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    Other than, what a waste of time and money, about the only other thing I could think about on the drive home from an overpriced dinner at the Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse was how many starving people could have been fed with the money just spent. The experience was that much of a downer. When more than 100 bucks is dropped on a dinner for two, not counting drinks or wine, then it had better be a hedonistic experience, worthy of the indulgence. And there was only one thing that was special about Capriccio's new menu: The steak, from Ruprecht's, one of the oldest operating beef processors in Chicago and a purveyor of quality meats to high-end steakhouses around the country. Though expensive – $37 for the restaurant's "signature" 24-ounce rib-eye – the meat was worthy. The experience as a whole was not.

    Reservations are recommended at Capriccio, and it's a good thing we had them. The hostesses were routinely turning away party after party that showed up without them, making it seem too big a deal when we sailed into the shotgun-style dining room, ushered past grumbling guests. Capriccio is on the first floor of The Peabody Orlando, easy to park at and enter, across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. It's the hotel's supposedly midpriced restaurant; there's also the more formal and expensive Dux and the cheaper and more fun Beeline Diner. The decor is an outdated style of subdued urban chic, with contemporary lighting and fresh exotic flowers contrasting dark wood tables and checkered marble floors.

    Reservations are recommended at Capriccio, and it's a good thing we had them. The hostesses were routinely turning away party after party that showed up without them, making it seem too big a deal when we sailed into the shotgun-style dining room, ushered past grumbling guests. Capriccio is on the first floor of The Peabody Orlando, easy to park at and enter, across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. It's the hotel's supposedly midpriced restaurant; there's also the more formal and expensive Dux and the cheaper and more fun Beeline Diner. The decor is an outdated style of subdued urban chic, with contemporary lighting and fresh exotic flowers contrasting dark wood tables and checkered marble floors.

    In the back, the main dining area is built around the kitchen, where sweating cooks and steaming pans are in full view. We were seated at a small round café table squeezed into a sort of makeshift spot between the pathway and the bussing station, in front of the kitchen. Many passing eyes observed our table that night, and we managed to avoid any injury when water spilled and dishes broke at the server station. I was surprised into politeness when a server ducked under the table to pick up some broken glass – "Excuse me, madam," he said, kneeling down beside me with a towel ready to dry me off – or maybe wrap my wounds – if necessary.

    In the back, the main dining area is built around the kitchen, where sweating cooks and steaming pans are in full view. We were seated at a small round café table squeezed into a sort of makeshift spot between the pathway and the bussing station, in front of the kitchen. Many passing eyes observed our table that night, and we managed to avoid any injury when water spilled and dishes broke at the server station. I was surprised into politeness when a server ducked under the table to pick up some broken glass – "Excuse me, madam," he said, kneeling down beside me with a towel ready to dry me off – or maybe wrap my wounds – if necessary.

    Our cocktails were unimpressive – the dried olive and brown-spotted lime wedge stuck on the toothpick in the Bloody Mary ($6.25) looked like leftovers. The Grey Goose martini ($8.50) ordered "dirty" was served clean, and also was cheapened by aged olives. The flatbread in the complimentary basket was stale, but there were some fresh rolls in there, too.

    Our cocktails were unimpressive – the dried olive and brown-spotted lime wedge stuck on the toothpick in the Bloody Mary ($6.25) looked like leftovers. The Grey Goose martini ($8.50) ordered "dirty" was served clean, and also was cheapened by aged olives. The flatbread in the complimentary basket was stale, but there were some fresh rolls in there, too.

    Ordering entrees, we acknowledged Capriccio's Italian past. We selected one of the favorite pasta dishes still on the menu, as recommended by our friendly server, the "penne e pollo" ($16.95), with pieces of chicken, grapes and walnuts covered in a Gorgonzola sauce. And we ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon ($34), topped by an "Oscar" sauce that was a special on this evening. Later, the bill reflected the $12.95 addition of the teaspoon or so of rich crabmeat and two stalks of asparagus topped by hollandaise sauce.

    Ordering entrees, we acknowledged Capriccio's Italian past. We selected one of the favorite pasta dishes still on the menu, as recommended by our friendly server, the "penne e pollo" ($16.95), with pieces of chicken, grapes and walnuts covered in a Gorgonzola sauce. And we ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon ($34), topped by an "Oscar" sauce that was a special on this evening. Later, the bill reflected the $12.95 addition of the teaspoon or so of rich crabmeat and two stalks of asparagus topped by hollandaise sauce.

    When it arrived, the beef carpaccio appetizer ($9.50) offered the perfect opportunity to taste Ruprecht's product in its rarest form – thin shavings of raw meat, seasoned and dressed with tangy capers, tart lemon and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Sanguine and delicate, the carpaccio paired well with the spinach salad ($7.95), which was fine if nothing fancy.

