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Gain's German Restaurant doesn't have the most charming name, but there is a good reason why the former moniker, Old Munich, needed to be replaced. Munich is located squarely in Bavaria, but the restaurant's new owners, Hans and Kessy Gain, wanted their menu to reflect all types of German cuisine, not just Bavarian.

And so far the Gains are doing an able job of showcasing the German culinary canon. While their menu includes the same comfort cooking – schnitzels, bratwursts, sauerkraut and spaetzle noodles – found at a dozen other German restaurants around town, the Gains expand the possibilities. They create elaborate presentations with smoked-salmon canapes, intricately sliced pickles and salads anchored by arched fans of lettuce leaves. Even fish such as rainbow trout are pan-fried from head to tail and served whole in the Teutonic tradition ($15.95).

Most of the members of the wait staff are bilingual and can handle German-style service. That means waiters might sweep through the dining area bearing four or five entree platters at a time without losing so much as a crumb.

The menu's German-to-English translations are quite literal. One appetizer, described as "diced white meat," is pork in a creamy wine sauce topped with melted cheese ($5.75). This stew had a sharp taste and is thick enough to serve as Swiss-style fondue.

Simple dinners such as braised beef cubes ($13.25) are made more interesting by being dished up with thick sauces flavored with peppers and onions. And they are just as worthy as some of the more elaborate creations.

Breaded, fried veal schnitzel ($21.95) would be plenty with a side of sauerkraut. But it's even more of a delicacy topped with a grilled egg and surrounded by canapes of caviar, anchovies and smoked salmon.

Some entrees come with the "special salad," which turned out to be simply chunks of bell peppers, celery and cucumbers. But it's unexpectedly delicious, due to a hot, peppery vinaigrette. Red cabbage laced with apples and bacon is another side item not to miss.

This restaurant still has the look of a revamped pancake house, with a steeple roof and long, narrow proportions. But in its current incarnation it's more polished than those first impressions imply. Tables are draped with crisp, white cloths, and the space remains largely free of knickknacks and clutter.

Other than during the Friday- and Saturday-night German "cowbells" musical acts, the place is toned down enough to be a business-lunch destination. This alone makes it a cosmopolitan restaurant worth exploring, in an area where ethnic takeouts and hamburger joints abound.

As the sun set behind him, a voracious jet-skier was yahooing while he churned up the water on Lake Ivanhoe. On the water and off, dusk is a great time of day to enjoy the view from Gaston Edwards Park, off Orange Avenue -- the downtown skyline stands in shadow against the natural light. So my plan to dine at Gargi's (pronounced "GAR-jee's") at dusk was rewarded, the arched windows in the dining room beautifully framing the pastel reflections. Even closer to the water -- and the wind -- is the landscaped terrace, full of diners this night, serenaded by several musicians. This would be a very romantic place to enjoy a drink or dinner and dessert, if the weather was right.

Within moments of being seated inside, we were taken off-guard, as arms from the formally dressed wait staff flew across our table, delivering menus, filling water glasses, helping with chairs and napkins. (It was right out of the now-classic "Bellissima!" skits with Kirstie Alley on "Saturday Night Live.") In 12 minutes, we were sipping drinks and sampling the aromatic bruschetta ($4.95). Though the staff's exuberance wore down as the evening went on, the initial swarm was spectacular.

Within moments of being seated inside, we were taken off-guard, as arms from the formally dressed wait staff flew across our table, delivering menus, filling water glasses, helping with chairs and napkins. (It was right out of the now-classic "Bellissima!" skits with Kirstie Alley on "Saturday Night Live.") In 12 minutes, we were sipping drinks and sampling the aromatic bruschetta ($4.95). Though the staff's exuberance wore down as the evening went on, the initial swarm was spectacular.

I'm one of those people who never ate at the old Gargi's, which stood seemingly forever in a hideaway location across the street. That spot is now Wilfredo's, owned by a former Gargi's employee. Also across the street, diagonally, is longstanding Tirami Su. Together they form a competitive triangle of three very different styles of Italian restaurants.

