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    I don't know why, but I was expecting a dive. Maybe it was the fact that R.J. Gator's seemed to be named after somebody's uncle. Maybe because it was called a "Florida sea grill." Maybe just because it was founded 20 years ago. But R.J. Gator's was far from being a dive. It was more like an efficient urban development in dive disguise. Think of it as a warehouse-sized, Everglades-themed Cheesecake Factory attached to a mall.

    We first came upon the restaurant's outdoor bar, which wraps around the building's facade. Among the few tables, the music was blaring, giving one the fleeting feeling of drinking in an outpost in the thick of a swamp. Pulling on the gator-head door handles, my friends and I stepped inside.

    The hostess started to show us to a booth near the front window when we noticed a gimmick that we had to partake of: rocking booths. "Can we sit at one of those?" I demanded, pointing to the middle of the room. She mechanically turned and led us to our very own swinging banquet, where we delighted in play as we rocked the booth with our feet, testing to see if our drinks would spill on the swaying but steady table.

    As we waited for our food, a wall of hot sauces kept us entertained. We grabbed a handful and tested them with saltine crackers, then kept our favorites and smothered our meals in them when they arrived. The menu was enormous, and we only scratched the surface of what they offered, sticking mostly to the Florida specialties and bar/grill food.

    We rocked and rocked until a dozen oysters were placed in front of us, half raw and half steamed. A few minutes later, the refuse of Hurricane Oyster left a trail of cocktail sauce, drawn butter, crackers and shells across the table. R.J. Gator's is no Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar (on Old Winter Garden Road), but the huge, delicate mollusks nestled in their shells were still completely satisfying. Next came alligator tail ($5.49), tender chunks of golden fried meat served with cocktail sauce and another thyme-laden Caribbean-style one. We also got a plate of "strings" ($6.99), a mile-high pile of thin, fried onions that had been rolled in a spicy batter before being plunged into hot fat – definitely bar food at its best. Actually, any pub fare you could dream up, R.J. Gator's touches on – nachos, quesadillas, spinach dip, wings, fingers, pizza, burgers. And they always feature a fresh Florida catch, so don't hesitate to consider a grouper sandwich, too ($8.99).

    Actually, we tried an assortment of recommendable seafood dishes. The selection of fried seafood is astounding, including platters of scallops, clams, shrimp and myriad types of fish. We munched down an order of pleasingly crunchy coconut shrimp ($13.99) that had an alluringly tropical flavor. The Florida-style crab cakes ($12.99) live up to their name: fluffy cakes seasoned with Caribbean flair and with a texture that could live up to any Maryland taste test.

    R.J. Gator's serves several dishes "Havana banana"-style, which is a grilled piece of jerk-seasoned meat (I tried mahi-mahi for $11.99) covered in orange sauce and served with black beans, rice and fried plantains.

    Skip their desserts, which tended to be gooey, over-the-top messes, except perhaps the Key lime pie. Their version was a creamy tart custard nuzzled into a graham cracker crust and finished with an unnaturally bright green lime concoction that tasted like a Now and Later candy – the kind of sauce that a true dive would dish up.

    dining@orlandoweekly.com

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of Rainforest Cafe at Downtown Disney Marketplace.

    There's something unsettling about eating a bowl of pasta with a squawking parrot perched overhead. Or getting fanned by the flapping ears of a life-sized elephant as another round of Rainforest Rickys arrives from the Magic Mushroom organic juice-and-smoothie bar.

    Rainforest Cafe, an addition to the Downtown Disney Marketplace, is a slickly packaged, 550-seat restaurant loosely patterned after a lush jungle, with faux wildlife and vegetation, special effects and colossal fish tanks.

    Rainforest Cafe, an addition to the Downtown Disney Marketplace, is a slickly packaged, 550-seat restaurant loosely patterned after a lush jungle, with faux wildlife and vegetation, special effects and colossal fish tanks.

    Outside, there's a 65-foot spewing volcano, which generated some enthusiasm from afar, until I got closer and saw the snaking Disney-style line. At 8 p.m. on a weeknight, it took 20 minutes to get our "passports," followed by an hour's wait for our table. We headed for the retail area, which sells $30 T-shirts and semi-educational jungle knickknacks. In our estimation, hunkering down on a stool fashioned into a gazelle's hindquarters at the aforementioned Magic Mushroom was a more attractive way to bide our time.

    Outside, there's a 65-foot spewing volcano, which generated some enthusiasm from afar, until I got closer and saw the snaking Disney-style line. At 8 p.m. on a weeknight, it took 20 minutes to get our "passports," followed by an hour's wait for our table. We headed for the retail area, which sells $30 T-shirts and semi-educational jungle knickknacks. In our estimation, hunkering down on a stool fashioned into a gazelle's hindquarters at the aforementioned Magic Mushroom was a more attractive way to bide our time.

