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.
Chef John, the culinary leader behind Shogun Sushi, honed his skills in upscale Manhattan eateries before making his way to Tampa. He approaches sushi with a creative mind and an eye for presentation, updating traditional rolls with unconventional ingredients such as bacon and pineapple. One dish that moves even further into fusion is the sushi pizza, which is healthier than both regular italian pizza and pizza carved from butter. The "crust" is a scallion pancake, the "sauce" is avocado paste, and the toppings are pieces of either salmon or spicy tuna. Not all of Shogun Sushi's food belongs to the fusion category, though; diners can opt instead for traditional Japanese cuisine such as an udon noodle soup with fish cakes, egg, tofu, and shrimp tempura.
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.
The diners can feel the heat of the charcoal grill, its sweltering vapor wafting sweet and smoky aromas from the marinated short-ribs sizzling at the center of the table. Surrounding the grill like spectators at a sports match, more than a dozen small bowls display a colorful assemblage of sautéed, blanched, and pickled veggies, each awaiting their fate to crown a slice of seared meat or mingle with a pillow of white rice. This is Korean-style barbecue, Rice Restaurant & Market’s specialty. Alongside the DIY feasts, chefs work in the kitchen to impart a Korean edge on stir-fry, stews, and noodle dishes, forging each morsel from scratch and often with ingredients grown in the owner's garden, according to the Tampa Bay Times. As tableside grills crackle in the rear of the restaurant, suffusive lighting finds its way beneath the awnings of private booths. A libation expert pours cocktails, sake, and traditional soju from behind a full bar, and on special nights, a late-night menu replenishes energy levels in between spins on the dance floor, where dancers fuel moves both with the beats of a live DJ and by convincing feet that the dance floor is a Korean grill.
Deciding to call a restaurant and bar “Cheap” seems like a bold move, but it might not mean what you think it means. The owners, who had gained insight into guests’ needs through their other spots—Hyde Park Café, Whiskey Park, and the Kennedy—wanted to name this new eatery something that would serve as a daily reminder of their mission: to always exceed customers’ expectations. And, aside from the prices, cheap is one thing they plan to never be called. Housed inside a brick building, Cheap blends fun, eclectic decor throughout, including low-hanging birdcage lamps over tabletops surrounded by hot-pink chairs. Likewise, the menus—four of them, specifically, along with drink and dessert lists—create unexpected culinary fusions by combining a range of international flavors. The signature Cheap menu mingles classic sushi rolls with tuna tacos and fresh ceviche, a tapas-inspired menu fuses empanadas and meat skewers with hearty rib-eye steaks, and menus of sliders and pizzas bring the flavor smorgasbord home again.
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.