I'm one of those people who never ate at the old Gargi's, which stood seemingly forever in a hideaway location across the street. That spot is now Wilfredo's, owned by a former Gargi's employee. Also across the street, diagonally, is longstanding Tirami Su. Together they form a competitive triangle of three very different styles of Italian restaurants.

It does seem that Gargi's owner made a sweet deal with the city, when he leased the northwest piece of the park to build his restaurant afresh. So, other than rumors and reputation -- that Gargi's is a hangout for Tony Soprano-types and that the diehards for the original hadn't taken to the change -- our impressions of Gargi's also were fresh. And what the restaurant has going for it is a sense of tradition, rich and classic Italian tradition, served in an atmosphere of familial warmth and forgiveness. (You must be forgiving to eat here.)

It does seem that Gargi's owner made a sweet deal with the city, when he leased the northwest piece of the park to build his restaurant afresh. So, other than rumors and reputation -- that Gargi's is a hangout for Tony Soprano-types and that the diehards for the original hadn't taken to the change -- our impressions of Gargi's also were fresh. And what the restaurant has going for it is a sense of tradition, rich and classic Italian tradition, served in an atmosphere of familial warmth and forgiveness. (You must be forgiving to eat here.)

So, for instance, when the second Ultimat dirty martini ($7) had been sitting in our sight on the bar in the alcove behind us for way too long and Roberto the waiter knew it, he offered to pull the unique bottle of Polish vodka from the bar and share it. "Hey, look at the bottle, it's-a beautiful, no?" he charmed, handing over the heavy glass square of a blue bottle for inspection. This kind of stuff works. And the glass of dry Chilean cabernet sauvignon Roberto recommended was right on the money too ($8.50).

So, for instance, when the second Ultimat dirty martini ($7) had been sitting in our sight on the bar in the alcove behind us for way too long and Roberto the waiter knew it, he offered to pull the unique bottle of Polish vodka from the bar and share it. "Hey, look at the bottle, it's-a beautiful, no?" he charmed, handing over the heavy glass square of a blue bottle for inspection. This kind of stuff works. And the glass of dry Chilean cabernet sauvignon Roberto recommended was right on the money too ($8.50).

We ordered specials all around, except that some of the specials are already on the regular menu, but, whatever, eh? That's the case with "Gargi's grouper Francese" ($21.95), battered and fried, then saut?ed in lemon butter and topped with capers, and with the "lobster fra diavolo" ($22.95). But the osso buco ($21.95) was a special offer, and it turned out to be the best of the three dishes we ordered.

We ordered specials all around, except that some of the specials are already on the regular menu, but, whatever, eh? That's the case with "Gargi's grouper Francese" ($21.95), battered and fried, then saut?ed in lemon butter and topped with capers, and with the "lobster fra diavolo" ($22.95). But the osso buco ($21.95) was a special offer, and it turned out to be the best of the three dishes we ordered.

There was a little trickery with the osso buco: I asked if it was veal and Roberto said no, it was beef. Whatever, eh? So call me gullible, but I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed this Italian version of pot roast, with carrots and a beefy tomato gravy. It's considered a comfort food for a cold night, and I'll consider it again on such an evening. Served over perfectly cooked risotto, the tender veal shank fell away from the center bone, filled with roasted marrow -- a delicate fork buried inside for savoring. (At home, the dog worked it well into Sunday.)

There was a little trickery with the osso buco: I asked if it was veal and Roberto said no, it was beef. Whatever, eh? So call me gullible, but I bought it and thoroughly enjoyed this Italian version of pot roast, with carrots and a beefy tomato gravy. It's considered a comfort food for a cold night, and I'll consider it again on such an evening. Served over perfectly cooked risotto, the tender veal shank fell away from the center bone, filled with roasted marrow -- a delicate fork buried inside for savoring. (At home, the dog worked it well into Sunday.)

The taste and preparation of the grouper was fine, but the thawed fillet had a mushy texture. The accompanying broccoli and mashed potatoes made for another filling, home-style meal. The lobster fra diavolo looked the most colorful, served with the Florida lobster tail on the plate, over linguini, and covered in the crushed tomato and herb sauce. After the presentation, it would be worthwhile to ask the kitchen to remove the tough but tasty meat, if you don't want to struggle with it.

