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    Neither old nor new, Eastern Pearl has been open for a couple of years, but its unremarkable environs -- in the plaza across from Altamonte Mall -- close it in. It's a remarkable find, wondrous even, in the case of the "mango shrimp."

    Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

    Mundane life is left at the door, upon entering the contemporary room filled with bold dark-wood furniture. The modestly sized area takes on an expanded dimension, given some clever design choices. On the back wall, soft-sounding showers cascade over a relief of the Chinese character for "double happiness." To the side, a window into the humming kitchen offers rare exposure. A partitioned-off hostess/ bar station further defines the orderly, eye-pleasing configuration, and there's a nicely set-off room for private parties. Most of the tables are round affairs, fashioned with a family-style rotating server in the center. The sight of the artful entrees we ordered spinning around was a showcase of invention.

    Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

    Fresh roses and starched linens make for on-the-town surroundings as the options for meal starters -- appetizers, soups and dim sum -- can be studied. Homage is paid on the menu to sister cuisines, with the inclusion of Vietnamese summer rolls ($2.99), as well as Thai-style sweet-and-sour shrimp soup ($3.95). The noodles, nonspiced shrimp and basil leaf came together in a clean-tasting crunch in the roll; the "straight man," if you will, to the lively, rich peanut sauce. The broth in the soup was a sweet and tangy version, infused with spice that warmed all the way down. Fried spring rolls ($2.95) were light and flaky; the scallion pancake ($3.25) had a firm bite, crispy outside, fluffy inside.

    As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

    As mentioned, the "mango shrimp" ($14.95) was a visual and palatable delight. Served in scooped-out mango shells, the generous serving of succulently moist shrimp was in a subtle sauce of cooked juice and red peppers. The al-dente texture of the cooked fruit is such that it holds its chunky shape until it dissolves in the mouth, exploding heavenly taste. The stellar execution was matched in the "shrimp in silken creme sauce" ($15.95), unusual with its mayonnaise-and-fruit-juice dressing topped with caramelized walnuts. In the Gen. Tso's family, the "crispy beef" ($13.95) was presented in shoestring form. The orange chicken ($10.95) was without artificial enhancements.

    Given the high caliber, prices are a bargain. The only gripe: For $7.50, the glass of Sterling Char-donnay could have been fuller. Hot tea was poured without request all evening, in keeping with the genteel serving skills -- practiced, politely distanced and informed -- that carried this meal to its distinctive conclusion.

    A garden of leafy delights awaits at Eden’s, a clean, spacious green house on North Orange sandwiched between Winnie’s Oriental Garden and the Ravenous Pig. The focus here is on the body (healthy food), spirit (a place for quiet reflection and artistic expression) and mind (free Wi-Fi), though their wraps and salads really take center stage. The blues and greens of the interior reflect the colors of the sky, plants and water, but are also reminiscent of an Aegean café, which may have induced me to order the Athena ($4.80). The mélange of greens, kalamata olives, tomatoes, cukes, peppers, snow peas and feta can be stuffed in a wrap or enjoyed as a traditional bowl of salad. I opted for the former (in a tomato-basil wrap) and had some lemon-pepper chicken thrown in for an additional $2. The flavors were rightfully tangy, if a tad salty. I really liked the Daisy ($4.80), a refreshingly sweet and delightfully nutty salad that I enjoyed sans wrap. Mandarin oranges and strawberries provided the pop, almonds and sunflower seeds the crunch and raspberry vinaigrette the invigorating splash.

    There are 11 different salads from which to choose, and if none tickles your fancy, create your own from Eden’s 37 available “tossings” and 12 dressings. Counter service can slow considerably during the lunch rush, but that’ll give you a chance to peruse the original artwork and sayings on the walls. Oh, and if you’re looking for a little quiet reflection, the consistent chatter and piped-in music could foil any meditative urges. It should be noted that the items above, though ordered “small,” were enormous portions, but really – eating too much salad is like taking too many naps; how bad for you could it possibly be?

