You searched for:

Start over

Search for…

Narrow Search

31 results

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?

Before you relegate Efes Turkish Cuisine to the realm of restaurant irrelevance for its Sanford locale, consider this: No other Turkish restaurant in the greater Orlando area offers a more Ottoman backdrop than this one. 'It felt like I was in Istanbul, Turkey,� says owner Nejla Ozturk of her first sight of the lakeside setting. It's one of the more picturesque spots in Central Florida, though I wonder why they named the restaurant 'Efes,� the Turkish name for the ancient city of Ephesus, rather than 'Istanbul,� 'Constantinople� or 'Byzantium.� In any case, its place along the shores of expansive Lake Monroe gives it an enchanting Mediterranean feel, but as Efes' predecessors Limoncello and Oscar's eventually found out, waterfront dining can only carry a restaurant so far. A stellar kitchen can accentuate a stellar view, but with a less-than-competent kitchen, the restaurant might as well be built next to a sewage plant. 

What Efes does bring to the table is a pedigree. Ozturk and her sister Ayse Cecen opened Bosphorus, a stylish Turkish eatery in Winter Park that was quite well-received. But Park Avenue palates differ from those on the Seminole-Volusia County border, so it's hard not to admire Ozturk for boldly serving an all-Turkish menu in Sanford.

It's an extensive, almost profuse, bill of fare that immediately overwhelms and leaves you wondering if quality and execution can be maintained for such an array of dishes. For every zeytinyagli yaprak dolmasi ($7.95), grape leaves densely packed with rice, pine nuts, black currants and herbs, there's a beyaz peynirli pide ($14.95), a thick-doughed, overly spinached feta cheese pie. The former is lemony-fresh and invigorating; the latter is as unnecessary as a fez on a Shriner. Entrees follow the same pattern: In the mixed grill ($31.95), lamb and chicken kofta combined a deft mix of texture and flavor; the succulent lamb chop was hindered by a slight gaminess; and the rest of the medley of meats were too desiccated to enjoy. The cardboard-like texture of minced lamb and chicken adana was a head-shaking disappointment, but it was the roasted lamb sis that showed my jaw who was boss. An overhead fan pointed directly at our table may have exacerbated the quick-dry action, but I can't bring myself to give the kitchen the benefit of the doubt. 

Grilled bronzini (market price, $26.95) was an appropriate selection given the Mediterranean-like environs, and the sea bass, served whole, evoked memories of the one I sampled at the Oceanaire Seafood Room. A simple preparation is all that was required and that's precisely what we got. Sweet flesh, crispy skin and a few squeezes of lemon: We were blissfully content. Superlatives also deserve to be thrown at Efes' lavas bread ($2.99). At once thick and airy, the flatbread rises above the ones served at other Turkish restaurants. Desserts, like saturated baklava ($5.50) and kunefe ($4.95) ' a Shredded Wheat-like pastry filled with cheese ' merely tread water.

With so many items on the menu, a paring-down would bring focus and certainly help the restaurant avoid wallowing in the depths of mediocrity. Short of that, Efes is just another room with a view.

With so many items on the menu, a paring-down would bring focus and certainly help the restaurant avoid wallowing in the depths of mediocrity. Short of that, Efes is just another room with a view.

When restaurants specializing in tapas, or small-plate appetizers, sprout across a city, it's an indicator of culinary maturation and refinement. Diners must be willing to accept smaller portions, while shifting their approach by exhibiting a readiness to share. And though Orlando is only slowly succumbing to the trend, there may be a time in the not-too-distant future when tapas bars will be as popular as sushi bars are today.

Thankfully, we're at a stage where the tasting plates offered up here, and at places like Olé Olé and Costa del Sol, are of the sort enjoyed by bar-hoppers all over the Iberian Peninsula, and not the sort of bastardized, overly trendy, fusion frou-frou found in larger cities in this country.

El Bodegon serves time-honored, and strongly flavored, tapas fare ' cured serrano ham, chorizo and honeycomb tripe, to name a few ' and garlic is expectedly ubiquitous in many of chef Francisco Figueiras' dishes. The gambas al ajillo ($9), plump curls of subtly sweet shrimp in a shallow bowl of bubbling sherry wine sauce, is absolutely sublime. Flecks of cilantro, chili pepper and diced bulbs of the stinking rose give the dish its aromatic and full-flavored essence, and if it weren't for fear of filling up too early, and seeming too greedy, I would've downed every single one of those succulent shellfish â?¦ so much for sharing.