The taste and preparation of the grouper was fine, but the thawed fillet had a mushy texture. The accompanying broccoli and mashed potatoes made for another filling, home-style meal. The lobster fra diavolo looked the most colorful, served with the Florida lobster tail on the plate, over linguini, and covered in the crushed tomato and herb sauce. After the presentation, it would be worthwhile to ask the kitchen to remove the tough but tasty meat, if you don't want to struggle with it.

Both the bruschetta and the dinner salads benefited from the quality and freshness of simple ingredients, such as olive oil and herbs. There was nothing fancy about them, but they tasted fresh and familiar. And the same could be said of the desserts we tried, tiramisu and cannoli ($4.25 each) -- both were fresh and filling without being overly rich.

Both the bruschetta and the dinner salads benefited from the quality and freshness of simple ingredients, such as olive oil and herbs. There was nothing fancy about them, but they tasted fresh and familiar. And the same could be said of the desserts we tried, tiramisu and cannoli ($4.25 each) -- both were fresh and filling without being overly rich.

So Roberto didn't make it to our salads with the biggest pepper grinder I've ever seen, or make sure our coffee cups were refilled. A table of ladies across the room was running him wild and we had fun watching. Next time, eh?

Sad to say, there's not much of anything around lately that qualifies as genuine. Oranges are artificially colored, desserts are "naturally" sweetened, and don't get me started with the whole genetically altered deal. So finding an authentic eating place like Garibaldi's Mexican Restaurant is a treat.

The restaurant is named after Plaza Garibaldi, both a tourist center and local gathering place in Mexico City, alive with an almost perpetual fiesta. Garibaldi's isn't quite that frenetic, but the constant traffic on North Semoran (near the corner of Colonial Drive) brings a steady flow of diners. By all means, even if the inside dining area is free, sit outdoors (since they opened a couple of years ago, they've added an oversized fountain that muffles the noise) on a balmy night and fantasize about even sunnier climes.

The restaurant is named after Plaza Garibaldi, both a tourist center and local gathering place in Mexico City, alive with an almost perpetual fiesta. Garibaldi's isn't quite that frenetic, but the constant traffic on North Semoran (near the corner of Colonial Drive) brings a steady flow of diners. By all means, even if the inside dining area is free, sit outdoors (since they opened a couple of years ago, they've added an oversized fountain that muffles the noise) on a balmy night and fantasize about even sunnier climes.

It's probably a credit to the research department of a certain fast-food chain that you will recognize many of the terms on Garibaldi's extensive menu: gordita, chimi-changa and chalupa all make an appearance. These ain't no Madison Avenue inventions but real food done in the traditional way. And perhaps that's the problem with "authentic" – it's generally not very flamboyant or exciting.

"Fajitas de camerón" ($14) is just grilled shrimp, onions and peppers served with rice, beans, guacamole and tortillas for wrapping – not fancy but certainly tasty. "Flautas verdes" is nothing but corn tortillas rolled tightly around seasoned beef or chicken, then deep fried and topped with cheese and green salsa; it doesn't have fireworks or talking dogs, but it's $6.50 well spent.

"Fajitas de camerón" ($14) is just grilled shrimp, onions and peppers served with rice, beans, guacamole and tortillas for wrapping – not fancy but certainly tasty. "Flautas verdes" is nothing but corn tortillas rolled tightly around seasoned beef or chicken, then deep fried and topped with cheese and green salsa; it doesn't have fireworks or talking dogs, but it's $6.50 well spent.

Original dishes that do stand out are "fajitas Garibaldi" ($11), which adds chorizo sausage to a combination of chicken and beef on a sizzling iron pan, and "chile Colorado" ($7.95), a spicy beef and chili sauce platter. (And yes, it is served with beans – on the side). The selection of specialties is wide, but if you'd be happier with the standbys of tacos, burritos and enchiladas, there are 30 different combinations of same, along with chile rellenos and chalupas (all $6.50-$7).

Mexico's Plaza Garibaldi is also known for strolling mariachi bands, and we were quite thrilled to see a band tuning up in the parking lot when we drove up. The band is there several nights a week (call ahead). Be aware that they don't "stroll" but, like their compatriots in Mexico City, charge $15 a song if you want them to play. If you enjoy the authentic, ask for a real folk song (I suggest "La Negrita"), the experience is unique and worth the price just as the food is worth the trip.