    Ceviche is the specialty of this tiny Peruvian cocina, but be sure to start with excellent mussels on the half-shell, dressed with a tangy salsa jacked with aji limo peppers. Grilled beef heart and traditional lomo saltado are worthy turf selections, if you're not into surf. Souffl-like bavarois de guinnes are, appropriately, ethereal.


    Teaser: Ceviche is the specialty of this tiny Peruvian cocina, but be sure to start with excellent mussels on the half-shell, dressed with a tangy salsa jacked with aji limo peppers. Grilled beef heart and traditional lomo saltado are worthy turf selections, if you're not into surf. Soufflé-like bavarois de guinones are, appropriately, ethereal. Open daily.

    Remember all those rock songs you liked so much you just wanted to eat them up? Well, now's your chance. Emack & Bolio's is like eating rock & roll at its finest.

    The company story: Amid the blazing rock & roll scene of the late '70s, Bobby Rook, an entertainment attorney cum ice cream enthusiast in Boston, creates a place to entertain rock stars after hours. They're hanging out, get the munchies, Bobby Rook makes some far-out flavors, and next thing you know he's known as Boston's ice cream man. The demand for his ice cream reaches record proportions, so he decides to open a store, but doesn't know what to call it.

    "Name it after us," say Mr. Emack and Mr. Bolio, homeless men that he's done some pro bono work for. They live in the alleyway behind his store.

    And thus, the first premium ice cream shop named after homeless men is born: Emack & Bolio's.

    The Hard Rock Hotel location has very little grassroots flavor left in it. It is a big, flashy store with characteristic Hard Rock paraphernalia lining the walls and colorful, kitschy signs announcing the flavors. There are no homeless men anywhere to be seen. But the ice cream is still the same premium, homemade concoction, and it's really good. Not only that, but it's made from hormone-free milk.

    "I'll take the Twisted Dee-Light," I said, remembering the time I asked my mom to take me to the Glendale Galleria to buy the new Twisted Sister album. I was handed an enormous scoop of chocolate ice cream laced with fudge chunks and brownies ($3.25 for one scoop); the creation of which was the brainchild of Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, the same man who brought us "I Wanna Rock!"

    Deep Purple Cow is black raspberry ice cream with blueberries and black and white chocolate chips. Delicious. The signature Strawberry Fields Forever is like popping ripe berries and cream in your mouth. The lemon sorbet, We Call It Mellow Yellow, was perfectly balanced, sweet and tart.

    Pistachio Ga Ga, neither cloying nor green, had real nuts. Crunch Control to Major Tom (my winner for the best flavor name ever) was good though its description was convoluted: vanilla ice cream, caramel swirl, chocolate crumbs, chocolate chips, nuts and cookies.

    Emack & Bolio's also serves sundaes with homemade hot fudge, a banana split called Bolio's Banana Submarine ($6.25), ice cream floats and smoothies.

    Two pieces of advice: Don't be turned off by the parking situation; they validate. And do share. The portions are huge.

    Our first mistake was paying six bucks to park in the garage at Universal Studios CityWalk. That's because when we made reservations for Emeril's Restaurant Orlando, nobody told us we could park free at the Hard Rock Cafe. (Emeril's will validate valet stubs, saving $12.)

    Our second mistake was forgetting to call and confirm our reservations on the day we were to dine, as we were told to do. So after hiking 10 minutes from the garage, we found ourselves turned away at the host station because we weren't on the list and there were no tables.

    But there was no turning back. The host suggested that we return in several hours or go to the bar. We chose the bar, which is small but offers a view of the elaborate show kitchen where TV-celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse himself has been spotted in recent weeks, launching the latest in his restaurant family.

    There's no arguing that Lagasse's adopted New Orleans flair is an attention-getter, on the tube and live. And a taste of the menu shows why his cookbooks sell by the millions. Everything we tried was flawlessly prepared and beautifully presented.

