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    It's interesting watching the whole "back-to-downtown" movement, not just here but all across the country. I'm not sure if it's dissatisfaction with suburban sprawl or a far-reaching desire for community, but people all over the country are heading back into the hearts of cities large and small.

    We see it here, and the amount of renovation work going on in Sanford means we're not alone. Where downtowns flourish, restaurants can't be far behind. Case in point, Da Vinci.

    We see it here, and the amount of renovation work going on in Sanford means we're not alone. Where downtowns flourish, restaurants can't be far behind. Case in point, Da Vinci.

    Da Vinci's chef and co-owner Kenny Stingone has a long and impressive career of feeding folks in the area. He has chef'd (is that a word?) at Bistro Capuccino, had a stint at Park Plaza Gardens in the mid-'80s and held the chef's spot at Café de France a couple of times. Upon that firm pedigree rests this first place of his own, nestled in the slowly revamping Magnolia Square section of downtown.

    Da Vinci's chef and co-owner Kenny Stingone has a long and impressive career of feeding folks in the area. He has chef'd (is that a word?) at Bistro Capuccino, had a stint at Park Plaza Gardens in the mid-'80s and held the chef's spot at Café de France a couple of times. Upon that firm pedigree rests this first place of his own, nestled in the slowly revamping Magnolia Square section of downtown.

    Co-owner Holliday Stingone, who led me to a table under one of several massive crystal chandeliers, asked how I found the place, and I had to answer truthfully – with difficulty. Because of one-ways and construction, you can't really get to Magnolia Square without making a good number of right-and left-turn combinations. I'd suggest Da Vinci for lunch first, just to see how to get there. The space itself is an old colonial-revival building with very high tin ceilings and aged walls. It's fitting to house what Chef Stingone calls his "Mediterranean-inspired" cuisine.

    Co-owner Holliday Stingone, who led me to a table under one of several massive crystal chandeliers, asked how I found the place, and I had to answer truthfully – with difficulty. Because of one-ways and construction, you can't really get to Magnolia Square without making a good number of right-and left-turn combinations. I'd suggest Da Vinci for lunch first, just to see how to get there. The space itself is an old colonial-revival building with very high tin ceilings and aged walls. It's fitting to house what Chef Stingone calls his "Mediterranean-inspired" cuisine.

    The "inspired" part means that some dishes, like the hearty and generous zuppa di pesce ($17.95), with fish, calamari and shellfish basted in spicy tomato, are quite authentic. Other items take creative liberties. I was pleased to see a non-veal alternative to saltinbocca made with chicken ($15.95), which featured a tender fillet with mozzarella and heaps of spinach. Pleased, that is, until I tried to chew through the thick slab of prosciutto gracing the top. "Shrimp Adriatic" ($15.95) was a better choice, huge shrimp combined with spinach and spicy sauce, then topped with crumbled feta cheese that gave it a tang. A couple of the shrimp had seen better days, but it was a good dish. The "escargot fricassee" appetizer ($5.95), rich snails in crustini with lemon butter and cheese, reminded me of dark woods and was very satisfying.

    The "inspired" part means that some dishes, like the hearty and generous zuppa di pesce ($17.95), with fish, calamari and shellfish basted in spicy tomato, are quite authentic. Other items take creative liberties. I was pleased to see a non-veal alternative to saltinbocca made with chicken ($15.95), which featured a tender fillet with mozzarella and heaps of spinach. Pleased, that is, until I tried to chew through the thick slab of prosciutto gracing the top. "Shrimp Adriatic" ($15.95) was a better choice, huge shrimp combined with spinach and spicy sauce, then topped with crumbled feta cheese that gave it a tang. A couple of the shrimp had seen better days, but it was a good dish. The "escargot fricassee" appetizer ($5.95), rich snails in crustini with lemon butter and cheese, reminded me of dark woods and was very satisfying.