    When it arrived, the beef carpaccio appetizer ($9.50) offered the perfect opportunity to taste Ruprecht's product in its rarest form – thin shavings of raw meat, seasoned and dressed with tangy capers, tart lemon and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Sanguine and delicate, the carpaccio paired well with the spinach salad ($7.95), which was fine if nothing fancy.

    Then came the $17 pasta insult. To relive the experience as quickly as possible: Cool al dente penne was dumped on top of a puddle of steaming sauce, so I had to mix up the dish myself. (My fingers got a bit burned – no big deal.) The rich and biting Gorgonzola sauce desperately needed the sweet grapes and the texture of the nuts to cut the thickness. But the spare bits and pieces of grape and nut and chicken were hunted and downed within a handful of bites. Across the table, the properly "flash-seared" fillet was full of flavor, enhanced by the Oscar treatment. The recommended glass of Merlot was a smart choice for taste but was a $12 slam.

    Then came the $17 pasta insult. To relive the experience as quickly as possible: Cool al dente penne was dumped on top of a puddle of steaming sauce, so I had to mix up the dish myself. (My fingers got a bit burned – no big deal.) The rich and biting Gorgonzola sauce desperately needed the sweet grapes and the texture of the nuts to cut the thickness. But the spare bits and pieces of grape and nut and chicken were hunted and downed within a handful of bites. Across the table, the properly "flash-seared" fillet was full of flavor, enhanced by the Oscar treatment. The recommended glass of Merlot was a smart choice for taste but was a $12 slam.

    The coffee was good and a bargain (no charge), and there was no oversweetening of the mixed berries in the cobbler ($7.75), though the crust tasted stale, like it had been out in the humid air too long.

    The coffee was good and a bargain (no charge), and there was no oversweetening of the mixed berries in the cobbler ($7.75), though the crust tasted stale, like it had been out in the humid air too long.

    If you're here for a convention and want steak, jump on I-4 and head downtown to Kres Chophouse for a much more special night out. If you're stuck in the hotel, head for the Beeline Diner for meatloaf.

    The Celt bids you "céad míle fáilte," and it's the closest downtown Orlando gets to a genuine Irish pub experience. Pound a plate of Irish nachos, slide over a few pints of Guinness, and you won't want to be anywhere else for the rest of the evening – probably because your legs will stop working at some point. This traditional Celtic haven feels like home from the moment you walk through the door till you part ways and stumble on home.

    With a commitment to nose-to-tail cookery and a fine selection of accessible-but-atypical cuts, this "Southern Public House" has already reached legendary status. James and Julie Petrakis' latest venture (now available only to ticketed airline passengers, as it's behind security at MCO) serves terrific nouveau-Southern fare -- grilled lamb heart, ethereal pork belly, foie gras-stuffed quail and a country-ham tasting flight, to name just a few. Pair your meal with a house-made brew or craft cocktail.

    In William Least Heat-Moon's travel journal, Blue Highways, he says the best indicator of good diner food is how many calendars there are on the walls. I stipulate that the indicator of a worthwhile Cuban cafe is how long the smell stays on your clothes. And after a visit to Cindy's Tropical Cafe, the aroma of pressed Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains hung on my shirt for a solid 10 hours. Anything longer than six hours deserves a hats-off in my book.

    Cindy's "Daily Good Deals" are a welcome rendition of home-cooked comfort food. She offers a choice of thinly sliced pork, steak or chicken, white rice and black or pinto beans, fried sweet or green plantains, and a salad for a measly $5.99 -- and that's the high end of the menu.

    There's a wide array of small and large subs (meatball, "Midnight," Cuban and vegetarian), that cost from $2.99 to $6.59, all of which can be pressed. And Cindy's is open for breakfast, too. The only thing missing is picadillo, but there is a great "relleno de papa" ($1.25) that satisfies the spiced-ground-beef craving.

    Overall, Cindy's serves excellent no-frills food that's extremely light on the wallet. Stop in for deliciously aromatic Cuban dishes, and look elsewhere for your motor oil and TP.

    The stylish mural outside Chez Vincent looks worthy of a cover of Vanity Fair from the 1930s. A lady and gentleman, in profile, sip from the same glass of wine and hint at what awaits within: seductive French cuisine in a casual, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Just weeks old, Chez Vincent is a shining new arrival on the spiffed-up streetscape in a happening enclave two blocks west of Park Avenue in Winter Park, and it promises to become a contender among the finest local restaurants.

