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    A Jamaican restaurant in Apopka? I suppose it won’t be long before we’ll be gorging on lutefisk and köttbullar in a Swedish bistro in Pine Hills. Yes, a Jamaican joint nestled in a strip mall in the heart of Fern City may seem unlikely, but C & C has been garnering some low-key buzz among Central Florida Caribs since opening three years ago. Is it worth the drive to Apopka? That all depends on your proximity to Pine Hills, where a majority of the area’s best Caribbean cuisine can be had.

    Not to say the food here isn’t on par with establishments on West Colonial Drive or Silver Star Road – it is, and the décor is certainly on equal footing. Walls are swathed in requisite yellow-and-green and bear obligatory photos of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie. Head-bopping is a foregone conclusion, given the infectious reggae-driven vibes resounding from the boombox near the counter. On weekends, the five additional speakers lying in wait are put to use and the restaurant transforms into C & C music factory.

    Owner Clifton Campbell’s initials light up the restaurant’s marquee, though the letters could also stand for Cabbage & Codfish or Curry & Chicken. The chicken, by the way, is best enjoyed curried or jerked, not fried, as I ordered the chicken gizzards ($3.49). The little orbs of bird belly were too crisp and too rubbery a chew for my liking, though the fault lay squarely on my palate, not the kitchen.

    Beef patties ($1.50) and jerk chicken ($6) are the sine qua non of Windies cuisine, and both are deftly prepared here. The spicy patties, though not the best I’ve ever had, were appetizing and tinged with a hint of sweetness. I only wished they were a bit more substantial and flakier. The chicken, jumped-up with peppery (and addictive) jerk seasoning, turned my meal into a ravenous affair, the juicy slabs of chicken packing a savory wallop. It’s one of those dishes you want to devour bone-clean, no matter how full you are, but the side of fluffy rice and peas (aka red beans) and springy cabbage-and-carrot slaw made it a difficult endeavor. Diners can also opt to enjoy any of their dinners with traditional hard dough bread, a loaf with a mass and consistency similar to pound cake.

    Goat soup ($3) contained more bones and fat than meat, but the piping hot broth was propped up by yams, potatoes, carrots and a Scotch bonnet zing, making for a splendid succession of slurps. The curried goat ($6.50) made up for the soup’s ruminant deficiency, but sucking the wondrously gelatinous marrow out of the bones provided the most enjoyable moments.

    Other specialties like cow foot, jerk pork, oxtails and red snapper escovich are offered, as is Jamaica’s national dish – ackee and codfish – for breakfast. The decision to include chicken wings on the menu may have been precipitated by the wing joint next door, though there’s no telling how many customers they’ve managed to attract from the other side. Fresh cane juice is, sadly, absent, as are desserts, though a bottle of Ting ($1.50), a tart grapefruit beverage, and a side order of sweet caramelized plantains ($1.99), proved to be worthy substitutes.

    As expected, the friendly waitstaff are about as relaxed and laid-back as patrons in a Dutch café, and the handful of tables is often filled with regulars, most of whom get together, then feel all right.

    I somehow managed to talk my husband, the Impatient Gourmet, into heading to Mount Dora for lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. We slowly made our way north on Orange Blossom Trail until we reached the quaint roads that drag one into the heart of this historical town in Lake County.

    Our destination was Café Attuare, an Italian café off Donnelly Street in the heart of downtown Mount Dora. The restaurant is located on the second story of a small tower of stores that looked to have been developed in the mid-'80s. It sits back off the road and stands out against a backdrop of early 20th-century storefronts. We climbed the short flight of stairs and walked in. The view out the windows in the airy room was of treetops, making a lovely hideaway. The décor, while fitting, was a cheap version of tasteful, and the smiley Italian hostess running around in leopard-print leggings and a halter top only added to the charm. We were seated next to a burgundy-draped window, beneath the requisite photograph of some destination in Italy.

    I opened the menu and immediately made the assessment that this would not be what I call Italian-Italian fare. It seemed more like upstate New York Italian or something from Jersey that you might find on an episode of The Sopranos. In other words, it's the food I used to eat at my maternal grandparents' house back in the '70s. This was the generation when immigrant Italian food had been perfected as its own cuisine, no longer resembling true Italian cooking but possessing a hint of Sicilian sensibility mixed with a lot of modern American appeal.

    We started with a sampler of garlic rolls ($2.50), since the menu proclaimed them "a must." They were, in fact, delicious: garlic-laced oil smothering yeasty knots of freshly cooked dough. The bread here is nothing like true Italian bread, which tends to be rustic, with lots of holes, and chewy. Café Attuare's version is nonetheless unique and tasty – slightly sweet, dense and yeasty. The crust had hardened and darkened with cooking, and it tasted more like Amish friendship bread than something from Little Italy.

    I also started with a cup of house-made minestrone ($2.50) that had an abundance of fresh vegetables, including huge chunks of fresh garlic that had been stewed to a caramel-like texture.

    Both entrees came with salads and an impressive array of homemade dressings. The Impatient Gourmet ordered a Caesar, and the real anchovy mixed into the creamy dressing impressed him greatly. I chose a fresh-looking house salad with a better-than-average Italian dressing spiked with fresh herbs.

    The Impatient Gourmet couldn't resist a stromboli ($7.95) from the pizza portion of the menu. Pepperoni, sausage and fresh veggies were rolled up with provolone and baked in the same bread as the garlic knots.

    For my entree, I tried shrimp scampi ($14.95) and this dish of linguine topped with sautéed shrimp was a mixed bag. The shrimp were lightly tender, walking a fine line between raw and tough. The wine, however, must have been poured in a downfall, because the shrimp were overly pungent, accenting the fishy smell. The whole thing was poured over the pasta in a watery mess and the flavor didn't cling well to the starch. I added some cheese and took a few bites before returning to nibbling at the stromboli bread. Impressively, Paulette, the owner in the leopard pants who I had noticed running around with a coral-lipstick-outlined smile, promptly noticed my reaction to the scampi and offered another dish.

