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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.

    When I was growing up in DeLand, there just weren't any kosher delis around. I didn't discover blintzes, latkes and matzo ball soup until going off to college in Atlanta. And while these days Orlando hardly brims with traditional Jewish food, the unassuming market and deli Amira's is worth a visit.

    As a kosher deli, cleanliness, food and service at Amira's are supervised by the Orlando Rabbinic Council. But don't ask about the name; I felt like a real schlemiel when I asked our waitress for a translation, and she informed me that "Amira" is the owner's first name.

    My companion and I visited for lunch, served between 11 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. For starters, we split the mini Israeli sampler ($4.95), a smaller version of the Israeli platter ($6.95). I could have made an entire meal out of the falafel (think chickpea hushpuppy) and the eggplant relish, which was similar to ratatouille. The tabouli also was tasty; heavier on parsley than bulghur wheat, it tasted more like a regular salad than other versions I've tried. And while I thought the hummus had too much tahini, my companion pronounced it delicious. Our sampler also came with a big plate of pita bread.

    For my entree, I ordered half a "Virgin Rachel" and a cup of chicken noodle soup ($5.95 for the combo). Even without the customary Swiss cheese, this Rachel was superb. Served grilled on rye bread, it came with a huge, hot stack of pastrami, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. The soup stock was marvelous, although there was only one measly piece of chicken hiding in a cup full of noodles. My companion's overstuffed cold corned beef sandwich on rye ($6.95), served plain with condiments on the side, was similarly outstanding. His sandwich came with cole slaw and potato salad, fries or a potato knish. He chose the latter, a spicy mashed-potato mixture inside flaky pastry.

    Other sandwiches include hot or cold beef brisket ($7.25), chopped liver ($5.25), half-pound turkey burgers ($6.25), and quarter-pound chili dogs ($4.45). And excepting Friday evenings, when Amira's is closed, the dinner menu includes stuffed cabbage ($9.95), prime rib ($12.95), half a rotisserie chicken ($9.95), and open-face roast beef or turkey sandwiches (both $7.95).

    After a slowdown from the sushi overload of last year, several new restaurants have opened lately in various parts of town. Gracing the dining hot spot of Sand Lake Road is a familiar name in new clothing: Amura.

    Owned by the same folks behind the cozy Church Street location, Amura on Sand Lake is upscale and reservedly glitzy. It's to their credit that, despite some stiff competition and the shaky state of Church Street, Amura has thrived enough to expand.

    Owned by the same folks behind the cozy Church Street location, Amura on Sand Lake is upscale and reservedly glitzy. It's to their credit that, despite some stiff competition and the shaky state of Church Street, Amura has thrived enough to expand.

    This venue includes teppan tables, secluded on one side of the restaurant from the main room; judging by the appreciative noises coming from that end they seem to go over well. The new Amura is a gorgeous space, with backlit glass walls, rich marble flooring and tiny halogen lights suspended invisibly overhead like stars. But oohs and aahs at the decor quickly turn to gasps at the pricing – $21.99 for boring salt-coated scallops? A "deluxe Isleworth boat" sushi assortment for $99.98?

    This venue includes teppan tables, secluded on one side of the restaurant from the main room; judging by the appreciative noises coming from that end they seem to go over well. The new Amura is a gorgeous space, with backlit glass walls, rich marble flooring and tiny halogen lights suspended invisibly overhead like stars. But oohs and aahs at the decor quickly turn to gasps at the pricing – $21.99 for boring salt-coated scallops? A "deluxe Isleworth boat" sushi assortment for $99.98?

    The quality of the sushi does remain high, and it's particularly nice to see varieties of fish that have a low environmental impact, like hamachi (yellowtail, a kind of amberjack) and saba (mackerel). The saba is particularly good, with a slightly pickled taste that complements the firm rice. I recommend any of their nigiri sushi or sashimi, which glistens like jewels under those lights, except for the sashimi appetizer ($8.99), which includes a piece of surimi (that horrible fake crab). Surimi also turned up in the sunomono salad ($7.99) – shame on them.

    The quality of the sushi does remain high, and it's particularly nice to see varieties of fish that have a low environmental impact, like hamachi (yellowtail, a kind of amberjack) and saba (mackerel). The saba is particularly good, with a slightly pickled taste that complements the firm rice. I recommend any of their nigiri sushi or sashimi, which glistens like jewels under those lights, except for the sashimi appetizer ($8.99), which includes a piece of surimi (that horrible fake crab). Surimi also turned up in the sunomono salad ($7.99) – shame on them.

    The rolls didn't fare as well as the sushi. The "bamboo wine roll" ($8.99) of white tuna wrapped in avocado was limp and tasteless, the avocado overwhelming other flavors. And the "Magic roll" ($7.99), with shrimp, crab and asparagus was so soggy with a sweet, watery sauce, that it was almost impossible to pick up.

    The rolls didn't fare as well as the sushi. The "bamboo wine roll" ($8.99) of white tuna wrapped in avocado was limp and tasteless, the avocado overwhelming other flavors. And the "Magic roll" ($7.99), with shrimp, crab and asparagus was so soggy with a sweet, watery sauce, that it was almost impossible to pick up.

    It's when we get to the kitchen that everything falls apart. Not everyone likes the same thing, but I'll bet very few people enjoy oily and lukewarm shrimp tempura, with batter-dipped vegetables that are either undercooked or in such large pieces, like the broccoli, that raw batter sits inside as an unpleasant surprise. All that for $16.95. "fiery garlic chicken" ($15.99), a small portion of chewy chicken bits, was more overseasoned than fiery. The "geisha shrimp" ($18.99) were battered, then covered in an odd white sauce, with a bitter, burnt garlic taste that lingered for hours.