    The smart interior – done in olives, taupes and creams – was conceived and executed by chef/co-owner Vincent Gagliano, formerly of Cafe de France. With just 15 tables, Chez Vincent is a restful oasis for a midday meal of hors d'oeuvres, soups and salads, or an elegant dinner with entrees that include Gulf shrimp sautéed in cream dill sauce ($18.50) and venison with sun-dried cherries in port wine sauce ($22.95). There's also an ample wine list, with 13 varieties served by the glass.

    The smart interior – done in olives, taupes and creams – was conceived and executed by chef/co-owner Vincent Gagliano, formerly of Cafe de France. With just 15 tables, Chez Vincent is a restful oasis for a midday meal of hors d'oeuvres, soups and salads, or an elegant dinner with entrees that include Gulf shrimp sautéed in cream dill sauce ($18.50) and venison with sun-dried cherries in port wine sauce ($22.95). There's also an ample wine list, with 13 varieties served by the glass.

    We were impressed with feuillettè d´escargots au porto, ($7.50), a crisp triangular puff pastry stuffed with dark, fleshy, sautéed snails and fortified by a sweet port wine sauce. The soupe du jour, vegetable ($3.95), was remarkable mainly for its excellent broth that had been simmering for several days, we were told, to enhance flavors of veal, leeks, thyme and carrots. Entrees are preceded by house salads, but I recommend upgrading to the unforgettable goat cheese salad, served warm with roasted pumpkin seeds over mixed baby greens ($2.65).

    We were impressed with feuillettè d´escargots au porto, ($7.50), a crisp triangular puff pastry stuffed with dark, fleshy, sautéed snails and fortified by a sweet port wine sauce. The soupe du jour, vegetable ($3.95), was remarkable mainly for its excellent broth that had been simmering for several days, we were told, to enhance flavors of veal, leeks, thyme and carrots. Entrees are preceded by house salads, but I recommend upgrading to the unforgettable goat cheese salad, served warm with roasted pumpkin seeds over mixed baby greens ($2.65).

    Among everything we ordered, the most outstanding was rack of lamb with blue cheese sauce ($21.50). Superbly tender, juicy portions of the rib were carved into chops and criss-crossed along the plate. A still life of sweet baby carrots and snow peas were arranged around the border, with a single rosette fashioned out of roasted apple skins. My guest enjoyed paupiette de poulet à la moutarde ($16.95), a boneless chicken breast pounded flat and rolled around an aromatic mixture of shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and Swiss cheese, with a country Dijon sauce.

    Among everything we ordered, the most outstanding was rack of lamb with blue cheese sauce ($21.50). Superbly tender, juicy portions of the rib were carved into chops and criss-crossed along the plate. A still life of sweet baby carrots and snow peas were arranged around the border, with a single rosette fashioned out of roasted apple skins. My guest enjoyed paupiette de poulet à la moutarde ($16.95), a boneless chicken breast pounded flat and rolled around an aromatic mixture of shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and Swiss cheese, with a country Dijon sauce.

    For dessert, chilled Grand Marnier soufflé ($5.25) stood tall on a small plate, creamy with undertones of citrus. I appreciated the flavors more fully after waiting a bit for it to warm up. Bavarios de chocolate ($4.95) consisted of chocolate and raspberry mousse layers, surrounded by a pool of mango coulis.

    Captain's Cove is a hidden treasure! We are located at a marina that overlooks the beautiful St. John's River. We are now offering an extensive frozen drink menu and tasty selections from our outside grill.
    Crafted Block and Brew
    Equal parts craft beer joint, sports bar and restaurant, Crafted endeavors to be something for everyone with mixed results. The modern pub-grub fare is highlighted by a decent selection of messy burgers fashioned from a mix of short rib, brisket and chuck. The cottage pie with steak tips is also worth considering, but be wary of overdressed Cajun snapper and insipid barbecue-rubbed grilled wings. There’s a nice selection of craft brews available on tap or by the bottle.

    We all know what image the word "buffet" conjures up, and it's not a complimentary one if you're looking for a fine meal. Add "crazy" to that, all sorts of pictures spring to mind that would make the late eccentric filmmaker Ed Wood blush.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Think of it more as Asian communal eating rather than a buffet. And since there are Japanese creatures akin to foxes running wild in their native country, I'll coin a new phrase and say, "Crazy Buffet is crazy like a kitsune."

    Haute-Texican cuisine with Portuguese flourishes gives cause to visit this industrial-chic Park Avenue-area resto. From shrimp piri-piri to pollo pibil to duck confit tacos, chef Chico employs traditional and contemporary methods to skillfully render his dishes. If ordering Mexican doughnuts, it's possible you may get lemony Portuguese malassadas instead, sans cinnamon.

