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    As Einstein said, time is relative. It can be measured in dog years, Internet years and restaurant-in-Central-Florida years. Using that gauge, being around for almost two years makes 310 Park South an area veteran.

    The restaurant, glass doors open wide on to the hustle of Park Avenue, can be called what few others in the area can: cozy. The long room, with tables out on the sidewalk and a piano to the back, felt quite comfortable to me, and judging by the unrestrained conversation in the room, to everyone else as well. You have to applaud any restaurant that can generate real atmosphere.

    Chef Angel Pereira grew up in the family food business in Spain and trained in Italy, and the influences show in dishes like "grilled grouper with linguine in a black-olive pesto sauce and artichoke hearts" ($11.95). Some choices are quite ordinary: the chicken piccata ($10.95) is prepared very traditionally in a white wine and garlic butter; while others like "horseradish encrusted salmon" ($17.95), a thick pillow of flaky fish under a horseradish and whole-grain mustard shell, are eclectic in design. All are a pleasure to eat.

    However. not every dish hits the mark. The exercise afforded by chewing the fairly rubbery fried calamari appetizer ($8.95) is certainly cheaper than a facelift but not much more enjoyable. I will give an enthusiastic thumbs up to the "gator tail," sautéed 3-inch medallions under mustard sauce that will give you a new appreciation for lizard – and no, it doesn't taste like chicken.

    If the place is crowded, as it was the night we were there, resign yourself to the fact that you'll be in line. Our 15-minute wait turned into 30 before we were seated, and our server was very long in coming for our orders and even longer to serve.

    My companion had one of the evening's specials, a venison steak ($20.95). The good news is that the meat, which can be very easy to cook badly, was superbly done; fork-tender, moist and flavorful, a true credit to the capabilities of the chef. The bad news is that she didn't ask for the venison. After a 45-minute wait for the main course, the prime rib that was ordered had transformed into Bambi. Good Bambi, yes, but our server's reaction ("Gee, it would take a very long time to redo it.") put an unfortunate taste in both our mouths. Good service is a big part of enjoying a meal, and the quality of service at 310 Park South is a real failing.

    Take note that 310 Park South participates in the overlooked and very welcome Winter Park Valet parking on the next corner (New England Avenue), and is a darned sight better than cruising for parking. Save that time for waiting for a table.

    If you've ever lived south of the East-West Expressway, in the vicinity of Lake Davis, you probably remember El Rincon, a beer-in-a-bag kind of market at the corner of Mills Avenue and Gore Street. If your timing was good and you caught the place when it was open, which was frustratingly rare, you might find a loaf of white bread and a copy of the paper to go with your tallboy. But only the foolhardy would actually order a sandwich from the place.

    How things have changed since Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over in September. El Rincon is now the 903 Mills Market, and it is the heart of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. The once-dark grocery with bars on the windows is now brightly lit and inviting. You can have lunch or a beer at one of the outside tables and watch the traffic on Mills whiz by. Or sit inside and chat with neighbors as they come and go.

    How things have changed since Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over in September. El Rincon is now the 903 Mills Market, and it is the heart of a quickly gentrifying neighborhood. The once-dark grocery with bars on the windows is now brightly lit and inviting. You can have lunch or a beer at one of the outside tables and watch the traffic on Mills whiz by. Or sit inside and chat with neighbors as they come and go.

    903 Mills serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the food is worth a stop. I have yet to eat breakfast there, but the sandwiches are creative, tasty and huge (the "Grateful Bread," a combination of turkey, blue cheese, stuffing, onions and cranberry mayo on sourdough is a personal favorite); the dinner blue plates don't disappoint, and there's always a kettle of soup on.

    903 Mills serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the food is worth a stop. I have yet to eat breakfast there, but the sandwiches are creative, tasty and huge (the "Grateful Bread," a combination of turkey, blue cheese, stuffing, onions and cranberry mayo on sourdough is a personal favorite); the dinner blue plates don't disappoint, and there's always a kettle of soup on.

    Tipplers will appreciate what has to be one of the best beer selections in town. I've never seen He'Brew, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and White Hawk together in one place before, let alone in a single cooler in a tiny neighborhood store. Wine heads (as distinguished from winos) will dig the monthly tastings.

    Tipplers will appreciate what has to be one of the best beer selections in town. I've never seen He'Brew, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and White Hawk together in one place before, let alone in a single cooler in a tiny neighborhood store. Wine heads (as distinguished from winos) will dig the monthly tastings.

    In the age of the 7-Eleven, community grocery stores are a rare and wonderful thing, and this one is a gem.

    With stints at Antonio’s La Fiamma in Maitland and Terramia Winebar in Longwood, Adriatico chef Marco Cudazzo has played a significant role in pleasing local palates with a penchant for pasta and rustic dishes from the old country. Now, along with his charming wife Rosetta, Cudazzo brings the flavors of his native Abruzzo, a coastal region shoring the Adriatic, to College Park’s savvy denizens, most of whom are no strangers to authentic Italian cuisine.