Empanadas de bacalao ($6), a pair of perfectly crisp pastries stuffed with seasoned cod, halved, then artfully plated along with an olive salad, was another can't-get-enough-of-this dish. By the time the tortilla Española ($6) ' arguably the most popular tapas item in Spain ' arrived, a couple of bites were all I could muster. The thick wedges of caramelized onion-and-potato omelet cried for a splash of hot sauce, which disappointingly came in the form of a miniature bottle of Tabasco. A basic salsa picante would've been a better accompaniment to the somewhat insipid omelet.

A few swigs of sangria ($14.50 for a half-pitcher) provided the necessary respite before the main courses arrived. Yes, those in search of a more substantial meal can get their fill from a host of seafood, meat and poultry entrees. Traditional paella Valenciana ($21) made me feel like it was Sunday in Seville, not a Friday in Orlando. And though the green peas were a tad shriveled, the saffron-flavored rice (glistening with olive oil) gave the dish a superb moistness, and every paprika-spiked mouthful of succulent chicken, shellfish and red pepper was intensely exotic.

Two tenderloin slabs sitting atop pineapple circles characterized the medallones de solomillo primavera ($28). The steaks were cooked medium-well instead of the requested medium, but the flavor medley of the dish ' the sweetness of pineapple, the rich and creamy cognac demiglace, fresh-roasted vegetables and Spanish rice ' more than compensated.

The atmosphere is boisterous and festive, though when things quiet down toward closing time, you're better able to appreciate the trompe l'oeil on the arched columns, the brick walls and Spanish tile. Servers are amiable, eager to please and never hurried, so you won't feel pressured to race through your dishes, though when one asks about dessert, you may want to feign indecisiveness. A horribly salty flavor infused the peras al vino ($8), almond-specked pear halves cooked in Spanish wine and cinnamon. The crema catalana ($6) had a restrained citrus zest in the custard, but the top layer could've been caramelized a bit more. Your best bet is to head next door to Rocco's Italian Grille and order their tiramisu.

But like its Latin neighbor, El Bodegon is destined to become a popular gathering ground for foodies, and an anchor on the Winter Park dining scene.

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.

Looking at the various dining options in and around the University-Alafaya corridor, then thinking back on how French fries and gravy purchased from a white truck sustained me for most of my university years in Toronto, I can't help but feel a tad resentful of UCF students, who seem to have an array of dining options in close proximity to their campus. Not that those French fries lathered in thick, dark gravy were bad, mind you ' in fact, just thinking about them elicits a salivary response ' but UCF collegians have it good.

El Corral is one chicken joint that knows how to properly roast pollo in the Peruvian style. And while the owners of El Corral happen to be Colombian, the comida served up at this former Pizza Hut comprises the best South America has to offer. The basket of empanadas ($8) alone is worth the visit: lightly fried, freshly made shells enveloping cheese along with ground beef, chicken and guava. The beef and chicken pockets were superbly crisp and savory, while gooey guava empanadas could've been saved for dessert. Arepitas ($5), mini corn-flour fritter discs, needed a salsa or chunky chutney to complete them ' unfortunately, neither the salty hot sauce (a derivative of Peruvian aji sauce) nor the saltier yellow-green 'secretâ?� sauce added anything to the Venezuelan corn cakes.

But we came specifically for the chicken, and as far as their pollo a la brasa is concerned, it passed the ultimate test. The white meat attained a balanced succulence ' not desiccated, not exceedingly juicy. A variety of combos are available for less than $9, all of which come with a heaping serving of rice (yellow or white), beans (red or black) and a side. I opted for their half-chicken combo ($8.45) with sweet plantains. Apart from the slightly overdone black beans, everything on this plate was palate-perfect, particularly the rub on that spit-fired bird. The plantains, it should be noted, were nicely caramelized, yet not overcooked. Estofado ($10.40), a hearty beef stew blending lima beans, yuca, peas, carrots, corn and green beans, is a comfort dish that, once mixed with white rice, yields a gumbo-like consistency. The dish is well-seasoned without being spicy; the side of fried yuca, regrettably, was a dry and mealy failure. At first blush, the arroz con pollo ($8.95) resembled a dense Puerto Rican mofongo, but the sofrito-tinged hillock easily gave way in fluffy forkfuls of zesty chicken and rice. 'Tropical potato,â?� the side of choice, featured roasted potatoes topped with shreds of cheese and pico de gallo.