    The prices are reasonable, considering the quality, except for the small portion – about three bites – of "grilled homemade andouille sausage" for $7.50. But it was the definitive andouille, thanks to Emeril's Worcestershire recipe, which is "kicked up" with anchovies and molasses. The crabmeat strudel also was a hit ($10), topped with hearts of palm and sweet-corn remoulade.

    Daily specials play a prominent role, as the restaurant wants to lure the locals back for repeat visits. So far it's working, because 90 percent of the reservations come from residents, we were told. But the permanent menu is filled with incredible selections. Our favorite was the andouille-crusted Texas redfish ($22), dressed with roasted-pecan vegetable relish and teamed with shoestring potatoes.

    Veal fans shouldn't miss the 14-ounce grilled chop ($27), served with cheesy grits, capocollo ham and exotic mushroom ragout. The chop was thick and thoroughly cooked but still juicy.

    Attention to detail carries through to desserts. We had a luxurious trio of dark-chocolate truffle petit fours with a scoop of hazelnut ice cream ($7).

    There is much to like about the casual, contemporary atmosphere, warm and spicy colors, and first-class service. Emeril's has the ingredients to hold your interest; just be sure to get those reservations straight.

    I'm sure Emeril Lagasse is a nice guy, a boy from small-town Fall River, Mass., who made it good in the food trade. People certainly seem to like him. But from the looks of his second restaurant at Universal Orlando, I get the feeling he has marble fountains and paintings on black velvet in his house.

    The gourmet production is called Tchoup Chop (pronounced "chop chop" and named after Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, home to Emeril's flagship), serving an oddly Polynesian/Thai/Hawaiian fare in the Royal Pacific Resort, which has an Indonesian theme. Giant glass-flower-blossom chandeliers and a central lily pond dominate the wicker and stone room, and each element is impressive by itself but jarring all together.

    The gourmet production is called Tchoup Chop (pronounced "chop chop" and named after Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, home to Emeril's flagship), serving an oddly Polynesian/Thai/Hawaiian fare in the Royal Pacific Resort, which has an Indonesian theme. Giant glass-flower-blossom chandeliers and a central lily pond dominate the wicker and stone room, and each element is impressive by itself but jarring all together.

    Much is made of the cocktail menu, which takes up more room than the entrees, but a Bloody Mary with wasabi, soy sauce and sake somehow didn't appeal to me. The dumpling box ($7) was a better choice, steamed dim sum filled with a heavy pork-and-ginger mixture. They were similar to the "pot stickers" ($8), pan-fried shrimp dumplings with dipping sauce. Both were good, but not much different from the acres of dumplings elsewhere.

    Much is made of the cocktail menu, which takes up more room than the entrees, but a Bloody Mary with wasabi, soy sauce and sake somehow didn't appeal to me. The dumpling box ($7) was a better choice, steamed dim sum filled with a heavy pork-and-ginger mixture. They were similar to the "pot stickers" ($8), pan-fried shrimp dumplings with dipping sauce. Both were good, but not much different from the acres of dumplings elsewhere.

    The "creative clay pot of the day" ($18), offering firm fish (salmon on this night) with vegetables in a deep fish broth and overcooked rice, was an interesting dish but not particularly creative. A shame, since the kitchen is capable of glory. It's wonderful to discover new flavors, and the Kona-glazed duck ($22) was an outrageous combination of rich duck breast coated in caramelized coffee.

    The "creative clay pot of the day" ($18), offering firm fish (salmon on this night) with vegetables in a deep fish broth and overcooked rice, was an interesting dish but not particularly creative. A shame, since the kitchen is capable of glory. It's wonderful to discover new flavors, and the Kona-glazed duck ($22) was an outrageous combination of rich duck breast coated in caramelized coffee.

    The tuna salad ($9) consisted of ribbons of seared tuna served with sprouts and crisp cucumber in a vinegar/mustard sauce (good with the vegetables but overpowering the excellent fish) and garnished with a pansy blossom Ð and an aphid. I mention this bug incident not to demean the staff (it was a fresh flower and a tiny bug, these things happen), but to emphasize that the service, from manager down, has a long way to go. No apology was tendered, no visit by the wandering "suit"; the price of the salad was deducted from the bill almost as an afterthought.

