Samurai Cat Slays in The ‘Burg

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Samurai Cat Slays in The ‘Burg

I just love it when we get a new eatery that is offering something unique and different in St. Pete. An extra bonus for me is that it is Asian, or more specifically in this case—Japanese. It is also niche-Japanese as it is a bakery & cafe offering breakfast, lunch and treats. Casual early dinner can be had as well. Their offerings are quite reasonably priced at this fast casual establishment. They are open from 8 am to 8 pm for takeout and dine-in. Those are perfect hours for me as I like to start early.

I went for breakfast, and then came back for lunch on the same day as I was so excited to get the word out about this exciting new addition to our city. They had their soft opening in early April, and they already seem to have established a regular crowd. I hung out in the back dining room where the final assembly open kitchen is and chatted with Chef Howard while I ate. During this time a few customers came in and they exchanged familiar greetings with the chef.

I’ve been formally studying Japanese cuisine for over a year now, and it wasn’t until last year that I learned of the existence of Onigiri. There’s only one restaurant offering it that I could find in St. Pete, besides Samurai Cat. It is BIG in Japanese culture as it is something that the kids grow up with in their bento boxes that they take for school lunch, and then it becomes comfort food for Japanese adults.

After I learned how to make it, and showed photos to the Japanese woman that works at my chiropractor, she lit up like a kid at Christmas.

If you are not familiar with onigiri, here’s a quick lesson that is mandatory if you want to enjoy it properly.

Onigiri is a rice ball, usually stuffed, and usually shaped into a triangle. There is also usually nori seaweed on the outside. (This is the same seaweed that you find with sushi.)

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Samurai Cat’s onigiri is quite authentic right down to the grab & go packaging. Most onigiri consumed in Japan is purchased at convenience stores in clear plastic packaging. The nori is not wrapped around the rice ball as the moisture would make it soggy. It needs to be crisp so it crunches and bites off easily. The consumer wraps it themselves as follows.

Packaged Onigiri
Packaged Onigiri
Open the package and place rice triangle on a napkin
Open the package and place rice triangle on a napkin
Carefully open the plastic around the nori and remove it
Carefully open the plastic around the nori and place the rice in the center

This is the trickiest part. The nori is fragile, and if you aren’t extremely careful, you will tear it when removing the plastic. Use one hand to hold the nori sheet in place while very gently pulling the plastic wrap up from its corner that is in the middle of the nori. Do this with all four corners of the plastic wrap.

Once the plastic wrap is opened, then place your rice triangle on top of the the nori sheet, and then wrap it up.  Mine started to unravel, so I put a little moisture on my finger from the condensation on my drink cup, and glued down the corners.

Wrapped Onigiri Ready to Eat
Wrapped Onigiri Ready to Eat

Sorry for the long explanation on onigiri, but I thought it would be necessary for the uninitated St. Pete diner.

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The two onigiri offerings are:

Tuna Onigiri – short grain seasoned rice ball filled with tuna, Kewpie mayo, and wrapped in nori.

Smoked Salmon Onigiri – short grain rice ball filled with smoked salmon cream cheese, brunoise red onions, and dill coated in everything seasoning.

You can’t tell from the photos, but these are about the size of your hand, so one might be enough for most people, but I wanted to try them both and they were delicious.

Cold Sesame Udon Salad
Cold Sesame Udon Salad

The Cold Sesame Udon Salad was delicious and filling. I like how they intertwine the cabbage strands with the noodles. There’s a nice contrast of chewiness with the udon, and crispy bright notes with the cabbage. The freshness of the cucumber and umami of the sesame soy sauce pull it all together. It’s quite delicious as is, but you can also request some chili crunch oil if you like spice, and that puts it really over the top. (This is not shown in the photo as I put it on after I started eating.) Be sure to squeeze the lime onto it too.

Menu description: chilled udon noodles dressed with sesame soy sauce, tossed with thinly sliced cabbage, cucumber, chives, and sesame seeds.

