Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ramen Mania Hits Tampa

Editor's update: I really hate to report this, but Nakaya has apparently closed for good, and that is not good. Sad to say, sayonara.

I remember it well. There on the menu in this little neighborhood eatery in San Pedro Sula, Honduras I spied Huevos del Toro. Did I have to try this grilled delicacy? Eggs of the bull? You betcha, I did. Ever since, I have been an aficionado of those tantalizingly tasty testicular treats.

It was with great anticipation that my bride and I entered the Nakaya Japanese Bistro at 301 West Platt Street in Hyde Park last night, for I had seen that the appetizer menu featured huevos del pulpo. Actually, it didn't and I was just a tad disappointed. What was listed was Takoyaki, otherwise known as octopus balls, a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan, but still I had to have them.

My balls, well the ones in my order, were filled with diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion, and then brushed with takoyaki sauce, similar to Worcestershire sauce, and mayonnaise. These were some really delightful balls, and probably one of the best dishes of the evening.

While octopus do have testicles (literally in their heads, not figuratively as in human males), there were no 'nads in this dish. Fun fact: Octopuses are extremely intelligent but live only 3-5 years, so they have limited time for accumulating information. Some researchers say that if octopuses lived longer, they, and not humans, would have been the dominant intelligence on Earth. 

Well, that should give us all the warm fuzzies. Were it not for a short life span we could be replaced by an octopus. Now, back to the food.

The Belle of Ballast Point decided to keep to dry land for her appetizer, Karaage, otherwise known as Japanese fried chicken. These tender morsels of juicy chicken are first marinated in ginger, garlic and soy sauce, then coated in potato starch and fried to crispy, mouth watering goodness, and then coated with a light dusting of curry powder. The chicken was accompanied by a savory dollop of wasabi aioli that was zesty, but not particularly beneficial to this dish.

Ramen seems to be the latest "foodie" craze sweeping the nation, and ramen mania has arrived here in Tampa with the appearance of Nakaya. This is a welcome addition to the food scene here in the land of ubiquitous sushi joints that seem to spring up on every street corner not unlike a new Walgreen's across from a CVS.

The Belle and I were curious to see what all the fuss was about. We have both experienced ramen in a cellophane bag from Publix. This is a quick and easy dish that is satisfying, especially if there is no other food in the house. But, what about a restaurant specializing in noodle-based soups?

I had read some good reviews of the Chashu Ramen bowl with sliced pork. Chashu is usually made with pork flank, which is also called pork belly or side pork. This cut is often used to make bacon.

My ramen bowl had several slices of a dry and tasteless pork loin. There were no traces of fat and as a consequence, no trace of flavor. The broth was savory and delicious with a sliced quail egg and hints of star anise. The noodles were, well, noodles.

For her ramen bowl, my bride chose the Wonton Ramen. Again, a very flavorful broth. The wontons seemed to have a somewhat mushy texture, either that or it was the filling. Either way, this wasn't one of her favorites.

As I mentioned earlier, it is great to see an alternative to the faux-sushi joints that seem to be sprouting like a mutant virus across our city, but it is difficult for us to get overly excited about ramen noodles. We brought some of ours home last night (we were too full to finish), along with some of that delicious broth.

I cooked up a package of the ramen from Publix this morning and then added some of the broth from last night. Comparing my two ramen bowls side by side, the differences in taste and texture were negligible. I can only conclude that it is the broth that makes a stand-out bowl of ramen, and this broth was superb.

Our bill for the evening came to an unbelievably (after all, this is Tampa) low $33.71. We felt a little guilty leaving a measly $7 tip for Angela, so we rounded up to $10. She was great.

Editor's update 5/18/2014: Nakaya finally received their beverage license and now serves beer and wine.

I would definitely encourage you to visit Nakaya. There is much more than just ramen bowls on their menu.

Nakaya Japanese Bistro on Urbanspoon

Nakaya Japanese Bistro on Foodio54


  1. You two have been going out on a culinary limb lately! I'm not sure I'm bold enough for Nakaya, but that Arirang Korean place is definitely going on my wishlist. Looking forward to seeing you both on Saturday. :)

    1. What? Octopus balls aren't on your gastronomic radar screen? You have no idea what you are missing. Or, maybe you do.