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    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.

    In theory, it's an interesting concept ' offer diners the very best street food the Americas have to offer, and do so in a place where most of your patrons are from other countries. That's the thought behind Pleasure Island's boisterous Paradiso 37, the latest initiative by E-Brands, the restaurant conglomerate that brought us Timpano Chophouse, the Samba Room and Salsa Taqueria. The '37â?� in the restaurant's appellation is a reference to the 37 countries in the Americas, though that figure may or may not be entirely accurate. And if you're expecting to find at least one dish from each of the 37 nations, better lower your expectations. It was difficult to hide my disappointment when my beloved Canadian poutine was nowhere to be found on the menu. If French fries lathered in gravy and cheese curds is too exotic for Downtown Disney, then any hopes of finding Trinidadian bake-and-shark, Puerto Rican bacalaítos or Jamaican beef patties in coco bread are all but dead.

    Still, the restaurant's menu did pose some interesting options, like Central American 'crazy cornâ?� ($7.99). The quartered cobs of sweetness were made muy loco with melted cheese, spicy yellow pepper sauce and zesty lime. I surprised myself by polishing off the whole dish. Also decent (though not spicy as advertised) were the chorizo-and-beef skewers ($14.99), a starter big enough for a meal and nicely flavored with cherry tomatoes, caramelized mushrooms and onions, served with doughy rolls of chimichurri pita bread.

    From the list of mains, I bypassed the burgers from North America and settled on the Colombian-style whole crispy hen ($17.99), which was about the size of my fist. The skin was crisp, to be sure, but the meat, marinated with onions, garlic and lemon, wasn't as flavorful as I'd hoped. The accompanying arepa and roasted vegetables were fine. From the Mexican section, be sure to skip the trio of soggy enchiladas ($13.99) stuffed with beef and weighted down by a guajillo sauce that tasted like it came out of a can. The only redeeming item on this platter was the cilantro rice. You're better off downing a pint of the world's coldest beer ' a temperature gauge reading '30.1°F� dangled above the beer kept below, and I was assured it would get down to a frigid 29 degrees. Those with a predilection for tequila will be impressed by the towering display of tequila bottles behind the bar; needless to say, margaritas are a specialty here.

    On the sweet side, the chocolate stack ($7.99) felt like it weighed five pounds, and cutting into it required some modicum of effort. This is one dense, thick wedge of chocolate overload, not to mention that it sits on a bed of warm caramel sauce and is crowned with vanilla ice cream and rainbow-sprinkled whipped cream. A trio of tres leches ($5.99) towers was more thick and spongy than milky, which is the way I like it. The meringue topping was a nice touch, though, as was the serving of finely diced seasonal fruit.

    Sadly, Paradiso 37 is but one of many restaurants on Disney property that are decent enough to visit once, but not offering a compelling reason to return.

    I had a hard time pinning down what kind of food it is namesake chef Justin Plank turns out of the kitchen of this renamed venture in a tenured Park Avenue location, so I went to the restaurant's website and came up with this gem: "New Euro Florida cuisine with a retro flair led by Mediterranean flavors with a slight Pan-Asian influence." In other words, they're not really sure what they're cooking either. had a hard time pinning down what kind of food it is namesake chef Justin Plank turns out of the kitchen of this renamed venture in a tenured Park Avenue location, so I went to the restaurant's website and came up with this gem: "New Euro Florida cuisine with a retro flair led by Mediterranean flavors with a slight Pan-Asian influence." In other words, they're not really sure what they're cooking either.

    The line sounds like description by committee, or a new stab at reviving the "fusion" label, and it does a disservice to what Park Plaza is about: reliably good, innovative dishes served with style and flair in an atmosphere that does justice to the Park Avenue address. The place has casual-yet-refined feel to it; you can hang out on the sidewalk café and watch the poseurs pass by, you can take a seat at the renovated bar, or you can sit down for a full meal and enjoy the outdoors-indoors feel of the patio/restaurant. That's not trendy, it's just cool.

    The line sounds like description by committee, or a new stab at reviving the "fusion" label, and it does a disservice to what Park Plaza is about: reliably good, innovative dishes served with style and flair in an atmosphere that does justice to the Park Avenue address. The place has casual-yet-refined feel to it; you can hang out on the sidewalk café and watch the poseurs pass by, you can take a seat at the renovated bar, or you can sit down for a full meal and enjoy the outdoors-indoors feel of the patio/restaurant. That's not trendy, it's just cool.