    Da Vinci's is almost exactly 20 miles from downtown Orlando, a trip that probably takes less time than the aggravating trek to Disney. If you have a gas-guzzling SUV, that's about $6 for fuel plus around $60 for dinner for two in a slightly funky, potentially wonderful, as yet undiscovered restaurant. Seems like a bargain to me.

    Most of what we're familiar with as "Indian food" comes from the northern part of the subcontinent. Tandoori, tikkas and yellow curry are wonderful things, but special treats are found to the south and western coast. Indian lobster? You bet.

    Reggie D'Souza, who has owned the Northern-themed Far Pavilion restaurant on I-Drive for many years, says he wanted a place "where I could eat the foods I eat at home." And Dakshin (which means "south") is a reflection of his roots in the coastal town of Mangalore. The menu is alive with seafood recipes and tomato-based hot curries with influences of the Portuguese, who first brought hot peppers to India.

    I started with the mixed starter platter ($9.95) to sample the goods, and good they were. Crunchy lentil patties, dense and flavorful fish cutlets, and bhonda -- sort of the Indian version of hushpuppies -- complemented pan-fried shrimp. If I'd known the shrimp was that good I'd have ordered more. Suhke tesriya ($8.95) turned out to be a plate of tender mussels cooked with a green coconut chutney for a rich delight.

    A side of aloo paratha ($2.95), flat bread stuffed with peas and soft potatoes, makes a perfect accompaniment to the lobster curry ($18.95), with its meat simmered in spicy red-curry gravy and fragrant with anisette. My companion's lamb masala ($12.95), a rich, dark sauce spiced with curry leaves and pepper, was so tender it practically cut itself.

    In a nod to northern cuisine, several biryanis appear, and the slow-cooked shrimp and rice casserole I ordered ($14.95) was flavored with a magnificently intense mixture of spices.

    The vegetable dishes, like spicy "paneer capsicum" ($11.95) from Bombay (dense Indian cheese cooked with chilis), are too expensive to just sample, so most folks will miss a wonderful experience. Order bhendi sukhe ($10.95), a thick okra dish, and share.

    There's also a full nonmeat menu available for dinner, with treats such as dosais -- lentil crepes filled with potato and onion -- and uthappam, which is called "Indian pizza" on the menu but turned out to be a savory rice-flour pancake. Try the tomato version ($7.25), topped with onion and thin flakes of coconut.

    The place setting at each table confused me, so a quick lesson might help. On the table is a round copper tray and three bowls. Meat (or vegetables) and sauces go into the bowls for sharing and dipping with chapati or aloo paratha. Spread the rice into the tray, making it easy to pick up with a fork or bread. You'll get smiles from your waiter. And the food will get smiles from you.

    More than 30 organic loose-leaf teas are offered at this socially conscious teahouse that's become a gathering ground for nonconformists, neo-cons and everyone in between. A predominantly vegan menu of wraps, salads and an outstandingly hearty chili will satisfy even the most ravenous of carnivores. Start with hummus with hemp seeds, and finish with the fluffernutter sandwich - a sweet proposition.


    Teaser: More than 30 organic loose-leaf teas are offered at this socially conscious teahouse that's become a gathering ground for nonconformists, neo-cons and everyone in between. A predominantly vegan menu of wraps, salads and an outstandingly hearty chili will satisfy even the most ravenous of carnivores. Start with hummus with hemp seeds, and finish with the fluffernutter sandwich ' a sweet proposition.

    Rigorous sustainability and local sourcing are integral to chef Cory York's  stellar seafood dishes, though you'll have to navigate the depths of Disney property to sample them The astoounding crab cake is an absolute must, though the eight fresh fish options are the real draw. Don't overlook prime cuts of beef - the 22-ounce T-bone is a budget-buster, but well worth the price. Desserts please, but won't necessarily wow. Validated parking offered.


    Teaser: Rigorous sustainability and local sourcing are integral to chef Cory York's stellar seafood dishes, though you'll have to navigate the depths of Disney property to sample them. The astounding crab cake is an absolute must, though the eight fresh fish options are the real draw. Don't overlook prime cuts of beef ' the 22-ounce T-bone is a budget-buster, but well worth the price. Desserts please, but won't necessarily wow. Validated parking offered.

