Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar

WHERE: 3601 W. Swann Ave.

WHAT: A modern movement for good food and good times. Carmel’s menu of Mod Med (modern Mediterranean) is a perfect match of classic elements made in an innovated way (like chicpea fries and seafood gyros). And Carmel’s vibrant decor designed around group gatherings and revolutionary ordering system make it a taste of what we are sure to see coming from the restaurant world - iPad menus that show images and appropriate wine pairings for all menu items. Guests can also use Carmel’s iPad menus to search for wines, find food to match and place their orders.

WHY: Because you don’t have to limit yourself to one or two glasses of wine. Carmel offers wine servings in sizes of 3, 6 and 9 ounce glasses. So you can sample selections of their deep and varied wine collection without compromise.

WHO (To Take With You): Someone you haven’t seen in awhile. Carmel is the perfect place to bring a friend or group of family members (or any combination of both) to have a meal and catch up. Thanks to an interactive menu and great selection of sharing plates, Carmel makes it easy to sit, eat and reconnect without much interruption.

WHEN: Every Sunday and Monday from 5-9 pm. Every week, Carmel offers a crazy good special prix fixe Dinner for Two menu. For $24.95, the meal includes a first course choice of one starter to share, second course choice of salad for each guest, third course choice of two small plates and fourth course choice of one dessert to share. The menu will include seasonal favorite selections from Carmel’s menu so it makes it hard not to go on both Sunday and Monday.

HOW:  p. 813-964-6889 | CarmelCafe.com | Facebook 

Carmel Café & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Seasons 52

WHERE: 204 North Westshore Blvd.

WHAT: One of the few franchises you’ll find featured on Dive In. You know that Tampa loves to support the local community so it might seem strange that we are promoting Seasons 52 – a restaurant group based out of Orlando. But when you learn a little bit about this fresh grill, it all makes sense. Seasons is locally influenced and produced. Their meats, fruits and veggies comes from nearby farms (whenever possible) and are chosen to suit the seasonal items that grow and define our area — all while supporting our local community.

WHY: Because Seasons 52 corporate actually cares about their customers, community and coworkers. They cook with real flavors and ingredients – not butter, so patrons can enjoy a menu with no meals over 475 calories. They incorporate as many green, sustainable, and natural foods and processes as they can to decrease their carbon footprint. And in their corporate offices, they hide the elevators so more people choose to take the stairs, pushing their employees toward a healthier and more active lifestyle.

WHEN (To Go): When you want to do something good for yourself – every season of the year. If you haven’t put the pieces together, Seasons 52 is built around the four seasons and 52 weeks of the year. Every season, the menu changes to reflect seasonal flavors and fresh food availability. Additionally, the fresh grill changes sometimes weekly to bring in foods that may only be available for a limited time – like the Wild Alaskan Copper River Salmon that was only offered for seven weeks. (Which, considering it was the best salmon I’ve ever had, is sad but true.)

WHO (To Take With You): If you have no problem admitting you’re wrong, bring your vegetarian friend. Sometimes it’s hard to admit you’re wrong, but you will be eating your words – and some tasting veggies and tofu – right next to your vegetarian friend who has been pushing you toward their meatless lifestyle for years. Seasons 52 has menu items that will make you see the light on bites like grains of life, roasted tofu, chili rellenos and roasted vegetables.

HOW: (813) 286-1152

www.seasons52.com

Menu 

The Hard Rock Café

Tampa has long had the luxury of the nearby Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, but only in early 2011 did the entire Rock experience come full circle. Now in addition to gambling and gaming, Tampa residents can enjoy entertainment and entrees offered by our very own Hard Rock Café.

Inside the Café of Rock

The major allure of the Hard Rock Cafe is its atmosphere. It’s flashy, sexy and vibrant – a perfect escape place to experience the wilder side of life – the life of a rock star.

Whether attempting to walk in the shoes of a superstar or see the actual shoes of superstar, visitors of the Hard Rock Café can experience all angles of the limelight.

Most tables offer a vibe and view that feels like center stage or a VIP section of a show.  And with individual touchscreens at each booth, visitors can scroll through memorabilia from their favorite musical acts when they aren’t checking out in the in-house collection of rock artifacts.