    I decided to save room for dessert instead. I'm glad, because the homemade selections looked outstanding. Tiramisu ($4.50) with white Russian espresso was tempting, but we chose chocolate decadence cake ($4.50), which was a creamy layer of chocolate enhanced with a little amaretto and Bailey's and poured into a buttery crumb crust.

    We were so pleased with our meal that we ordered a piece of homemade lasagna ($9.25) to eat later that night while watching the season premiere of Rome, and it was fabulous.

    A starving artist could ill afford to dine at Cafe Tu Tu Tango and leave with a full tummy. A recent dinner for two at the recently opened avant-garde establishment cost close to $50.

    Entree portions at this cafe are intentionally downsized, and diners are encouraged to swap fare around the table. Nothing costs more than $8; the trouble is, you have to order at least four dishes to satisfy two normal appetites.

    Entree portions at this cafe are intentionally downsized, and diners are encouraged to swap fare around the table. Nothing costs more than $8; the trouble is, you have to order at least four dishes to satisfy two normal appetites.

    Ambience here is a curious yet entertaining blend of Mediterranean and artist's studio influences. There are actually artists at work while you eat in this minigallery, where art in various media decorates faux stucco walls and hangs from exposed overhead beams. A stilt walker and a female impersonator were sideshows during our meal. As one might expect, the mood is festive, even outrageous; the noise level loud.

    Ambience here is a curious yet entertaining blend of Mediterranean and artist's studio influences. There are actually artists at work while you eat in this minigallery, where art in various media decorates faux stucco walls and hangs from exposed overhead beams. A stilt walker and a female impersonator were sideshows during our meal. As one might expect, the mood is festive, even outrageous; the noise level loud.

    The multiethnic menu features chips, dips, breads and spreads, as well as soups, salads, fried delicacies, turnovers and Oriental rolls. There are brochettes and kabobs, pizzas, and an eclectic array of chicken wings, paella, barbecue ribs, seafood or quesadillas.

    The multiethnic menu features chips, dips, breads and spreads, as well as soups, salads, fried delicacies, turnovers and Oriental rolls. There are brochettes and kabobs, pizzas, and an eclectic array of chicken wings, paella, barbecue ribs, seafood or quesadillas.

    We began with a complimentary basket of triangular, pizzalike crusts dusted with garlic butter and herbs. Though the accompanying roasted red pepper butter was delicious, the bread would have been better warm. My corn and crabmeat chowder ($3,25) had a nice, rich flavor, though it contained more corn and potato than crab.

    We began with a complimentary basket of triangular, pizzalike crusts dusted with garlic butter and herbs. Though the accompanying roasted red pepper butter was delicious, the bread would have been better warm. My corn and crabmeat chowder ($3,25) had a nice, rich flavor, though it contained more corn and potato than crab.

    My husband's Oriental marinated steak skewer ($6) consisted of four generous and tender helpings of teriyaki seasoned skirt beef. It was paired with a delightful ginger-soy aïoli (garlic mayonnaise).

    My husband's Oriental marinated steak skewer ($6) consisted of four generous and tender helpings of teriyaki seasoned skirt beef. It was paired with a delightful ginger-soy aïoli (garlic mayonnaise).

    The Barcelona stir-fry ($8) was a colorful blend of shrimp, calamari, chicken, andouille sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and garlic. Accompanied by a side-order of rice ($1.25), it was slightly larger than appetizer size. (The rice also made the dish more filling.) Despite the presence of sausage, we were unable to discern any smoky flavor.

    The Barcelona stir-fry ($8) was a colorful blend of shrimp, calamari, chicken, andouille sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and garlic. Accompanied by a side-order of rice ($1.25), it was slightly larger than appetizer size. (The rice also made the dish more filling.) Despite the presence of sausage, we were unable to discern any smoky flavor.

    My chicken and poblano pizza ($6), baked in a brick oven, arrived last. There was plenty of melted cheese to complement a zesty marinara sauce, a healthy dose of peppers and a just-right thin crust. The chicken, however, was scant.

    My chicken and poblano pizza ($6), baked in a brick oven, arrived last. There was plenty of melted cheese to complement a zesty marinara sauce, a healthy dose of peppers and a just-right thin crust. The chicken, however, was scant.

    Dessert, likewise, was inconsistent. There were more silvered almonds and whipped cream than custard in my petite-sized almond and amaretto flan ($2.75), but the distinctive almond liqueur flavor was lovely.

    Dessert, likewise, was inconsistent. There were more silvered almonds and whipped cream than custard in my petite-sized almond and amaretto flan ($2.75), but the distinctive almond liqueur flavor was lovely.

    My husband's ice cream pie ($3.25) was gigantic by Tu Tu standards. Similar to a mud pie, the chocolate hazelnut and praline ice cream layers rested on a moist, chocolate spongecake crust. Topped with a cloud of whipped cream and thin, drizzled chocolate sauce, it was much better.

    My husband's ice cream pie ($3.25) was gigantic by Tu Tu standards. Similar to a mud pie, the chocolate hazelnut and praline ice cream layers rested on a moist, chocolate spongecake crust. Topped with a cloud of whipped cream and thin, drizzled chocolate sauce, it was much better.

    Service here was impressive; our server was efficient, accommodating and well-versed on food preparation. We especially liked the ice water carafe left on the table for self-serve refills.

    Until recently, Apopka was a town with an erratic dining scene, not exactly a place where you would go in search of an epicurean adventure, Italian or otherwise. Now two years old, Caffe Positano reflects the changing face of Apopka, with its fine food prepared with passion, appreciation and flair.

    Situated in an ordinary shopping plaza on Semoran Boulevard, Caffe Positano hums at lunchtime with sounds from the clamorous kitchen and echoes from customers filling up tables. Businessmen whip out cell phones while waiting for their orders, co-workers split pizzas, and suspended over it all is the aroma of spices, marinaras and thick, fresh-baked Italian loaves.