    We went for the full-meal treatment, kicking it off with "Chef Justin's risotto" ($9), an appetizer easily big enough for two that featured cubes of roast duck and mango. While the duck was cut too small to add much to the dish, the mango imparted a sweetness that proved an excellent complement to the texture of the risotto. Another appetizer, "The Plaza wedge" ($7), was just as ambitious, if less successful. It turned out to be a hunk of iceberg lettuce topped with Gouda cheese, a slice of prosciutto and cherry tomatoes in herbed balsamic vinaigrette. Iceberg lettuce is always a problem at this price point, and the vinaigrette was too sweet. On the other hand, I'll sing the praises of "Chef Justin's five onion soup" ($6) to the rafters; it may well be the best bowl of onion soup on the planet. This hearty, intoxicating mixture of red, green and yellow onions, shallots and chives, topped with provolone, is the antidote for anyone who thinks onion soup has to be a thin, salty broth with slivers of white onions and bread cubes floating around in it.

    We went for the full-meal treatment, kicking it off with "Chef Justin's risotto" ($9), an appetizer easily big enough for two that featured cubes of roast duck and mango. While the duck was cut too small to add much to the dish, the mango imparted a sweetness that proved an excellent complement to the texture of the risotto. Another appetizer, "The Plaza wedge" ($7), was just as ambitious, if less successful. It turned out to be a hunk of iceberg lettuce topped with Gouda cheese, a slice of prosciutto and cherry tomatoes in herbed balsamic vinaigrette. Iceberg lettuce is always a problem at this price point, and the vinaigrette was too sweet. On the other hand, I'll sing the praises of "Chef Justin's five onion soup" ($6) to the rafters; it may well be the best bowl of onion soup on the planet. This hearty, intoxicating mixture of red, green and yellow onions, shallots and chives, topped with provolone, is the antidote for anyone who thinks onion soup has to be a thin, salty broth with slivers of white onions and bread cubes floating around in it.

    When the entrées came, I was a bit reluctant to dig in to mine – an herb-crusted roast pork tenderloin on a bed of root vegetables ($26) – because it looked so darn pretty arranged just so and topped with a hibiscus bud. It proved as good as it looked; the pork was as tender as quality beef with an infused smoky sweetness. The sauce also picked up sweetness and texture from the cranberries and cashews, and overall the dish was polished and satisfying.

    When the entrées came, I was a bit reluctant to dig in to mine – an herb-crusted roast pork tenderloin on a bed of root vegetables ($26) – because it looked so darn pretty arranged just so and topped with a hibiscus bud. It proved as good as it looked; the pork was as tender as quality beef with an infused smoky sweetness. The sauce also picked up sweetness and texture from the cranberries and cashews, and overall the dish was polished and satisfying.

    A seafood bouillabaisse ($36) came to the table looking every bit as gorgeous, filled as it was with mussels, giant prawns, clams, fish and half a Maine lobster tail. I had high expectations, given the price, and was a bit disappointed. The lobster and prawns were grilled before being added and were a touch dry, while the clams and mussels did get a chance to stew in the juices and benefited from it. The stock was hearty and fishy, with a subtle curry flavor Chef Justin himself attributes to his use of star anise and Pernod. The trouble was that the spicing just didn't seem to make its way into the larger chunks of seafood.

    A seafood bouillabaisse ($36) came to the table looking every bit as gorgeous, filled as it was with mussels, giant prawns, clams, fish and half a Maine lobster tail. I had high expectations, given the price, and was a bit disappointed. The lobster and prawns were grilled before being added and were a touch dry, while the clams and mussels did get a chance to stew in the juices and benefited from it. The stock was hearty and fishy, with a subtle curry flavor Chef Justin himself attributes to his use of star anise and Pernod. The trouble was that the spicing just didn't seem to make its way into the larger chunks of seafood.

    Service was courteous to a fault, attentive without being annoying, in keeping with the Continental atmosphere of the restaurant. But overall the experience felt pricey. When entrees get into the $30 range, they'd better be something to burst into song about. Chef Justin's Park Plaza Gardens had me humming a tune, but not quite ready to dance on the tables.

    It may not have the sophisticated ritz of a SoBe nightclub, and some of the clientele look like characters right out of Andy Warhol's Trash, but the unpretentious vibe is precisely why the sprawling Parliament House Resort is widely lauded as the premier GLBT ' and, some would even argue, straight ' night-life destination in town. The clubs and bars scattered throughout the complex attract throngs of revelers and come Gay Days, it's raining men.

