Tampa

We were recently invited to visit Clearwater Beach by the lovely folks at Wyndham Rewards to check out their Ocean Hai restaurant at Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach, recently awarded Four Diamonds by AAA.

The restaurant has a strong emphasis on seafood and pan-Asian cuisine featuring sumptuous sushi and sashimi platters to succulently pan-seared sea bass, all prepared under the culinary eye of Executive Chef Sean Ragan. Dishes are prepared with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, including seafood and farm-raised meats and poultry.

Chef Sean Ragan has over 25 years of professional experience in the hospitality and restaurant industries, previously working at Caretta on the Gulf at the Sandpearl Resort.

Throughout his career, he had been handpicked to train with highly regarded chefs such as Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme and Martin Yan, and cooked for other top restaurants including Oystercatchers under Chef Hans Hickel and Innisbrook Golf Resort and Spa as Executive Sous Chef. Most recently, Chef Ragan was named the 2015 Best Chef of Clearwater Beach – and the fine dishes at Ocean Hai live up to his curriculum vitae.

Born in New York, Chef Ragan was exposed to a melting pot of flavors and cultures, developing a passion for cooking and global cuisine. He received his degree with honors in Culinary Arts and Hotel Restaurant Management in 1994 from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He is also ACF Certified, a recipient of the honored Le Cordon Bleu Medallion and belongs to the historic and distinguished Chaine des Rotisseurs and Societe Mondiale du Vin.

On our visit, we experienced the Omakase – “Chef’s Choice” – multi course tasting menu designed to allow guests to experience a sample of all of Ocean Hai’s cuisine. The cost is usually $75 per person with an optional $25 add on for wine pairings to go along with the dishes.

The first dish of the evening: Lobster Fried Rice, a decidedly elevated take on the traditional fried rice, with delicate pieces of lobster, saffron rice, crispy shallots, and topped with a sunny side up egg. I could not get enough of this dish!

Our second dish of the evening was the Tetsubin Miso Soup – the humble miso soup is brought to new heights here, with smoky charred tofu and smoked mussel, and finished tableside with a pour over from a hot kettle with dashi miso broth miso.

The next course, a delightful compressed watermelon salad that was truly a work of art – cubed, pressed watermelon, heirloom tomato, marinated feta cheese, slices of cucumbers, dollops of basil pesto, and some soy gastrique drizzle. It sings of summer.

To highlight their sushi, we tried their nigiri sushi sampler, with ultra-fresh slices of tuna, salmon, and yellowtail fish that had me reminiscing some time ago in Tokyo, Japan.

For the entree, my dining partner had the pan-seared then broiled Asian Sea Bass, a succulent flaky sea bass with a nice crisp from the pan sear, on top of black Forbidden rice with some sugar snap peas, shiitake mushrooms, and microgreens.

My entree was the Mongolian Lamb Chops, perfectly seared and delicious chops of lamb, accented by a dash of Chinese five spice, and served alongside roasted eggplant, baby bok choy, and crystalized ginger.

The evening ended on a high note – dessert that was playful and delightful – ube / purple yam “twinkie” and deconstructed strawberry cheesecake. Art on a plate. From start to finish, Ocean Hai soared to new heights in Asian cuisine.

Lobster Fried Rice | Saffron Rice | Peas & Carrot | Sunny Side Egg | Crisp shallot | Sweet Soy 20

Tetsubin Miso Soup | Dashi Broth | Smoked Mussel | Charred Tofu | Wakame 9

Compressed Watermelon | Heirloom Tomato | Marinated Feta | Cucumber | Basil Pesto | Soy Gastrique 11

Nigiri Sampler – Tuna, Salmon, Yellowtail Nigiri SushiAsian Sea Bass | Forbidden Rice | Sugar Snap | Shiitake Mushroom | Micro Green 38

Mongolian Lamb Chops | Roasted Eggplant | Baby Bok Choy | Edamame Yogurt | Crystalized ginger 42

Deconstructed Strawberry Shortcake DessertPurple Ube Twinkies

If you do come to Ocean Hai, make sure to plan to have dinner while the sun sets over the shimmering waters of the Gulf.