    It's when we get to the kitchen that everything falls apart. Not everyone likes the same thing, but I'll bet very few people enjoy oily and lukewarm shrimp tempura, with batter-dipped vegetables that are either undercooked or in such large pieces, like the broccoli, that raw batter sits inside as an unpleasant surprise. All that for $16.95. "fiery garlic chicken" ($15.99), a small portion of chewy chicken bits, was more overseasoned than fiery. The "geisha shrimp" ($18.99) were battered, then covered in an odd white sauce, with a bitter, burnt garlic taste that lingered for hours.

    If you go, stay with what Amura knows best – sushi – and let the kitchen staff take a break.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Brio in Winter Park Village.

    Despite the trendy, well-heeled crowds lined up at the door, and despite the lightweight name that sounds like it was pulled from a starlet's bio, there is some substance to Brio, the new, upscale Tuscan grill at Winter Park Village.

    We arrived without reservations on a busy weekend evening, and it was immediately clear we were in for a long wait. Throngs of people milled around. The hostess gave us a palm pager so we could window shop in the immediate area to kill time. It was either that or jockey for a place at the bar, where the members of the salon set were squeezed in so tight that we would have been lucky to find something to lean on, much less sit down.

    We arrived without reservations on a busy weekend evening, and it was immediately clear we were in for a long wait. Throngs of people milled around. The hostess gave us a palm pager so we could window shop in the immediate area to kill time. It was either that or jockey for a place at the bar, where the members of the salon set were squeezed in so tight that we would have been lucky to find something to lean on, much less sit down.

    The inside of the restaurant is spacious and bustling, with a curved layout that wraps around the show kitchen. The dining area is reinforced by pillars and softened by faux antique treatments, and the acoustics are comfortably noisy.

    The inside of the restaurant is spacious and bustling, with a curved layout that wraps around the show kitchen. The dining area is reinforced by pillars and softened by faux antique treatments, and the acoustics are comfortably noisy.

    There were some lapses in service, but our waitress seemed to be doing her best to keep up with the fast pace. Although we waited far too long for appetizers and a bread basket, they were in peak form when they showed up. The crusty Italian rolls had been whisked to our table straight from the oven, still steaming. And the "antipasto sampler" ($12.95) was delicious across the board. We loved the "calamari fritto misto," lightly fried and accented with "pepperoncini," as well as the "Brio bruschetta" topped with marinated tomatoes, seared peppers and mozzarella. The mushroom "ravioli al forno" had an exquisite, creamy sauce.

    There were some lapses in service, but our waitress seemed to be doing her best to keep up with the fast pace. Although we waited far too long for appetizers and a bread basket, they were in peak form when they showed up. The crusty Italian rolls had been whisked to our table straight from the oven, still steaming. And the "antipasto sampler" ($12.95) was delicious across the board. We loved the "calamari fritto misto," lightly fried and accented with "pepperoncini," as well as the "Brio bruschetta" topped with marinated tomatoes, seared peppers and mozzarella. The mushroom "ravioli al forno" had an exquisite, creamy sauce.

    Don't overlook the flatbread pizzas. Toasted in a wood-fired oven, they have crisp, thin crusts that are balanced by light toppings. The wild-mushroom version ($9.95) was slightly moistened with truffle oil and topped with mild, nutty fontina cheese and a few caramelized onions.

    Don't overlook the flatbread pizzas. Toasted in a wood-fired oven, they have crisp, thin crusts that are balanced by light toppings. The wild-mushroom version ($9.95) was slightly moistened with truffle oil and topped with mild, nutty fontina cheese and a few caramelized onions.

    Brio does an able job with pastas such as lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, but it would be a shame to miss out on wood-grilled steaks, chops and seafood, which are what the kitchen does best. A 14-ounce strip steak ($21.95) was particularly juicy and buttery, and topped with melted gorgonzola. But on the side, the wispy "onion straws" didn't work – they were eclipsed by their overly oily fried batter.

    Brio does an able job with pastas such as lasagna with Bolognese meat sauce, but it would be a shame to miss out on wood-grilled steaks, chops and seafood, which are what the kitchen does best. A 14-ounce strip steak ($21.95) was particularly juicy and buttery, and topped with melted gorgonzola. But on the side, the wispy "onion straws" didn't work – they were eclipsed by their overly oily fried batter.

    Wood-grilled salmon ($21.95) was an exercise in restraint: The firm, pink, succulent flesh of the fish was jazzed with a delicate citrus pesto and accompanied by tomatoes encrusted with Romano cheese.

    Wood-grilled salmon ($21.95) was an exercise in restraint: The firm, pink, succulent flesh of the fish was jazzed with a delicate citrus pesto and accompanied by tomatoes encrusted with Romano cheese.

    The restaurant's next-door Tuscan Bakery is worth a visit on the way out, if only to glimpse the gorgeous profusion of breads and pastries. Brio's stylish atmosphere and well-executed menu make it a successful choice whether for lunch, dinner or the popular "Bellini brunch" on Saturdays and Sundays.

    Broadway Café is a quaint bistro and art gallery located in the heart of downtown Kissimmee. Not only a restaurant, the Café also allows you to dine surrounded by art that isn't just restricted to the walls! Every table is a one-of-a-kind painting depicting scenes ranging from the building in the 1920's to beautiful flora and local scenery. We also offers a variety of coffee drinks, homemade desserts and an ice cream bar! The motto of Broadway Café is â??Where the Creation of Good Food is an Art!â?� so if you enjoy the arts, irresistible food made with pride, and a unique dining experience, come visit us in Historic Downtown Kissimmee!

    You've seen the little chocolate medallions adorning absolutely irresistible pastries, pies and cakes around town (at Ba Le, for example), the ones imprinted with the name "Bruno's Gourmet Kitchen." They've always been a sign to me that, if nothing else, dessert was going to be a something special.