    The tuna salad ($9) consisted of ribbons of seared tuna served with sprouts and crisp cucumber in a vinegar/mustard sauce (good with the vegetables but overpowering the excellent fish) and garnished with a pansy blossom Ð and an aphid. I mention this bug incident not to demean the staff (it was a fresh flower and a tiny bug, these things happen), but to emphasize that the service, from manager down, has a long way to go. No apology was tendered, no visit by the wandering "suit"; the price of the salad was deducted from the bill almost as an afterthought.

    There's an air of forced urgency in the constant swarming of waiters, water pourers and plate clearers, so conversation has to be done in bursts, as someone unnervingly appears at your elbow every few minutes to ask, "How is your entree? More water? Anything else?," even to the point of reading the menu to you. There are all the trappings of good service without the finesse. The Emeril folks aren't new to the restaurant trade, they should have learned something about service by now.

    There's an air of forced urgency in the constant swarming of waiters, water pourers and plate clearers, so conversation has to be done in bursts, as someone unnervingly appears at your elbow every few minutes to ask, "How is your entree? More water? Anything else?," even to the point of reading the menu to you. There are all the trappings of good service without the finesse. The Emeril folks aren't new to the restaurant trade, they should have learned something about service by now.

    Tchoup Chop puts on a good show, but it'll be a long journey until they're impressive.

    Enzian Theater

    Food and film: It's an odd combination, but it works, even if there are a few interruptions while watching the movie. Order staples like buttered popcorn, soft pretzels or chocolate-chip cookies, or get fancy with creative salads, sandwiches and pizzas. The al fresco Eden bar is a good place to grab a cocktail before the show.

    It was about 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and Enzo's on the Lake was in its glory. Most of the tables were filled. Waiters glided through the dining areas bearing trays of Italian delicacies that perfumed the room. As the sunlight faded over Fairy Lake outside, soft candles in the restaurant threw a golden blush on the pale walls, which were filled with Picasso-style portraits. The sounds of Sade struck a note of serenity that seemed, on the surface of things, to define the mood.

    But all was not as it seemed. The couple at the table next to us were debating whether to get up and leave. Having been seated 20 minutes prior, they still hadn't received a bread basket or a menu. I've heard reports of long waits at Enzo's, but we received plenty of attention from our charming waiter during most of the dinner. It was later when we found ourselves waiting about 20 minutes too long for the check, something that's not easy to overlook when you're paying upward of $100 at a restaurant that maintains its reputation as one of the area's best.

    Such are the apparent contradictions of Enzo's on the Lake, a stunningly beautiful and sophisticated restaurant, oddly situated on a section of Highway 17-92 in Longwood that's clogged with convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets. The restaurant's culinary reputation is impeccable, and we tasted the proof. But it's also the lakefront setting, lush with old Florida foliage, that draws people from metro Orlando and beyond.

    Our waiter had a crisp Italian accent, and it only whets the appetite to hear lilting, lyrical descriptions of zuppa del giorno (soup of the day) and to hear shrimp referred to as gamberoni.

    We started off with a huge platter filled with cozze (mussels), peeking out of glossy, black shells ($9.80). There was a classic broth of white wine, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and a touch of red pepper. The simple treatment enhanced the tender flavors of the mussel flesh. Next we tried the traditional wedding soup (pastina in brodo, $4.75), a clear consomme in which floated delicate veal meatballs, pasta and chopped carrots and celery.

    Gamberoni alla verdure is an excellent choice for shrimp lovers ($25). Four jumbo shrimp are accented by a sauce of Pernod French liqueur, served alongside a dome of moist spinach risotto. And the ravioli al sugo entree is notable mainly for the wide, flat pasta pillows that are lightly stuffed with spinach, chicken and ricotta ($17.50). The accompanying Neapolitan veal sauce is a specialty of owner Enzo Perlini.

    Dessert would have been nice, but we grew tired of waiting for the check and settled for a cappuccino instead.