    But even bear cubs and chicken hawks get peckish, and if you've ever traveled the North OBT thoroughfare, you know the pickings, insofar as food is concerned, are slim. So, as you'd expect from any decent resort, an on-site restaurant offers the kind of satisfaction only a full-service kitchen can provide.

    And in keeping with the resort's fraternal and down-to-earth disposition, the Rainbow Café's humble digs are as relaxed as its waitstaff. The walls of scarlet stucco and the soft red hue imbuing the square space have something to do with it, as does the fare, which is on-par with dishes served up at any big-box eatery.

    This isn't a place to dine on foie gras and sauternes; it's a patty melts'and'buffalo wings ($5.50) kinda place, the latter being a satisfying-enough appetizer ' moist and saucy, but with too vinegary a finish to qualify it as outstanding.

    I didn't know what to expect from the cheeseburger chowder that accompanied the chicken marsala ($9.95), but it proved to be a comforting bowl of thick, creamy goodness, with plenty of beefy morsels. The chicken marsala, however, looked like it could've been served straight out of a Stouffer's frozen dinner. The edges of the shrunken breast halves were hardened, likely because they were sautéed too long, and the side of veggies (cauliflower, broccoli, green beans and carrots) tasted as though they had just recently been thawed out of a bag.

    At $15.95, the 8-ounce filet mignon was a decent value, but the circular slab was served more medium-well than the desired medium, and those bland veggies just put the dish closer to the Perkins end of the flav-o-meter. Admittedly, though, I picked my baked potato clean.

    Mirrors on three of the restaurant's walls, I soon came to notice, are conducive to man-peeping, which serves to liven up the atmosphere as eyes, sometimes sheepish, sometimes gazing, dart from mirror to plate, then back to mirror. Taking in this reflective exercise can be interesting, if not entirely voyeuristic, so when my waiter entered the scene, I peeled my eyes away from the mirror just in time to see a plate of the bartender salad ($7.95) set before me. The strips of teriyaki chicken on a bed of field greens completed my chicken three-way for the night (cue the gasps), but alas, the teriyaki sauce was too sugary for my liking, and the soggy greens didn't help elevate the dish in my eyes.

    Swoon-worthy chocolate cake ($2.95), served with a dollop of cream, was gooey-fabulous and one of only two desserts on hand, the other being carrot cake.

    Beginning on the Wednesday prior to Gay Days weekend, the café is expected to be 'slamsville,� as my waiter put it, with the restaurant staying open 24 hours from Friday to Monday evening.

    Apologies if I came across sounding like a dining diva, but I couldn't help it � the Rainbow Café brought it out in me.

    Have you been to the town of Celebration? It's so ... clean. And planned. And it has those "Neighborhood Electric Vehicles" (with reserved parking spots that you al-ways pull into before seeing the "NEV Parking" sign).

    The Celebration planning extends to food as well. If anyone can afford fabulous chefs, Disney can; yet the cuisine at the immaculate Plantation Room is good but unimpressive.

    The Celebration planning extends to food as well. If anyone can afford fabulous chefs, Disney can; yet the cuisine at the immaculate Plantation Room is good but unimpressive.

    Although Café D'Antonio, Columbia and the Market Street Café -- the more visible dining spots along the main drag -- were packed, Plantation Room, ensconced in the Celebration Hotel, was eerily quiet on both midweek evenings I visited. It's more of a special-occasion kind of place than somewhere to go on impulse. The room itself is gorgeous, alive with the subdued sparkle of crystal glasses and good china. And the background music of 1930s' jazz is fun. But The Plantation Room misses the goal of a well-manicured dining experience: a spectacular dinner.

    Although Café D'Antonio, Columbia and the Market Street Café -- the more visible dining spots along the main drag -- were packed, Plantation Room, ensconced in the Celebration Hotel, was eerily quiet on both midweek evenings I visited. It's more of a special-occasion kind of place than somewhere to go on impulse. The room itself is gorgeous, alive with the subdued sparkle of crystal glasses and good china. And the background music of 1930s' jazz is fun. But The Plantation Room misses the goal of a well-manicured dining experience: a spectacular dinner.

    Head Chef Jean-Louis calls his creations "New Florida Cuisine." Well, they're new and in Florida, but nothing cried out "Sunshine State" except for the sweet and spicy fruit salsa, full of mango and pineapple, which flavored the crab-cake appetizer. And covering firm escargot with an overpowering cream sauce did nothing for the flavor or Floridaness of the wee mollusks (both $8).