    Fortunately for all of us sugar addicts -- ones with taste, of course – Bruno Ponsot has opened his doors in Sanford to the salivating public. Ponsot has trained with legendary chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Gaston Lenotre, and has served as head chef locally at Le Coq au Vin and Le Provence.

    Fortunately for all of us sugar addicts -- ones with taste, of course – Bruno Ponsot has opened his doors in Sanford to the salivating public. Ponsot has trained with legendary chefs Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse and Gaston Lenotre, and has served as head chef locally at Le Coq au Vin and Le Provence.

    The man knows pastry. From his Bavarian Charlotte cake, filled with Bavarian cream, fresh berries and Chambord liqueur, to miniature éclairs and fruit tarts, this is a world-class patisserie that's worth the trip from anywhere.

    Other than, what a waste of time and money, about the only other thing I could think about on the drive home from an overpriced dinner at the Capriccio Grill Italian Steakhouse was how many starving people could have been fed with the money just spent. The experience was that much of a downer. When more than 100 bucks is dropped on a dinner for two, not counting drinks or wine, then it had better be a hedonistic experience, worthy of the indulgence. And there was only one thing that was special about Capriccio's new menu: The steak, from Ruprecht's, one of the oldest operating beef processors in Chicago and a purveyor of quality meats to high-end steakhouses around the country. Though expensive – $37 for the restaurant's "signature" 24-ounce rib-eye – the meat was worthy. The experience as a whole was not.

    Reservations are recommended at Capriccio, and it's a good thing we had them. The hostesses were routinely turning away party after party that showed up without them, making it seem too big a deal when we sailed into the shotgun-style dining room, ushered past grumbling guests. Capriccio is on the first floor of The Peabody Orlando, easy to park at and enter, across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. It's the hotel's supposedly midpriced restaurant; there's also the more formal and expensive Dux and the cheaper and more fun Beeline Diner. The decor is an outdated style of subdued urban chic, with contemporary lighting and fresh exotic flowers contrasting dark wood tables and checkered marble floors.

    Reservations are recommended at Capriccio, and it's a good thing we had them. The hostesses were routinely turning away party after party that showed up without them, making it seem too big a deal when we sailed into the shotgun-style dining room, ushered past grumbling guests. Capriccio is on the first floor of The Peabody Orlando, easy to park at and enter, across the street from the Orange County Convention Center. It's the hotel's supposedly midpriced restaurant; there's also the more formal and expensive Dux and the cheaper and more fun Beeline Diner. The decor is an outdated style of subdued urban chic, with contemporary lighting and fresh exotic flowers contrasting dark wood tables and checkered marble floors.

    In the back, the main dining area is built around the kitchen, where sweating cooks and steaming pans are in full view. We were seated at a small round café table squeezed into a sort of makeshift spot between the pathway and the bussing station, in front of the kitchen. Many passing eyes observed our table that night, and we managed to avoid any injury when water spilled and dishes broke at the server station. I was surprised into politeness when a server ducked under the table to pick up some broken glass – "Excuse me, madam," he said, kneeling down beside me with a towel ready to dry me off – or maybe wrap my wounds – if necessary.

    In the back, the main dining area is built around the kitchen, where sweating cooks and steaming pans are in full view. We were seated at a small round café table squeezed into a sort of makeshift spot between the pathway and the bussing station, in front of the kitchen. Many passing eyes observed our table that night, and we managed to avoid any injury when water spilled and dishes broke at the server station. I was surprised into politeness when a server ducked under the table to pick up some broken glass – "Excuse me, madam," he said, kneeling down beside me with a towel ready to dry me off – or maybe wrap my wounds – if necessary.

    Our cocktails were unimpressive – the dried olive and brown-spotted lime wedge stuck on the toothpick in the Bloody Mary ($6.25) looked like leftovers. The Grey Goose martini ($8.50) ordered "dirty" was served clean, and also was cheapened by aged olives. The flatbread in the complimentary basket was stale, but there were some fresh rolls in there, too.

    Our cocktails were unimpressive – the dried olive and brown-spotted lime wedge stuck on the toothpick in the Bloody Mary ($6.25) looked like leftovers. The Grey Goose martini ($8.50) ordered "dirty" was served clean, and also was cheapened by aged olives. The flatbread in the complimentary basket was stale, but there were some fresh rolls in there, too.

    Ordering entrees, we acknowledged Capriccio's Italian past. We selected one of the favorite pasta dishes still on the menu, as recommended by our friendly server, the "penne e pollo" ($16.95), with pieces of chicken, grapes and walnuts covered in a Gorgonzola sauce. And we ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon ($34), topped by an "Oscar" sauce that was a special on this evening. Later, the bill reflected the $12.95 addition of the teaspoon or so of rich crabmeat and two stalks of asparagus topped by hollandaise sauce.

    Ordering entrees, we acknowledged Capriccio's Italian past. We selected one of the favorite pasta dishes still on the menu, as recommended by our friendly server, the "penne e pollo" ($16.95), with pieces of chicken, grapes and walnuts covered in a Gorgonzola sauce. And we ordered the 12-ounce filet mignon ($34), topped by an "Oscar" sauce that was a special on this evening. Later, the bill reflected the $12.95 addition of the teaspoon or so of rich crabmeat and two stalks of asparagus topped by hollandaise sauce.

    When it arrived, the beef carpaccio appetizer ($9.50) offered the perfect opportunity to taste Ruprecht's product in its rarest form – thin shavings of raw meat, seasoned and dressed with tangy capers, tart lemon and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Sanguine and delicate, the carpaccio paired well with the spinach salad ($7.95), which was fine if nothing fancy.