The Hard Rock Café is more than just a few guitars hanging from the ceiling. The memorabilia is something special. Even a nostalgic skeptic can’t help but be impressed by a cocktail napkin from the Beverly Hills Hotel with song lyrics scribbled on it. Seeing the start of a timeless song that will outlive us all is pretty damn cool.

It’s true that most groups and couples are drawn to the Hard Rock Café looking for that inspiring, rock-related experience and not necessarily for a particular entree – but visitors will be happily surprised. Eating at the Hard Rock is another treat fit for rock royalty.

A Taste of The Menu

Despite what you might think, the Hard Rock’s menu isn’t filled with burgers and bland steaks – special only because of a quirky, rock-related name and “blues” cheese. Instead, the menu is something you would more likely find in a swanky, urban establishment.

From bruschetta, insanely fresh and crunchy covered with chopped, ripe, Roma tomato toppings, to single serving shots of specialty desserts of chocolate mouse and creamy cheesecake – a meal at the Hard Rock is unexpected treat from start to finish.

The menu options are enough that anyone can find something in their range of favorite flavors and preparation preferences from chef specialties in Italian to Southern Style BBQ and upgraded versions of American favorites.

A few stand out plates are the Homemade Eggplant Stack, a towering construction made with layers of eggplant mozzarella, tomatoes, arugula, and balsamic glaze, and Famous Fajitas, classic chicken wraps with a rainbow of toppings and fixens.

The Real Experience

The Hard Rock Cafe isn’t about gimmicky guitars hanging from the ceiling. And it’s not a tourist trap designed to lure in a local-attraction enthusiast.

At the root of the Rock – it’s a really great restaurant spot perfect for group gatherings and special nights out.  With an atmosphere that will make an ordinary evening feel over-the-top and a menu with delicious offerings and something for everyone, the Hard Rock Café is a gathering spot wrapped in nostalgia and rock, good food and fun times.

Go for the first time for the experience. Then go back for the food.

Hard Rock Cafe at Seminole Casino on Urbanspoon

It Just Keeps Getting Better

A new $75 million expansion project will make the Seminole Hard Rock the eighth-largest Hard Rock location in the world.

The expansion will extend the existing 190,000 square feet of gaming space by 32,000 square feet, making the casino floor larger than five football fields.  The space will have over 5,000 slot machines, 105 table games and 50 poker tables. In April, the Hard Rock held a huge job fair to hire over 400 people needed to operate the massive new addition.

Game on.

Row Boat Mediterranean Cuisine

Where: 1820 N. 15th Street – Ybor

What: An open window (or door) into Mediterranean life. Having a meal at Row Boat is like walking into a traditional Mediterranean household and sitting down for dinner (or lunch or a late night snack). This isn’t just another gyro stand – it’s inviting, authentic culture and cuisine that will make even the most unadventurous eater a diehard fan of falafel.

Why: Because the cooks wake up early so your food is fresh. Just about everything at Row Boat Mediterranean is homemade daily – not mass produced and purchased. The hummus isn’t from a jar – it’s from freshly blended chickpeas and garlic. And the falafel – it’s packed with crunch and flavor because it has just come out of the kitchen not the package. And the daily specials are all specially prepared first thing in the morning to ensure each plate is to the highest degree of deliciousness.

Who (To Take With You): The friend who is afraid to order something they don’t know how to say. Row Boat Mediterranean is the best place to start stepping out the box and trying something new because you don’t have to worry about being let down. Take your taste buds on an adventure and find out that there is life beyond the burger bar and grill.

When (To Go): When you are on your way to grab a slice of pizza after a night out. Two things usually attract people to Ybor – food and nightlife. Well, with Row Boat you get the best of both worlds – a delicious day food spot and a late-night craving kicker. Row Boat is open late on weekend nights to cater to the crowds of hungry Ybor party patrons and offer an after-hours alternative to pizza. But wait there’s more….

R Bar

What: Row Boat’s side kick bar and lounge. R Bar, located next door, serves the same menu offering along with drinks from a full liquor bar.

Why: Because the patrons are laid-back, the staff is friendly, and the alcohol-soaked maraschino cherries are free.

Who (To Take With You): Your friend who is up for a good game of Connect Four or Uno. R Bar has taken some of the best old school board games from your past and made them into bar games – plus there is a ping pong table.