    Situated in an ordinary shopping plaza on Semoran Boulevard, Caffe Positano hums at lunchtime with sounds from the clamorous kitchen and echoes from customers filling up tables. Businessmen whip out cell phones while waiting for their orders, co-workers split pizzas, and suspended over it all is the aroma of spices, marinaras and thick, fresh-baked Italian loaves.

    The menu items were consistently excellent on our visit. The pasta e fagioli soup ($4) had a silky quality, spiked with cannellini beans and bits of pasta. We loved the aggressive, meaty flavor in the thick broth.

    The menu items were consistently excellent on our visit. The pasta e fagioli soup ($4) had a silky quality, spiked with cannellini beans and bits of pasta. We loved the aggressive, meaty flavor in the thick broth.

    An array of "pizzettes" may be one of Apopka's best-kept secrets. The "white pizzetta" ($6.25) was a standout with a touch of fresh garlic, and a fluffy bed of melted mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We asked for spinach and broccoli as extras, and they added earthy textures and tastes without weighing it down. The crust was perfection, glazed with the sheen of olive oil and fired in the oven for a delicious crunch.

    An array of "pizzettes" may be one of Apopka's best-kept secrets. The "white pizzetta" ($6.25) was a standout with a touch of fresh garlic, and a fluffy bed of melted mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. We asked for spinach and broccoli as extras, and they added earthy textures and tastes without weighing it down. The crust was perfection, glazed with the sheen of olive oil and fired in the oven for a delicious crunch.

    All of the entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, and I recommend one of the light, buoyant salads, topped with shaved petals of carrots and tossed with a delicate, almost floral, Italian dressing. Among the entrees, "veal zingarella" ($12) wins applause for its lemony undertones. It's sautéed in butter and white wine, so naturally it's rich and juicy. The tangy quality is carried a step further with capers and plump, tender artichokes. We couldn't get enough.

    All of the entrees come with a choice of soup or salad, and I recommend one of the light, buoyant salads, topped with shaved petals of carrots and tossed with a delicate, almost floral, Italian dressing. Among the entrees, "veal zingarella" ($12) wins applause for its lemony undertones. It's sautéed in butter and white wine, so naturally it's rich and juicy. The tangy quality is carried a step further with capers and plump, tender artichokes. We couldn't get enough.

    "Chicken mama mia" ($8.50) holds its own against a sautéed sauce of balsamic vinegar and a bare hint of cream. Shiitake mushrooms are sliced evenly and tossed on top for a rich finish.

    "Chicken mama mia" ($8.50) holds its own against a sautéed sauce of balsamic vinegar and a bare hint of cream. Shiitake mushrooms are sliced evenly and tossed on top for a rich finish.

    For dessert, you can have the usual tiramisu or cannoli, but better yet try a tartuffo ($4.75), a baseball-sized scoop of chocolate and mocha ice cream, rolled in a crumbly blanket of chocolate cookies. It's served on its own dinner platter, surrounded by a zigzag necklace of chocolate syrup.

    For dessert, you can have the usual tiramisu or cannoli, but better yet try a tartuffo ($4.75), a baseball-sized scoop of chocolate and mocha ice cream, rolled in a crumbly blanket of chocolate cookies. It's served on its own dinner platter, surrounded by a zigzag necklace of chocolate syrup.

    Apopka isn't exactly the crossroads of Orlando, but Caffe Positano's menu is so appealing that it rates a special trip, if necessary.

    When dining out, do you like to be greeted three times, by name, before you are seated? Do you like to have someone refold your napkin every time you get up to use the bathroom? Speaking of the bathroom, do you like to have someone lead you there? Do you like to have the waiter give your leftovers to the valet, who delicately places them in the backseat of your car so you don't have to be burdened with carrying them yourself?

    If you answered yes to any of these questions, your table is waiting at The Capital Grille. Enjoy your meal. If, on the other hand, you think that $200 is an outrageous sum of money for two people to spend on dinner at any restaurant ' quality of service and food be damned ' then you're better off at almost any of the innumerable other steakhouses in this town, because you'll leave The Capital Grille impressed with the service and annoyed with the prices. Just like I did.

    So let's get this out of the way: No steak served a la carte is worth $36. An excellent steak that came with two or more generous sides could fairly command that kind of money. But a slab of beef sitting there all lonely on a white plate? Not unless you are a lobbyist trying to buy Katherine Harris' largesse.

    Oh yeah, the food. In a word, it's good. Notice I didn't use 'exquisite,â?� 'otherworldly,â?� 'masterfulâ?� or any other adjective that would convey the sense that dinner was worth two C-notes plus.

    We started with a lightly battered, pan-fried calamari appetizer ($12) in which the salty crunch of the squid was nicely balanced by the heat of sliced cherry peppers. Topped with a squirt of fresh lemon, it was the best dish of the night; ahem.

    A cup of French onion soup ($5) was unremarkable, as was the spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. The latter didn't quite cut it because I was expecting a wilted salad just like mom used to make, and what I was served was an unwilted salad with room-temperature dressing. Mom, by the way, never charged $7 for her salad.

    All of which is a prelude to the aforementioned lonely slab o' beef. Our waiter, Christopher (I know his name because he gave me his card), almost lulled me to sleep with a long tale of beef dry-aged in-house. There were so many options, cuts, sauces and crusts that I could not follow along. So I ordered the 'Kona-crusted sirloin steak with caramelized shallot butterâ?� ($36). My companion went with a porcini-rubbed filet mignon ($34).

    Yes, these were fine steaks. No, they were not the best steaks I've ever had. The crust on the sirloin was a spicy mixture of coffee, pepper and sugar that tasted much better than it sounds. But for all Christopher's talk of dry aging, the beef lacked the intense flavor and almost fall-apart tenderness of really top-shelf steak. Similarly, the filet was tender, juicy and more than satisfactory, but nothing different than cuts available at a dozen other places.