Ever since Clay Oven closed its doors in the summer of 2007, Longwood has experienced a bit of a vacuum in restaurants specializing in traditional Indian cuisine. Udipi Café, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant, took over Clay Oven’s space, but meat-eaters had few to no options. So Narendra Kapoor – no stranger to the restaurant biz, having worked in kitchens in Mumbai, Belize, New York and Toronto – and his wife moved in to the fill the void. And though their Hindu faith precludes the use of beef in any of the dishes, the extensive menu has plenty of chicken, lamb, goat and seafood items to keep carnivores satisfied.

Gateway to India’s exterior still screams Pizza Hut, but once inside, the heady scent of incense mixed with the fragrant spice of grilled meats erases any notions of personal pan pizzas. Embroidered red banquettes dominate the perfectly square, brightly lit space, while framed Indian art and valances do their part to mask those characteristic brick walls. Unfortunately, a mixture of minced lamb and turkey couldn’t mask the uncharacteristically insipid essence of the seekh kebab ($9.95). It may have been the marinade or the incompatibility of the meats, but this is one starter worth passing up. The assorted platter ($7.95) was a hit-and-miss affair of various fried vegetarian snacks, with the batata vada (spicy deep-fried potato balls) and the aloo tiki (potato and pea patties jacked with chili peppers and coriander) the best of the lot. The rest of the offerings – hard-shelled samosas, cauliflower fritters and spinach and onion pakoras – were just too dry to enjoy.

Entree selection can take some deliberation, given the sheer number of mains offered, but even as warning bells sounded in my head, I ultimately decided on the ironically misspelled chicken chilly ($13.95). Diced Thai peppers and onions flavor the gelatinous sauce with morsels of chicken breast; the Indian-style Chinese dish is blisteringly hot and certainly not for diners with pusillanimous palates. If you enjoy a meal that makes your nose run and your head sweat, look no further. The dish comes with a side of black-lentil curry, which begs for a bread dip – get the bread basket ($8.95) and choose from unleavened wonders like fried poori, tandoori roti and aloo naan stuffed with seasoned potatoes. (The latter keeps well for nibbling the following day.)

An assortment of meats in the tandoori mixed grill ($19.95) – chicken, lamb, shrimp and salmon – is served sizzling on a hot plate and dressed with onions and green peppers. Apart from wondrously moist and garlicky chicken tikka and deeply marinated tandoori chicken, none of the other meats impressed me. Cubes of lamb boti kebab were dry and chewy; the shrimp was hard; and the salmon fillet, though flaky, had a bitter aftertaste.

Kapoor developed the menu, but leaves the cooking to others while he serves as host and waiter. His post-meal recommendation of Indian coffee ($2.95) was spot-on, even though it wasn’t served in a traditional stainless steel tumbler. The syrup of the gulab jamun ($3.95) was lukewarm, and the fried milk and cheese balls disintegrated too easily, but silken ras malai ($3.95), cottage cheese patties soaked in sweetened milk with a rose essence, fared much better.

Gateway has potential, but needs to close the door on its unwieldy menu. A focus on the dishes they do best will undoubtedly elevate the quality and usher in more hits than misses.

Gateway has potential, but needs to close the door on its unwieldy menu. A focus on the dishes they do best will undoubtedly elevate the quality and usher in more hits than misses.

People, like cheese, wine or steak, tend to mellow with age, and Barrie Freeman is no different. The woman responsible for shaping downtown Orlando's nascent dining and nightlife scene in the early '90s with such venerable (and still fondly recalled) haunts as the Yab Yum Coffeehouse (later Harold & Maude's Espresso Bar), Go Lounge, Kit Kat Club (ahh, the impromptu nakedness!) and the Globe has since withdrawn to the sedate pastures of Volusia County. But after about a decade of focusing on raising her children, Freeman is back at it, this time shaping the nascent dining and nightlife scene in ... downtown DeBary. Along with co-owners Carla MacKenzie and Laura Beardall McLeod, she's opened Genuine Bistro, a restaurant diametrically, philosophically and gastronomically at odds with the town in which it's situated. Tattooed servers shuffle between the bistro's retro-cool interior (the lighted wood ceiling is gorgeous) and the spacious, undeniably laid-back, outdoor patio positioned at the front of the restaurant. You'll find Freeman, pretty well-inked herself, serving plates and hobnobbing with diners ' her genuinely amiable and effervescent personality being just one of the reasons diners pack the place night in and night out. Live music, exceptional customer service and well-executed dishes are three more.

