Meatloaf...all the foods have a bit of one of their many in house brewed beers, and they did offer us free beers for the wait...we weren't much into drinking after the long weekend.

Monday was my buddy's last day in town, we headed to Clearwater Beach for lunch and some beach time. Ended up at Shepards, free valet parking, great large open deck in the back right on the water...live band was playing, and plenty of tables for dining. We munched on some wings and had a HUGE fresh Grouper sandwich and Fish Tacos...both very tasty. We managed to lay by the pool at Shepards afterwards, and take a dip in the Gulf at their small beach area, all while listening to live music...my buddy mentioned how the place really felt like vacation, I just thought about how nice it is to have all this about 30 minutes form my house and year round. We washed up after the beach and went over to Westshore Mall, my buddy needed to do a bit of shopping this last evening, and then over to International Plaza, where we ended the night at Bamboo Club with anther friend of mine. Always liked Bamboo Club, lively and authentically decorated place at the Bay Street area of Intl Plaza. Sharing the Maui Beef Explosion, Chicken with Mushrooms and Asparagus, Chicken Fried Rice, and Lettuce Wraps, plenty for the three of us, with enough left over to take home. Sitting outside having some coffee's at Starbucks while listening to the live music blaring from Blue Martini, we were reminiscing on the loooong very enjoyable Holiday Weekend.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

An Oasis in Hyde Park

Last night we decided to stroll up to one of Tampa's "restaurant row's" in the SOHO/Hyde Park area--South Howard Avenue. There are still a few places I have not yet tried, so we decided upon SOHO Oasis Cafe, across from MacDintons. It's a Lebanese place, authentic decor inside and cozy outside patio area with white drapery, and Middle Eastern music in the background. Smiles and friendly servers greeted us at the door and sat us in the small, quaint inside dining area, which also had a very nice bar area. The menu consists of traditional Middle Eastern Tapas style dishes and entrees, along with many Tapas items and Wraps. We decided with Hummus, a very generous portion that came with Pita and also pita chips. Very smooth and flavorful, topped with actual chick peas, plenty for up to four people to share as an appetizer. Main entrees were the Lamb Kabob, Beef Shawarma and Chicken Shawarma, each came with a choice of two sides, we chose the Salad and Rice. VERY flavorful meals, the Lamb was so moist and tender, chicken and beef very flavorful, the rice I wish i could have packed up and taken home, and the salads with a very tangy, lemony vinaigrette dressing. They also have Hookah's for the outside patio area, a great find, prices were also very reasonable as well.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A ride with a Tampa City Council Person

We took a quick flight from Tampa to Fort Lauderdale before the drive through the Keys last weekend, and I had the pleasure I having Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena sit next to me on the short flight.(Open seating on Southwest).

I've seen her in action at the Council meetings, and of course have read about her many times, noting that Linda cares VERY MUCH for the environment, as she once exclaimed to me on the plane "Trees....are very important", she was discussing with me the chopping of mature Oaks throughout Tampa(especially South Tampa roadways), by TECO into a "V" shape that is very unnatural for the trees for the purpose of making sure the electric lines were clear from any tree branches. Councilwoman Linda noted there will soon be a push to have all the lines put underground with a cost sharing by the City and TECO(not sure how thats going to work out). I do agree as I have a large mature oak in my front lawn that looks awful due to the "V" shaped cut to clear the lines, and placing the lines underground would definitely boost property values, and there would be less "downed" power lines which could be dangerous and cost associated to be fixed in the numerous thunderstorms, and possibility of tropical storms in the area.

We continued some interesting discussions regarding the Trump Tower project(i'd like to see either another riverfront park, or maybe a hotel with retail and restaurants on the river there, the area north of there where Skypoint and Element are good for Condo towers, never really thought that corner of Ashley and Brorein was a good match), and also chatted about open Park space in the Channelside district, as the City of Tampa looks to open more park and open space in the downtown area similar to Curtis Hixon and Cotanchobee Park along the river. She is VERY concerned about the city and its growth and progress, I let her have it when I exclaimed DENSITY is the key in the Inner Core of the city, and although we should discuss height, it will be important for Tampa's future to look at further density close to downtown areas, and much less sprawl...IN MY OWN OPINION. Last but not least, we were both very happy to see Mass Transit and BRT/Light Rail on target for the future.