Tamago Sando
Tamago Sando

I was pretty full by this time, but I still wanted to try the Tamago Sando (egg salad sandwich), so I ordered one to go, except that I ate half of it there while talking to Chef Howard Lopez, and brought home the other half for the next day’s breakfast. (In years past, the chef formerly worked at Noble Rice with Rexley Kwok, the owner of Sushi Sho Rexley in St. Pete.)

The sandwich is tasty with the Kewpie mayo, and fun with the soft boiled, jammy eggs in addition to the egg salad.

Matcha Lemonade
Matcha Lemonade

I accompanied my lunch with a cool, refreshing Matcha Lemonade. This will be a regular beverage order for me.

Ube Rice Crispy
Ube Rice Crispy

I took home an Ube (purple yam) Rice Crispy for dessert. It was nice and gooey and sticky with just the right amount of sweetness.

The next day, I ate the other half of my Tamago Sando for breakfast, and then headed back to Samurai Cat for lunch. (I forgot that I ate breakfast as I told the chef that I didn’t. That note is just for him when he reads this.)

Tiger Avocado Toast
Tiger Avocado Toast

Everything up to this point was really good with the Udon Salad being my favorite until I came back and got the Tiger Avocado Toast – jammy egg, avocado, lime, cucumbers, nori, chili crisp, and scallions on toasted milk bread.

This open faced sandwich / Japanese avocado toast is so packed with flavor. It’s unbelievable. Imagine a suitcase that somebody’s trying to jam with twice the amount of clothes that can actually fit into it, and then they have to sit on top of it to close it. That’s how jam-packed with flavor this is. It also looks great with this fantastic plating.

All of the sandwiches and toasts come on traditional Japanese Milk Bread, currently coming in from New York.

Traditional Thai Iced Tea
Traditional Thai Iced Tea

My drink for this visit was the Traditional Thai Iced Tea – Thai Tea, condensed milk, evaporated milk. It is creamy and on the sweet side. I enjoyed it as I knew what to expect, but if you don’t like sweets, then it might not be for you.

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Fruit Sando
Fruit Sando (Photo: Samurai Cat)

The Japanese Fruit Sando is a super popular item that I didn’t have myself, but wanted to include it because of its popularity. It has crème chantilly on Japanese milk bread with strawberries and kiwi.

You should check out this wonderful and unique addition to downtown St. Pete. Here are the menus and some shots of the restaurant.

Samurai Cat Menu
Samurai Cat Menu
Samurai Cat Drinks Menu
Samurai Cat Drinks Menu
Samurai Cat Storefront
Samurai Cat Storefront
Samurai Cat Main Counter
Samurai Cat Main Counter
Samurai Cat Back Dining Room and Counter
Samurai Cat Back Dining Room and Counter
Decorative Samurai Hats and Maneki-Neko Beckoning to You
Decorative Samurai Hats and Maneki-Neko Beckoning to You
Decorative Lamp
Decorative Lamp
Japanese Reality Show Terrrace House Playing on the TV
Japanese Reality Show Terrrace House Playing on the TV
Samurai Cat
  • Readers Rating
  • Rated 4.9 stars
    4.9 / 5 (14 )
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  • Samurai Cat
  • Onigiri, Sandwiches & Salads, Teas & Sweets
    • Mon - Sun 8:00am - 8:00pm
  • 407 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, US

Japanese Bakery & Cafe

DISCLAIMER: Kevin, Lori, Abby, Haley, Lindsey & Mahika do not dine anonymously (this would be impossible) and we sometimes get free food (though never expected). However, we dine with the locals and we support our own. You will always get honesty in a respectful manner. We do not include any large national or regional chains in our ratings and reviews. We focus on independent locally owned eateries exclusively.

PLEASE NOTE: Reviews reflect a certain moment in time. Some restaurants stay extremely consistent over many years, and some change for the better or worse. Some things that may change are: chefs, recipes, food suppliers, ingredients, philosophies, ownership, etc. We always hope that you have the same good, or great experience we had.
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