We were enjoying some KFC, or "killer-fried calamari" ($8.95), on the patio when Freeman came over to chat. She spoke of the building and its former life as a bank, then left to get "before" photos of the space to show us. In the meantime, head chef Tommy Vitek popped by, snatched up our bowl of KFC and swapped it with a fresh order. Evidently, Freeman noticed the crumbly breading on the batch at our table, so had Vitek replace it. We were astounded, and that gracious act set the tone for the rest of the evening. Another starter, a superb steak and tomato flatbread, ($8.95) featured doughy bread holding thick strips of juicy sirloin punched up with fresh basil. The only blemish: a liberal drizzling of olive oil that collected at the bottom of the plate and soaked the garlicky bread.

Before we knew it, and after we looked at the "before" photos, our entrees were laid before us (not after). A pleasant sweetness in the creamy sauce of the chicken frangelica ($15.90) gave rise to nodding heads and grunts of approval. The sauteed dish layered with capicola ham, baby spinach, peanuts and havarti-topped mushrooms was a hearty one, made all the more filling thanks to a side of crisp veggies and simultaneously creamy and chunky mashed baby reds. Perfectly broiled Chilean sea bass ($21.95) was given a marginal tang by a lemon-butter sauce, but the eco-conscious should take heed; Chilean sea bass is on Seafood Watch's "avoid" list. Desserts like creamy tiramisu ($4.95), vodka-laced black Russian cake ($6.95) and house-made Key lime pie ($3.95) aren't particularly mind-blowing, but all make decent enough endings.

DeBary isn't the first place that comes to mind when considering a destination dining locale, but Genuine Bistro is well worth consideration. And if you don't know your way around this rural hamlet, fear not. The giant "G" ensconced on the wall inside the restaurant is big enough to serve as a beacon for those in search of a good meal. 

The best part about the holiday season is that it's a perfectly justifiable excuse for stuffing yourself silly -- with the "New Year's resolution" ploy as a handy fallback.

So add George's Gourmet Cookies to your personal shopping list. The shop at 947 Orange Ave. in Winter Park complements the online store, www.georgesgourmetcookies.com, but both are dangerously tempting. Each cookie is about the size of a saucer, too thick to jam whole in your mouth unless you're very gifted, and loaded with things like dark gourmet chocolate, fresh-roasted peanuts, sweet cranberries, whole cherries and real butter.

So add George's Gourmet Cookies to your personal shopping list. The shop at 947 Orange Ave. in Winter Park complements the online store, www.georgesgourmetcookies.com, but both are dangerously tempting. Each cookie is about the size of a saucer, too thick to jam whole in your mouth unless you're very gifted, and loaded with things like dark gourmet chocolate, fresh-roasted peanuts, sweet cranberries, whole cherries and real butter.

George's has been making more than a dozen kinds of decadent cookies as well as ultrathick brownies and dessert bars (mmm, chocolate butterscotch) since 1989. He also offers sandwiches and soups at the shop, and drool-inducing gift baskets. Yeah, like any of it will leave your house.

The "World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae" really is worthy of the title at Ghirardelli (pronounced gear-ar-delly) Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop at Downtown Disney Marketplace (934-8855).

We polished one off with a friend after a brutally hot day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and we can honestly say it was memorably outstanding. The hand-scooped chocolate-chip ice cream wasn't bad, but the homemade hot fudge sauce was the clincher: thick and smooth , topped off with sweet whipped cream, chopped almonds and a maraschino cherry – completely decadent. Be prepared to pay the price: $5.95.