    Head Chef Jean-Louis calls his creations "New Florida Cuisine." Well, they're new and in Florida, but nothing cried out "Sunshine State" except for the sweet and spicy fruit salsa, full of mango and pineapple, which flavored the crab-cake appetizer. And covering firm escargot with an overpowering cream sauce did nothing for the flavor or Floridaness of the wee mollusks (both $8).

    The filet mignon ($28) was one big honkin' piece of meat, a good 4-inches thick; unfortunately, it was served in a much-too-salty mushroom sauce. Salt also was the villain with the breast of duck ($19) that was tender and darkly tasty, but a little too far removed from the oven to be as crispy as it should have been. The accompanying and impressive tower of crisp sweet-potato slices filled with mashed sweet potatoes was delicious, though.

    The filet mignon ($28) was one big honkin' piece of meat, a good 4-inches thick; unfortunately, it was served in a much-too-salty mushroom sauce. Salt also was the villain with the breast of duck ($19) that was tender and darkly tasty, but a little too far removed from the oven to be as crispy as it should have been. The accompanying and impressive tower of crisp sweet-potato slices filled with mashed sweet potatoes was delicious, though.

    Sweet potatoes (if it's a plantation, this must be the crop) showed up flavoring grits around the grouper ($22), a nice combination. In fact the fish was the best taste of the evening, lovingly uncomplicated and cooked to firm and juicy perfection, served with baby bok choy. So why was the whole dish covered with threads of deep-fried scallions? The selection prompted my companion to ask, "What am I eating here, grass?"

    Sweet potatoes (if it's a plantation, this must be the crop) showed up flavoring grits around the grouper ($22), a nice combination. In fact the fish was the best taste of the evening, lovingly uncomplicated and cooked to firm and juicy perfection, served with baby bok choy. So why was the whole dish covered with threads of deep-fried scallions? The selection prompted my companion to ask, "What am I eating here, grass?"

    Even though we ordered both the cherries jubilee and bananas foster, neither was flambéed at the table -- and that might tell the whole tale of the Plantation Room. The bits are all there, but nothing really lights a fire.

    Orlando's ability to create and attract "stars" goes for acclaimed cuisine celebrities just as well as sports and music figures.

    Chefs Paul Bocuse and Gaston Lenotre call Epcot their Florida home; Todd English is moving in to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel; Roy Yamaguchi holds sway on Sand Lake Road; and we've all been exposed to Emeril and Wolfgang Puck. Slightly lower on the fame scale, but no less talented, is Melissa Kelly, the guiding hand behind Primo at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes.

    The massive Grande Lakes complex also includes The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, home of Norman's, the signature restaurant headed by fellow James Beard Award winner Norman Van Aken; Kelly was named "Best Chef: Northeast."

    This Primo is the second location for the renowned chef, who opened her Rockland, Maine, location in 1999 to critical acclaim. While Kelly's "down east" spot is a fairly simple affair in a Victorian house, the Orlando version reflects its massive surroundings. In a deep-colored room with semi-William Morris wallpaper and organic-looking chandeliers, you're confronted with a dizzying assortment of salad knives, fish forks and several sizes of dessert spoons. The cutlery is only slightly more complex than the food.

    Kelly and chef de cuisine Kathleen Blake are well-versed in the ways of organic foods -- in fact, there's an organic garden on the premises -- and the menu varies with available supplies. The stuffed squash blossom starter ($10) was immensely pleasurable: crispy flowers filled with creamy ricotta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Too bad there were only two. Fried calamari ($11) used tender ring slices and spicy tentacles dressed with cress and citrus.

    It isn't often you encounter a new experience, which I did with the sturgeon entree ($28). Sturgeon are huge, dense beasts, and my serving had a firm texture more like chicken than fish, with a flavor that only comes from cold-water catches. It was served alongside a baby artichoke half-filled with tomato couscous and a braised slice of escarole (impossible to cut with the fish knife).

    Beautiful women and young men with spiky hair make up the well-trained staff, and do their jobs well. The only downside that comes to mind is the price: Dinner for two easily rises to more than $100. The Maine lobster ($32) -- while interestingly served with handmade pansoti (similar to ravioli) stuffed with squash -- is not the expected full shellfish but some chunks and a few deshelled claws, which seems a bit expensive.

    There's thought behind the cuisine, and the excellent food isn't simply trendy -- Melissa Kelly has earned her fame.

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