    Some of my greatest meal memories are from the original Dexter's in Winter Park. It was there that I discovered my love of sitting around a table for hours with friends, eating, drinking and conversing. The original Dexter's on Fairbanks Avenue was magnificent for this discovery, an absolutely pleasurable spot where you could linger and listen to music, sip wine and enjoy enlivening food.

    Then came Dexter's in Thornton Park, which became my morning-after remedy from long nights at the Go Lounge. I loved getting up and riding my bike over to Washington Street to have brunch. There was no better way to nurse a hangover than with a basket of sweet potato chips and a Dexter's "special" – a honey-cured mesquite-smoked turkey sandwich. When the original Dexter's moved to another location, in west Winter Park, I went a couple of times, mostly on dates before the movies or to grab a quick sandwich and tasty salad.

    I guess you could say that Dexter's and I have grown up together. Dexter's kind of supplied the comfort food of my early adult life, introducing me to such favorites as buccatini, jerk spice and smoked cheese. So when I heard Dexter's was growing again and moving north to the suburbs, I wasn't sure what to think. I mean, I'm not ready for the suburbs yet. And would it have the same cool warehouse-space feel? Would the food be just as simple and pleasing?

    The new Dexter's in Lake Mary suffers a little from what I like to call Multiple Growth Restaurant Syndrome, the pesky disorder that occurs when a restaurant has been getting it right for so long that they become formulaic. Don't worry, though. Dexter's is up and running and handling this minor affliction quite well. The first sign of MGRS is in the restaurant's sterile location in a spanking-new shopping plaza. To get to the restaurant, I had to navigate I-4 up to the Lake Mary exit, then pass by the marquee of a shopping mall and drive past endless rows of parking spaces. There's not much of a chance that I'll wake up on a breezy morning and hop on my bike for a ride over here. Each of the other Dexter's locations is unique in the way the business molds itself to the surroundings. The new entry offers a more manufactured ambience, but my friends and I still found the experience enjoyable in every way. This Dexter's was still the Dexter's I knew and loved.

    A beautiful glass wine-storage closet nestled in nicely by the bar, creating the fun, sophisticated flair Dexter's is so well known for. All of the comfort foods I crave were on the new menu, so I had to start with the basket of delicious "cha-cha" chips mixed with sweet chips ($1.95), which always kicks up my appetite.

    From the café menu, my friends ordered my beloved garlic buccatini with fresh pesto ($6.95), a delectable mix of Alfredo sauce, basil, pine nuts and thick, hollow egg noodles. We also tried the "low country crab cakes" ($11.95) and our resident Marylander gave them the thumbs-up – flaky and tender, packed with sweet crab flavor and piqued by plenty of fresh red pepper and onion.

    We tried some items from the chef's special menu and found them delicious, as well. The chef here has the familiar Dexter's flair for giving comfort-food ingredients an exciting twist. The "chipotle marinated pork tenderloin" ($17.95) was bursting with heady spices such as cumin and cilantro, complementing the smoky aroma of the chipotle pepper. The "grilled filet with Stilton-bacon-demi glace" ($22.95) was steak and potatoes at its best. The fillet, juicy and served medium rare, was compatibly married to the opulent flavors of bacon and blue cheese. All of the dishes were enhanced by the accompaniment of a reasonably priced bottle of Acacia pinot noir. To finish our dinner off, we virtually scarfed the very satisfying and solid crème brûlée ($4.50) and the decadently chocolate "two mousse brownie" ($4.50).

    When I got up from my meal I realized that I had, once again, passed a lively two hours with friends at Dexter's. So even if Dexter's has become a bit formulaic, hey, the formula works.

    With an attractive wait staff, eclectic art and 30-plus wines and champagnes, Dexter's makes you feel cool even if you're not. The unique selection of international beers is popular at this wine bar and café; the concrete floor means it can get noisy as hell.