    Not surprisingly, Adriatico’s menu slants toward the sea, not the Abruzzo’s mountainous interior, where lamb, mutton and diavolicchio peppers typify the Abruzzese style. No, it’s all about the seafood here, and the calamaretti alla Napoletana ($8.50), ringlets and tentacles of small, tender squid sautéed in a spicy tomato sauce, is an antipasto worth diving into. The meat is faultlessly firm and doesn’t suffer from the rubbery texture that results from overcooking, while the sauce is an ideal lure for the complimentary bread.

    I took great pleasure in listening to my waiter’s thick, rolling lilt, though I’m sure he felt like driving his giant fist into my skull after I asked him to repeat the evening’s special three times. When I finally understood that the white striped bass ($27.50) was pan-fried with portobello mushrooms, and not pot-bellied monsoons, I couldn’t say no. The enormous platter contained a thick fillet garnished with baby romas, yellow tomatoes and two crunchy jumbo shrimp in addition to the ’shrooms, all slicked in a garlic white wine sauce. The flavors worked well, but I would’ve enjoyed the fish more had it not been served tepid.

    Terrestrial items also get a chance to shine, and the indisputable freshness of the creamy tomato soup ($5.50) made it a bowl full of magical slurps, with heavy cream and basil adding texture and pungency to the ruddy orange bisque. Carciofini “mamma mia” ($8.50), baby artichokes sautéed in olive oil, garlic and mint, were tender for the most part though a few stringy stragglers found their way into the garlicky sauce. The astringency of the artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes, unfortunately, overpowered the essence of mint, making the dish a slight disappointment.

     

    A comforting main like gnocchi della casa can be enjoyed with a choice of three sauces: marinara ($11.50), meaty Bolognese ($14.50) or gorgonzola cheese ($16.50). No matter the sauce, the potato dumplings were perfectly pillowy, and if you opt for the gorgonzola, the rich sauce is as aromatic as it is fulfilling. Italian-imported lemon sorbetto ($7) bests house-made tiramisu, partly for its refreshing tang and partly for its lemon-peel shell, though
    either will ensure your meal ends on a sweet note.

    Wine racks, exposed brick walls and the glow of candlelight on fresh linens create an oasis of calm, though the serene ambience also extends outside, where patrons can dine by the light of tiki torches along Edgewater Drive. Service is purposefully friendly and leisured, but can seem a little too leisurely when glasses are left unfilled and when lags create uneven pacing. Nevertheless, the trattoria’s genuine charm ultimately wins over the hearts of diners, and the competent execution of the seafood-leaning menu is sure to make Adriatico a fixture in the neighborhood.

    Ainâ??t Misbehavinâ?? is an awesome neighborhood bar with a friendly staff and great customers. The bar features a comfortable environment inside and an outdoor tiki bar (weather permitting).

    Pizza without beer? Lasagna without wine? It's unthinkable according to Anthony Marku's standards, but then he's a native of Italy and the owner of Thornton Park's newest restaurant, Anthony's Pizza Cafe.

    Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

    Marku feels so strongly about the pairings that he's prepared to start giving away beer and wine at his establishment – and he may have to do just that. Last week, the City Council, acting on the interests of a handful of residents concerned about adding another outlet for alcohol in their neighborhood, once again shot down his appeal for a permit to sell beer and wine.

    For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

    For the meantime, the Thornton Park dining district is confusing, with regard to spirits. Customers can belly up to the bar in droves at Dexter's, Chez Jose Mexican and Burton's Bar & Grill. But across the street at Anthony's, you have to bring your own bottle or visit the 7-Eleven.

    Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

    Even so, only one month after opening, Anthony's is shaping up as a popular dining spot. Located in a former car-repair shop that's been gutted and washed with bronze colors and a Tuscan atmosphere, the two dozen tables inside and on the courtyard are usually filled on Friday nights. This is casual, affordable Italian food at its best, prepared traditionally.

    But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

    But don't come here if you're trying to save calories – there's nowhere to hide. The cheesy garlic bread appetizer is out of this world and a steal at $2.25. An Italian baguette is sliced down the middle, lusciously soaked with garlic butter and capped with whole-milk mozzarella cheese. Then it's lightly bronzed under the broiler.

    Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

    Lunch and dinner mainly consist of subs, pizzas and pasta entrees. Some of the portions are gargantuan. We asked for a small "special stromboli" ($6.95) and were presented with a virtual football, stuffed with mozzarella, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and ham. The "VIP stuffed pizza" is daunting, too, with a double crust filled with all of the above, plus cappicolla and Genoa salami. Just one slice ($3.50) is the size of most restaurants' personal pizzas, and a large pie ($24) would serve a crowd.

    A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

    A lighter choice would be the spinach pizza, topped with white cheeses and spinach ($2.25 slice, $8.95 small pie).

    Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

    Pastas are just as good. We tried a heaping portion of delicious spaghetti ($6.25), topped with sweet, basil-infused marinara sauce and meatballs the size of golf balls.