    When it arrived, the beef carpaccio appetizer ($9.50) offered the perfect opportunity to taste Ruprecht's product in its rarest form – thin shavings of raw meat, seasoned and dressed with tangy capers, tart lemon and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Sanguine and delicate, the carpaccio paired well with the spinach salad ($7.95), which was fine if nothing fancy.

    Then came the $17 pasta insult. To relive the experience as quickly as possible: Cool al dente penne was dumped on top of a puddle of steaming sauce, so I had to mix up the dish myself. (My fingers got a bit burned – no big deal.) The rich and biting Gorgonzola sauce desperately needed the sweet grapes and the texture of the nuts to cut the thickness. But the spare bits and pieces of grape and nut and chicken were hunted and downed within a handful of bites. Across the table, the properly "flash-seared" fillet was full of flavor, enhanced by the Oscar treatment. The recommended glass of Merlot was a smart choice for taste but was a $12 slam.

    Then came the $17 pasta insult. To relive the experience as quickly as possible: Cool al dente penne was dumped on top of a puddle of steaming sauce, so I had to mix up the dish myself. (My fingers got a bit burned – no big deal.) The rich and biting Gorgonzola sauce desperately needed the sweet grapes and the texture of the nuts to cut the thickness. But the spare bits and pieces of grape and nut and chicken were hunted and downed within a handful of bites. Across the table, the properly "flash-seared" fillet was full of flavor, enhanced by the Oscar treatment. The recommended glass of Merlot was a smart choice for taste but was a $12 slam.

    The coffee was good and a bargain (no charge), and there was no oversweetening of the mixed berries in the cobbler ($7.75), though the crust tasted stale, like it had been out in the humid air too long.

    The coffee was good and a bargain (no charge), and there was no oversweetening of the mixed berries in the cobbler ($7.75), though the crust tasted stale, like it had been out in the humid air too long.

    If you're here for a convention and want steak, jump on I-4 and head downtown to Kres Chophouse for a much more special night out. If you're stuck in the hotel, head for the Beeline Diner for meatloaf.

    Stumbling out into the blinding Winter Park Village midday sun after a matinee movie, I was stunned to see an edifice that looked like a bank, where the old Dillard's used to be. The sign said The Cheesecake Factory, and I'd never heard of it. Why would a place that makes cheesecake need such an enormous building? Not one to turn down a good slice of dessert, I went to investigate.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    Turns out, there are 42 other CF restaurants, which started in the late '70s in Los Angeles, everywhere from Boston to California. I'm told the architecture is fairly similar in all of them. The decor is slightly Egyptian revival -- towering high ceilings, thick weathered columns painted in hieroglyphics, dark wood and upholstered booths. There are striking accents of glass all, like textured leaf shapes on columns and red swirled lamps, and open spaces alongside cozy partitioned areas.

    The menu is almost as large as the building -- a dozen pages of appetizers, pizza, burgers and steaks, not counting the full page of cheesecakes. So doing the addition (huge place, tons of menu items, slightly gimmicky name) I was somewhat skeptical. But from beginning to end, everything was wonderful.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Our waiter advised us that "the appetizers are kinda large," which was like saying that I-4 gets a little crowded. I started with "Tex Mex eggrolls" ($7.95), crisp packages of corn, black beans, salsa, cheese and a rather spicy chicken with mellow avocado dipping cream. The massive serving was very tasty, with a nice melding of flavors.

    Onion rings come in a two-foot-high pile. The fillet of salmon ($15.95), a thick slice crusted with sesame and served with soy-ginger sauce, looks close to an entire fish. My "Navaho" sandwich had large strips of avocado and tender grilled chicken stuffed into real fry-bread (in Orlando?), a tasty bargain at $8.95. And the Thai lettuce wraps ($8.95) were a knockout, with curry noodles, satay chicken, sprouts and more to roll into hand-sized leaves.

    Ah, yes -- the cheesecake. More than 30 kinds, from regular to white-chocolate raspberry truffle to Kahlua-almond fudge. I had the "dulce de leche" caramel. There's a good reason for the takeout counter at the front; you'll want another piece by the time you hit the door.

    This must be a new strategy: Make portions so gigantic that two people can't even finish the appetizers and supply shopping bags emblazoned with "The Cheesecake Factory." Then send diners out into the world as stuffed and slightly sugar-rushed ambassadors. Signs above the restaurant offer loft apartments for lease. Think of it -- just call down from bed for all the cheesecake you can hold.

    The stylish mural outside Chez Vincent looks worthy of a cover of Vanity Fair from the 1930s. A lady and gentleman, in profile, sip from the same glass of wine and hint at what awaits within: seductive French cuisine in a casual, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Just weeks old, Chez Vincent is a shining new arrival on the spiffed-up streetscape in a happening enclave two blocks west of Park Avenue in Winter Park, and it promises to become a contender among the finest local restaurants.

    The smart interior – done in olives, taupes and creams – was conceived and executed by chef/co-owner Vincent Gagliano, formerly of Cafe de France. With just 15 tables, Chez Vincent is a restful oasis for a midday meal of hors d'oeuvres, soups and salads, or an elegant dinner with entrees that include Gulf shrimp sautéed in cream dill sauce ($18.50) and venison with sun-dried cherries in port wine sauce ($22.95). There's also an ample wine list, with 13 varieties served by the glass.

    The smart interior – done in olives, taupes and creams – was conceived and executed by chef/co-owner Vincent Gagliano, formerly of Cafe de France. With just 15 tables, Chez Vincent is a restful oasis for a midday meal of hors d'oeuvres, soups and salads, or an elegant dinner with entrees that include Gulf shrimp sautéed in cream dill sauce ($18.50) and venison with sun-dried cherries in port wine sauce ($22.95). There's also an ample wine list, with 13 varieties served by the glass.