    The new Dexter's in Winter Park no longer sells wine for retail, a practice left behind when the hot spot relocated to west Winter Park. Still, the reinvented landmark offers a more elevated wine experience than before, with a sommelier on staff to advance the "captain's list" of rare vintages, stored in a smart, white-washed Chicago-brick vault.

    With the oversized French doors open to the streetscape, the dining area is far more roomy. The butcher-block tables and stools have been replaced by low, cherry-wood tables with Art Deco chairs. And there's no shortage of parking (a problem that plagues Dexter's in Thornton Park). The dinner menu remains constant, and the "cafe menu" adds variety with seasonal items, such as the current hickory-smoked tuna tartare ($9.95). And from the buffed cement bar you can try 30 wines by the glass.

    Steamed talapia with fresh ginger and scallion. Roast duck. New Zealand mussels. Sticky rice shumai. Buffet restaurant.

    This is not a "what doesn't belong" quiz; rather, all of these things go together at Dim Sum Feast (5989 W. Colonial Drive; 407-293-7999), where cheap eats and surprisingly well-done dishes coincide.

    Lunch is $5.99 while dinner will set you back $8.49 and for that tidy sum you'll find sautéed Singapore mai fun noodles, freshly made Cantonese har gow shrimp balls, steamed pork buns and sweet sesame dumplings.

    All the typical buffet fare is here, so if you're a lo mein or General Tso's chicken fan, pigging out is encouraged. But it's not often you'll find a whole poached salmon and green-tea rice paste alongside fried rice and teriyaki chicken to perk up more discriminating palates.

    Judging from their blissful, soporific smiles and stacks of leftovers, we passed a satisfied family on our way into Dixie Crossroads in Titusville. "We came all the way from Deltona, and it was worth it," someone said. We drove from Orlando to dine at this established beacon of fish-house cuisine, and we knew it would be worth the trip, too.

    Confident that "if you cook it, they will come," management has skipped the Martha Stewart niceties of atmosphere and decorum. They don't waste time mixing tartar sauces; instead they serve the Ken's Steak House brand in disposable cups. Forks and knives are wrapped in wax paper and clunked on top of paper placemats. Hostesses communicate with each other on radio headsets while searching for the next empty table.

    Confident that "if you cook it, they will come," management has skipped the Martha Stewart niceties of atmosphere and decorum. They don't waste time mixing tartar sauces; instead they serve the Ken's Steak House brand in disposable cups. Forks and knives are wrapped in wax paper and clunked on top of paper placemats. Hostesses communicate with each other on radio headsets while searching for the next empty table.

    Lines are so long outside on weekends that Dixie carved a pond, built a pavilion and hired a band. Most patrons don't seem to mind waiting an hour or more to get seated.

    Lines are so long outside on weekends that Dixie carved a pond, built a pavilion and hired a band. Most patrons don't seem to mind waiting an hour or more to get seated.

    When it was our time, we were led to the Manatee Room, decorated with murals of sea cows and bubbles. We selected entrees and soups. There was hardly time to blink before the waitress returned with a tray of vegetable soup (OK), shrimp chowder (much better), creamy coleslaw (getting warmer) and gloriously golden, crispy corn fritters (hubba! hubba!). Without exaggeration these are the best fritters I have ever had – or probably ever will have. Crescents of sweet dough are blended with corn kernels and fried to a light, crisp finish.

    When it was our time, we were led to the Manatee Room, decorated with murals of sea cows and bubbles. We selected entrees and soups. There was hardly time to blink before the waitress returned with a tray of vegetable soup (OK), shrimp chowder (much better), creamy coleslaw (getting warmer) and gloriously golden, crispy corn fritters (hubba! hubba!). Without exaggeration these are the best fritters I have ever had – or probably ever will have. Crescents of sweet dough are blended with corn kernels and fried to a light, crisp finish.