Creamy tumbao ($2.50) is an absolute must. The sweet blend of passion-fruit pulp and milk neared empty by the time the food arrived, and I just as well could've ordered another if I didn't need to eat. Whether you opt for mango, soursop, pineapple or strawberry, just know it's an irresistibly refreshing beverage. I did resist ordering tres leches cake ($2.50), only because they were fresh out, but the flan ($2) was spot-on creamy and rich, with enough caramel to sip once the custard was gone.

Expectations are often lowered when it comes to counter-service restaurants, but the service here was quick, friendly and helpful. The flat-screens airing soccer and ESPN Deportes give life to a nondescript interior conducive to fast turnarounds. But given the quality of the El Corral's fare, those fast turnarounds will only result in quick returns.

If there's one thing I'm sure to bring along before entering an Orlando-area Mexican restaurant, it's a bellyful of lowered expectations. It's not an elitist posture, but rather one founded on experiential forays into Tex-Mex hotbeds out West. Everything from their access to the finest chili peppers to their masa preparation reeks of superiority, resulting in indisputably toothsome dishes. So, with hopes not yet dashed, I headed out to El Palenque in East Orlando anticipating another ho-hum dining affair, and though in many ways that's precisely what I got, a few pleasant surprises were thrown in the mix to make the trip an all-round pleasant outing.

The restaurant is named after the Mayan archeological site as well as a cockfighting ring (El Palenque's logo incorporates a fighter cock). A large mural of the Mayan ruins dominates the interior, but a series of smaller paintings created by the assistant cook are also worth a look, each illustration depicting a scene of a cockfight and the ancillary goings-on.

From the looks of the sopa azteca ($4.99), it didn't seem the ol' rooster put up much of the fight. Shreds of chicken with corn, celery, carrots, queso and crunchy tortilla strips satisfied. Ask for two spoons, as the bowl is big enough for sharing. The red sauce staining the antojito-sized ground beef enchilada ($2.99) added enough zest to justify ordering it again. Carnitas, a popular filling for many dishes offered here, is made with pork that's roasted out back in a marinade of mojo, oranges and Coke. Stuff it inside a thick corn gordita ($3.99) and you've got yourself a substantial starter. Grilled beef, conversely, made for an insipid nosh, needy of some of their homemade serrano pepper hot sauce. If you're especially famished, doughy, crispy chimichangas ($8.99) will gratify. The two bloated rolls fried in peanut oil ooze with cheese and are served with refried beans and particularly flavorful yellow rice cooked in chicken broth.

The real star of the meal was the three-pepper ranchero sauce slathered all over the bisteck ($12.99). The beef was a little tough, but the internal heat and savory smack generated by the sauce brought back memories of meals at Café Pasqual's in Santa Fe. The steak itself is a considerable slab, but I can only imagine how wondrous a meal this would've been with a better cut of beef.

Considering they're made in-house, desserts didn't live up to expectations. Flan Napolitano ($2.99) had the proper consistency, but the custard was largely flavorless and lacked a deep caramel infusion. Tres leches cake ($5) wasn't very creamy at all and was too dense and heavy to resemble traditional three-milk cake. The flavor, in fact, bore a resemblance to Publix birthday cake.

A bar in the middle of the restaurant is a draw for thirsty UCF students ' then again, the entire restaurant is a popular destination for college students and their families. If you're up for a beverage of the traditional, nonalcoholic kind, try a glass of homemade tamarindo. The tart liquefied tamarind is combined with sugar for an unexpectedly palatable and refreshing drink. So while it may be true that I came here with a bellyful of lowered expectations, I wound up leaving with a bellyful of optimism.

31 total results

Calendar

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2018 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation