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For all the mediocrity wreaked by line-up-to-the-trough Chinese buffets with gloppy sweet-and-sour sauces and soggy takeout containers, spanking new P.F. Chang's China Bistro stands in stark contrast.

Enter the eye-popping, postmodern interior of the high-profile debut of this restaurant chain at the still-developing Winter Park Village, and you'll think you've fallen through a pan-Asian rabbit hole. This is a world of silky Chinese murals, Ming-style vases, stacked-stone walls, a bustling show kitchen and pumped-up music.

Enter the eye-popping, postmodern interior of the high-profile debut of this restaurant chain at the still-developing Winter Park Village, and you'll think you've fallen through a pan-Asian rabbit hole. This is a world of silky Chinese murals, Ming-style vases, stacked-stone walls, a bustling show kitchen and pumped-up music.

But it's the consistently enjoyable menu that will lure you back -- and you'll have lots of company, too. We stumbled into a one-hour wait for a table on a Saturday night. As for a seat at the bar? Forget it. We settled for standing with the rest of the herd, and while we sipped a glass of house Chardonnay, we spied the captain's tables at the perimeter of the kitchen. These are the only two tables in the house for which reservations are accepted. It was fun to watch as a tag team of waiters brought platters of glistening delicacies.

But it's the consistently enjoyable menu that will lure you back -- and you'll have lots of company, too. We stumbled into a one-hour wait for a table on a Saturday night. As for a seat at the bar? Forget it. We settled for standing with the rest of the herd, and while we sipped a glass of house Chardonnay, we spied the captain's tables at the perimeter of the kitchen. These are the only two tables in the house for which reservations are accepted. It was fun to watch as a tag team of waiters brought platters of glistening delicacies.

When our turn finally came, General Tso and his chickens were nowhere to be found on the innovative menu. Instead, we tried and loved the weirdly wonderful "Chang's chicken in soothing lettuce wraps" ($5.95). Spicy chicken and vegetables were folded into watery iceberg leaves, burrito style. The spiciness was heightened by a spoonful of mustard-based sauce, which was prepared tableside by our waiter. "Pan-fried Peking dumplings" ($4.95) were a savory counterpart, stuffed with pork and vegetables.

When our turn finally came, General Tso and his chickens were nowhere to be found on the innovative menu. Instead, we tried and loved the weirdly wonderful "Chang's chicken in soothing lettuce wraps" ($5.95). Spicy chicken and vegetables were folded into watery iceberg leaves, burrito style. The spiciness was heightened by a spoonful of mustard-based sauce, which was prepared tableside by our waiter. "Pan-fried Peking dumplings" ($4.95) were a savory counterpart, stuffed with pork and vegetables.

"Mu shu chicken" ($8.95) was light and crisp, stirred with vegetables that crunched. A delicate hoisin sauce added plummy accents. The sweet, meaty mixture was wrapped in pancakes as thin as crepes. Crispy honey shrimp ($12.95) were plentiful, lightly battered and quick-fried.

"Mu shu chicken" ($8.95) was light and crisp, stirred with vegetables that crunched. A delicate hoisin sauce added plummy accents. The sweet, meaty mixture was wrapped in pancakes as thin as crepes. Crispy honey shrimp ($12.95) were plentiful, lightly battered and quick-fried.

All of the servers were well-trained and forthcoming with smart suggestions, despite being overtaxed by the volume of customers. Our waiter steered us in the right direction again and again, including his favorite, "macadamia nut pie" ($4.95), which became our favorite, too. This is a piece of glorified chocolate turtle pie with macadamia nuggets adding interest.

All of the servers were well-trained and forthcoming with smart suggestions, despite being overtaxed by the volume of customers. Our waiter steered us in the right direction again and again, including his favorite, "macadamia nut pie" ($4.95), which became our favorite, too. This is a piece of glorified chocolate turtle pie with macadamia nuggets adding interest.

P.F. Chang's China Bistro injects excitement into the Chinese dining milieu. It's a pleasure to experience the chic trappings and sophisticated service that are taken for granted with other cuisines.

Paddy McGee's, which is located in the beautiful city of Winter Park, prides itself on upholding Irish tradition with an American flair. Once you experience Paddy McGee's, you will realize why it is referred to as "your neighborhood bar."

It's a generally accepted fact that the best Cuban food is found in South Florida, not Havana, so when one of Broward County's most well-received franchises expands into Orlando, Central Floridians have cause to rejoice.

Mario and Nayade 'Cookieâ?� Padrino carry on a tradition that began in Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province in Cuba, where Diosdado Padrino ran a small market and winery. Fast-forward a few decades to the present and the Padrino clan has four restaurants in Boca Raton, Plantation, the flagship locale in Hallandale and now Hunter's Creek, all of them inspired by family matriarch Rosa Padrino's recipes. The handsome bistro, according to Cookie, is a notch above the others in terms of interior design, and the subdued tropical motif creates an air of comfort, while the faceless, 'hands-freeâ?� paintings by Dixie Miguez add a little color (and political commentary) to the dining room.

Having graduated from culinary school, Cookie oversees menu development, and the creations coming out of the kitchen are a testament to her guidance. The varied selection of criollo standards and signature dishes are remarkably consistent, if not exceptional.