    We were impressed with feuillettè d´escargots au porto, ($7.50), a crisp triangular puff pastry stuffed with dark, fleshy, sautéed snails and fortified by a sweet port wine sauce. The soupe du jour, vegetable ($3.95), was remarkable mainly for its excellent broth that had been simmering for several days, we were told, to enhance flavors of veal, leeks, thyme and carrots. Entrees are preceded by house salads, but I recommend upgrading to the unforgettable goat cheese salad, served warm with roasted pumpkin seeds over mixed baby greens ($2.65).

    We were impressed with feuillettè d´escargots au porto, ($7.50), a crisp triangular puff pastry stuffed with dark, fleshy, sautéed snails and fortified by a sweet port wine sauce. The soupe du jour, vegetable ($3.95), was remarkable mainly for its excellent broth that had been simmering for several days, we were told, to enhance flavors of veal, leeks, thyme and carrots. Entrees are preceded by house salads, but I recommend upgrading to the unforgettable goat cheese salad, served warm with roasted pumpkin seeds over mixed baby greens ($2.65).

    Among everything we ordered, the most outstanding was rack of lamb with blue cheese sauce ($21.50). Superbly tender, juicy portions of the rib were carved into chops and criss-crossed along the plate. A still life of sweet baby carrots and snow peas were arranged around the border, with a single rosette fashioned out of roasted apple skins. My guest enjoyed paupiette de poulet à la moutarde ($16.95), a boneless chicken breast pounded flat and rolled around an aromatic mixture of shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and Swiss cheese, with a country Dijon sauce.

    Among everything we ordered, the most outstanding was rack of lamb with blue cheese sauce ($21.50). Superbly tender, juicy portions of the rib were carved into chops and criss-crossed along the plate. A still life of sweet baby carrots and snow peas were arranged around the border, with a single rosette fashioned out of roasted apple skins. My guest enjoyed paupiette de poulet à la moutarde ($16.95), a boneless chicken breast pounded flat and rolled around an aromatic mixture of shiitake mushrooms, bell peppers and Swiss cheese, with a country Dijon sauce.

    For dessert, chilled Grand Marnier soufflé ($5.25) stood tall on a small plate, creamy with undertones of citrus. I appreciated the flavors more fully after waiting a bit for it to warm up. Bavarios de chocolate ($4.95) consisted of chocolate and raspberry mousse layers, surrounded by a pool of mango coulis.

    In William Least Heat-Moon's travel journal, Blue Highways, he says the best indicator of good diner food is how many calendars there are on the walls. I stipulate that the indicator of a worthwhile Cuban cafe is how long the smell stays on your clothes. And after a visit to Cindy's Tropical Cafe, the aroma of pressed Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains hung on my shirt for a solid 10 hours. Anything longer than six hours deserves a hats-off in my book.

    Cindy's "Daily Good Deals" are a welcome rendition of home-cooked comfort food. She offers a choice of thinly sliced pork, steak or chicken, white rice and black or pinto beans, fried sweet or green plantains, and a salad for a measly $5.99 -- and that's the high end of the menu.

    There's a wide array of small and large subs (meatball, "Midnight," Cuban and vegetarian), that cost from $2.99 to $6.59, all of which can be pressed. And Cindy's is open for breakfast, too. The only thing missing is picadillo, but there is a great "relleno de papa" ($1.25) that satisfies the spiced-ground-beef craving.

    Overall, Cindy's serves excellent no-frills food that's extremely light on the wallet. Stop in for deliciously aromatic Cuban dishes, and look elsewhere for your motor oil and TP.

    We all know what image the word "buffet" conjures up, and it's not a complimentary one if you're looking for a fine meal. Add "crazy" to that, all sorts of pictures spring to mind that would make the late eccentric filmmaker Ed Wood blush.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    So my problem is in finding an alternative phrase for a place called "Crazy Buffet" to describe how impressive it is. Part of a small chain, this location (open since October 2001) has a giant pink facade with a pagoda on top and "gee whiz" decor inside: The black-marble entry, bubbling streams and many dining rooms will make your mouth fall open.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    Called an "upscale Japanese" restaurant, many of the offerings are Chinese, including a not-too-sweet honey chicken, tofu-laden hot-and-sour soup, and crunchy, shell-on salt-and-pepper shrimp. Lo mein fans won't be disappointed; neither will seekers of peppery Szechuan beef.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    It's when you find bowls of Japanese udon noodles and crabmeat waiting for a ladle of rich broth, or sweet black-hijiki-seaweed salad, or rich and comforting miso soup, that things become interesting.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    I have had sushi made with higher grade fish locally, but I've also had a lot worse and paid a lot more. The best part for sushi lovers is that you can choose your favorite and eat all you want. Toasted salmon-skin rolls, California rolls, the interestingly different "house" roll that's fried on the outside with moist fish within, broiled unagi (eel), a refreshing, spicy chopped octopus, sweet red tuna -- the assortment changes with supply, but it's all worth a try.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Desserts, particularly the green-tea cake, are a step above the ordinary, and the bread -- always my first indicator of how much a restaurant cares about its food -- is superb.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Service (yes, there are servers who bring drinks and clear used plates) is attentive and polite. Lunch ($9.95, or $15.95 for weekend brunch) is a great deal for sushi fanatics, and dinner ($18.95 to $21.95, depending on the day) features a one-shot hibachi counter: Pick some vegetables, your meat of choice (chicken, beef, pork or seafood) and a sauce, and it will appear at your table.

    Think of it more as Asian communal eating rather than a buffet. And since there are Japanese creatures akin to foxes running wild in their native country, I'll coin a new phrase and say, "Crazy Buffet is crazy like a kitsune."

    Some of my greatest meal memories are from the original Dexter's in Winter Park. It was there that I discovered my love of sitting around a table for hours with friends, eating, drinking and conversing. The original Dexter's on Fairbanks Avenue was magnificent for this discovery, an absolutely pleasurable spot where you could linger and listen to music, sip wine and enjoy enlivening food.