When (To Go): When you finally feel like getting out and trying something new. It will be worth it.

How: 813-248-0001, Find it on Facebook, www.rowboatybor.com

Row Boat Mediterrean Cuisine on Urbanspoon

The Green Lemon (The Lime)

WHERE: 915 S. Howard

WHAT: Mexican food without all the gimmicky hoopla and cheesy mariachi band. By keeping authentic ingredients and flavors, losing nacho cheese drenched food fillers, and adding the flashy flair of night out on the town, The Green Lemon has succeeded in modernizing Mexican without losing what makes the masses move toward the border.

WHEN (To Go): Taco Tuesdays. At just $2 each, you can mix and match a line up of Lime Street Tacos – authentic corn tortillas with fillings that range from seasoned ground beef and crispy battered mahi mahi all the way to habanera shredded beef and avocado glazed buffalo chicken.  It gets better.  Coronas are just $2 bucks too.

WHO (To Take With You): The friend that never wants to join you for Mexican because they are counting calories. While most Mexican options tend to weigh heavily on a weight watchers point index, The Green Lemon offers a variety of menu items – like Fiesta Bowls made with a base of fresh veggies, rotisserie meats, citrus jasmine rice and cabbage – for the calorie conscientious.

WHY: Because the guacamole is fresh out of the avocado. Order The Green Lemon’s guacamole appetizer and you don’t get a little dish of green stuff – you get a guac engineer who arrives to your tableside to prepare a fresh batch of chip dip, with your choice or fixings, just for you.

HOW: 813-868-LIME, www.thelimetampa.com ; Find it on Facebook

Lime on Urbanspoon

Datz Delicatessen

WHERE: 2616 South MacDill Ave.

WHAT: A field day for culinary arts. Indulging in a fine brunch, lunch or dinner at Datz is just the beginning. You can also enjoy an array of top shelf  liquors, wines and craft beers; buy high-quality cooking ingredients and imported cheeses; and enjoy a deep selection of desserts, gelatos, cakes, cookies and cupcakes.

WHEN (To Go): Well, for starters, check the Datz Event Calendar. This “Gastropub” hosts events like Chef’s Kitchen interactive cooking demos and three-course Food and Drink Pairings.

WHO (To Take with You): Your dine and whine friend. Everyone has one – that friend who turns up their nose at 90% of food that finds their plate and constantly complains about Tampa being so far behind the restaurant renaissance of bigger cities. Take them to dinner at Datz and you can be sure to enjoy a pout-free meal. And because Datz changes their dinner menu nightly, you can keep bringing them back for more.

WHY: Because Datz has converted the comfort foods that you remember from your family’s kitchen into culinary achievements worthy of top-chef status. Datz serves modern (but still classic) versions of meatloaf, chicken and waffles, chicken pot pie and shrimp n’ grits so good even your grandmother would approve.

HOW: p. 813-831-7000; www.datztampa.com ; Find it On Facebook

Datz Tampa on Urbanspoon

Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant

WHERE: 2500 West Azeele

WHAT: One of the few places where you can order multiple plates from the menu without fear of overindulgent judgment or guilt. Ceviche serves over 100 different tapas dishes – small plates of Spanish cuisine similar to appetizers – so it’s perfectly acceptable to be excessive in ordering from their menu filled with different variation of tapas made from chicken, eggplant, potatoes, mussels, shrimp, fish, clams, mushrooms, anchovies, asparagus and every other delicious ingredient in existence.

WHEN (To Go): Tuesdays. Get a whole lot of bang for 4 bucks every Tuesday as Ceviche hosts Tapas Tuesday. Over 30 different tapas are specially priced at $4 each. It gets even better – glasses of Sangria, which come in red and white, are also priced at $4.

WHO (To Take With You): Your friend that can’t make decisions. Ceviche is the place where if you can’t decide on what to order, you get both. Tapas takes the pressure out of ordering because you can order two or three plates. It’s safe to try something new and you never have to settle for one or the other.

WHY: Because it’s a great place to gather. Tapas is meant to be shared, so invite your friends, fill your table to the brim with plates of delicious tapas, eat, drink and be merry.

