Lee House executive chefs Michael Lee and Thanh Uong inter-weave Chinese and Vietnamese cooking techniques, decades-old family recipes, and years of restaurant experience to craft a menu of dim sum and authentic Chinese fare. A team of culinary air-traffic controllers guides the peking duck’s half bird in for a landing on plate runways next to a stack of steaming pancakes ($16). Savory spare ribs simmer in a clay pot alongside a tart tuft of bitter melon ($8.50), and the specialty beef-chow-fun coils house-made wide rice noodles alongside seasonal vegetables ($8.95). A separate dim-sum menu stocks bellies with classics such as pork dumplings, spring rolls, and black-tie spring rolls in noodle cummerbunds, as well as introducing appetites to exotic meats such as steamed chicken feet ($2.95–$10.95/dim-sum dish).
While it takes prodigious skill to man the 600-degree, 7-foot grill that is the center of bd’s Mongolian Grill’s dining room, the chefs running it don’t have any secret recipes. Instead, customers fashion their own customizable bowls of stir-fry according to their taste preferences, dietary restrictions, and desired portion size. Guests wander, nearly overwhelmed as they choose from an array of meats and veggies and ladle sweet, spicy, and herb-filled sauces into a cup. Chefs sauté the meal in front of their eyes, swords flicking skillfully across the grill to entertain and build anticipation like a mime about to jump buses on an invisible motorcycle. The resulting stir-fry dishes are accompanied by brown rice, white rice, tortillas or lettuce wraps.
The fusion of robust Malaysian spices and smooth coconut milk erupts with each bite of beef rendang. Sweet and spicy notes infuse the syrupy glaze coating each morsel of general tso’s chicken. A conical seaweed wrap imbues its saltiness in slices of spicy conch. Within the red and yellow walls of Hin Lee Malaysian Chinese Restaurant, the talented chef forges a synthesis of flavors from Malaysian and Chinese traditions. On the weekends, a rice artisan rolls cuts of fresh grouper, salmon, and spicy scallop into seaweed-encased slices at a small sushi bar, where diners can sidle up to watch the master work and shout names of current events to inspire the wasabi's improve-comedy routines.
Sakura Asian Cuisine seamlessly blends the diverse culinary traditions of China, Thailand, and Japan with an extensive menu of hand-rolled maki, sashimi, hibachi steaks, sizzling chicken, and seafood sautéed in a wok. The elegant, yet casual restaurant treats visitors to sumptuous meals of grilled sea bass, lobster tempura, and soba noodles. Like a finely shredded Impressionist painting, each maki roll is a kaleidoscopic of tiny slivers of color, with deep reds of tuna, pink salmon, green avocado, and orange tobiko.
A samurai uniform stands proudly behind glass, welcoming patrons into Joto Japanese Restaurant. The suit's gleaming black mask reflects a sushi bar with a cerulean awning and seats the deep red of raw bluefin tuna. There, the hands of chefs flutter over such eclectic ingredients as pineapple, baked crab, and smelt, twisting them into rolls with names such as Fly to Hawaii, What Saapp, and Screaming Tuna. The wind tousles the leaves of potted plants on a small outdoor patio, where toasting glasses unleash the soft clinks of a xylophonist’s ghost.
Seaweed is as decorative as it is delicious at Blue Bamboo Sushi. Blue and green artworks covering the walls represent the flowing saltwater plant, thematically tying the decor to the wide selection sashimi and signature sushi rolls. At the sushi bar, chefs make good on the visual promise, rolling up classic sushi delights, such as the California roll, or getting creative with unorthodox cuts such as the Surf 'n' Turf—a roll filled with tempura-fried lobster, seared steak, and lemon-butter mayo.
The rest of the menu takes off from Japan, and is all over the map in the best way possible. The crab rangoon nods to American-inflected Chinese food, and the Pho—a long-simmered beef broth served with plates of sprouts, full basil leaves, lime, and jalapeño—takes taste buds on a quick trip to Vietnam. The culinary whims of the menu even skip over to Indonesia for the classic chicken satay served with thai peanut sauce. The point of origin for some of the dishes, however, is as local as the chef's imagination. The spicy tuna stuffed mushrooms, for example, come filled with pineapple-chili marinated tuna and soy for dipping, blending a slew of culinary traditions.
At Fresco's Waterfront Bistro, guests lounge on an expansive wraparound patio looking out over elegantly plated dishes of shrimp and calamari to consume views of Tampa Bay. Dockside diners can pair seafood entrees with martinis, margaritas, or draught beers. As night falls, eats will be illuminated by colorful lights, which will also reflect off the water and treat local marine life to a free laser-light show.