    Even without beer and wine, Anthony's is positioned to become a fixture in the Thornton Park enclave.

    Antonio's Café Downstairs has long been a favorite alternative to its fancier, upstairs sister, though it meant standing in line at the counter to place your order. Now the operation has been jazzed up, with full table service and new menus for both lunch and dinner.

    Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

    Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

    Since Antonio's Café Downstairs also serves as a grocery and wine shop, don't be surprised if your dining space gets invaded by shoppers browsing the gourmet goodies.

    There are plenty of great Italian restaurants in Orlando, but there are few that can manage to be smart and sophisticated without being imposing. Antonio's La Fiamma in Maitland has that wonderful combination of warmth, hospitality and energy.

    This is one restaurant that wouldn't be caught dead relying on accordion music, red-checkered tablecloths or drippy candles in Chianti wine bottles to convey atmosphere. Although it's a popular spot for lunch, twilight is an excellent time to visit. There's a second-floor view of shimmering Lake Lily, framed by sunset skies. The dining area glows with impressions of candlelight, crisp white linens and gleaming china. Service is thoroughly professional, yet fluid and relaxed. It's almost as if the formal dining area were taking its cue from Antonio's Café Downstairs, the lively deli, wine shop and Italian market that occupies the first level.

    This is one restaurant that wouldn't be caught dead relying on accordion music, red-checkered tablecloths or drippy candles in Chianti wine bottles to convey atmosphere. Although it's a popular spot for lunch, twilight is an excellent time to visit. There's a second-floor view of shimmering Lake Lily, framed by sunset skies. The dining area glows with impressions of candlelight, crisp white linens and gleaming china. Service is thoroughly professional, yet fluid and relaxed. It's almost as if the formal dining area were taking its cue from Antonio's Café Downstairs, the lively deli, wine shop and Italian market that occupies the first level.

    The food also is first-rate, we found on a recent visit. The restaurant, which inspired the spin-off Cafe d'Antonio in Celebration, owes its skillful creations to head chef Sebastian Santangelo. Although he is a native Sicilian, his menu is a tour of Italy.

    The food also is first-rate, we found on a recent visit. The restaurant, which inspired the spin-off Cafe d'Antonio in Celebration, owes its skillful creations to head chef Sebastian Santangelo. Although he is a native Sicilian, his menu is a tour of Italy.

    Among the caldi, or hot appetizers, fried calamari ($6.95) were lightly breaded and greaseless – these weren't dainty squiggles, but more like thick calamari steaks, accompanied by a superb sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and mayonnaise. Also good were the ravioli al funghetto ($5.95), stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.

    Among the caldi, or hot appetizers, fried calamari ($6.95) were lightly breaded and greaseless – these weren't dainty squiggles, but more like thick calamari steaks, accompanied by a superb sauce of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and mayonnaise. Also good were the ravioli al funghetto ($5.95), stuffed with shiitake mushrooms in a pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.

    But you could easily cut costs by skipping the starters: The bread basket is a showcase featuring onion-embedded focaccia. The freshness is owed to a baker who arrives at 3 a.m. daily for a baking marathon that continues until 10 a.m. That's when Santangelo arrives to reclaim the kitchen and begin cooking various sauces, which are the restaurant's real bread and butter, he says.

    But you could easily cut costs by skipping the starters: The bread basket is a showcase featuring onion-embedded focaccia. The freshness is owed to a baker who arrives at 3 a.m. daily for a baking marathon that continues until 10 a.m. That's when Santangelo arrives to reclaim the kitchen and begin cooking various sauces, which are the restaurant's real bread and butter, he says.

    There was one in particular that we enjoyed: A Cognac sauce enhanced with lemon and fresh herbs, served with a double-thick, sautéed veal chop. But for a better idea of what a talented chef can accomplish with the simplest ingredients, don't miss zuppa di pesce ($22.95). Preparation is a 7-to-10 minute deal, featuring a tricky, mixed bag of shrimp, calamari, scallops, fish and langostino, a species of prawn with a sweet, delicate meat which rivals shrimp or lobster. Santangelo's version is outstanding, mostly due to a delicate broth of tarragon, basil, garlic and a touch of marinara.

    There was one in particular that we enjoyed: A Cognac sauce enhanced with lemon and fresh herbs, served with a double-thick, sautéed veal chop. But for a better idea of what a talented chef can accomplish with the simplest ingredients, don't miss zuppa di pesce ($22.95). Preparation is a 7-to-10 minute deal, featuring a tricky, mixed bag of shrimp, calamari, scallops, fish and langostino, a species of prawn with a sweet, delicate meat which rivals shrimp or lobster. Santangelo's version is outstanding, mostly due to a delicate broth of tarragon, basil, garlic and a touch of marinara.

    You can usually catch a glimpse of him at work behind the kitchen counter, visible from most seats in the dining area. Or, get a closer look during Festa Italiana, a group cooking class, Italian feast and wine soiree from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the restaurant. The cost is $50 per person in advance, $55 at the door.