From Wyndham Rewards

  • Wyndham Rewards recognizes ordinary, hard working men and women for what they do every day. From the annual vacationer to the frequent traveler, no matter how often our members stay with us, they are all united under the same loyalty program.
  • Go free – With just 15,000 points, you’ve earned a free night at any Wyndham Rewards hotel. 15,000 points = a free night. It’s that simple.
  • Go fast – Get a room night at a Wyndham Rewards hotel for just 3,000 points, plus some cash.
  • Go get ‘em – For every qualified stay you’ll get 10 points for every dollar or 1,000 points, whichever is more.
  • Wyndham Rewards: InstagramTwitterFacebookOfficial Website 
  • Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach: InstagramTwitterFacebookOfficial Website 
  • Official Hashtags: #WyndhamGrand, #WyndhamGrandClearwaterBeach, #LiveGrand, #GrandLife

Stay and dinner at Ocean Hai provided by Wyndham Rewards and Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach. All other views are my own.

If you’re in downtown Tampa for Cinco de Mayo/The Kentucky Derby and don’t know what to do, definitely consider visiting the Westin Hotel’s Blue Harbor for their first event since their grand opening, Cinco de Derby, happening from 3PM-12AM! I previewed a few of the specialty drinks that they’re going to be featuring this Saturday. Nonetheless, they have their Happy Hour from 4PM-7PM with some amazing full-sized appetizers for you to much on while you sip away!

First we started off with their calamari and cheese sample platter. The fried calamari sat on top a bed of veggies and then topped off with what reminded me of shrimp chips! The seasoning and sauces of this dish was amazing and probably one of the favorite calamari dishes I’ve had so far. The cheese platter was great, as well! The fruits were so fresh and sweet, and there was a nice assortment of cheeses that paired very nicely with the salami and pepperoni. I really liked how they had a couple of jams on the side with honey too.

Tropical Fire Water (shown above.) This was probably one of my favorite drinks. Though it’s not a featured specialty drink for the event, you should still give it a try! Beware there’s a bit of added spice to it, so if you’re not really into spicy, you may not be a fan.

Passion Fruit Mojito with a Pea Flower Infusion

Featured below are their three specialty drinks that they will be having at the event for just $10 each! Each were so good, my favorite was the Spicy Mia-Rita! All of their featured drinks use fresh ingredients with some Don Julio, yummm!

Cucumber Agave Lime Margarita (shown above)

Hightailing Jalisco Julep (shown above)

Spicy Mia-Rita (shown above)

Meet Will! The man behind the geniusness of these creative drinks. Definitely stop by and say hi and try his creations and tag him on Instagram @cocktailsbyfrost, ask him from a Scorpion Sting (those are good, but beware they have a little kick to them!)

All in all, I had a really great time at Blue Harbor Bar & Eatery! Their drinks are definitely one of a kind with such creativity and thought put into them. Definitely something to check out! Happy eatings though everyone (or maybe in this case drinking), until next time!

I’ve heard about Tampa’s Busch Garden’s Food and Wine Festival over the years, but never had the chance to go until now! With it being my very first foodie festival, I was not disappointed. This year being their 4th annual event, Busch Gardens had an array of cuisines, wines, craft beers, and cocktails to choose from with vegetarian and gluten free options available, as well. Guests have the option of sampling a number of foods and drinks throughout the park, while enjoying the animals and rides too; a plus for parents and their kids.

To start off our evening, our eyes were caught by the Char Siu Duck on a Steamed Bun and the Grilled Lamb Chops with Tabouleh & Tzatziki at Field House Eatery. The grilled lamb was my favorite! The meat was cooked and seasoned nicely and wasn’t gamey at all, when paired with the tabbouleh and tzatziki sauce it balanced the dish perfectly.