    Add a skimpy side of creamy mashed potatoes ($4.50 for a half-order), a plate of roasted mushrooms ($9), two drinks and a bottle of wine ($54) and the total came to $190 and change. With a tip you are in a rarified realm of dining that had better be extraordinary. While the fastidious service and posh atmosphere were worthy of those prices, I can't say the same for the cuisine.

    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.

    Foodwise, our corner of the state is a lot more diverse than meets the eye. You could dine at Applebee's every night for a fortnight and never eat at the same restaurant twice, true, but if you venture off the beaten track even a little in Central Florida you are bound to come across some surprises.

    Caribbean Queen Cuisine, a no-frills, family-run restaurant on the west side, is such a place. If you are hungry for a taste of the islands, but one of those all-inclusive package pig-outs to Jamaica isn't in the budget right now, stop by. It will be the cheapest culinary tour you've ever taken.

    Caribbean Queen Cuisine, a no-frills, family-run restaurant on the west side, is such a place. If you are hungry for a taste of the islands, but one of those all-inclusive package pig-outs to Jamaica isn't in the budget right now, stop by. It will be the cheapest culinary tour you've ever taken.

    Tucked way in the corner of the Park Promenade mall, the place is easy to miss. (The location gets bonus points with this writer for being next door to a Goodwill store, where I nabbed two bitchin' dress shirts for $7. Score!) In fact, my wife predicts the location will doom the place.

    Tucked way in the corner of the Park Promenade mall, the place is easy to miss. (The location gets bonus points with this writer for being next door to a Goodwill store, where I nabbed two bitchin' dress shirts for $7. Score!) In fact, my wife predicts the location will doom the place. Which would be too bad, really, because for the price ($5) I can't remember a better plate of curried goat. I'm a big fan of goat. For the uninitiated, goat meat tastes just like a goat smells. You'll love it or you'll hate it, but if you're going to eat Jamaican (or Indian) food, you'd better at least be prepared to try it. Which would be too bad, really, because for the price ($5) I can't remember a better plate of curried goat. I'm a big fan of goat. For the uninitiated, goat meat tastes just like a goat smells. You'll love it or you'll hate it, but if you're going to eat Jamaican (or Indian) food, you'd better at least be prepared to try it.

    Goat can be tough, but this serving was tender, and smothered in a rich sauce that could have used more curry. Goat can also be bony, and this serving was indeed bony. You've got to be patient to eat a goat.

    Goat can be tough, but this serving was tender, and smothered in a rich sauce that could have used more curry. Goat can also be bony, and this serving was indeed bony. You've got to be patient to eat a goat.

    We also tried the oxtail ($5), which is exactly what you think it is: the tail of an ox. No, they don't just plop the whole thing, sausage-like, on your plate. They cut it into sections at the joints, so what you're left with are bone discs containing small cavities of dark, succulent meat. (You also have to be patient to eat an ox's tail.) It came in a rich, red sauce that only hinted of the fiery peppers found in jerk dishes.

    We also tried the oxtail ($5), which is exactly what you think it is: the tail of an ox. No, they don't just plop the whole thing, sausage-like, on your plate. They cut it into sections at the joints, so what you're left with are bone discs containing small cavities of dark, succulent meat. (You also have to be patient to eat an ox's tail.) It came in a rich, red sauce that only hinted of the fiery peppers found in jerk dishes.

    Both dinners came with sides of rice and peas, a cabbage salad and a fried knot of sweet dough they called a dumpling. It was a huge amount of food for the price.

    Both dinners came with sides of rice and peas, a cabbage salad and a fried knot of sweet dough they called a dumpling. It was a huge amount of food for the price.

    We also tried the Jamaican beef and jerk chicken patties, which are kept in a warming oven on the counter. If you like meat pies, you'll like these soft pillows of dough stuffed with beef, jerk chicken or vegetables. They're incredibly filling, and incredibly cheap at only $1 each.

    We also tried the Jamaican beef and jerk chicken patties, which are kept in a warming oven on the counter. If you like meat pies, you'll like these soft pillows of dough stuffed with beef, jerk chicken or vegetables. They're incredibly filling, and incredibly cheap at only $1 each.

    As for décor, well, there just isn't much to write about. There's green carpet on the floors, wood paneling on the walls and lots of tables, most of which were empty the night we visited. The place is clean and unassuming. And did I mention cheap?

    As for décor, well, there just isn't much to write about. There's green carpet on the floors, wood paneling on the walls and lots of tables, most of which were empty the night we visited. The place is clean and unassuming. And did I mention cheap?

    So here's the drill: Stop in, grab a Ting (Jamaican grapefruit soda) from the cooler and a beef patty from the counter, then order a plate of something you've never tried before. Dinner will be ready about the time you've polished off that patty. You'll get a lot of food, change for a ten and a trip to the islands, for your stomach anyway.

    Carrino's has a reputation as a go-to spot for Bay Hill -- and Windermere-based celebrities, sports figures and the odd boy band. (It's the answer to a trivia question on a Backstreet Boys fan site: "What is the name of the restaurant where the Boys had to sing for their dinner?") Hopefully the Boys didn't give over more than a note or two, because the food at Carrino's doesn't warrant much beyond a chorus.

    There isn't any corollary between food and value here, and not much that stands out on the menu. A standard item such as chicken parmigiana ($14.95) is overbreaded, cooked to a soft, unexciting consistency and drowned in bland marinara. The eggplant rollatini, one of my favorites ($13.95), was even softer, the combination of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses overpowering what little flavor the eggplant once had. I tried the "irresistible" pasta trio of ziti and stuffed shells (another lesson in marinara swimming) and a bowl of fettuccini Alfredo without much taste ($13.95).

    There isn't any corollary between food and value here, and not much that stands out on the menu. A standard item such as chicken parmigiana ($14.95) is overbreaded, cooked to a soft, unexciting consistency and drowned in bland marinara. The eggplant rollatini, one of my favorites ($13.95), was even softer, the combination of ricotta and mozzarella cheeses overpowering what little flavor the eggplant once had. I tried the "irresistible" pasta trio of ziti and stuffed shells (another lesson in marinara swimming) and a bowl of fettuccini Alfredo without much taste ($13.95).

