Restaurant outing: Kona Grill in Tampa

I fear chain restaurants. Not because of bad food or service, but because they aren’t the right thing for the community. Most of the money generated at chain restaurants leaves the city in the next morning’s deposit. So I rarely darken their doorways. But Kona Grill, who has over 20 locations throughout the country and is publicly traded on NASDAQ, proved too interesting to resist. So I’ll make up for the non-indie sin this weekend (starting tonight, when I hit Osteria Natalina). (For more info about how chains affect Tampa, check out the Tampa Independent Business Alliance)

Decor is pretty much what you’d expect — a well-paid designer worked hard to get that “urban”, “hip” yet “casual” look. It’s warm, inviting and, well, typical. You could be walking into Capital Grille, The Palm or… insert chain restaurant name here.

Wine list is fine, but not pushing the envelope. A few atypical selections to explore: Trevor Jones Virgin Chardonnay, 337 Cabernet (reviewed here), a 375-ml bottle of New Mexico’s Gruet sparkling wine, and Broquel Malbec.

But the food is pretty off the charts. Consistency is king at chains, since people frequent them to experience familiar flavors. When I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, I agonized when I saw the throngs of (mostly) Americans chowing on Big Macs while next door, a fantastic, authentically prepared meal desperately awaited love. That’s when I learned that, for whatever reason, people crave familiarity. And I was a freak.

Perhaps Kona Grill hasn’t developed that following yet, since it was far from packed on a Tuesday night. Could be due to the upteen high-end chain restaurants within a two mile radius. (Can anyone explain why chains always cluster? Do they share the same location planner or something?)

The Miso Sake Sea Bass ($23.25) blew me away. Other restaurants have this on their menu, and they do a decent job, but not this well. I feared asking where the fish was sourced from, since some regions have practically killed off the species. I didn’t ask — sea bass is so light, airy and oily delicious, guilt lost the fight. Hey, I buy grass fed beef, so maybe that makes up for it? Kona Grill marinates the fish for 72 hours (really? really?) and then pan sears it. They serve it plain… no sauce, no fuss. Trust me, it doesn’t need it. Not even a piece of parsley. That might effect the perfectness of the dish.

Other highlights: Husband chose the Big Island Meatloaf ($17.25), made more exciting with the addition of andouille and Italian sausage and a dollop of shoyu cream sauce (shoyu is a high end soy sauce). Pretty tasty. And the Turkey Burger ($11) — normally a dry, tasteless mess — was moist, flavorful and made me reconsider using turkey meat again.

Dessert: Skip dessert, at least the ones we  tried: Apple Crisp and Passionfruit Creme Brulée.  The crisp didn’t taste bad, except most bites were dominated by the caramel and crisp… where’s the apple? Creme brulée — and full disclosure, I used to be a pasty chef and mine completely rocks — wasn’t served warm and the consistency should be a little more firm, IMHO. Pasionfruit flavor was spot on though.

If you’re going for drinks and apps, try the Pot Stickers and the Avocado Egg Roll with the interesting cilantro-honey dipping sauce.

So I’d go back again… if I build up my independent restaurant karma first.

Kona Grill
4134 West Boy Scout Blvd (across from International Plaza)
Tampa, FL

Kona Grill on Urbanspoon

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1 comment to Restaurant outing: Kona Grill in Tampa

  • Ginger Watters

    A REALLY APPRECIATED, honest review! If I didn’t already know you, I would want to know you. Especially after hearing your preference for indie businesses vs. chains…but hey…we all cheat every now and then.

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