    Then came Dexter's in Thornton Park, which became my morning-after remedy from long nights at the Go Lounge. I loved getting up and riding my bike over to Washington Street to have brunch. There was no better way to nurse a hangover than with a basket of sweet potato chips and a Dexter's "special" – a honey-cured mesquite-smoked turkey sandwich. When the original Dexter's moved to another location, in west Winter Park, I went a couple of times, mostly on dates before the movies or to grab a quick sandwich and tasty salad.

    I guess you could say that Dexter's and I have grown up together. Dexter's kind of supplied the comfort food of my early adult life, introducing me to such favorites as buccatini, jerk spice and smoked cheese. So when I heard Dexter's was growing again and moving north to the suburbs, I wasn't sure what to think. I mean, I'm not ready for the suburbs yet. And would it have the same cool warehouse-space feel? Would the food be just as simple and pleasing?

    The new Dexter's in Lake Mary suffers a little from what I like to call Multiple Growth Restaurant Syndrome, the pesky disorder that occurs when a restaurant has been getting it right for so long that they become formulaic. Don't worry, though. Dexter's is up and running and handling this minor affliction quite well. The first sign of MGRS is in the restaurant's sterile location in a spanking-new shopping plaza. To get to the restaurant, I had to navigate I-4 up to the Lake Mary exit, then pass by the marquee of a shopping mall and drive past endless rows of parking spaces. There's not much of a chance that I'll wake up on a breezy morning and hop on my bike for a ride over here. Each of the other Dexter's locations is unique in the way the business molds itself to the surroundings. The new entry offers a more manufactured ambience, but my friends and I still found the experience enjoyable in every way. This Dexter's was still the Dexter's I knew and loved.

    A beautiful glass wine-storage closet nestled in nicely by the bar, creating the fun, sophisticated flair Dexter's is so well known for. All of the comfort foods I crave were on the new menu, so I had to start with the basket of delicious "cha-cha" chips mixed with sweet chips ($1.95), which always kicks up my appetite.

    From the café menu, my friends ordered my beloved garlic buccatini with fresh pesto ($6.95), a delectable mix of Alfredo sauce, basil, pine nuts and thick, hollow egg noodles. We also tried the "low country crab cakes" ($11.95) and our resident Marylander gave them the thumbs-up – flaky and tender, packed with sweet crab flavor and piqued by plenty of fresh red pepper and onion.

    We tried some items from the chef's special menu and found them delicious, as well. The chef here has the familiar Dexter's flair for giving comfort-food ingredients an exciting twist. The "chipotle marinated pork tenderloin" ($17.95) was bursting with heady spices such as cumin and cilantro, complementing the smoky aroma of the chipotle pepper. The "grilled filet with Stilton-bacon-demi glace" ($22.95) was steak and potatoes at its best. The fillet, juicy and served medium rare, was compatibly married to the opulent flavors of bacon and blue cheese. All of the dishes were enhanced by the accompaniment of a reasonably priced bottle of Acacia pinot noir. To finish our dinner off, we virtually scarfed the very satisfying and solid crème brûlée ($4.50) and the decadently chocolate "two mousse brownie" ($4.50).

    When I got up from my meal I realized that I had, once again, passed a lively two hours with friends at Dexter's. So even if Dexter's has become a bit formulaic, hey, the formula works.

    With an attractive wait staff, eclectic art and 30-plus wines and champagnes, Dexter's makes you feel cool even if you're not. The unique selection of international beers is popular at this wine bar and café; the concrete floor means it can get noisy as hell.

    The new Dexter's in Winter Park no longer sells wine for retail, a practice left behind when the hot spot relocated to west Winter Park. Still, the reinvented landmark offers a more elevated wine experience than before, with a sommelier on staff to advance the "captain's list" of rare vintages, stored in a smart, white-washed Chicago-brick vault.

    With the oversized French doors open to the streetscape, the dining area is far more roomy. The butcher-block tables and stools have been replaced by low, cherry-wood tables with Art Deco chairs. And there's no shortage of parking (a problem that plagues Dexter's in Thornton Park). The dinner menu remains constant, and the "cafe menu" adds variety with seasonal items, such as the current hickory-smoked tuna tartare ($9.95). And from the buffed cement bar you can try 30 wines by the glass.

    Last week it was the Ravenous Pig; this week it’s the Drunken Monkey. In coming weeks, expect reviews on the Lecherous Hedgehog and the Fetid Squirrel. Seriously, attention-grabbing appellations can give a newly opened restaurant some much-needed buzz but, thanks to their very own coffee-bean roaster, Drunken Monkey does a pretty good job generating its own.

    And the inspiration for naming the café after a poggled primate? BAM! None other than Emeril Lagasse or, rather, Emeril Lagasse’s “Drunken Monkey” ice cream – a blend of white chocolate, bananas and rum. Co-owner Maureen Hawthorne says the name stuck during her stint at the portly superchef’s restaurant at Universal’s CityWalk. Plus, seeing that the other co-owner, Larry Hardin, is a proponent of Chinese martial arts (of which the Drunken Monkey form of kung fu is a part), endorsing the coffee house’s bibulous designation proved a cinch.

    Inside, a miscellany of découpaged tables, office chairs and vintage sofas make for a stylistic clash, and the same could be said about the menu. You’ll find everything from quiche and paella to soups and burritos, but unlike the building’s previous tenant (Conway’s BBQ), meat takes a backseat to a healthy offering of vegan and vegetarian fare. A wedge of jalapeño-streaked Southwest quiche ($5.95 with a cup of soup) was a perfectly portioned starter, only it was served partially warm and needed to be sent back, after which it was re-served too hot. French onion soup was superbly satisfying; no real surprise considering it was made by John Batcho, whose Soupçon Soups were a main draw at the College Park and Downtown Farmers Markets. His liquid gold is now sold exclusively at Drunken Monkey.