    On a plus side, the grilled "Milano panini" sandwich ($6.95), of eggplant, spinach, mushrooms and provolone, had a pleasant combination of flavors and textures. And their pizza falls somewhere between superb and terrible; good crust, mediocre sauce. Meat sauce on the lasagna ($13.50) was richer tasting -- but 13 bucks for lasagna?

    On a plus side, the grilled "Milano panini" sandwich ($6.95), of eggplant, spinach, mushrooms and provolone, had a pleasant combination of flavors and textures. And their pizza falls somewhere between superb and terrible; good crust, mediocre sauce. Meat sauce on the lasagna ($13.50) was richer tasting -- but 13 bucks for lasagna?

    They could call this restaurant "Café Scusa," because apologies were flying the relatively quiet night we were there. A 15-minute wait at the table without server or menu was explained with, "Sorry, I wasn't told you were here." A delay with the wine was met by "Sorry, the bartender is backed up." (Insert your own joke here.)

    They could call this restaurant "Café Scusa," because apologies were flying the relatively quiet night we were there. A 15-minute wait at the table without server or menu was explained with, "Sorry, I wasn't told you were here." A delay with the wine was met by "Sorry, the bartender is backed up." (Insert your own joke here.)

    Considering that restaurant staffs are practically falling over themselves to accommodate guests these days, I was surprised by the answer to my request to substitute gnocchi for ziti: "Sorry, they won't do it."

    Considering that restaurant staffs are practically falling over themselves to accommodate guests these days, I was surprised by the answer to my request to substitute gnocchi for ziti: "Sorry, they won't do it."

    When the person who served my fettuccini accidentally poured a plateful of oil into it while clearing the table, we both stared at the ruined dish -- I guess he was hoping I hadn't noticed -- and then he took the plate away. "Sorry," came after.

    When the person who served my fettuccini accidentally poured a plateful of oil into it while clearing the table, we both stared at the ruined dish -- I guess he was hoping I hadn't noticed -- and then he took the plate away. "Sorry," came after.

    It's a shame. Carrino's is pleasant inside, overlooking Little Sand Lake, and with owner Anthony Carrino's long family history in restaurants (Carrino's was at its former Bay Hill location for 16 years), the food and service should have been casually impeccable. Instead it was no better than what any neighborhood pizzeria could cobble together, and at a higher price.

    It's a shame. Carrino's is pleasant inside, overlooking Little Sand Lake, and with owner Anthony Carrino's long family history in restaurants (Carrino's was at its former Bay Hill location for 16 years), the food and service should have been casually impeccable. Instead it was no better than what any neighborhood pizzeria could cobble together, and at a higher price.

    If you're looking for great Italian food, I never wanna hear you say, "I want it that way."

    There aren't a lot of inland restaurants where you can savor fine Florida game such as gator tail and frog legs, done to a fine crunch in true Southern-fried-seafood style. But if you don't want to travel to remote fish camps on the St. Johns River or Lake Monroe, they'll hook you up at The Catfish Place in Apopka. You'd still better gas up the car before heading out, though. From central or south Orlando, it could take 45 minutes to an hour to get there, depending on traffic.

    As you head west on State Road 436 deep into Apopka territory, The Catfish Place finally appears on a completely unnoticeable corner of Forest Avenue across from City Hall. It's a rustic, inviting beacon. Inside, the dining area is as snug as an old quilt, and the friendly wait staff invite you to huddle down over healthy helpings of comfort food.

    As you head west on State Road 436 deep into Apopka territory, The Catfish Place finally appears on a completely unnoticeable corner of Forest Avenue across from City Hall. It's a rustic, inviting beacon. Inside, the dining area is as snug as an old quilt, and the friendly wait staff invite you to huddle down over healthy helpings of comfort food.

    Let the menu lure you into swamp territory: Frog legs are featured as an appetizer ($5.95), as well as served as a part of various entrees. After being deep-fried, they resemble quail and are so delicate and juicy they tempt you to suck on the bones. Gator-tail nuggets are fried as well, but not overly so. Truly, the meat resembles chicken, although it's not as tender.

    Let the menu lure you into swamp territory: Frog legs are featured as an appetizer ($5.95), as well as served as a part of various entrees. After being deep-fried, they resemble quail and are so delicate and juicy they tempt you to suck on the bones. Gator-tail nuggets are fried as well, but not overly so. Truly, the meat resembles chicken, although it's not as tender.

    But the star of the menu is catfish -- and rightly so. Chances are you've never had it prepared as expertly as it is here. Get the boneless catfish tenders, either as an all-you-can-eat special ($9.95) or included in different dishes. Clean and fresh, they are rolled in a cornmeal breading and deep-fried to a crisp, greaseless finish in soybean oil.

    But the star of the menu is catfish -- and rightly so. Chances are you've never had it prepared as expertly as it is here. Get the boneless catfish tenders, either as an all-you-can-eat special ($9.95) or included in different dishes. Clean and fresh, they are rolled in a cornmeal breading and deep-fried to a crisp, greaseless finish in soybean oil.

    Some more standard varieties of seafood are presented in inventive ways: Lobster is quartered into nuggets and deep-fried as an appetizer ($7.95). They're delicate and crunchy, dipped into a pot of melted butter and chased down with a frosty beer. Among the entrees, there's the country-boy-named "shrimp a la Bob" ($14.95), sautéed in a fragrant sauce of butter, lemon, Cajun spices and garlic. For variety and abundance, there's the house special ($15.95), loaded with boneless catfish tenders, crackling fried shrimp and frog legs, and fried scallops that collapse at the slightest nudge. There also are long, chewy clam strips and gator-tail nuggets.