    The seafood arrived shortly afterward, all a jumble on oversized platters. We chose to have it fried, rather than steamed or broiled. My shellfish combo ($10.95) came with shrimp, scallops and stuffed crab. The traditional shrimp and smaller rock shrimp were fried a dark brown. Both were sweet, fresh and delicious. Scallops were a little mushy and disappointing that day. Stuffed crab was actually breaded crab meat, molded into pucks and fried to crunchy hard shells. Very good. My guest's Indian River combo ($10.95) came with most of this and mullet as well. The fish fillet was fresh and firm, with a thick, flaky batter. Our baked potatoes were not on a par with the rest of the dinner – too steamy and heavy.

    The seafood arrived shortly afterward, all a jumble on oversized platters. We chose to have it fried, rather than steamed or broiled. My shellfish combo ($10.95) came with shrimp, scallops and stuffed crab. The traditional shrimp and smaller rock shrimp were fried a dark brown. Both were sweet, fresh and delicious. Scallops were a little mushy and disappointing that day. Stuffed crab was actually breaded crab meat, molded into pucks and fried to crunchy hard shells. Very good. My guest's Indian River combo ($10.95) came with most of this and mullet as well. The fish fillet was fresh and firm, with a thick, flaky batter. Our baked potatoes were not on a par with the rest of the dinner – too steamy and heavy.

    The lemon cake ($1.50) was a surprisingly good homespun yellow cake topped with a slab of citrus icing, though an unexpected touch came with the check: a cup of vanilla frozen yogurt, to clear the palate.

    Here's something you don't see every day: a pizzeria in Orlando. OK, so maybe there are quite a few pizza joints. Doesn't mean a person can't keep hoping for perfection.

    Dom's Pizza (5075 Edgewater Drive, 407-298-8998; www.domspizza.com) isn't quite perfection. Biting into a slice of their classic thin crust, I thought the sauce was a little too salty, the crust had an almost pretzel-like consistency, and the cheese was spread on way too thick. And I liked it. A lot. Somehow the combination works, and I'll eagerly return for more.

    Dom's Pizza (5075 Edgewater Drive, 407-298-8998; www.domspizza.com) isn't quite perfection. Biting into a slice of their classic thin crust, I thought the sauce was a little too salty, the crust had an almost pretzel-like consistency, and the cheese was spread on way too thick. And I liked it. A lot. Somehow the combination works, and I'll eagerly return for more.

    You'll also find specialty pizzas like the Drew Show, named after a certain radio personality, that's really a Philly cheesesteak-and-onions pie, a combination that seems so logical I'm surprised everyone doesn't do it. Hot and cold subs, calzones and oven-baked pasta round out the offerings. Now someone explain the Sound of Music cast photo on the wall.

    A satisfying dark-roasted brew works well in expresso  drinks (lattes, macchiato, cappuccino) and as  a straight-up drip coffee is served in a room as simple and satisfying as the menu, with clean lines, comfortable modern furniture and just enough embellishment to make the space appealing. The pay-what-you-will model is intriguing; we hope it works out for them.

    Rumor had it that in recent years, Dragonfly – Gainesville's much-lauded modern izakaya – had lost some of its luster in its effort to maintain "it spot" status among the college town's cognoscenti. So, like those naysayers' attitudes, the posh Japanese resto headed south to the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando, intent on wowing a less judgmental audience. At first blush, the place does indeed impress – the glossy wraparound sushi bar and angled bento-box ceiling are pure eye candy inside this trendster's haven. Tranquil it's not, but with a name like Dragonfly," one would expect the joint to be abuzz in music, chatter and hubbub, and it is. The restaurant's website, however, offers an alternative description of the vibe:

    Dragonfly strives to reach an emotional enlightenment through the balancing of the Sensual, Spiritual and Savory philosophy. Dragonfly is a modern day female yakuza boss.