    A good old-fashioned country diner may seem a wee bit out of place on the modern suburban thoroughfare of Lake Mary Boulevard, but that hasn't stopped families from tolerating Appleton's fruity decor (a decor that gets ridiculously kitschy once Halloween and Christmas roll around) and gorging on heaping plates of hearty, greasy goodness. Maybe it's because the Old South vibe here isn't uncomfortably Old South ' it's relaxed, friendly, even a little dowdy, but it's got a distinct charm, and it offers a pre-noon alternative to the Heathrow housewife scene at the Peach Valley Café a couple of miles down the road.

    The waitresses at Appleton's are delightfully old-school and defiantly pleasant in the face of sluggish and disinterested diners. And they can certainly perk up the senses with comments like 'I wouldn't recommend the fruit today,â?� which, while somewhat off-putting, had me in stitches nonetheless.

    So, forgoing the cup of fruit ($2.95), we dove headfirst into one of their 'hearty breakfasts,â?� namely the country-fried steak and eggs ($7.95), which lived up to all expectations. The crunch of the pounded steak was perfect, and the thick sausage gravy that smothered it added a nice kick. Interspersing each bite with eggs over easy sopped up with a homemade country biscuit just made the meaty morning meal all the better.

    'Grits,â?� my dining partner remarked, 'are a serious personal choice.â?� The ones served here are on the thicker side, in need of quite a bit of butter and salt to give them the desired consistency and flavor. On the potato front, I preferred the home fries over the hash browns, though, really, both were good. From the griddle, both the thick French toast ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) and the pillowy pancakes ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) were flawlessly cooked. In keeping with the café's theme, warm apples and cinnamon can be added to your hotcakes for a couple more bucks. My only complaint, and it's an oft-cited one with me when it comes to breakfast joints, is that pure maple syrup isn't offered, even as an upgrade.

    All omelets are prodigious three-egg envelopes with enough sides (your choice of home fries, hash browns or grits and your choice of toast, homemade biscuit or English muffin with plain or cinnamon-raisin bagel) to keep you going until dinner. The Greek omelet ($7.95), however, was just too dry to fully enjoy. The cook was likely distracted from all the other dishes he was cooking and left it in the pan a few minutes too long, a shame considering I was looking forward to downing this eggy number with gyro meat, pepperoncini, black olives and crumbled feta.

    Coffee snobs need to leave their java judgments at the door ' the cup of joe served here is dark, strong and not for the faint of heart. A lunch menu is also offered (the place is open until 3 p.m.) with a variety of comfort food and greasy-spoon fare.

    'The Next Best Thing to Mom's Cookingâ?� is emblazoned on their menu, and while that may be true, their furnishings, particularly in the screened-in back porch, are the next best thing to a Motel 6. Then again, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place that celebrates its Old Florida character. Biscuits to bacon, Appleton's is down-home to the core.

    Before you associate the Bumby Cafeteria with meatloaf and chocolate cream pie, we should clarify that Bumby Cafeteria is a full-service Latin restaurant, albeit a hole in the wall. About six months ago, it joined the ranks in downtown's closest claim to a Latin quarter – the stretch of Bumby Avenue between Colonial Drive and South Street. While the area doesn't qualify as Little Havana, it does have Medina's Restaurant (Cuban) and Rica Arepa Cafe (Venezuelan).

    Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.

    Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.

    Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.

    Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.

    Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.

    Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.

    Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.

    Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.

    Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.

    Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.

    As a potential extra treat, the spokesman for Bumby Cafeteria told me that they're planning on expanding to a 24-hour schedule at some point. After midnight, dining options dwindle, and downtown in particular is ready for an alternative to Denny's, I-Hop, Krystal and the hot-dog grill at 7-Eleven. If and when that comes to pass, it will create some welcomed wee-hours competition.

    Trendy Hannibal Square hotspot lures  diverse crowd for primo Italian standbys and wonderfully blistered pizzas, care of a custom-built brick oven. The egg-topped San Giovanni pizza is a crowd fave and ideal for sharing, but don't overlook carpaccio with shaved Parmesan and pear slices. Pastas and secondi are simply presented, and shine because of it. Reservations are strongly recommended.

    An unassuming chill cafe where you can drink, sip and catch part of Orlando's local talent. Grab a beer or a glass of our organic wine, listen to live bands, see an indie film, take in some local art or enjoy live comedy and poetry performances. We have something going on every night. Drink, be merry and enjoy!


    Teaser: After the sun sets, Austin's is less about fair trade and fresh roasting and more about moderately expensive microbrews. Squeeze between anarcho-hipsters for live bands, independent film screenings and stand-up comedy. Free Wi-Fi for YouTube riots is a plus; gooch-ish climate, not so much.

    A restaurant's service can be a make-or-break proposition. There are people who will let an unfilled water glass ruin the bliss brought on by multiple courses of gastronomic delight. Such fussy perfectionism is not how the vast majority of diners approach the restaurant experience. The food is the main attraction, and as long as it's delivered accurately and in a timely fashion, it's the quality of the dishes that determine whether or not a restaurant leaves a positive impression.

