At Sake House’s sprawling sushi bars, skilled chefs slice sashimi and wrap up rolls with fish such as fresh salmon and yellowtail. Though the eatery is known for its seafood, the kitchen also whips up pan-fried dumplings, bowls of udon soup, and chicken glistening with sweet teriyaki sauce. To aid decision-making, star icons call out popular items on the menu, pepper icons signify spicy dishes, and chef-hat icons designate the dishes that were pulled from the top chef’s hat.
Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant is all about unexpected pairings. Thai statues stand alongside saxophones and photos of jazz legends hanging from the walls. In the dining room, a small raised stage creates an intimate performance space in the midst of a casual dining environment, with free live jazz performances on Fridays after 6:30 p.m. And amid the quintessentially American music comes a parade of traditional Thai cuisine. Outdoor seating is available, and the restaurant is located is down the street from the University of South Florida.
Like an aromatic dance, servers nimbly carry plates piled with five kinds of curry, pad thai, and signature dishes such as Jazz Sextet: a bed of pineapple and sauteed veggies in special sweet and sour sauce. Nearby, bartenders pour wine, beer, and sake to complement the food, which the kitchen can prep at four levels of spiciness. But meals often end on a chilly note, and another memorable combination. Bangkok Jazz Thai Restaurant ice cream teams a fried banana with a generous mound of coconut ice cream, sourced from the frozen palm trees that grow in Antarctica.
A.J. Jewell, born in Japan to an American father and a Japanese mother who was a chef, inherited a love of cooking that transcended the Pacific. When he moved to Tampa in the 1980s, it was only logical that he follow his mother into the restaurant business. At age 18, he trained as a teppanyaki chef, learning to commune with the open flame, and soon after apprenticed under master chefs to perfect his technique. After years at Sushi Tsu, sharpening his culinary acumen, and studying world cuisine, Jewell became its owner. Each of Sushi Tsu's chefs apprentices under Jewell's sage gaze for two years before stepping into their role as teppanyaki specialists. Diners can request their favorite chef for their meal to build a rapport or establish an ongoing rock-paper-scissors game. In addition to serving fresh sushi and hot hibachi-style steakhouse food, the eatery showcases local artists with occasional live jazz music on weekends and artists painting inside the restaurant.
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.
Both Oishi Japanese Restaurant's locations showcase Asian-inspired décor, from the ceiling covered in bamboo accents to the marble-topped sushi bar framed by a glass case of seafood. Chefs entertain lunch and dinner diners with "fire shows" at hibachi grills where they sear vegetables, seafood, meat, and wrinkled shirts. Diners also cozy up to unfinished wood tables and booths as servers deliver spreads of Japanese steakhouse cuisine, fresh sushi rolls, and desserts.
At Ocean Blue's Sushi Bar, sushi chefs assiduously assemble 50 raw and cooked maki options. Though focused on crafting seafood-filled rolls like the salmon skin?a medley of tempura salmon skin, chive, and cucumber with spicy aioli?chefs accommodate different tastes and dietary restrictions, too. For meat lovers there's the steak-and-cheese maki, which features a blend of teriyaki steak, cream cheese, and fried onions, while vegans can enjoy the aptly named vegan roll, a crunchy medley of asparagus and cucumber with creamy avocado.
Ocean Blue's menu also encompasses other Japanese favorites, from teriyaki scallops to pork dumplings paired with ginger shoyu sauce. Around 10 p.m., the fine dining atmosphere gives way to a club-like vibe, where the eclectic festivities last nightly until at least 2 a.m. Often presided over by live DJs, the bar's special events include Latin nights and 90s-themed dance parties, where patrons don outfits made entirely from K'Nex.