    Some more standard varieties of seafood are presented in inventive ways: Lobster is quartered into nuggets and deep-fried as an appetizer ($7.95). They're delicate and crunchy, dipped into a pot of melted butter and chased down with a frosty beer. Among the entrees, there's the country-boy-named "shrimp a la Bob" ($14.95), sautéed in a fragrant sauce of butter, lemon, Cajun spices and garlic. For variety and abundance, there's the house special ($15.95), loaded with boneless catfish tenders, crackling fried shrimp and frog legs, and fried scallops that collapse at the slightest nudge. There also are long, chewy clam strips and gator-tail nuggets.

    Dinners come with a choice of side items, the best of which are the creamy, tart cole slaw, tangy-buttery collard greens, and chunky hash browns melted with cheese and onions. The too-soggy hushpuppies flopped miserably, though.

    Dinners come with a choice of side items, the best of which are the creamy, tart cole slaw, tangy-buttery collard greens, and chunky hash browns melted with cheese and onions. The too-soggy hushpuppies flopped miserably, though.

    Our waitress was friendly and efficient. If you go to The Catfish Place, expect to be on your way in a short time -- it will help to make up for the long drive back home.

    I'm an appetizer fanatic. Gimme a big assortment of little dishes and I am happy. That's why Korean, Indian and Chinese food pleases me so much. Now, with the opening of Cedar's Restaurant, I can add Lebanese to that list.

    In a break from the Corporate Fooding of the Sand Lake Road corridor through the Dr. Phillips area, Cedar's is privately owned, and it's hard to beat the hands-on care. With a background in restaurants in New York, the owners say they wanted to "present healthy, well-made food" to Central Florida, and they've succeeded.

    In a break from the Corporate Fooding of the Sand Lake Road corridor through the Dr. Phillips area, Cedar's is privately owned, and it's hard to beat the hands-on care. With a background in restaurants in New York, the owners say they wanted to "present healthy, well-made food" to Central Florida, and they've succeeded.

    My other obsession is food that is authentically traditional, and Cedar's, in a pistachio nutshell, does it right. Their spin on traditional Lebanese seems to be a lightness of texture and flavor that is both refreshing and inviting. If you're familiar, with Middle Eastern food you won't be disappointed. But if your only experience has been leaden falafel and overwhelming spices, you are in for a treat.

    My other obsession is food that is authentically traditional, and Cedar's, in a pistachio nutshell, does it right. Their spin on traditional Lebanese seems to be a lightness of texture and flavor that is both refreshing and inviting. If you're familiar, with Middle Eastern food you won't be disappointed. But if your only experience has been leaden falafel and overwhelming spices, you are in for a treat.

    There are far too many appetizers to describe. Even the small pitas are splendid, puffy and hot from the clay oven. Use them to scoop up baba ghannouj, a smooth roasted eggplant and garlic puree with a wonderfully smokey taste ($3.75), as well as shanklish, crumbled cheese blended with thyme, onions and tomato that's so creamy it literally does melt in your mouth ($4.75). Falafel (fried chick peas and bean patties; $3.75) is far lighter than I've ever come across, and a tasty pleasure. The very traditional kebbeh ($4.25) is a flavorful cracked wheat ball stuffed with ground meat and onions.

    There are far too many appetizers to describe. Even the small pitas are splendid, puffy and hot from the clay oven. Use them to scoop up baba ghannouj, a smooth roasted eggplant and garlic puree with a wonderfully smokey taste ($3.75), as well as shanklish, crumbled cheese blended with thyme, onions and tomato that's so creamy it literally does melt in your mouth ($4.75). Falafel (fried chick peas and bean patties; $3.75) is far lighter than I've ever come across, and a tasty pleasure. The very traditional kebbeh ($4.25) is a flavorful cracked wheat ball stuffed with ground meat and onions.

    If you want to start with something familiar, here's a restaurant that knows its shish kabobs ($14.75) – cubes of marinated lamb, slow roasted and tender. When you feel adventurous, move on to mouloukhieh ($10.75), chicken with malow leaves, cilantro and garlic.

    If you want to start with something familiar, here's a restaurant that knows its shish kabobs ($14.75) – cubes of marinated lamb, slow roasted and tender. When you feel adventurous, move on to mouloukhieh ($10.75), chicken with malow leaves, cilantro and garlic.

    "Sultan Ibrahim" ($16) is a plateful of small red mullet (I had five), an ancient coastal fish that has a deep, freshwater flavor and is seldom served in the U.S. The fish are served whole and it takes work to get around the bones. But it's delicious, accompanied by tender fried-eggplant rounds and sesame tahini sauce, and worth the effort.

    "Sultan Ibrahim" ($16) is a plateful of small red mullet (I had five), an ancient coastal fish that has a deep, freshwater flavor and is seldom served in the U.S. The fish are served whole and it takes work to get around the bones. But it's delicious, accompanied by tender fried-eggplant rounds and sesame tahini sauce, and worth the effort.

    The place itself is light and window-filled, with Ottoman arches, columns and a pleasant dining terrace. Be sure to eat just the right amount so you're sleepy enough to offset the jolt of pure caffeine disguised as Turkish coffee. It's a delicate balance that may take two or three visits to get right. Fortunately, you'll enjoy every attempt.

    Health-food market that includes a bakery and cafe with a hot lunch bar that is vegetarian heaven. Also try their fresh juices, smoothies and sandwiches.

    When it comes to eating meat, steakhouses still reign supreme. What meat-eater is not enamored with those dark, lavish dungeons that allow us to feast to our blood-craving heart's content? Even those who rarely go out to eat are likely to occasionally splurge on an outing at a local steakhouse institution – one like my long-standing favorite, Charley's Steak House. It dresses up, yet sensibly. It's hedonistic, yet polite. It's luxurious, yet wholesome.

    The minute you step through the opulent wooden doors of Charley's, you know right away that you have entered an old-school establishment. Even the newer location on International Drive transports you to a time when the steakhouse was the only option for fine dining. The low-hung lamps and yellow lighting might appear outdated in another setting, but they just made my mouth water as I remembered years of celebration meals here – proms, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays. (No meal at Charley's would be complete without hearing "Happy Birthday to You" from across the room.)

