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    Seafood is actually most prominent on the vast menu, but paella fiends can choose from seven variations. Paella marinera teems with fish and shellfish, but we lamented the lack of the characteristic bottom crust. Make it a point to start with crunchy, juicy chicharrones de pollo.


    Teaser: Seafood is actually most prominent on the vast menu, but paella fiends can choose from seven variations. Paella marinera teems with fish and shellfish, but we lamented the lack of the characteristic bottom crust. Make it a point to start with crunchy, juicy chicharrones de pollo.

    Amid a bustle of pre- and post-pubescent mallrats, a Greek man is boldly bringing a French delicacy to the masses. Some say they're wussy pancakes; some say ça c'est bon, but either way you flip it, crepes are a street-food staple and Konstantinos Chilias, aka chef Dino, is griddling at the chance to find converts in the Sunshine State. Sure, a food court isn't the most likely place to find a creperie, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Indoor street fare is essentially what food courts serve up, and Dino's brand of delicate made-to-order flappe-jacques are worthy of a traipse into the Orlando Fashion Square Mall fray.

    Leafing through the menu, I was struck at the number of sweet and savory crepes ' nearly 70 are offered. Even by Parisian standards, that's an impressive amount, but what really impresses is that quality doesn't suffer as a result. 'Mall foodâ?� and 'qualityâ?� are often thought of as being mutually exclusive, but the friendly Grecian is doing his part to alter that perception one gourmet crepe at a time.

    Ushering in this new era in food-court dining has taken chef Dino halfway 'round the globe, from humble beginnings hawking crepes on the thoroughfares of Paris in the early 1980s to owning and operating cafés on the Greek isle of Rhodes, in Long Beach, Calif., and, most recently, in Ybor City. Odd he would choose a mall in Orlando as his next conquest, though he admits his ultimate plan is to open a storefront café downtown or in Winter Park.

    Yearning for a light meal on my initial visit, I opted for 'La Creperie Special� ($8.25), a creamy mélange of mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, green peppers and caramelized onions enveloped by a slightly crisp whole-wheat crepe. Every fromage-filled bite satisfied, accompanied with Dino's fresh-squeezed, though lip-pursingly sour, lemonade ($3.75), and I couldn't help but feel sorry for the folks lining up at Sbarro and JJ's Cajun.

    Vegetarians can have a field day here, no doubt, but I have to say I enjoyed the chicken-filled 'La Parisâ?� ($8.25) even more; it balanced perfectly the flavors of feta, spinach and roasted red peppers. On another visit, I sampled the 'turkey a la brieâ?� ($7.50), which proved to be my favorite. Layered with square slivers of turkey, diced tomato and gooey brie, the dish is made magnifique by Dino's secret cream sauce.

    It took me awhile to decide on a sweet crepe, but I eventually settled on the 'Marie Antoinetteâ?� ($7.25) with Nutella, banana, strawberries and Baileys liqueur. The batter, made with fine baker's flour, is properly brushed around a hotplate, resulting in a light, ultra-thin pancake. Watching the cook prepare my indulgence, I noticed the bananas he used were overripe, the peel nearly black. Then walnuts were sprinkled into my crepe, after which I realized they weren't making a Marie Antoinette at all. What I got instead was a decent enough sweet crepe, but the miscue brought to light some of the service deficiencies apparent when Dino isn't present (usually on weekends). The staff, sans Dino, can get a bit out of sorts when serving two or more customers at a time; on this occasion they mixed up my order, forgot the 'Berry Appealingâ?� smoothie ($4) I ordered and forgot to charge me for dessert.

    On another visit, Dino himself prepared the classic crepes suzette (known here as 'Madame Suzette,� $7.75), and though a flambé failed to materialize, the crepe was everything I hoped it would be: a buttered and sugared crepe drizzled with Grand Marnier, splashed with fresh lemon and orange juice, folded into a triangle and drizzled with more Grand Marnier.