    Sometimes, however, what appears to be decent if unexceptional service may prevent a diner from walking away from a meal with an accurate sense of what that particular establishment is capable of.

    Such was the case with a sojourn to Ayothaya, a new "authentic" Thai place in the Dr. Phillips area. Given the level of competition among restaurants on that stretch of Sand Lake Road, I could be forgiven for expecting Ayothaya to be more than just another place to grab some mussaman curry. Though the teak-heavy décor was nice, the small dining room was cramped and possessed of none of the sumptuous and spacious elegance of Thai Thani, a nearby restaurant that hasn't let their strip-mall location prevent the proprietors from creating a relaxed oasis.

    But, real estate being what it is, this is the sort of thing I'd be willing to forgive. Except that within this small space, the owners have made the bizarre decision to install two unavoidable televisions on the premises … tuned to Central Florida News 13, no less. Here's a headline: Some people like to go out to dinner and not be distracted by nine-minute news cycles. (For the record, this trend of multiple televisions in supposedly "upscale" restaurants is a sin against nature. You run an Applebee's or a barbecue joint? Fine. Anywhere else, it's inexcusable.)

    Still, a too-cozy space, visually polluted by television, can be redeemed by a skillful kitchen. Perhaps one day I'll find out if Ayothaya has one. You see, our server forgot to tell us about the specials. Under some circumstances, such an omission would be a minor mistake – we'd miss the fish of the day or the chef's best effort to put an inventive spin on overstocked ingredients. And given the seemingly vast selection on Ayothaya's misspelling-riddled menu – a none-too-shabby 45 items – it didn't even occur to us to ask about the specials. A closer examination of the menu, however, revealed it to be filled with the standard dishes found in so many Thai restaurants, with a few surprises here and there. Somehow, it was both overwhelming and uninspiring, and our server didn't provide much assistance in navigating us through it.

    Eventually, our party of four settled on a combination of "the usual" and the unexpected. A sampler plate ($12.95) of six of Ayothaya's appetizers – chicken satay, spring rolls, shrimp dumplings, Thai crab cake, fried wontons and fried shrimp rolls – was wholly average. (The dumplings came out cold, adding to the disappointment.) Tom kha gai soup ($5.95) was the opposite of cold, as it was invigoratingly spiced and amply filled with massive shrimp, rather than the hide-and-seek variety many Thai places use. The wonton soup ($4.95) wasn't nearly as nuclear but was equally substantial, with sizable chicken- and shrimp-filled dumplings.

    Continuing with "the usual," we ordered a red curry with chicken ($12.95) and a shrimp and broccoli in oyster sauce ($12.95). Neither held any surprises, positive or negative. The red curry was flavorful and not overpoweringly spicy, while the oyster sauce had the right kind of salty zing. Moving out of familiar territory, it was on to a deliciously greasy, vegetable-heavy and appropriately named "spicy duck" ($14.95) and, the tour de force, a whole red snapper, fried and topped with a salsa-like concoction of red onions, basil, chilis, garlic and an excellent, spicy red sauce. Called pla chom suan, it wound up being a bit pricey ($28.95/market price), difficult to plate and too large for one person, but none of those things mattered in the slightest while we were greedily stuffing our gullets. The super-crispy exterior provided that perfectly pleasing contrast with the soft, flaky flesh, and the fresh spiciness of the topping made the dish that much more pleasingly complex.

    The entire latter part of Ayothaya's menu is comprised of 10 such "creations," all but one of which are centered around fresh fish. These dishes are rather costly, but they are the closest the restaurant gets to breaking out of the standard fare found at so many other Thai restaurants. Or so we thought.

    On our way out the door, I noticed a lengthy specials board that told me what might have been. This list of exciting-sounding seafood dishes (most notably a lobster curry) and other impressive concoctions were a drag to run across at the meal's end. Potentially, here was the exceptional food that would make the obnoxious televisions worth putting up with; here were the chef's personal signatures that would make what seemed like a run-of-the-mill restaurant the kind you tell friends about. And it was too late to try any of them.

    So that, folks, is why good service is so important.

    What do you get when you cross Starbucks with Ron Jon's Surf Shop? A coffeehouse with a faux molten volcano, 3-D surf wave, saltwater aquarium and brews with an attitude, aka Bad Ass Coffee Company.

    The fantastical decor of this Hawaiian-rooted chain fits right into its I-Drive location, south of Sand Lake Boulevard – so much so that owners Tom and Linda Clark haven't heard so much as a boo about the Bad Ass name (even though there was a bit of a "brewhaha" over the Tampa store), since they opened their family business in February. The Ass reference pays homage to the donkeys used to transport the harvested beans out of the mountains. They're not just talking dirty.

    Being good parents, the friendly Clark couple invested in the store so that daughter Jennifer, a fresh Florida State University graduate with a master's degree in tax accounting, could follow her dream to open a coffeehouse, because she didn't really like numbers, after all. And it's the only Bad Ass in town.