    The menu offers casual, familiar items with clever names. Best of our entrees was the seafood Galapagos ($14.95), which blended fresh sautéed shrimp and fish pieces with vegetables and pesto sauce over linguine. I also liked the rasta pasta ($11.95) -- grilled chicken, pesto, broccoli, red peppers and herbs in a garlic cream sauce. Less appealing was the marinade in the Siam stir fry ($12.95), chicken sautéed with vegetables, served on rice with wontons and sesame seeds.

    The menu offers casual, familiar items with clever names. Best of our entrees was the seafood Galapagos ($14.95), which blended fresh sautéed shrimp and fish pieces with vegetables and pesto sauce over linguine. I also liked the rasta pasta ($11.95) -- grilled chicken, pesto, broccoli, red peppers and herbs in a garlic cream sauce. Less appealing was the marinade in the Siam stir fry ($12.95), chicken sautéed with vegetables, served on rice with wontons and sesame seeds.

    The desserts we sampled ($4.95) were delicious: "gorillas in the mist," a chocolate-topped banana cheesecake, and "chocolate diablo," rich cake with gooey layers of pudding.

    The desserts we sampled ($4.95) were delicious: "gorillas in the mist," a chocolate-topped banana cheesecake, and "chocolate diablo," rich cake with gooey layers of pudding.

    There's a healthy selection of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, salads and comfort foods like meat loaf and fried chicken. When asked, the server brightly informed me that I could take home a menu -- for $15. Service was adequate, but we had to hunt our server down for the check. (Attempts to call her from across the room were rendered futile by the loudly trumpeting elephant.)

    There's a healthy selection of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches, salads and comfort foods like meat loaf and fried chicken. When asked, the server brightly informed me that I could take home a menu -- for $15. Service was adequate, but we had to hunt our server down for the check. (Attempts to call her from across the room were rendered futile by the loudly trumpeting elephant.)

    As with other themed restaurants I've tried, the heavily merchandised atmosphere and slightly above-average menu at Rainforest Cafe outweigh the novelty of the overall dining experience.

    It was a snack bar before it was Terrace on Lake Eola, 903 CitySide, Erik's on Eola or, as it's currently known, Relax Grill, but the one facet that's drawn patrons to the site on the northwest corner of Lake Eola is, well, the site itself. Towering oaks, dog-walkers, joggers and feathered quackers offer enough lakeside distractions and amusements to keep the courtyard seats filled, as does a modest selection of beer and wine. The food has never really wowed, no matter the café's name, but the view is unprecedented in the city, and for al fresco diners, that aspect, like the fare, carries a lot of weight.

    Take the Mediterranean veggie combo ($11), for instance. The two-platter appetizer came with healthy portions of hummus, tzatziki, red pepper'nut dip, tabouli, pita and a trio of bulbous falafel, not to mention slices of cucumber and tomatoes. All items lived up to expectations, but my fave was the garlicky red pepper dip. The falafel, though good, lacked the sort of moistness I've come to expect, and the absence of tahini was an unconscionable omission, particularly given the chef's Syrian roots (thus the restaurant's emphasis on Mediterranean fare). A deep pool of balsamic vinaigrette was the only sour note to an otherwise fresh and crisp Greek salad ($7), a complimentary offering with any of the entrees.

    But after gawking at a few pooches and watching a pair of fattened ducks waddle onto the path then fearlessly honk at startled couples out for a stroll (highly amusing), we turned our attention to the fattened chunks of the chicken kebabs ($11). The skewer of meat was simply seasoned, yet flavorful, and sat atop a bed of fluffy yellow rice with grilled seasoned peppers and onions. They're not the finest chicken kebabs in town ' that title belongs to Kabbab House in MetroWest ' but they made for an enjoyable nosh. A mediocre big burger ($9) proved that the kitchen was far more adept at the Mediterranean dishes than domestic ones. Furthermore, the limp crinkly fries on the side lacked any semblance of crisp.

    It was far easier to stomach the hot apple dumpling ($6) than it was the live jazz of smooth variety, though both were equally syrupy. The menu said a light, refreshing fruit parfait ($5) was to come with strawberries and blackberries, but the latter were entirely absent from the cream-filled glass.

    Relax Grill is a three-partner venture led by Sam Chatah, who managed Erik's on Eola before it ceased operations. The fact that the city of Orlando is charging Chatah a paltry $1,000 per month in rent should help his efforts in keeping the open-air café financially viable.

    Admittedly, after hearing complaints of slow service, I thought perhaps the 'Relaxâ?� in Relax Grill was being used as an excuse to justify a sluggish disposition, but in my experience, the service was leisured and friendly and the fare certainly respectable. For now, Relax Grill seems to have all its ducks in a row.

    Self-described "gastropub" brings a locavore credo to the downtown core along with an urban-farmhouse vibe. The rustic menu focuses on locally farmed and raised ingredients, but not obsessively so. Best: tapenade-stuffed eggs, coffee-rubbed culotte steak and grown-up s'mores. There's a small, but decent, selection of craft beers, signature drinks and wines as well. Live music on weekends. Open daily.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Winter Park.

    It's not that we weren't given a thoroughly warm welcome. And sure, at least half of the customers that night were women. Even the restaurant is named after a woman. But my girlfriend and I agreed: Ruth's Chris Steak House has the definite vibes of a "guy" restaurant.