    Since the demise of Maison des Crepes in Winter Park, crepeheads haven't had a venue in which to satisfy their cravings. But chef Dino is as determined as King Leonidas to change that, and I wouldn't be surprised to see one of his stand-alone creperies open in town sooner than later.

    But for now, we dine in (mall) hell.

    The building's not much to look at, but there's no missing the brilliant color of La Granja – yellow-orange and lots of it. The only adornment is the name of the South Florida fast-food chain emblazoned in red along with the description: "Pollos y carnes a la brasa," which loosely translates into "chicken and meat on the grill."

    The parking lot is usually buzzing with cars, whether it's lunchtime or dinnertime, and on busy days, the kitchen runs out of some items. So there's obviously been a warm reception to this ethnic spot near the intersection of Semoran Boulevard and Aloma Avenue in Winter Park (where Miami Subs used to be).

    The parking lot is usually buzzing with cars, whether it's lunchtime or dinnertime, and on busy days, the kitchen runs out of some items. So there's obviously been a warm reception to this ethnic spot near the intersection of Semoran Boulevard and Aloma Avenue in Winter Park (where Miami Subs used to be).

    There's a drive-through window, but go inside to see what people are packing away: large plates of spit-roasted chicken, grilled steak and pork accompanied by large helpings of white rice, black or red beans and french fries. The standard "Family meal #1" ($26) includes half a chicken, half a pound each of pork and steak, large rice and beans, large french fries and four sodas. Call it Latin American comfort food (or call it a carbohydrate curse), but the meat is the star of the meal, with its "secret" Peruvian spicing permeated by the flavor of cumin (which is the main ingredient in chili powders). By contrast, the rice and beans are bland, but the fries were thick and tasty.

    There's a drive-through window, but go inside to see what people are packing away: large plates of spit-roasted chicken, grilled steak and pork accompanied by large helpings of white rice, black or red beans and french fries. The standard "Family meal #1" ($26) includes half a chicken, half a pound each of pork and steak, large rice and beans, large french fries and four sodas. Call it Latin American comfort food (or call it a carbohydrate curse), but the meat is the star of the meal, with its "secret" Peruvian spicing permeated by the flavor of cumin (which is the main ingredient in chili powders). By contrast, the rice and beans are bland, but the fries were thick and tasty.

    The fried bananas ($1.75 small, $2.50 large) are my recommendation for dessert, though the flan ($2) is fine, too. The spare salad ($2/$3.50) is not worth the cost. Other side items are garlic potatoes and fried yuca ($1.75/$3.50). And the meat sandwiches served with fries are a good deal ($4.95). The yellow Inca Cola ($1.15), kind of like a cream soda, is refreshing, even if the Peruvian product is now owned by Coca-Cola. Don't be put off by the potential for carb-loading here – just pick up some of the spicy meat and pair it with a healthy salad at home.

    Exploring one of the area's small but growing number of ethnic markets is like an adventure into uncharted culinary territory. Even if you don't get double-coupons or a florist center as part of the deal, you'll find everything you need to inspire a home-cooked Spanish feast, or the option for cheap takeout, at La Nacional Hispano American Grocery.

    The sound system is tuned to Spanish pop, and the produce aisles are filled with exotic green plantains, shiny brown yuccas and bright, pumpkin-orange calabaza squash. Head back to the deli for specials like roast chicken, rice, stewed beans, flan and a soda for $4.99.

    The sound system is tuned to Spanish pop, and the produce aisles are filled with exotic green plantains, shiny brown yuccas and bright, pumpkin-orange calabaza squash. Head back to the deli for specials like roast chicken, rice, stewed beans, flan and a soda for $4.99.

    Long rows of Cuban bread dough are laid out, waiting to be baked -- and you get a free loaf with every purchase of $20 or more.