    The first sentence reads like a bad Babelfish translation; the second – well, that's just bloody amusing, if not a little threatening. Really, apart from the heavily bandaged pinkies on all the servers and cooks, there's nothing remotely menacing here. Daunting, yes – for instance, the menu, which comprises a swarm of small plates of the sushi, sashimi and robata (grilled simply over charcoal) variety. The indulgent passion platter ($24) is a testament to the slicing skills of the sashimi chefs – nine pieces of ruby-red tuna, plush salmon and buttery izume dai (farm-raised tilapia) are artfully presented, while yellowtail sashimi ($6) is spectacularly melt-in-your-mouth. Signature dragonfly rolls ($14), while meaty, are somewhat cumbersome, with tuna and albacore wrapped with thick strips of grouper, then topped with scallions and eel sauce. The fact that the rolls are baked lends to their corpulence, but it's all just a bit too much for its own good. A mistake in our order resulted in a complimentary plate of yellowtail collar (regularly $14), a truly outstanding piece of fish and, like all their robata items, grilled over imported, smoke-free bincho-tan charcoal. 

    Other robata favorites we joyfully gorged on were shishito peppers ($4), skewered chicken breast ($5) and sublime bone-in short ribs ($9) served with kimchi. The latter, a nod to Korean galbi, is further sparked with a dip into the spicy mayo and orange yuzu sauces. Both beef tataki ($10), made of rare, lightly seared ribeye mixed with daikon and ponzu, and sesame-bolstered wakame salad ($5) show that the kitchen can also do the simple things right. No izakaya experience would be complete without a swig of sake ' we liked the crisp, clean and mellow taste of the Hatsumago junmaishu ($24).

    Desserts aren't listed on a menu but, rather, recited by rote. We nodded when "green tea tiramisu" ($7) was uttered, which turned out to be more gimmick than concept. The red-bean ice cream ($3) was as modest and toothsome as a meal-ender can get; the bowl came with dollops of flavorless green-tea ice cream and surprisingly snappy ginger ice cream, but we would've preferred three scoops of that blushy confection.

    There's no question that Dragonfly is dressed to impress, and with Amura and Nagoya just yards away, the sushi scene on the corner of Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard has certainly gotten a lot more competitive. For Dragonfly's sake, here's hoping it doesn't make like its namesake and live an intense, albeit fleeting, existence.

    There's no question that Dragonfly is dressed to impress, and with Amura and Nagoya just yards away, the sushi scene on the corner of Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard has certainly gotten a lot more competitive. For Dragonfly's sake, here's hoping it doesn't make like its namesake and live an intense, albeit fleeting, existence.

    Last week it was the Ravenous Pig; this week it’s the Drunken Monkey. In coming weeks, expect reviews on the Lecherous Hedgehog and the Fetid Squirrel. Seriously, attention-grabbing appellations can give a newly opened restaurant some much-needed buzz but, thanks to their very own coffee-bean roaster, Drunken Monkey does a pretty good job generating its own.

    And the inspiration for naming the café after a poggled primate? BAM! None other than Emeril Lagasse or, rather, Emeril Lagasse’s “Drunken Monkey” ice cream – a blend of white chocolate, bananas and rum. Co-owner Maureen Hawthorne says the name stuck during her stint at the portly superchef’s restaurant at Universal’s CityWalk. Plus, seeing that the other co-owner, Larry Hardin, is a proponent of Chinese martial arts (of which the Drunken Monkey form of kung fu is a part), endorsing the coffee house’s bibulous designation proved a cinch.

    Inside, a miscellany of découpaged tables, office chairs and vintage sofas make for a stylistic clash, and the same could be said about the menu. You’ll find everything from quiche and paella to soups and burritos, but unlike the building’s previous tenant (Conway’s BBQ), meat takes a backseat to a healthy offering of vegan and vegetarian fare. A wedge of jalapeño-streaked Southwest quiche ($5.95 with a cup of soup) was a perfectly portioned starter, only it was served partially warm and needed to be sent back, after which it was re-served too hot. French onion soup was superbly satisfying; no real surprise considering it was made by John Batcho, whose Soupçon Soups were a main draw at the College Park and Downtown Farmers Markets. His liquid gold is now sold exclusively at Drunken Monkey.