    The whole place is steeped in masculine energy. It's all clubby and private, with lustrous mahogany woods, low lighting, starched white linens on the tables, and secluded booths with swinging doors. The portions are massive, and the prices will hit you in the wallet big time, unless, of course, you're there with an important client on a business expense account. Although dinner for two can easily climb upward of $100, it's a carnivore's dream, steak at its very finest.

    The whole place is steeped in masculine energy. It's all clubby and private, with lustrous mahogany woods, low lighting, starched white linens on the tables, and secluded booths with swinging doors. The portions are massive, and the prices will hit you in the wallet big time, unless, of course, you're there with an important client on a business expense account. Although dinner for two can easily climb upward of $100, it's a carnivore's dream, steak at its very finest.

    This New Orleans-based chain deals only with corn-fed Hereford cows. Meats are aged several weeks for added flavor and tenderness. Each cut is seared on an 1,800-degree grill, hot enough to fire pottery, which quickly seals the meat and locks in juices. They arrive at your table sizzling in butter. The results are sometimes so tender that a steak knife isn't necessary to dig in; a mere fork will do.

    This New Orleans-based chain deals only with corn-fed Hereford cows. Meats are aged several weeks for added flavor and tenderness. Each cut is seared on an 1,800-degree grill, hot enough to fire pottery, which quickly seals the meat and locks in juices. They arrive at your table sizzling in butter. The results are sometimes so tender that a steak knife isn't necessary to dig in; a mere fork will do.

    Our waiter greeted us by our party's name, which he evidently got from the host at the front door. It was a small touch that helped us to relax. He steered us through the menu, making informed suggestions. We had an excellent barbecued shrimp appetizer ($8.95), which was sautéed in a sauce of reduced white wine, butter, garlic and spices. We also had a dish that was generously loaded with escargot and hearts of artichoke ($8.25) sautéed in white wine with heaps of scallions and mushrooms.

    Our waiter greeted us by our party's name, which he evidently got from the host at the front door. It was a small touch that helped us to relax. He steered us through the menu, making informed suggestions. We had an excellent barbecued shrimp appetizer ($8.95), which was sautéed in a sauce of reduced white wine, butter, garlic and spices. We also had a dish that was generously loaded with escargot and hearts of artichoke ($8.25) sautéed in white wine with heaps of scallions and mushrooms.

    Our waiter described the "cowboy rib-eye special" ($29.95) in such tempting detail that we couldn't resist. It weighed in at a jaw-dropping 22 ounces and was indeed extremely flavorful, drawing some of its impact from the bone, which was left intact. It was seared to medium-cooked perfection with a bright pink center, just as we requested. We also ordered a trio of lamb chops ($29.95), which were delicately marbled and extremely juicy, served with a pot of "emerald mint" dressing.

    Our waiter described the "cowboy rib-eye special" ($29.95) in such tempting detail that we couldn't resist. It weighed in at a jaw-dropping 22 ounces and was indeed extremely flavorful, drawing some of its impact from the bone, which was left intact. It was seared to medium-cooked perfection with a bright pink center, just as we requested. We also ordered a trio of lamb chops ($29.95), which were delicately marbled and extremely juicy, served with a pot of "emerald mint" dressing.

    There are eight ways to have potatoes at Ruth's, from mashed with roasted garlic to au gratin. We went with the Lyonnaise treatment ($4.50), sliced and sautéed with onions. Back home, we call them fried potatoes, but Ruth's version was handled skillfully. The tenderly steamed asparagus is another good choice, served with a delicate Hollandaise sauce ($6.95).

    There are eight ways to have potatoes at Ruth's, from mashed with roasted garlic to au gratin. We went with the Lyonnaise treatment ($4.50), sliced and sautéed with onions. Back home, we call them fried potatoes, but Ruth's version was handled skillfully. The tenderly steamed asparagus is another good choice, served with a delicate Hollandaise sauce ($6.95).

    Among the killer assortment of desserts, crème brûlée ($5.95) is a favorite with the clientele. Served with a handful of berries, it was eggy yet feather light, and the sugar crystals on top were torched into a glassy, crisp coating. Ice-cream freezes are a house specialty, made with Haagen Dazs and top-shelf liqueurs such as creme de cacao and brandy that go into the "velvet hammer" ($5.25).

    Among the killer assortment of desserts, crème brûlée ($5.95) is a favorite with the clientele. Served with a handful of berries, it was eggy yet feather light, and the sugar crystals on top were torched into a glassy, crisp coating. Ice-cream freezes are a house specialty, made with Haagen Dazs and top-shelf liqueurs such as creme de cacao and brandy that go into the "velvet hammer" ($5.25).

    Although we didn't sample the wine, there is a well-crafted menu that includes dozens of choices by the bottle or glass. We tried to find at least one thing about our entire dinner that wasn't perfect but came up empty-handed. We had to admit that Ruth's Chris Steak House has earned its reputation as a landmark restaurant worthy of visiting on special occasions -- or better yet, when you're on someone else's expense account.

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