We polished one off with a friend after a brutally hot day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and we can honestly say it was memorably outstanding. The hand-scooped chocolate-chip ice cream wasn't bad, but the homemade hot fudge sauce was the clincher: thick and smooth , topped off with sweet whipped cream, chopped almonds and a maraschino cherry – completely decadent. Be prepared to pay the price: $5.95.

The only thing more awe-inspiring is the "ultimate colossal sundae ($19.95) – eight scoops, eight toppings, sliced bananas, almonds, whipped cream and cherries.

Psst – I'm about to let you in on a secret. What's the cheapest theater ticket in town? Answer: Gino's Pizza & Brew III on Orange Avenue, just north of Church Street. No matter what the hour, the guys behind the counter launch into a kinetic, gritty version of Hell's Kitchen performance art every time the front door opens and a fresh horde of hungry seekers pin themselves against the counter.

At night, the neon sign glows garishly over Orange Avenue, as the late-night crowd mixes with horn-rimmed yuppies. All this atmosphere for the cost of a slice of pizza ($2-$3.50)? Now, that's entertainment.

At night, the neon sign glows garishly over Orange Avenue, as the late-night crowd mixes with horn-rimmed yuppies. All this atmosphere for the cost of a slice of pizza ($2-$3.50)? Now, that's entertainment.

There's also an eagerness to please. If you don't see the entree you want on the menu, their "experienced N.Y.C. chefs" (who include at least one scrappy Scotsman) have been known to go out for the ingredients and whip up a customer's request.

There's also an eagerness to please. If you don't see the entree you want on the menu, their "experienced N.Y.C. chefs" (who include at least one scrappy Scotsman) have been known to go out for the ingredients and whip up a customer's request.

The restaurant itself is the mirror image of a thousand pizzerias: A narrow entrance, with just enough room to order at the counter. Seating is minimal at the formica tables upstairs (forget finding a seat between noon and 2 p.m. weekdays), where a smudged window overlooking the street further sets the mood. No wonder requests for slices to go are as common as the red-and-white-checkered vinyl tablecloths.

The restaurant itself is the mirror image of a thousand pizzerias: A narrow entrance, with just enough room to order at the counter. Seating is minimal at the formica tables upstairs (forget finding a seat between noon and 2 p.m. weekdays), where a smudged window overlooking the street further sets the mood. No wonder requests for slices to go are as common as the red-and-white-checkered vinyl tablecloths.

At any given time, nearly a dozen choices are on display. The veggie slice looks approachable in comparison to the staggering stuffed meat-lover's pizza, which spills over with pepperoni, bacon, salami and meatballs. The slices we sampled were faultless even though they were reheated, as is the standard. The bianco version, in particular, was a luscious blend of Romano, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses ($2.50).

At any given time, nearly a dozen choices are on display. The veggie slice looks approachable in comparison to the staggering stuffed meat-lover's pizza, which spills over with pepperoni, bacon, salami and meatballs. The slices we sampled were faultless even though they were reheated, as is the standard. The bianco version, in particular, was a luscious blend of Romano, ricotta and Parmesan cheeses ($2.50).

There are also strombolis, calzones, wings, salads and pasta dishes. But something went wrong with the ziti ($5.50) we tried: The pesto sauce had plenty of gusto, but the pasta was limp and overcooked. Lasagna, on the other hand, was unforgettable and dangerously messy – just as we'd hoped – with rich layers of ricotta and fresh marinara. Don't miss the garlic rolls, twisted into knots and broiled with butter.

On this Friday night, the mood upstairs got boozy as some of the customers waited (and waited) for dinner – beer flowed, brows were mopped as the A/C blew hot, cold and hot again. Finally an argument erupted between one couple, and a woman slammed her fist on the table. Taking no chances, we gathered our leftovers and made a swift exit.

On this Friday night, the mood upstairs got boozy as some of the customers waited (and waited) for dinner – beer flowed, brows were mopped as the A/C blew hot, cold and hot again. Finally an argument erupted between one couple, and a woman slammed her fist on the table. Taking no chances, we gathered our leftovers and made a swift exit.

On our way out, the guys behind the counter called out "goodbye," even as they were hefting vats of pizza dough big enough to feed a battalion.

We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Giovianni's in Oviedo.

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