TAMPA — It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Water Avenue.
Scorching on the heels of big-name openings like Boulon Brasserie, Small Big and Wine on Water comes Wagamama, the one chain of the bunch and arguably essentially the most informal of the lot.
The pan-Asian restaurant first launched in London in 1992 and has since expanded globally, boasting greater than 200 areas. Tampa’s Water Avenue addition marks the seventh US location for the chain, which seems to be ramping up its efforts stateside. There are Wagamama areas slated to open in Arlington, Virginia, and Dallas later this spring.
The spot’s identify interprets loosely from Japanese to “naughty baby,” and options trendy interpretations of a wide range of Asian cuisines, from Japanese ramen bowls to Thai noodle dishes.
Wagamama isn’t a fast-casual restaurant in the commonest sense of the time period — diners don’t order in an assembly-line format at a register and there’s swift desk service from the ample waitstaff clad within the spot’s signature crimson T-shirts. However Wagamama’s “wok to desk” strategy is undeniably informal and the meals positive does come quick. Plus, that is a global chain — service is extraordinarily polished and there’s not prone to be a lot (if any) variation in a succession of meals. Consistency is essential, in any case.
Dishes are recognized by crimson numbers on the menu (107, 91, 11) — a barely odd system, however one which’s utilized all through the whole firm. Dishes are additionally listed as vegan or vegetarian, the place relevant, and embody as much as three tiny chili pepper icons to demarcate how spicy a dish is.
I popped by on a breezy Thursday with a coworker, a few days previous the restaurant’s grand opening on Feb. 11. It was lunchtime, and the place was filled with diners.
There was a gentle hum all through the eating room, with people crowding the restaurant’s lengthy bar counter and communal seating areas in addition to a choice of high-tops. The entire thing had a buzzy, upscale cafeteria vibe, which felt fairly applicable, given the setting.
We began with a few fresh-squeezed juices, together with a shiny marigold-hued ginger and turmeric immunity booster ($4) and the Tremendous Inexperienced ($6.5), a refreshing mix of apple, mint, celery and lime. There’s a complete checklist of Asian-inspired cocktails, too, from a Thai chili margarita ($11) to a Japanese Highball ($11), however this being lunch, we determined to stay with the softer stuff.
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For starters, we opted for the sticky and scrumptious Bang Bang Cauliflower ($9), a fiery jumble of crispy-fried cauliflower florets draped in a candy and spicy firecracker sauce, tossed with crimson onions, scallions, ginger and cilantro. Different “shareable” appetizers advised by our server included the edamame ($8), which comes tossed in a chili garlic salt and the Chili Calamari ($12), which options squid dredged in cornstarch and fried till crispy, served with a chili and cilantro dipping sauce.
From there, the menu expands to incorporate salads, sandwiches, together with a beef brisket banh mi ($14), curries, noodles, like a ginger rooster udon bowl ($16), rice dishes together with a rooster teriyaki donburi, ($17.50) and a choice of ramen bowls.
We opted for the rooster pad Thai ($16), a strong tackle the traditional dish, with tender hunks of marinated rooster, rice noodles, egg, chili, ginger, scallions, crimson onions, leeks, bean sprouts and peanuts. The miso cod served with soba noodles ($20) might have used a bit extra seasoning however was saved by the tremendous flavorful inexperienced tea soba noodles and paired with bok choy, snow peas, crimson bell peppers, scallions, ginger, chile and cilantro.
If there’s nonetheless room for dessert (there wasn’t for us, this time round), the menu sports activities a number of Asian-inspired candy treats, together with a panko-breaded banana katsu ($9.50), topped with caramel sauce and a served with a salted caramel ice cream; a matcha cheesecake served with ginger ice cream ($9.50) and a lemon tart served with a berry compote ($9.50).
All in all, Wagamama’s strategy isn’t too daring and there aren’t quite a lot of dishes that stray too removed from the acquainted Asian-fusion territory, although a number of actually dial up the warmth. However the restaurant does supply a constant, speedy and attractive choice of pan-Asian dishes in an satisfying, trendy setting. I stay up for returning and testing the dinner scene and some of these tasty-sounding cocktails.
Wagamama is open for lunch and dinner every day, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday via Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Should you go
1050 Water St., Tampa. 813-429-9242. https://www.wagamama.us/eating places/tampa