    Although you may experience some delays in service while navigating the menu, Enzo's offers dinners to remember – visually, as well as tastefully.

    It’s no secret that Americans are a meat-eating bunch, and that the only time vegetables make it on the plate is when they’re in the form of french fries or iceberg lettuce. Recent studies have shown Americans forgoing vegetables in increasing numbers, with just a small percentage meeting the recommended daily value, but why? One plausible reason could be the manner in which vegetables are commonly prepared at home and at many restaurants – mushy, soggy, overcooked and bland. If more meat-eaters were exposed to properly prepared carrots, broccoli, peas and spinach, perhaps they wouldn’t react so negatively at the prospect of dining at a vegetarian or (gasp!) a vegan restaurant.

    Ethos Vegan Kitchen takes a valiant stab at showing condescending carnivores what herbivores already know – that meatless fare can be creative, satisfying and not just a side item to steak. That said, for those of you going vegan for the first time, more often it’s not the meat you’ll miss, but rather the items you’ve grown accustomed to at other restaurants: butter on bread, milk in coffee, cheese on pasta and whipped cream on dessert. However, even for a non-vegan and self-professed fromage-head like myself, the plate of macaroni & cheese ($4.95) proved gratifyingly gooey despite the use of cheese made from rice milk and soy cream mixed with, presumably, eggless pasta. Vegetable soup ($3.95), a hearty blend of potato chunks, carrots, broccoli, yellow squash and celery, met the minimum flavor requirement, but the broth could’ve been invigorated some with the addition of Scotch bonnet peppers, fire-roasted vegetables or a liberal sifting of paprika or cayenne.

    Similarly, sheep’s pie ($9.95) could’ve used a seasoned kick, but any pub in the U.K. would be hard-pressed to outmatch the casserole’s generous heaping of fluffy mashed potatoes. Even the pungent vegetable brown sauce enveloping a sauté of peas, onions, carrots and broccoli had beefy notes to it. I would’ve preferred the two ample slices of pecan-crusted eggplant ($12.95) to be cooked just a little more, but the slight caramelization of the pecans really gave the dish a pleasant bittersweetness. A thick mound of mashed potatoes and gravy was simply outstanding, while sautéed broccoli never tasted better. Though accompanying slices of bread were lovely, this was one place where I missed butter. A suggestion: Garlicky, herbaceous dipping oil would make a worthy substitute.

     

    Desserts whisked away any thoughts of butter and eggs, and the lack of such essential baking ingredients wasn’t to the detriment of the comforting warm apple galette ($2.25) with a wonderfully flaky crust and cinnamon-spiced sweet apples. The dense slab of chocolate cake ($1.50) wasn’t as moist as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t dry either. Double chocolate chip cookies ($1.25) were a pinch better than regular chocolate chip cookies, though, admittedly, I dunked them at home in a glass of milk (I know, I’m bad).

    The restaurant is situated on some prime property at the foot of Antique Row and truly exudes a chillax vibe, not surprising considering the same space once housed the Lava Lounge. Sleepy-eyed vegetarians opt for the candlelit tables in the cozy outdoor courtyard, with its Big Easy feel and bucolic view of giant oaks

    East Winter Park is home to a growing number of Polish transplants who shop for staples at Europol Polish Deli – the former home of Warzawa. Neither the plain storefront (buried in the plaza at the juncture of Aloma Avenue and S.R. 436) nor the spare interior (a shotgun space anchored by a butcher's case) indicates the wealth of stock inside. Here's what you need to know.

    Sausage: The main event. Ask for Polish sausage and be prepared for the follow-up question, "What kind?" Old-fashioned? Smoked? Beef? Pork? Made in Chicago, they're sold by the stick and are all lean and delicious. Pierogi: Homemade varieties are packed by the dozen and sold frozen. There's no going wrong with cheese & potato or onion & potato. Beer: A separate refrigerator case stores a selection of potent brews from Poland and Russia. Other: Fresh rye bread, Polish butter, currant juice and baked confections.

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