    This is the place to purchase genuine Kona beans – the only coffee grown in the United States. If you're late to the Kona controversy, there's been much to-do about the sale of fake or blended varieties, even by heavyweights such as Starbucks. The hoopla comes from the fact that Kona beans only grow on a 20-square-mile area on the island of Hawaii. The constant cloud cover and rich soil generate the distinctive low-acid, full-bodied beans that claim top dollar around the world.

    Bad Ass carries a variety of 100 percent Kona roasts, from lightweight American to robust French. The ultimate delicacy in the store is the "Peaberry medium-dark roast" – $22.95 for a half-pound bag, which is a totally reasonable price. Most coffee beans have two halves, but the pea berry has a single core – a natural anomaly – and they are handpicked out of the processing line. A fresh crop won't be in until February, so there's little Kona (much less pea berry) to be found anywhere, except at Bad Ass, which stocked up for the holidays.

    The store carries a lighthearted line of Bad Ass-branded mugs, T-shirts, calendars, even thong underwear. There's a limited menu of "Donkey Feeds" that includes pastries, sandwiches and ice cream served seven days a week.

    The website (www.badasscoffeeorlando.com) is ready for mail orders and shipping is free until Dec. 15.

    It's a Friday night and Bar Louie is packed with an oddball mix of middle-aged golfers, nuclear families and metrosexual man-cougars on the prowl. Its walls are lined with photographs evocative of jewelry adverts, accentuated with the eyes and teeth of models reflecting a bourgeois ideal steadfastly preserved by this raucous joint. It being happy hour lent to an increased decibel level, primarily centered in the periphery of the sizable rectangular bar where said patrons gaped at plasma screens and sloshed down draft beer ($3), wine ($4) and cocktails ($5) at happy-hour prices. Others sat in the patio overlooking the Rialto's scenic parking lot while some, like my guest and I, opted for a table in the center of the airy dining room in which to enjoy the array of half-priced small plates.

    Bar Louie's reputation for serving above-average food certainly preceded it ' the eatery is run by Restaurants America, a Chicago-area-based consulting group operating more than 60 upscale restaurants covering 10 different concepts around the country. (The only other local representative is the Red Star Tavern at Orlando Fashion Square mall.) Given the chain's credentials, I wanted to believe the hype, but the dishes we sampled were for the most part ordinary and fell well short of inspiring.

    As avenues to sobriety, however, the dishes exceed expectations, particularly the doughy Bavarian pretzel sticks ($3.50) with cinnamon butter, queso and honey-mustard dips, which even lucid diners will enjoy. As avenues to drunkenness, several libations can help facilitate the condition ' we sampled a smooth and sweet 'kokomojitoâ?� ($5), splashed with pineapple rum, and a more offensive, lime-heavy caipirinha ($5) served on the rocks. Cocktails are taken quite seriously here, and bibulous barflies can opt for a variety of signature drinks, martinis, margaritas, cosmopolitans and mojitos. Bruschetta ($3.50), served in an obnoxiously large martini glass, acts as a booze sponge with grilled country bread surrounding a mound of chunky pomodoro. But the cup of New Orleans chicken gumbo ($1.50) was an insipid mush, and the macaroni and cheese ($9.99) could've been replicated by college kids with some Velveeta and bread crumbs. The congealed, gluey consistency of the four-cheese concoction made it immediately forgettable. The Blue Moon'battered fish sandwich ($9.99) fared a bit better ' the tilapia cut was wonderfully mild and fleshy, but the overdone beer batter wasn't golden-brown as promised. While the accompanying side of fries was satisfactory, we both reacted adversely to the not-at-all-tart tartar sauce. Another very ordinary item from the bill of fare: the blackened chicken muffuletta pizza ($9.99), layered with an olive mix and Cajun seasoning. The flabby crust was a disappointing feature ' it had the taste and texture of Pillsbury dough, not proper pizza dough.

    This may seem like a harsh indictment of Bar Louie's kitchen, but it's fair given that they cater to a sophisticated clientele with sophisticated palates in a sophisticated neighborhood. From a diner's perspective, the food doesn't raise the bar by any means; but from a drinker's perspective, it certainly holds water â?¦ and hooch.

    From the shores of Brooklyn comes Bayridge Sushi, one of the newest entries in metro Orlando's crowded Japanese-restaurant market.

    Not that Brooklyn isn't also teeming with sushi and sashimi. Bay Ridge is a tiny neighborhood right on the New York Bay, and to succeed there, you have to be darn good.

    Not that Brooklyn isn't also teeming with sushi and sashimi. Bay Ridge is a tiny neighborhood right on the New York Bay, and to succeed there, you have to be darn good.

    Owner and sushi chef Ben Lu was trained by a venerable Manhattan sushi master for many years, and says he moved his restaurant here for the "business opportunities."

    Owner and sushi chef Ben Lu was trained by a venerable Manhattan sushi master for many years, and says he moved his restaurant here for the "business opportunities."