Take the finely minced picadillo empanadas ($6.99), for example. Two ground-beef pastries, halved and crowned with a guava chutney, are superbly seasoned and crisp, and undoubtedly would be a top-tier tapas item anywhere in the city. Black bean soup ($2.99), a true gauge of any Cuban kitchen's worth, strikes a delicate balance of cumin to garlic, with subtle flavoring from bay leaves. Only the fiesta tostones ($7.99) failed to arouse: Pressed green plantains topped with a lackluster mishmash of cheese, chorizo sausage and a cilantro-tomato salsa resembled a gooey cross between nachos and pizza. A glass of sangria ($4.50) helped offset the parching effects of the appetizer.

For mains, I chose a traditional and a signature plate, both of which underscored the kitchen's competence and proficiency. Ropa vieja ($12.99), a Cuban staple, was simple, succulent and savory ' delightful strands of flank steak stewed in a zesty tomato sauce and served with rice, beans and caramelized plantains. Comparatively speaking, blackened mahi mahi ($15.99) was a more sophisticated offering, fusing Creole spices with a refreshing mango-pineapple chutney. The flaky fillet was served over so-so sweet-potato mash; crispy yuca fries with garlicky mojo made for a more harmonious starch.

Custards dominate the dessert menu, and when that eggy goodness is involved, trust a Cuban kitchen to get it right. Rum-chocolate crème brûlée ($5.99) was expertly prepared ' a crusty layer, a rich custard base and a nice infusion of rum. A dense wedge of flan de queso ($4.99) was enormous and filling enough to feed a family, but that still didn't preclude me from ordering a sweet, dark shot of café cubano ($2), a perfect finish to any meal.

Those lucky enough to work in the Hunter's Creek area will find some bargain lunch options, with dishes ranging from $7.49 to $11.99. And if you're bemoaning the drive to south Orlando, consider this ' Padrino's refined Cuban dishes negate the need for a three-hour trip to South Florida for the real deal.

At some point in any discussion of the new Palm Restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel, the 75-year history of the original and its 22 other branches are bound to come up.

Yes, the first Palm, circa 1926, was opened in New York as a Northern Italian restaurant, and, yes, the corporation is still run by descendants of the original owners. It's impressive that the business is still thriving, but I want to be wowed by the food, not the resume.

Yes, the first Palm, circa 1926, was opened in New York as a Northern Italian restaurant, and, yes, the corporation is still run by descendants of the original owners. It's impressive that the business is still thriving, but I want to be wowed by the food, not the resume.

Notwithstanding the celebrity caricatures stenciled seemingly everywhere on the walls, Palm describes itself as a "white tablecloth restaurant." What goes on the tablecloth is a mixture of fine, uncomplicated dishes and slight near-misses. Try the "Monday night salad" ($8.50) to start. The name came from whatever was left over from Sunday getting finely chopped and served on Monday, and it's a great blend of tomato, ancho-vies, pimentos and greens in a perfect balsamic dressing. Save some bread for spreading.

Among the appetizers, a sampler combo of "shrimp Bruno" and crab cake ($12, but not listed on the menu) was not as successful: The plentiful serving of sweet lump crab was way too loose to qualify as a cake. As for the breaded fried shrimp served with mustard sauce, I liked the shrimp and the sauce but could have done without the breading.

Among the appetizers, a sampler combo of "shrimp Bruno" and crab cake ($12, but not listed on the menu) was not as successful: The plentiful serving of sweet lump crab was way too loose to qualify as a cake. As for the breaded fried shrimp served with mustard sauce, I liked the shrimp and the sauce but could have done without the breading.

In a day when chefs like to layer flavor upon flavor until it's impossible to tell what you're eating, Palm sticks to simple combinations. The mackerel ($30) -- one of that night's specials -- came sitting atop a smooth and subtle lobster velouté sauce and dressed with spicy fresh tomato and cilantro salsa. The fish was moist and mild, perhaps seconds from being overcooked but certainly enjoyable.

In a day when chefs like to layer flavor upon flavor until it's impossible to tell what you're eating, Palm sticks to simple combinations. The mackerel ($30) -- one of that night's specials -- came sitting atop a smooth and subtle lobster velouté sauce and dressed with spicy fresh tomato and cilantro salsa. The fish was moist and mild, perhaps seconds from being overcooked but certainly enjoyable.

If you like a good cut of meat, Palm is up there with the best. The double-cut lamb chops ($29) are done to perfection and, like everything else, come in a very large serving. Steaks are enormous and, with true New York daring, are served with a side of Hollandaise.

If you like a good cut of meat, Palm is up there with the best. The double-cut lamb chops ($29) are done to perfection and, like everything else, come in a very large serving. Steaks are enormous and, with true New York daring, are served with a side of Hollandaise.

This isn't the most expensive place in town, but it ain't cheap either. Entrees can run up to $60 for the 36-ounce New York strip "double steak," designed to serve two, and side veggies are priced separately.

The original Palm always had a reputation for waiters with attitude; although efficient at bringing your dinner, they weren't always happy about it. I don't know if that's still true in New York. But service people at Palm Orlando are quick, pleasant and well trained, with a level of casualness that is more friendly than intrusive. And in a break from standard Universal fare, free valet parking is right at the door. Don't be put off by the rock-memorabilia theme of the hotel environs; the Palm's well-prepared food is worth checking into.

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