    The minute you step through the opulent wooden doors of Charley's, you know right away that you have entered an old-school establishment. Even the newer location on International Drive transports you to a time when the steakhouse was the only option for fine dining. The low-hung lamps and yellow lighting might appear outdated in another setting, but they just made my mouth water as I remembered years of celebration meals here – proms, anniversaries, graduations and birthdays. (No meal at Charley's would be complete without hearing "Happy Birthday to You" from across the room.)

    Our evening started with the opening of the heavy wooden doors. The charred fragrance of porterhouse mingled with cigar and port, as we heard the refrain of the birthday song and the sizzle of meat and asparagus on the open-fire grill. We were led into one of the many nooks and crannies and were shortly greeted by our server. Charley's has great service, but it's more science than art. Every move made by the servers and hosts seems programmed by market surveys and management policy, and they rule the upselling roost. I was midway through ordering crab legs ($15.95) as an appetizer when the server suggested the "seafood sampler" ($29.95). The "seafood sampler" is not listed on the menu, however,and I wasn't aware at the time that I was being cajoled into spending twice as much money. I find this behavior irritating in a server. Call me crazy, but I want a server who is as much my ally and advocate as the establishment's robot.

    Our evening started with the opening of the heavy wooden doors. The charred fragrance of porterhouse mingled with cigar and port, as we heard the refrain of the birthday song and the sizzle of meat and asparagus on the open-fire grill. We were led into one of the many nooks and crannies and were shortly greeted by our server. Charley's has great service, but it's more science than art. Every move made by the servers and hosts seems programmed by market surveys and management policy, and they rule the upselling roost. I was midway through ordering crab legs ($15.95) as an appetizer when the server suggested the "seafood sampler" ($29.95). The "seafood sampler" is not listed on the menu, however,and I wasn't aware at the time that I was being cajoled into spending twice as much money. I find this behavior irritating in a server. Call me crazy, but I want a server who is as much my ally and advocate as the establishment's robot.

    The next round of upselling was the server's insistence on adding an additional side dish to our order. I naively bought in to his spiel and believed that without the chef's spinach and artichoke casserole ($5.95), we would be lacking a substantial meal. Not only was the casserole mediocre in taste, it was sheer gluttony to have it on our table. I would have been just as happy (and full) with the side dishes of jumbo grilled asparagus ($6.95) and baked potato ($2) alongside the delicious porterhouse steak (29.95). I also enjoyed the fresh chopped salad that came with my meal, but when the server offhandedly asked me if I wanted some blue-cheese crumbles, I should have known there would be an extra charge on the bill.

    The next round of upselling was the server's insistence on adding an additional side dish to our order. I naively bought in to his spiel and believed that without the chef's spinach and artichoke casserole ($5.95), we would be lacking a substantial meal. Not only was the casserole mediocre in taste, it was sheer gluttony to have it on our table. I would have been just as happy (and full) with the side dishes of jumbo grilled asparagus ($6.95) and baked potato ($2) alongside the delicious porterhouse steak (29.95). I also enjoyed the fresh chopped salad that came with my meal, but when the server offhandedly asked me if I wanted some blue-cheese crumbles, I should have known there would be an extra charge on the bill.

    Let's get down to business: Charley's has some of the best steaks in town – no bones about it. The meat is superior. They cure and cut it on the premises, rub it in a secret (heavenly) spice blend and then flame-grill it over oak and citrus wood in temperatures that reach over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The result of all the carnivorous muss and fuss is a sublime steak.

    Let's get down to business: Charley's has some of the best steaks in town – no bones about it. The meat is superior. They cure and cut it on the premises, rub it in a secret (heavenly) spice blend and then flame-grill it over oak and citrus wood in temperatures that reach over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The result of all the carnivorous muss and fuss is a sublime steak.

    Appetizers and dessert are merely the parentheses around the main affair. Our dessert was a ridiculously big piece of chocolate Grand Marnier cake ($7.95) – something Charley's has on hand to accompany the chorus of birthday tunes, I presume. Even the side dishes are trifling dashes, momentarily interrupting the meat-eating. And don't bother with the lobster (market price), one of my usual favorites. That's not what you come here to eat. Thinking ahead to the next time, I think I'll go for a filet mignon ($24.95) appetizer, a porterhouse main course and a T-bone ($20.95) dessert.

    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.

    If people can be measured by the company they keep, the same might be true for restaurants like Christini's: Of all the area's premium restaurants, only Christini's advertises in Gourmet magazine.

    Chris Christini brings insights to his restaurant gained only after 40 years in a career that included tours with the likes of New York's The 21 Club and L'Originale Alfredo's di Roma. Such experience is evident everywhere, from design and operation to personal touches.

    Chris Christini brings insights to his restaurant gained only after 40 years in a career that included tours with the likes of New York's The 21 Club and L'Originale Alfredo's di Roma. Such experience is evident everywhere, from design and operation to personal touches.

    Christini's is located in The Marketplace on Dr. Phillips Boulevard. Its design relies on warm oak paneling, green wall and floor coverings, brocaded fabrics and Italian ceramics. A multilevel floor plan offers everyone a view. Walls are covered with testimonials and photographs of past diners. More unique details include a mid- 19th century mosaic of a hunting scene, repeated as a logo on menus and place settings. A strolling accordionist provides atmospheric background music.

    Christini's is located in The Marketplace on Dr. Phillips Boulevard. Its design relies on warm oak paneling, green wall and floor coverings, brocaded fabrics and Italian ceramics. A multilevel floor plan offers everyone a view. Walls are covered with testimonials and photographs of past diners. More unique details include a mid- 19th century mosaic of a hunting scene, repeated as a logo on menus and place settings. A strolling accordionist provides atmospheric background music.

    Such luxury comes at a price, and a plate of spaghetti costs $14.95 here. Include drinks, salad, dessert and a tip, and that pasta might cost you $50. The wine list is pricey as well.