    Bayridge Sushi is in an odd, slightly cowboy-looking building on the outside, but inside it's thoroughly Far East, with paper screens and blond wood surrounding intimate tables, and the sushi bar up front. There is even a tatami room for those nimble of knee.

    Bayridge Sushi is in an odd, slightly cowboy-looking building on the outside, but inside it's thoroughly Far East, with paper screens and blond wood surrounding intimate tables, and the sushi bar up front. There is even a tatami room for those nimble of knee.

    Unlike a lot of local Japanese eateries, the menu isn't numbingly extensive, but it narrows the hot dishes down to teriyaki, noodles and tempura, focusing instead on sushi and rolls.

    Unlike a lot of local Japanese eateries, the menu isn't numbingly extensive, but it narrows the hot dishes down to teriyaki, noodles and tempura, focusing instead on sushi and rolls.

    I liked the slightly expensive but convenient a la carte sushi menu, from which you can order single pieces that show off Lu's talents.

    I liked the slightly expensive but convenient a la carte sushi menu, from which you can order single pieces that show off Lu's talents.

    The white tuna (shiro, $4.25) is an absolute order; hold the morsel in your mouth and let the buttery fish slowly cook on your tongue.

    The white tuna (shiro, $4.25) is an absolute order; hold the morsel in your mouth and let the buttery fish slowly cook on your tongue.

    Eel (unagi, $4.25) is my weakness, prepared here with less of the obligatory sweet sauce to let the flavor shine through.

    Eel (unagi, $4.25) is my weakness, prepared here with less of the obligatory sweet sauce to let the flavor shine through.

    The tuna is bright pink to dark red, depending on the cut ($3.95 to $4.45), and it tastes of clear water.

    The tuna is bright pink to dark red, depending on the cut ($3.95 to $4.45), and it tastes of clear water.

    My only complaint was the "crab stick" ($3.25) which, like the crab-dumpling appetizer ($4.50) was not real crab, but surimi – you know, that formed whitefish stuff.

    My only complaint was the "crab stick" ($3.25) which, like the crab-dumpling appetizer ($4.50) was not real crab, but surimi – you know, that formed whitefish stuff.

    A better choice is the slightly pickled mackerel with its bracing vinegar bite (saba, $3.25).

    A better choice is the slightly pickled mackerel with its bracing vinegar bite (saba, $3.25).

    The appetizer that was particularly pleasing was the nasu ($3.25), a small jewel of a Japanese eggplant, split and broiled with a topping of miso and ponzu sauce for a sweet contrast to the deep eggplant flavor.

    The appetizer that was particularly pleasing was the nasu ($3.25), a small jewel of a Japanese eggplant, split and broiled with a topping of miso and ponzu sauce for a sweet contrast to the deep eggplant flavor.

    I'm actually not a fan of rolls, but there's a wide selection of not-too-bizarre combinations. The "rainbow," "California" and "dragon" rolls are all here (and not much different from other local concoctions), but I did like the taste and texture variations in the "Bayridge roll" of tuna, salmon and avocado ($8.95).

    I'm actually not a fan of rolls, but there's a wide selection of not-too-bizarre combinations. The "rainbow," "California" and "dragon" rolls are all here (and not much different from other local concoctions), but I did like the taste and texture variations in the "Bayridge roll" of tuna, salmon and avocado ($8.95).

    Bayridge Sushi is a long way from the Brooklyn shores, but in its new Florida digs is a smart choice for tasty, well-prepared sushi.

    'Business casualâ?�: It's a conundrum that most of us have had to wrap our brains around in the last five years or so. Where once there was a uniform for work (suit, tie; pantyhose, pumps) and one for hanging out (either looser or tighter than the daily monkey suit, depending on your proclivities), now we have to parse a version of our home selves that will fly at work. Food has gone through a similar makeover ' once it was split between expensive white-tablecloth restaurants and greasy spoons, but now the lines have blurred. We want to dress up our Gap-khaki turkey sandwiches with dry-clean-only caper pesto.

    Bella Café doesn't redefine the spiffed-up sandwich; it just prepares them very well. No surprises here; the upmarket salads and sandwiches aren't especially creative, but they are put together with care and quality. The board of menu choices can be overwhelming ' everything's been assigned an Italian title, and the descriptions are hard to read ' but there really are no wrong choices.

    Two in our trio went for panini: the 'Montianoâ?� (roast beef, provolone and caramelized onion daubed with super-sweet honey mustard; $7.50) and the 'Tuscanâ?� (juicy grilled chicken breast ' the real thing, not the icky cold-cut variety ' fresh mozzarella and roasted red peppers; $7.50). Both were satisfying, but the real mouth-watering winner was our third companion's choice, the 'Marlianaâ?� ($7.95). A soft baguette ' well, the menu calls it a baguette, but a Frenchman would sneer; I'd label it a crusty roll ' barely managed to contain moist, tender pot roast touched with horseradish and blanketed in cheddar. It was like a portable Sunday dinner. All that was missing was the roasted carrots and potatoes.