    The irony in the café’s proximity to Beefy King isn’t lost, though meat does make its appearance in some offerings. Shrimp, chicken and sausage are optional ingredients in paella ($6.95), but I made a conscious effort to eschew the wrath of these urban herbivores by ordering the meat-free version. Granted, it wasn’t served in a pan, and the aromatic splendor of saffron was absent, but the hodgepodge of veggies – onions, celery, peas, artichokes, olives, green beans and chickpeas – offered an interesting twist on this classic Spanish dish.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Baja Dann ($4.50), a burrito stuffed with huevos, tomatoes, queso, caramelized onions and peppers and a black-bean spread, but a dunk in the pureed salsa really kicked it up a notch (pardon the Emeril-ism). A soy patty wedged between ciabatta bread comprised the veggie burger ($5.99), but I found the sandwich bland and unsatisfying, like other meatless burgers I’ve sampled.

    Desserts are small in stature, but large in flavor. Dense banana bread with chocolate chips ($2) partnered well with specialty coffee drinks like the Mojo Jojo ($3), a Vietnamese-style beverage with sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla flavoring. Triple-chocolate organic cookies ($1 for three) begged for a dip in the cappuccino ($3.10), and don’t overlook their fresh-squeezed juices, particularly the pleasurably tart limeade ($2).

    What I like about this coffeehouse is its inclusive, across-the-board vibe. As laid-back as it is eco-conscious, Drunken Monkey caters to Dandelion’s drum-circle set without alienating java junkies and meat-lovers. Service needs a little tweaking, but in a place like this, you get the sense that these folks won’t mind monkeying with the monkey.

    I've officially found the laziest kitchen downtown: the staff at Due Amici, the South Orange Avenue joint formerly known as Dan's Midnite Pizza. Seriously, 30 minutes to heat up a couple of slices and make a panini? Frustrating, considering the restaurant wasn't packed and the folks behind the counter were text-messaging away.

    I've officially found the laziest kitchen downtown: the staff at Due Amici, the South Orange Avenue joint formerly known as Dan's Midnite Pizza. Seriously, 30 minutes to heat up a couple of slices and make a panini? Frustrating, considering the restaurant wasn't packed and the folks behind the counter were text-messaging away.

    The two slices I had ' a white pizza and a mushroom ' weren't bad. They were large enough to be satisfying for the price ' $4.95 with a soda, a daily special ' and the New York crust was appropriately thin. My companion was less pleased with his 'Sicilianoâ?� panini: too-thick prosciutto surrounded by too-chewy bread. We were both disappointed by the garlic bread-with-cheese appetizer; there was no cheese to be found. I've enjoyed calzones here in the past, and I tried a tasty fried ziti special once ' maybe if they put it on the menu, I'd go back. (Due Amici, 28 S. Orange Ave., 407-425-8881)

    Fine dining is a series of combinations of tastes, textures, the feel of the room, and the quality of service. If any one factor is off, it affects how you react to all the others. Of course, if the food is extraordinary, it's a lot easier to forgive an uninformed waiter or a noisy dishwasher, but when all the pieces fall into place... that's when an evening becomes unforgettable.

    For ten years, one good combination has been the Peabody Hotel's reputation for service and the quality of their two restaurants, Dux and Capriccio. Dux is the more formal of the two and the only Mobil Four-Star rated restaurant in town. I've seen listings that "suggest" jackets, but I saw just as many casual diners as not when I was there.

    For ten years, one good combination has been the Peabody Hotel's reputation for service and the quality of their two restaurants, Dux and Capriccio. Dux is the more formal of the two and the only Mobil Four-Star rated restaurant in town. I've seen listings that "suggest" jackets, but I saw just as many casual diners as not when I was there.

    Yes, the ducks still parade twice a day (11 and 5), and Peabody chefs have actually disqualified themselves from national competitions if the ingredients include duck. Sort of like Disney chefs refusing to cook... maybe that's not a good example.