    The irony in the café’s proximity to Beefy King isn’t lost, though meat does make its appearance in some offerings. Shrimp, chicken and sausage are optional ingredients in paella ($6.95), but I made a conscious effort to eschew the wrath of these urban herbivores by ordering the meat-free version. Granted, it wasn’t served in a pan, and the aromatic splendor of saffron was absent, but the hodgepodge of veggies – onions, celery, peas, artichokes, olives, green beans and chickpeas – offered an interesting twist on this classic Spanish dish.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the Baja Dann ($4.50), a burrito stuffed with huevos, tomatoes, queso, caramelized onions and peppers and a black-bean spread, but a dunk in the pureed salsa really kicked it up a notch (pardon the Emeril-ism). A soy patty wedged between ciabatta bread comprised the veggie burger ($5.99), but I found the sandwich bland and unsatisfying, like other meatless burgers I’ve sampled.

    Desserts are small in stature, but large in flavor. Dense banana bread with chocolate chips ($2) partnered well with specialty coffee drinks like the Mojo Jojo ($3), a Vietnamese-style beverage with sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and vanilla flavoring. Triple-chocolate organic cookies ($1 for three) begged for a dip in the cappuccino ($3.10), and don’t overlook their fresh-squeezed juices, particularly the pleasurably tart limeade ($2).

    What I like about this coffeehouse is its inclusive, across-the-board vibe. As laid-back as it is eco-conscious, Drunken Monkey caters to Dandelion’s drum-circle set without alienating java junkies and meat-lovers. Service needs a little tweaking, but in a place like this, you get the sense that these folks won’t mind monkeying with the monkey.

    I'm sure Emeril Lagasse is a nice guy, a boy from small-town Fall River, Mass., who made it good in the food trade. People certainly seem to like him. But from the looks of his second restaurant at Universal Orlando, I get the feeling he has marble fountains and paintings on black velvet in his house.

    The gourmet production is called Tchoup Chop (pronounced "chop chop" and named after Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, home to Emeril's flagship), serving an oddly Polynesian/Thai/Hawaiian fare in the Royal Pacific Resort, which has an Indonesian theme. Giant glass-flower-blossom chandeliers and a central lily pond dominate the wicker and stone room, and each element is impressive by itself but jarring all together.

    The gourmet production is called Tchoup Chop (pronounced "chop chop" and named after Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans, home to Emeril's flagship), serving an oddly Polynesian/Thai/Hawaiian fare in the Royal Pacific Resort, which has an Indonesian theme. Giant glass-flower-blossom chandeliers and a central lily pond dominate the wicker and stone room, and each element is impressive by itself but jarring all together.

    Much is made of the cocktail menu, which takes up more room than the entrees, but a Bloody Mary with wasabi, soy sauce and sake somehow didn't appeal to me. The dumpling box ($7) was a better choice, steamed dim sum filled with a heavy pork-and-ginger mixture. They were similar to the "pot stickers" ($8), pan-fried shrimp dumplings with dipping sauce. Both were good, but not much different from the acres of dumplings elsewhere.

    Much is made of the cocktail menu, which takes up more room than the entrees, but a Bloody Mary with wasabi, soy sauce and sake somehow didn't appeal to me. The dumpling box ($7) was a better choice, steamed dim sum filled with a heavy pork-and-ginger mixture. They were similar to the "pot stickers" ($8), pan-fried shrimp dumplings with dipping sauce. Both were good, but not much different from the acres of dumplings elsewhere.

    The "creative clay pot of the day" ($18), offering firm fish (salmon on this night) with vegetables in a deep fish broth and overcooked rice, was an interesting dish but not particularly creative. A shame, since the kitchen is capable of glory. It's wonderful to discover new flavors, and the Kona-glazed duck ($22) was an outrageous combination of rich duck breast coated in caramelized coffee.

    The "creative clay pot of the day" ($18), offering firm fish (salmon on this night) with vegetables in a deep fish broth and overcooked rice, was an interesting dish but not particularly creative. A shame, since the kitchen is capable of glory. It's wonderful to discover new flavors, and the Kona-glazed duck ($22) was an outrageous combination of rich duck breast coated in caramelized coffee.

    The tuna salad ($9) consisted of ribbons of seared tuna served with sprouts and crisp cucumber in a vinegar/mustard sauce (good with the vegetables but overpowering the excellent fish) and garnished with a pansy blossom Ð and an aphid. I mention this bug incident not to demean the staff (it was a fresh flower and a tiny bug, these things happen), but to emphasize that the service, from manager down, has a long way to go. No apology was tendered, no visit by the wandering "suit"; the price of the salad was deducted from the bill almost as an afterthought.

    The tuna salad ($9) consisted of ribbons of seared tuna served with sprouts and crisp cucumber in a vinegar/mustard sauce (good with the vegetables but overpowering the excellent fish) and garnished with a pansy blossom Ð and an aphid. I mention this bug incident not to demean the staff (it was a fresh flower and a tiny bug, these things happen), but to emphasize that the service, from manager down, has a long way to go. No apology was tendered, no visit by the wandering "suit"; the price of the salad was deducted from the bill almost as an afterthought.

    There's an air of forced urgency in the constant swarming of waiters, water pourers and plate clearers, so conversation has to be done in bursts, as someone unnervingly appears at your elbow every few minutes to ask, "How is your entree? More water? Anything else?," even to the point of reading the menu to you. There are all the trappings of good service without the finesse. The Emeril folks aren't new to the restaurant trade, they should have learned something about service by now.

