Dish Crawl Ybor City, The Ultimate Foodie Restaurant Hop

March 24, 2013 by: Leslie Floyd

   Dishcrawl: One of the coolest cuisine concepts to ever come to Tampa.  An eventful eating experience existing in almost 100 cities across the nation, the idea is simple.  Round up a friendly group of food lovers and discover four restaurants that highlight your city’s culinary charm.  Think: college pub-crawl for grown-ups…only this crawl is a much anticipated monthly delight with a different neighborhood to discover each time. 

     When one of my favorite fellow food bloggers, Tracy brought Dishcrawl to my hometown, I knew it would impress.  Serving as the official ambassador for a foodie’s night of fun, she ensures that each eatery shows off their scrumptious skills for customers new and old.  The second I heard word that Ybor City would be the third installment for the restaurant hop, I was in.  Tampa’s famous “Cigar City” has always been near and dear to my heart…not for the late night, bad rap, sketchy scene, but for the delicious afternoon and evening mealtime affairs.  With so much interesting history and charisma, it is truly a shame the quaint “little Cuban city” isn’t home to only fun restaurants and shops. But I’ll save that personal rant for another day. 

    

Where would we begin our food tour by foot?  Istanblu- a brand new Turkish restaurant created by the same people who brought the much admired, fried seafood staple, Shrimp n Co. right down the street.  Having visited Istanblu just after it’s opening, a couple months ago, I knew I’d be swooned.  Before sitting down to a “taste” of Turkey, my friend (and fellow blogger), Megan and I treated ourselves to a shaken creation.  A concoction of chipotle, tequila and citrus juices, this refreshment packed a mean punch.  High nods for their libation creative efforts, I am not so sure I’d have the courage to ever down another. 

       Walking up the stairs to our reserved loft dining room, I couldn’t help but appreciate the awesomely unique and inviting décor that surrounded us.  Once seated, we were presented with a small plate of pita, house made humus and Tavuk Shish Kebap…or in simple English terms, grilled chicken on a skewer.  The chicken was moist and clearly marinated in a delectable blend of spices and juices.  The pita, soft and very fresh, was a perfect partner to the smooth and flavorful humus.  Though Istlanblu kept their sample rather simple, I can speak for this restaurant with my prior visits where I devoured numerous flawless Turkish meats and veggies.

Istanblu Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

     Time to trot down 7th Ave. to dish stop #2.  Gaspar’s Grotto greeted us with both their red and white Sangria.  We loved them already.  I opted for the red (per usual) and was surprised at how perfectly sweet the fruit infused wine and brandy tasted on my tongue.  Normally, I am disturbed by the abundance of sugar in Sangria but Gaspar’s nailed it with the mixing of this Spanish drink.


     And then there was food…lots and lots of food.  To each table of Dishcrawl guests came out a plate…ahem, I mean tray of Cuban sandwiches, Pulled Pork Quesadillas and Smoked Fish Spread.   Gaspar’s Cuban, voted best Cuban in Florida at one day in time, definitely stood true to its win.  Jamon dulce (ham), mojo pork, swiss, pickles, salami and the standard mustard-mayo blend came pressed between La Segunda Central’s Cuban bread.  With all the usual suspects (though I’m against the addition of salami), this Cuban was warm, fresh and undeniably tasty. 


Photo courtesy "I Run for Wine"

    

The quesadillas, stuffed with pulled pork, onions, bell peppers and cheese were served with guava sour cream and salsa.  Warm, ooey gooey cheese was made best friends with the luscious pulled pork.  Topped off with the guava sour cream…these quesadillas had one phenomenal Spanish twist.  Smoked Fish spread, when done right, is one of my most loved “dips” in the world.  This smoked fish spread…well, it was decent enough.  A combination of smoked gulf fish, onion, dried fruit and Caribbean spices was served on toast points and presented rather pretty.  It had nothing on Ted Peters…but then again, that’d be a hard battle to win.


Gaspar's Grotto on Urbanspoon

Photo courtesy "My Other City by the Bay"

    

As we began to feel a bit full due to Gaspar’s great generosity, we pulled ourselves up from our chairs and crawled on over to stop #3: Bernini.  As I walked into the two storied, dressed-up Italian eatery, I felt rather nostalgic as this place was my pre-prom dinner destination 10 years ago.  I hadn’t been back since.  Why?  I am head over heels in love with Laughing Cat Bistro just a hop, skip and jump away.  Yet, I am aware that Bernini gives “The Cat” some serious competition with their authentic Italian goods so I was still pretty amped to try their fare.

     I sat down to a trio of treats that were just begging for some taste bud attention.  Foolish me, I neglected to read the menu right in front of me.  As I dug my fork into cannelloni coated in a light red sauce and took bite, I mistakenly assumed I was eating ground beef.  Nope, I broke my vow with veal.  Cannelloni stuffed with roasted vegetables, ricotta and veal came smothered in an Aurora sauce and melted Fontina cheese.  Though prepared with excellence, I couldn’t bear to have another bite.  


   

A Truffled Risotto was also sitting before me.  Cooked with wild mushrooms, Parmesan and truffle oil, the al-dente Italian rice melted in my mouth.  Jumping over to the third taste-a bright Tuna tartar with avocado, fried wonton, cucumber, Ahi and sour cream.  I love Tuna tartar, I mean I really, really love it.  However, this spoonful of bold colors let me down.  Awfully acidic, I am not certain how they went wrong.  Maybe it was just a bad day for tuna…

Bernini on Urbanspoon

       

Last but certainly not least…Carne Chophouse.  After looking over Carne’s menu a couple of months ago, I have been dying to visit this better than basic steakhouse.  Their menu is one that reads like a novel of drool-worthy meats and gluttonous starters and sides.  The ambiance-it is even better…vaulted ceilings, dim lighting and beautiful architecture create the ultimate date night or celebration kind of experience.  After ordering one of their $2 Finlandia happy hour martinis (yes, you read correctly) I made my way over to their buffet, exclusive to us dish-crawlers.  There, I found Deviled Eggs, Ropa Vieja and chargrilled BBQ chicken skewers. 


Photo courtesy "My Other City by the Bay"

 

The chicken skewers, not a regular menu item, were lovely.  However, the Ropa Vieja was the real star of the show.  Fork-tender, this shredded beef mixed with tomatoes and peppers was absolutely divine.  One of my top choice Spanish dishes, I am a tough critic of “Old Clothes” and this rendition was received well.  The deviled eggs, made with crispy bacon, were also yummy but would have been far better had they not been so cold.  Perhaps a personal preference, I think deviled eggs are best served room temperature. 

Carne ChopHouse on Urbanspoon

Photo courtesy "I Run for Wine"

       

  My first Dishcrawl experience?  It was grand.  I chatted with friends and foodies alike while I chomped down on some mouthwatering offerings.   An enjoyable way to spend a weeknight evening, I would definitely partake in the food joint journey again.  


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