    Yes, the ducks still parade twice a day (11 and 5), and Peabody chefs have actually disqualified themselves from national competitions if the ingredients include duck. Sort of like Disney chefs refusing to cook... maybe that's not a good example.

    A neat, orchid-bedecked lobby with a small bar leads into the dining room, marble and muted maroon and taupe walls decorated with batik depictions of mallards and swans (ugly ducklings, I suppose). It's a comfortable room, tasteful yet removed from the formal atmosphere one would associate with jacketed waiters and silver serving trays (of which there are plenty - wait until you see the synchronized lid removal).

    A neat, orchid-bedecked lobby with a small bar leads into the dining room, marble and muted maroon and taupe walls decorated with batik depictions of mallards and swans (ugly ducklings, I suppose). It's a comfortable room, tasteful yet removed from the formal atmosphere one would associate with jacketed waiters and silver serving trays (of which there are plenty - wait until you see the synchronized lid removal).

    I was rather surprised at the brevity of the menu. The offerings do change seasonally – perhaps summer is the short season. An alternative to deciding is a chef's choice of four courses, which that night included soup, a fish course, tenderloin and dessert, for $65 a person. I chose to forgo the steak, and we ordered ala carte.

    I was rather surprised at the brevity of the menu. The offerings do change seasonally – perhaps summer is the short season. An alternative to deciding is a chef's choice of four courses, which that night included soup, a fish course, tenderloin and dessert, for $65 a person. I chose to forgo the steak, and we ordered ala carte.

    Combinations came into play with the chilled cucumber-yogurt soup ($14), garnished with dill and thin julienne of mint. The menu said it came with taboule, but there was a round island of couscous in the middle – which our waiter insisted was taboule, even without any evidence of parsley or tomato. Definitions change, I suppose. My crab salad, very fresh pieces of crab served atop a marinated tomato confit and lovely sunflower sprouts, was liberally laced with a very tart lemon dressing which did an unfortunate job of hiding the taste of the crab ($16).

    Combinations came into play with the chilled cucumber-yogurt soup ($14), garnished with dill and thin julienne of mint. The menu said it came with taboule, but there was a round island of couscous in the middle – which our waiter insisted was taboule, even without any evidence of parsley or tomato. Definitions change, I suppose. My crab salad, very fresh pieces of crab served atop a marinated tomato confit and lovely sunflower sprouts, was liberally laced with a very tart lemon dressing which did an unfortunate job of hiding the taste of the crab ($16).

    The lamb sirloin ($28), a tender round of meat, sat atop a bland mixture of eggplant, tomato and pine nuts which neither subtracted nor enhanced the taste. A moist, perfectly cooked cross-section of Atlantic salmon, topped with jewel-like salmon roe, was revealed under my domed lid ($24). The saltwater taste of the roe made the fish seem even fresher. It was served with savory sautéd artichoke and a Merlot wine reduction that I can only call magnificent. But back to combinations: perfect taken separately, the sauce was so overwhelming that unless I ate the salmon by itself I could barely taste it. My partner kept leaning over and dipping her lamb into the sauce, and that's where it should have been.

    The lamb sirloin ($28), a tender round of meat, sat atop a bland mixture of eggplant, tomato and pine nuts which neither subtracted nor enhanced the taste. A moist, perfectly cooked cross-section of Atlantic salmon, topped with jewel-like salmon roe, was revealed under my domed lid ($24). The saltwater taste of the roe made the fish seem even fresher. It was served with savory sautéd artichoke and a Merlot wine reduction that I can only call magnificent. But back to combinations: perfect taken separately, the sauce was so overwhelming that unless I ate the salmon by itself I could barely taste it. My partner kept leaning over and dipping her lamb into the sauce, and that's where it should have been.

    Frankly, I've been more impressed with the quality and variety of food at Capriccio, right next door. I'd hate to think that Dux was nesting on its laurels.

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