    There's an air of forced urgency in the constant swarming of waiters, water pourers and plate clearers, so conversation has to be done in bursts, as someone unnervingly appears at your elbow every few minutes to ask, "How is your entree? More water? Anything else?," even to the point of reading the menu to you. There are all the trappings of good service without the finesse. The Emeril folks aren't new to the restaurant trade, they should have learned something about service by now.

    Tchoup Chop puts on a good show, but it'll be a long journey until they're impressive.

    It’s no secret that Americans are a meat-eating bunch, and that the only time vegetables make it on the plate is when they’re in the form of french fries or iceberg lettuce. Recent studies have shown Americans forgoing vegetables in increasing numbers, with just a small percentage meeting the recommended daily value, but why? One plausible reason could be the manner in which vegetables are commonly prepared at home and at many restaurants – mushy, soggy, overcooked and bland. If more meat-eaters were exposed to properly prepared carrots, broccoli, peas and spinach, perhaps they wouldn’t react so negatively at the prospect of dining at a vegetarian or (gasp!) a vegan restaurant.

    Ethos Vegan Kitchen takes a valiant stab at showing condescending carnivores what herbivores already know – that meatless fare can be creative, satisfying and not just a side item to steak. That said, for those of you going vegan for the first time, more often it’s not the meat you’ll miss, but rather the items you’ve grown accustomed to at other restaurants: butter on bread, milk in coffee, cheese on pasta and whipped cream on dessert. However, even for a non-vegan and self-professed fromage-head like myself, the plate of macaroni & cheese ($4.95) proved gratifyingly gooey despite the use of cheese made from rice milk and soy cream mixed with, presumably, eggless pasta. Vegetable soup ($3.95), a hearty blend of potato chunks, carrots, broccoli, yellow squash and celery, met the minimum flavor requirement, but the broth could’ve been invigorated some with the addition of Scotch bonnet peppers, fire-roasted vegetables or a liberal sifting of paprika or cayenne.

    Similarly, sheep’s pie ($9.95) could’ve used a seasoned kick, but any pub in the U.K. would be hard-pressed to outmatch the casserole’s generous heaping of fluffy mashed potatoes. Even the pungent vegetable brown sauce enveloping a sauté of peas, onions, carrots and broccoli had beefy notes to it. I would’ve preferred the two ample slices of pecan-crusted eggplant ($12.95) to be cooked just a little more, but the slight caramelization of the pecans really gave the dish a pleasant bittersweetness. A thick mound of mashed potatoes and gravy was simply outstanding, while sautéed broccoli never tasted better. Though accompanying slices of bread were lovely, this was one place where I missed butter. A suggestion: Garlicky, herbaceous dipping oil would make a worthy substitute.

     

    Desserts whisked away any thoughts of butter and eggs, and the lack of such essential baking ingredients wasn’t to the detriment of the comforting warm apple galette ($2.25) with a wonderfully flaky crust and cinnamon-spiced sweet apples. The dense slab of chocolate cake ($1.50) wasn’t as moist as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t dry either. Double chocolate chip cookies ($1.25) were a pinch better than regular chocolate chip cookies, though, admittedly, I dunked them at home in a glass of milk (I know, I’m bad).

    The restaurant is situated on some prime property at the foot of Antique Row and truly exudes a chillax vibe, not surprising considering the same space once housed the Lava Lounge. Sleepy-eyed vegetarians opt for the candlelit tables in the cozy outdoor courtyard, with its Big Easy feel and bucolic view of giant oaks

    I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of eating an entire meal at a pub. Past experiences with pub grub – here and abroad – led me to believe that "authentic" doesn't necessarily mean "great." But the proprietors of Fiddler's Green prove that a focus on flavor, presentation and service can spell "gourmet" for traditional Irish cuisine.

    The restaurant retains the cozy atmosphere of its predecessors, Mulvaney's and Prince of Wales. It's got the same ornate woodwork, dart boards, Irish-themed knickknacks and entertainment stage. Now, there's a separate dining room that's upscale and intimate in a country-inn sort of way.

    Fiddler's Green offers a full selection of draft ales, lagers and stouts, which you can order by the pint or half-pint. While my guest and I waited, our server brought us a basket of thick, crumbly scones, which nicely offset the beer.

    We split an order of lightly browned potato pancakes with grated cheddar and scallions ($6.50; $5.95) topped with smoked salmon or sour cream and chives. Other appetizers include steamed mussels ($7.50) and smoked fish spread ($5.50). Dieters will be glad to know that the menu also includes your basic salad assortment.

    Along with a variety of sandwiches and burgers ($5.25-$8.95), Fiddler's entrees include standbys like corned beef and cabbage ($9.95); fish and chips, and "bangers and mash" (both $8.95). Among the more gourmet fare: grilled salmon with champagne sauce ($14.95) and roast duck ($15.95).

    I ordered the "Hen in a Pot" ($7.95), a scrumptious variation on chicken pot pie. Instead of pie crust, the "pot" was topped, hat-like, with a flaky pastry. The stew below was piping hot with big chunks of tender chicken and vegetables, seasoned just right.

    My companion stuck with another basic-but-hearty dish, Irish stew ($9.95). Once again, the seasonings – thyme, in this case – made this dish a standout. Presentation of both entrees was excellent, with extras like huge plates, fresh herbs and doilies. Desserts include bread and butter pudding, and blackberry/apple crumble ($3.95-$4.50). We were way too full to sample them.

    Great service and excellent food mean Fiddler's Green is not like most Irish pubs; it's better.

    Offbeat a.m.. fare ranges from a California vegetarian frittata to the meanest sausage-and-potatoes platter outside of Bavaria. Cheery, with generous portions and a limited lunch menu.

    Offbeat a.m.. fare ranges from a California vegetarian frittata to the meanest sausage-and-potatoes platter outside of Bavaria. Cheery, with generous portions and a limited lunch menu.

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