Next, we visited Artisan Eats, there we sampled the Duck Fat Truffle Fries with Parmesan Truffle Aioli and the Fleur de Mer Rosé.

Coast to Coast Cookery’s Pan-Seared Steak with Chimichurri & Roasted Poblano Hash, Flourless Chocolate Torte with Raspberry Sauce, and Swamp Head Brewery, Wheat Night Honey Cream Ale.

Garden Gate Café’s Truffle Seafood Mac & Cheese with Shrimp, Scallops, and Cod in a Creamy Gruyere Bechamel with White Truffle, Hawaiian-Seasoned Tuna Poke, You’re My Boy Blue Blueberry Brew, and Graffiti Orange American Wheat Beers. I’m a huge fan of tuna, so that was definitely one of my top dishes.

Now by this point, we were already getting full but we decided to end our night with Chef’s Plantation’s Salmon Cake with Lemon Aioli, Comfort Kitchen’s Fried Plantain Cups filled with Stewed Chicken, and Tasty Taqueria’s Frozen Mojito! The salmon cake and lemon aioli was such a light and refreshing dish that regardless of how full I was, I couldn’t stop eating it.

There were so many other cabins and vendors we missed out on, but the ones we visited definitely didn’t disappoint. From food to entertainment, Busch Garden’s Food and Wine Festival has something for everyone! You can visit Busch Gardens and experience this all yourselves, every weekend from March 3rd – April 29th. Happy eatings, everyone! Until next time.

Author: Melissa Dam
Photo Creds: Cindy Nguyen

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This may be the first time I am jealous of Tampa in my adult life.

Just opened on Thursday, February 1, Armature Works at the Heights is revitalizing the historic Tampa Heights neighborhood. It’s got a huge food hall called the Heights Public Market, comparable to the ones you may see in big cities like New York or San Francisco.

With its unobstructed view of the Hillsborough River, the $16.5 million redeveloped historic structure which once housed the city’s trolleys, has been reinvented as a community destination with innovative eateries, Heights Public Market, reimagined event spaces and an exclusive coworking space.

It features multiple events venues, a 13,000-square-foot co-working space, the Southern-inspired full-service restaurant Steelbach and Heights Public Market, a market-style food hall that brings together 14 new food vendors to Tampa Heights.

Nearby, Ulele and the Hall on Franklin have opened within walking distance of the Heights in recent years.

These are the 14 concepts that are open or will open in the public market:

  • Ava, wood-fired pizza restaurant
  • Astro Ice Cream Co.
  • Zukku, which serves Sushi, burritos and bowls
  • Butcher BBQ, which will also provide meats for Steelbach
  • Cru Cellars, which features organic wines
  • Cocina Taqueria
  • Fine & Dandy Emporium, the official Armature Works bar with craft cocktails, beer and wine
  • Graze 1910, which serves breakfast, brunch and dinner all day – think modern American diner
  • Hemingway’s, which serves Cuban cuisine, sandwiches and breakfast
  • Ichicoro Imoto Ramen
  • Inside the Box, Metropolitan Ministries’ salad and sandwich concept
  • Surf and Turf truck.com, which will be the first vendor in a rotating three-month lease stall
  • Swami Juice, acai bowls and cold-pressed juices
  • Union Coffee and Tea by Commune + Co., pressure brew, full espresso bar, drip coffee

ARMATURE WORKS – 1910 N Ola Ave, Tampa, FL 33602 – http://armatureworks.com/

Check out the photos by our friend Don Nguyen – you can follow him at https://www.instagram.com/thekitchensource/

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The Council Oak Steaks & Seafood restaurant at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa is actually the second iteration of the Council Oak restaurant, with the first being in Hollywood, Florida at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood.

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The name “Council Oak” comes from the namesake oak tree on the Hollywood reservation where Seminole tribe leaders would once meet regularly to discuss tribal business. Today, you can still see community and business leaders – like the President of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel – meeting with business cohorts but instead of around a real oak tree, they are at the Council Oak restaurant, discussing business matters around plates of steaks and lobsters in a fine dining setting.