    Such luxury comes at a price, and a plate of spaghetti costs $14.95 here. Include drinks, salad, dessert and a tip, and that pasta might cost you $50. The wine list is pricey as well.

    Business was booming the night we visited, and reservations (always recommended) are a necessity on weekends. The ratio of service-staff to diners was exceptional but still didn't equate to perfect service. While we didn't experience problems, diners at the next table became frustrated with a distracted waiter who couldn't get their orders right the first time.

    Business was booming the night we visited, and reservations (always recommended) are a necessity on weekends. The ratio of service-staff to diners was exceptional but still didn't equate to perfect service. While we didn't experience problems, diners at the next table became frustrated with a distracted waiter who couldn't get their orders right the first time.

    Our dinner began with a basket of bread and a piquant spread of pureed eggplant, garlic and olive oil. This delightful blend (I want the recipe) set the stage for more very well-prepared food.

    Our dinner began with a basket of bread and a piquant spread of pureed eggplant, garlic and olive oil. This delightful blend (I want the recipe) set the stage for more very well-prepared food.

    The menu covers all regional cuisines of Italy. Most of the classic dishes are represented, along with fillets and veal chops.

    The menu covers all regional cuisines of Italy. Most of the classic dishes are represented, along with fillets and veal chops.

    As an appetizer, I chose the evening's special of three seafood ravioli with a single shrimp in a cream sauce ($7.95). It wasn't much food., but the progression of delicate flavors encouraged a leisurely pace.

    As an appetizer, I chose the evening's special of three seafood ravioli with a single shrimp in a cream sauce ($7.95). It wasn't much food., but the progression of delicate flavors encouraged a leisurely pace.

    My companion also enjoyed her Caesar salad with oversized croutons ($5.95). As an entree, she sampled the shrimp della Cinque Terra, large, butterflied shrimp accompanied by fettuccine and a spicy, tomato-and-seafood-based pescatore sauce ($24.95). Served with baby green beans and a tomato rose, this entree tasted as good as it looked.

    My companion also enjoyed her Caesar salad with oversized croutons ($5.95). As an entree, she sampled the shrimp della Cinque Terra, large, butterflied shrimp accompanied by fettuccine and a spicy, tomato-and-seafood-based pescatore sauce ($24.95). Served with baby green beans and a tomato rose, this entree tasted as good as it looked.

    The dessert list ranged from ices to cannoli. The cheesecake ($4.95) had the pleasantly grainy texture of ricotta, while the tiramisu (46.50) was pleasantly sweet, not too strong and had an interesting cakelike presentation.

    The dessert list ranged from ices to cannoli. The cheesecake ($4.95) had the pleasantly grainy texture of ricotta, while the tiramisu (46.50) was pleasantly sweet, not too strong and had an interesting cakelike presentation.

    Christini's is among the top restaurants in Central Florida and is by far the best independent Italian spot on the south side of town. Our final tab topped $140, which makes this destination one for special occasions or company expense accounts.

    After serving Central Florida for the better part of three decades, Amira's Kosher Deli closed its doors in May of last year, leaving a vacuum in the mouths and bellies of Jews and Gentiles craving kosher staples. Not one to succumb to the vagaries of the economy, Amira and Jerry Cohen's son, Justin, did his part to fill that vacuum, even if it was more than 40 miles away from where Amira's once stood. The place, Cohen's Deli and Butcher Shop, is ensconced in an oddly shaped strip mall off U.S. Highway 27 and U.S. Highway 192 in Clermont. The reason for the deli's locale? To cater to tourists, of course ' specifically, the scores of Jewish vacationers keeping kosher. For the rest of us, it'll definitely require a schlep to satisfy cravings for latkes, knishes, matzo-ball soup, pastrami or, yes, even halvah.

    For those who do make the drive, comfort awaits ' not so much in the seating, but certainly in the food. Puckering up over sour dills (served whole) and pickled tomatoes is a pleasure while perusing the menu. Justin, sporting a chef's coat with 'Master Butcherâ?� printed on the back, makes the rounds with regulars, then dashes behind the counter to fill orders. And while Cohen's menu is held to strict glatt kosher standards under the supervision of Rabbi Yosef Konikov, that hardly means it comes at the expense of taste. Pulpy matzo farfel soup ($2.99 cup; $3.99 bowl), while mushy, was a lemony delight and reminiscent of Greek avgolemono soup. Unintentionally star-shaped potato latkes ($3.99) were, ironically, the star of the menu. A side of apple sauce made an ideal dip for the perfectly crisp potato pancakes, and they held up quite nicely the next day. Seeing the glass case loaded with an assortment of knishes made ordering one difficult to resist. The potato version reminded me of my mom's potato vadas ' doughy, pliant and wonderfully seasoned. All that was missing was some red-hot chutney.

    Burgers aren't what come to mind when you think of a Jewish deli, but I had to try Cohen's quarter-pounder ($6.99) after learning the beef is ground fresh in the butcher shop. (Like Amira's, Cohen's has the luxury of an on-site butcher shop to supply meats for their deli and catering operations.) The resulting patty was a little flattened, but tasted great, and the bun, baked on the premises, was out-of-the-oven fresh. I opted for a side of fresh-cut, skin-on fries ($1.99) and a tumbler of sweet, crisp coleslaw, both spot-on.

    The overstuffed beef brisket sandwich ($10.99) is just that ' two slices of spongy, flavorful rye stuffed with nothing else but beef brisket. While purists may appreciate the no-nonsense approach, they may also find it a tad dry; a dip in the decanter of gravy helps. Creamy potato salad ($1.99) made from red-skin tubers makes a perfectly worthy side.

    The thin slab of halvah ($1.99), a crumbly sesame-paste confection, didn't exactly wow me, and made the dense dairy-free chocolate cake ($4.99) taste better than it actually was. But with its many menu holdovers from Amira's, it's nice to see the tradition live on, even if it is in Lake County. Forget the desserts. Like Amira's, Cohen's real strength is straight-from-the-shtetl home cooking.

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