    Luckily for me, this companion has a dainty appetite, and I was easily able to talk him out of half of his sandwich. He fell back on his bowl of creamy lobster bisque ($2.99). It was thick as pudding and the color of Thousand Island dressing, lacking the delicate nature one might expect from a usually refined soup, but there were tangible shreds of crustacean.

    On our way out the door, we had to have a bit of gelato ('to settle the stomach,� as my ice-creamaholic father would say). Bella Café serves several flavors of gelato from downtown's Il Gelatone. After sampling tiny spoons of peanut butter and chocolate, we settled for a scoop ($3.25) of dulcet ripe banana and one of raspberry ' studded with tiny crunchy seeds and intensely sweet-tart. After a business-like lunch, we were ready to get back to the casual Orlando Weekly office.

    Despite Bella's distant (to me) location in a busy MetroWest strip mall, I might return soon â?¦ half of that pot-roast sandwich just wasn't enough.

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

    Walking up the stairs to the Portofino Bay Hotel's newest restaurant, Bice (pronounced "BEE-chay"), you feel like you've wandered onto a movie set. It's a familiar feeling to most Orlandoans, who often have no choice but to enter a theme park in order to enjoy an upscale restaurant. The hotel purports to be a re-creation of the Italian beach town of Portofino; the sprawling wings enclose a man-made lake upon which gondolas and water taxis float aimlessly. The cobblestone piazza seems genuine enough, but the vintage Vespas with engines removed, chained to lampposts, and the monotonous stucco walls betray the fact that it's a fake. The cruising golf carts don't help the illusion, either.

    Once you're inside, though, the illusion's over. Bice, offering very expensive, very refined comfort food, is just another generic upscale hotel restaurant. It's very nice – muted ivory-toned lighting, frescoed ceiling, enormous flower arrangement – but bland. The one note of personality is the sharp black-and-white lacquered armchairs in the bar; too bad, the bar was populated by cheering football watchers on this night.

    Once we attracted the attention of the waitress, we ordered a glass of 2000 Luigi Righetti ($16) while we waited for our table. The only amarone available by the glass, it was delicious but took no risks. Then the dance of the servicepeople commenced: A host told us our table was ready, a waiter led us there, a different waiter arrived to hand us menus and somewhere, the cocktail waitress was still holding our bar tab and credit card. Once that was sorted out, we made our selections from the huge menu – some of the choices oddly betraying a nouvelle cuisine twist – and settled back on the comfy banquette.

    Before our starters arrived, a busboy brought a basket of bread and bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and dinner was off to an inauspicious beginning. The salty rosemary focaccia and rustic wheat bread were obviously mass-produced, possessed of a uniform crumb instead of the chewy density characteristic of bread baked in small batches. The olive oil was pale and weak, and the vinegar was sour. A glum anticipation settled over the table.

    Beef carpaccio with black truffle dressing and an arugula and mushroom salad ($18) arrived looking like a rosy-petaled sunflower. Sadly, the beautiful pink beef, instead of being silky and earthy, was mushy and tasteless. The salad (arugula, raw cremini mushrooms, shaved Parmesan) was bright, clean, simple, but the taste of black truffle could scarcely be detected in the dressing. Across the table, the lentil soup "with black truffle fondue" was also simple yet expertly prepared, a delicate, peppery puree with, alas, nary a trace of the pungent black truffle in the swirl of olive oil on top.

    Then chef Massimo Esposito knocked one out of the park. Resembling something a very chic caveman would eat, a huge 16-ounce veal chop ($42) arrived, lapped in porcini sauce and snuggled atop a drift of soft polenta. Surrounded by lovely charred fat (hey, don't knock it until you've tried it), the chop was grilled to a perfect medium-rare, as ordered. The polenta, rich with Parmesan, was the kind of dish that inspires compulsive eating – creamy and utterly comforting. The rigatoni alla Siciliana ($17) was less spectacular, though enjoyable. The traditional Sicilian marriage of eggplant, pine nuts, capers and raisins somehow didn't quite work this time around.

    Though not a dessert fan, I splurged on the pistachio and caramel semifreddo ($8) and urged my companion to try the vanilla panna cotta (also $8). This was the best move we made all night. The semifreddo was a bustling playground of tastes and textures: soft, half-frozen cream crunchy with glassy shards of caramel and slivers of roasted almonds, in a pool of almond crème anglaise sprinkled with jade-green chopped pistachios. By contrast, the panna cotta was an elegant, austere dish: a vanilla custard gelatin dusted with black vanilla seeds and ringed with a compote of sweet dried apricots. It was pared down to the essentials, yet clearly created by a virtuoso. With two plates my resistance to dessert was ended.

    Like the staircase we had to climb, our experience at Bice may have started on a low note, but it ended with a fabulous high. My suggestion: Grab a table on the patio, have a glass (or bottle) of wine, sample the desserts and watch the faux gondolas navigate the faux lake. At least the food will be the real thing.

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