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After walking through hallways filled with the hypnotic music of singing slot machines, the first thing you notice when approaching Council Oak is its open air, fully loaded – magnificent – Butcher Shop.

The Butcher Shop at Council Oak proudly offers genuine USDA prime dry-aged beef cut daily on the premises for purchase to take home, with cuts ranging from NY strips, ribeyes and porterhouses, bone-in filet mignon, and lamb chops. You can watch with your mouth agape as the butcher weighs and cuts pounds and pounds of beef just feet away, ready to be cooked up and served.

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Inside the restaurant, there is a contemporary look and luxurious feel, much like what you would find at fine dining restaurants at high end hotels these days. Shades of burgundy, sienna and gold complement the existing traditional rich, warm wood decor and towards the back of the restaurant, a full view of the glass encased kitchen where the chefs and their line cooks fire the grills and ovens away, preparing the freshest and highest quality ingredients into works of art for guests.

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At Council Oak, their U.S.D.A. prime steaks are all dry-aged 21 to 28 days, cut to order from from inside their very own on-site butcher shop and their Alaskan King Crab legs are brought fresh directly from the Bering Sea. Their seafood is among the freshest that I’ve tasted, with a rich flavor of the sea.

On our recent trip to Hard Rock for a dinner, my dining companions and I sampled a litany of dishes, showcasing the depth and variety available at the Council Oak, ensuring a nice cross-section of the menu.

First off, bacon. Of course, the bacon here is cured and smoked in house and tastes much better than the breakfast variety. This is bacon for dinner, dressed up and ready for action.

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FRESH COUNCIL OAK BACON $10
Cured & Smoked In-House

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COUNCIL OAK RAW BAR SAMPLER
Alaskan King Crab legs, Maine Lobster, Jumbo Cocktail Shrimp, Oysters, Clams
This was one of the freshest seafood dishes I’ve tasted. Of course the oysters and clams are raw, but the taste was so very fresh, they might have been pulled out of the ocean just moments before from what I could tell. The lobster and king crab legs and shrimp were all similarly fantastic, prepared very well.

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LONG BONE COWBOY RIBEYE – 26 oz. $50 – One of the Council Oak’s signature dishes, the long bone cowboy ribeye is juicy and savory with light seasoning so you can taste the essence of the steak. They also engrave initials onto the bone for you if you like. I asked for “TASTY” for tasty “chops”.

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DRY AGED LAMB CHOPS $50 -Two Double-Cut Chops, Fresh Rosemary, Roasted Garlic – This dish was good, but would say that it was probably the least memorable of the evening. Fresh, and savory, but maybe missing something. The meat was very flavorful.

For dessert, one of the signature dishes is the light, airy, divine – souffle, ranging from traditional Grand Marnier, to Vanilla bean and chocolate, each with its own sauce to pour over.

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There is also a tasting menu going on at the moment at Council Oak, a new concept from the chef to showcase their chops, so to speak. It would change seasonally and would feature the freshest ingredients of the time with four courses for $99 per person.

AUTUMN’S PRIME PAIRINGS

A FOUR COURSE TASTING OF THE SEASON’S MOST EXCITING INGREDIENTS,
PERFECTLY PAIRED WITH WINES FROM THE CELLAR

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COUNCIL OAK PRIME SIRLOIN TARTARE
Poached Quail Egg, House-Made Melba

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PRIME SHORT RIB RISOTTO
Wild Autumn Mushrooms, Truffle, Reggiano

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PETITE WAGYU BEEF FILET
Mustard, Vidalia Onion Custard, Wilted Rainbow Chard, Bordelaise

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FIVE SPICED CHOCOLATE CREMEUX
Chocolate Soil, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, Coffee Frappe

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Council Oak at The Hard Rock on Urbanspoon

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