HOW: 813-250-0202, http://www.ceviche.com/, Find it on Facebook

Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

717 South

WHERE: 717 South Howard

WHAT: Culinary worlds colliding. The menu at 717 is a combination of two completely different cuisines – Pacific Rim/Asian and Italian – but somehow this menu of seafood and pasta feels perfectly paired.

WHEN (To Go): Business lunch. Even if you aren’t going to 717 to talk about business, you will feel obligated to at least fake it while dining next to suits eating steaks. You can practically feel the power in the air.

WHY: Because you might bump into some of Tampa’s best athletes and coaches. During a post game interview, Ray’s head coach Joe Maddon commented that he and Buccaneer’s head coach Raheem Morris “break bread once in awhile at 717… a very good restaurant in South Tampa.” That’s probably why Morris and the rest of the Bucs celebrated the end of the lock out with a dinner at 717.

WHO (To Take With You): Someone who appreciates the finer things in life. The interior of 717 oozes with high-end ambiance, the staff treats everyone like a VIP, and the designer food tastes as good as it looks. It  feels, tastes and looks uber expensive, but it’s not.

HOW: 813-250-1661; On the Web. Find it on Facebook.

717 South on Urbanspoon

Downtown’s Pizza Fusion

WHERE: Downtown – 777 North Ashley Drive

WHAT: A step (& bite) in the right direction. Pizza Fusion is like any great neighborhood pizzeria, the vibe – authentic and original, the staff – friendly and helpful, and the food – fresh and fantastic. But at Pizza Fusion, it’s so much more than that. Along with a commitment to creating quality, gourmet pizza pies, Pizza Fusion has dedicated itself to making the world a better place by being both socially and environmentally conscience and as healthy as possible.

WHEN (To Go): When you feel like tasting something local. Pizza Fusion prides itself on using local vendors so those veggies on your Fusion Salad or Gourmet Slice are from nearby farms and that frothy, draft beer is from Tampa’s own Cigar City Brewery. Savor in the freshest ingredients while supporting Tampa’s local economy.

WHY: Because you can eat pizza and save the planet at the same time. Pizza Fusion has a strict green philosophy committed to preserving and improving the environment. They drive hybrid delivery trucks, offset 100% of their energy with renewable wind, and give customers discounts for bringing back their pizza boxes to recycle them.

WHO (To Take With You): Your friend on the no preservatives, growth hormones, pesticides or trans fats, gluten-free meal plan. The menu items at Pizza Fusion have no artificial additives and are 75% organic. Yes, your dreams have come true…. a world where you can call pizza healthy.

HOW: 813-463-1600; On the Web; Find it on Facebook

Pizza Fusion at Skypoint on Urbanspoon

L’Eden Restaurant and Bar

WHERE: 500 North Tampa Street

WHAT: Downtown eatery that is like three restaurants rolled into one. During breakfast, L’Eden is a fine French bakery and café – serving savory specialties like croissants, pain au chocolat and brioche. At lunch, it’s a gourmet bistro with a menu of craft sandwiches, crepes and quiches. And by dinner, L’Eden has become an affordable, fine dining restaurant serving an array of international cuisine.

WHY: Because you’ve never had a croissant this good. Flaky on the outside, warm and chewy on the inside, these contradictory croissants are baked fresh every morning and served plain or stuffed with cheese, eggs and ham or bacon. Prepare to be hooked.

WHEN (To Go): The next time you are on your way to Applebee’s or some other chain restaurant. L’Eden serves food that isn’t frozen or mass produced. Each menu item is crafted with thought and care, made with fresh ingredients and created with Chef Gerard Jamgotchian’s personal touch, setting the meals miles apart from standard chain restaurant faire. Don’t cheat yourself on your night out. Go to L’Eden instead.

WHO (To Take With You): Your friend that has traveled (& tasted) the world. Although Chef Gerard hails from France, the dinner menu at L’Eden is not exclusively French and includes authentic international dishes from over a dozen different countries and regions. From Italy to India to Australia, the samplings of entree options make it possible to taste flavors from around the globe in just one simple sitting.

HOW: p. 813-221-4795; www.dine-at-leden.com; Find it on Facebook; Hours vary so you may want to call ahead.

L'Eden on Urbanspoon