    Arguably the most inviting restaurant in historic downtown Sanford, this comely mermaid-themed taqueria hardly makes a splash with its Tex-Mex dishes, but don't be surprised if you find yourself lured in anyway. An inviting patio and sizable bar keep patrons coming until the wee hours on weekends, when live musicicans play outside on the appealing patio. Closed Mondays.

    For the last 10 years, I have been conducting a secret experiment: When traveling to other cities, I seek out Vietnamese restaurants to compare with the ones in Orlando. Unwittingly, restaurants in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C., have been put to the test, and not one of those exalted cities had anything – be it summer rolls, pho or syrupy-sweet coffee – as good as the eateries back home. And now there's a new contender in the Vietnamese paradise on that wonderful stretch of Colonial Drive near Mills Avenue: Lac-Viêt.

    It was hard not to be a bit skeptical about Lac-Viêt, because I wasn't fond of Lemongrass Bistro, the last establishment to occupy the space that for years housed La Normandie. When we walked up to the door just after dusk and crossed under a welcoming gate with a cheerful entrance, I saw that the new occupants have more design sense than any of the previous ones.

    The dining room has been opened up and made brighter, and it smelled like fresh bamboo and steeping lemongrass. I breathed a sigh of relief. The whole room felt altogether more pleasant than it ever had in the past. With sleek wooden chairs, a traditional Vietnamese instrument motif and depictions of Vietnamese scenery adorning the walls, a sense of style has taken the place of what is usually referred to as "character."

    The food was the true test, and it passed with gold stars. We started with the old standby, garden rolls ($2.50), which were fresh and flavorful with plenty of sweet shrimp, basil and a sprinkling of fried shallot. The sweet potato shrimp cakes ($4) – a dish that was new to me – sounded alluring, so we tried those too. Starchy shreds of sweet potato mingled in a tasty batter and married well with fish sauce for dipping. Lotus salad ($9.95), a medley of tender white lotus shoots, fresh herbs and marinated pork with a garnish of fanned shrimp also was delicious. My favorite dish was the seasoned rare beef with tamarind juice ($8.95), served with crunchy shrimp chips and fresh cilantro. This creation was so moving that I am petitioning the city to start a Seasoned Rare Beef With Tamarind Juice Day.

    The pho ($6.95) was outstanding. The one I chose had eye of round, brisket and soft tendon in an exotic, hearty beef broth with tantalizing seasonings – delicate cinnamon, a spark of star anise, the gentle heat of ginger, refreshing mint – toned down and made almost creamy by a large helping of cool rice noodles. The special vermicelli ($9.95) came with a heaping amount of grilled pork, spring rolls, shrimp paste and grilled beef, all absolutely delicious.

    The meal was so exciting that we decided to go for dessert, something I rarely do at Vietnamese restaurants. Soon we were blissfully sipping our avocado fruit shake ($3) and pink jelly with coconut milk ($2.50), nodding agreeably at all the flavors we'd experienced. For days, I couldn't stop thinking about the vast menu and all I hadn't tried. So I went back two days later to test the seafood hot pot for two ($20.95) and the not-to-be-missed house specialty rice crepes ($7.95).

    Orlando is now even further ahead of the rest in my quest to find the city with the very best Vietnamese cuisine.

    Everyone talks about the plethora of Vietnamese cuisine in Orlando, the wide variety of Hispanic restaurants or the strong Indian presence. Now add to our multicultural mix the words "vareniki" and "piroshki," foods from Russia.

    The Lacomka Bakery & Deli in Winter Park is serving up potato dumplings and borscht worthy of a stay at the Summer Palace. Born in Georgia in the Ukraine (did you know that in Soviet Georgia they grow peaches and eat grits?), Luboi Vyazhvich is eager to serve up her handmade cakes or wrap up whole smoked herrings so tender that they spread like pate. Pick up a box of Csar Nicholas Royal Tea or take home some meat and cheese blintzes. The meat case holds authentic Russian sausages and homemade eggplant relish, and the taste of a "Russian melt" chicken sandwich will make you dance the "kazatski" all the way back home.

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