    When Brennan's of Houston started the whole chef's table phenomenon back in 1985, the thought was that a little cook-diner interaction in the kitchen (and not the kind doled out at the local Benihana) would offer patrons a glimpse into the world of the culinary artist, while providing a testing ground for the chef's creativity. Since then, the concept has been watered down, as happens to trends, though that hasn't prevented the local foodie trail from passing through Winter Garden, where the Chef's Table sits within the historically quaint walls of the Edgewater Hotel.

    Chef's Tables, plural, might be a more apropos moniker for Kevin and Laurie Tarter's restaurant. The intimate dining room has about 10 tables, all in full or partial view of the kitchen where Kevin and sous-chef Crystal Womelsdorf, both alumni of Disney's California Grill, ply their craft. But intimate as it is, don't expect any cozy confabs with the chef, though a small window of banter opportunity does exist if Tarter serves a course at your table himself. On my visit, it was Womelsdorf serving the appetizer course, but the flourishes emerging from her kitchen were impressive nevertheless.

    A three-course prix fixe menu ($46.99) puts the focus on quality, the proof being in the pudding that came in the form of a luscious foie gras crème brûlée. Green apples and goat cheese complete the flavor trifecta of this decadently creamy delicacy. Simplicity is a virtue in the torte; the earthy wild mushrooms and assertive gruyère cheese give weight to this flaky first course. A mushroom reduction and beurre blanc sauce validates Womelsdorf's ascension in the kitchen, temporary though it may have been.

    Mains are also superbly, and confidently, executed. Two fat medallions of sesame-crusted, sushi-grade tuna were perfectly seared and elegantly propped on a bed of Asian slaw and noodles that lent a pleasant crunch to the dish. (You may find yourself asking for more wasabi mayonnaise.) Fire-grilled New York strip was lent flair by a blue cheese'red wine emulsion and well-whipped mashed potatoes. The Tarters are both budding sommeliers, so it's no surprise that wine pairings (an optional three-glass offering, $21.99) are thoughtfully listed for every dish. A fresh, delicate glass of Leon Beyer pinot blanc ($8) with the fish and a hearty Langhorne Crossing shiraz-cabernet ($8) with the steak proved ideal complements.

    For the final course, berries sauté consist of an irresistible mix of blue-, black-, straw- and raspberries floating in a Grand Marnier sauce, along with a sweet biscuit and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. I didn't care much for the biscuit ' I would've preferred a spongy cake of some sort. The thick peanut butter crème anglaise made the chocolate soufflé a too-substantial meal-ender. If you fancy a savory fromage rather than a sweet finale, a modest five-cheese tasting course ($14.99) is also offered for your post-meal pleasure.

    And pleasure is central at the Chef's Table. Kitchen creations aside, the wood floors and beautiful stained glass enhance the aesthetic gratification, and if you happen to dine here as the sun sets, you'll find yourself awash in a warm, luminescent glow ' although, sun or no sun, that's sure to happen anyway.

    Stumbling out into the blinding Winter Park Village midday sun after a matinee movie, I was stunned to see an edifice that looked like a bank, where the old Dillard's used to be. The sign said The Cheesecake Factory, and I'd never heard of it. Why would a place that makes cheesecake need such an enormous building? Not one to turn down a good slice of dessert, I went to investigate.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    The menu is almost as large as the building -- a dozen pages of appetizers, pizza, burgers and steaks, not counting the full page of cheesecakes. So doing the addition (huge place, tons of menu items, slightly gimmicky name) I was somewhat skeptical. But from beginning to end, everything was wonderful.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Onion rings come in a two-foot-high pile. The fillet of salmon ($15.95), a thick slice crusted with sesame and served with soy-ginger sauce, looks close to an entire fish. My "Navaho" sandwich had large strips of avocado and tender grilled chicken stuffed into real fry-bread (in Orlando?), a tasty bargain at $8.95. And the Thai lettuce wraps ($8.95) were a knockout, with curry noodles, satay chicken, sprouts and more to roll into hand-sized leaves.

    Ah, yes -- the cheesecake. More than 30 kinds, from regular to white-chocolate raspberry truffle to Kahlua-almond fudge. I had the "dulce de leche" caramel. There's a good reason for the takeout counter at the front; you'll want another piece by the time you hit the door.

    This must be a new strategy: Make portions so gigantic that two people can't even finish the appetizers and supply shopping bags emblazoned with "The Cheesecake Factory." Then send diners out into the world as stuffed and slightly sugar-rushed ambassadors. Signs above the restaurant offer loft apartments for lease. Think of it -- just call down from bed for all the cheesecake you can hold.

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