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    Neighborhood jewel offers an eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, with Indian, Latin and Asian influences on the horizon. Curry-crusted fish is deftly executed, as is chef Bret Ashman's intriguing take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina. A delightful smoked onion mince offers a contempo take on traditional Caprese salad. The wine list is ample and studied. Sunday brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. 


    Teaser: Neighborhood jewel offers an eclectic pan-Mediterranean menu, with Indian, Latin and Asian influences on the horizon. Curry-crusted fish is deftly executed, as is chef Bret Ashman's intriguing take on gnocchi alla Sorrentina. A delightful smoked onion mince offers a contempo take on traditional Caprese salad. The wine list is ample and studied. Sunday brunch offered from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    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.

    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.

    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

    Having indulged in my fair share of cottage pies at Jimmy Mulvaney’s charming, unpretentious Irish boozer Claddagh Cottage, I was more than a little intrigued when word came that the pub owner (along with wife Kathy and food-service veterans Lisa and Rick Boyd) had taken over Scruffy Murphy’s once-future home to open an upscale gastropub fronted by a cordon bleu chef. Given Mulvaney’s deft skills as a bar proprietor, I was less concerned about the “pub” than I was the “gastro,” but as it turned out, the kitchen ultimately held up its end of the deal.

    The “gastro,” it should be noted, is segregated from the “pub” next door and showcases Mulvaney’s skills as master artisan. Not only did he lay down the hardwood floors and take care of the wiring, Mulvaney junky-to-funkied the wooden desks left behind by the previous tenants and transformed them into beautifully crafted (if slightly upright) seating booths done in a rustic 1900s-era style. The quaint interior, with its low ceiling and exposed piping, is reminiscent of Claddagh Cottage, only decidedly classier and, at least on this Saturday evening, significantly quieter. If it weren’t for the catchy riff of “Day Tripper” and other Beatles classics being piped over the sound system, I’d likely be able to make out conversations in the kitchen. As a result, an unrivaled level of personalized service prevailed which, at times, bordered on intrusive, but it was understandable given the dearth of patrons.

    And given chef Cody Patterson’s blue ribbon status, the menu, understandably, leans heavily on French cuisine. I was hoping for Irish soda bread inside the complimentary carb basket, but no such luck. Instead, it was beef and barley soup ($4) that offered a small taste of the Emerald Isle with its generous mélange of carrots, corn, green beans, peas and potatoes. Too bad the beef was lacking, and the few miniature morsels I did manage to sift out were ground, not cubed.

    “Stop light prawns” ($9), so named because the trio of accompanying sauces resemble a stoplight, fared a little better. The fried plump curls were a smidgen greasy, but a dip into the olfactory-retarding wasabi mayo sauce proved to be the ultimate redeemer, while sweet mango chutney and zesty cocktail sauce were just as exceptional.

    The Harp house salad ($4) left me wanting more – more brie, to be exact. The one negligible piece of warm soft cheese is a cruel addition to the mix of tomatoes, field greens, red onions and croutons. After all, no fromage-lover could eat just one small bite of brie; I’d rather they serve a significant slab of cheese with a berry compote, and let the greens be an adjunct to the dish, even if it meant an increase in price.

    The two entrees I sampled were, conversely, flawless. Lamb persillade ($22) featured two racks of two chops each rubbed with honey mustard and rosemary, grilled, then roasted for a crisp finish. Creamy saffron risotto and grilled zucchini were ideal sides, but gnawing the utterly luscious flesh off the bone was what made this dish a truly enjoyable feast. The 10-ounce Angus beef filet ($33) was a tad overdone, but a superbly flavorful and prodigious cut nonetheless.

    Desserts aren’t prepared in-house as yet, but don’t let that prevent you from indulging in the fabulous chocolate bombe ($6). The dome-shaped confection envelops airy dark and white chocolate mousse and rich chocolate ganache. Call me picky, but I didn’t care much for the raspberry drizzle, nor did I care much for the key lime pie ($4) which

    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.

    Seasoned shoppers will tell you that if you plan to tackle the holiday madness in any of Orlando's major malls, a good pair of walking shoes is just as important as strict adherence to the 3 Ps ' patience, perseverance and pancakes. Yes, pancakes. Or waffles, eggs, cereal, yogurt ' whatever your breakfast meal of choice happens to be. A good start is critical, even essential, when the time comes to elbow a septuagenarian or two out of the way for that marked-down sweater at the Gap.

    So, if the Mall at Millenia happens to be your credit-leavener of choice, consider popping into this area brekkie joint for some pre-shopping sustenance, though judging from the quick closure of the previous tenant ' Mama Fu's Noodle House ' and the demise of the neighboring Storehouse furniture store and the Testa Rossa Caffe, you'd better hurry.

    The interior hasn't veered much from its Mama Fu's days; in fact, even some of the waiters are holdovers, as is the maddening '80s and '90s pop music playing overhead. The coffee-colored walls, suspension lighting and floor-to-ceiling windows tender a level of slickness a step above your local First Watch or IHOP, and the breakfast fare, though not dazzling, is properly satisfying.

    Where else to start but with the classic Belgian waffle ($5.59)? The signature from Brussels is light, crispy and simple. The lone square-shaped hotcake is a refreshingly minimalist breakfast portion, served in a square dish with an orange slice and a wee bowl of butter. But the only available liquid topping is table syrup, which is essentially super-thick high-fructose corn syrup. Is it too much to ask for a breakfast joint to serve real 100 percent maple syrup instead of this fabricated goop? Yeah, it's a tad more expensive, but if I'm paying six bucks for a waffle, I'll gladly foot a few extra cents for real maple syrup. Until that day comes, your only choice is to head over to your nearest supermarket, purchase some fancy grade-A Canadian maple syrup and carry it with you the next time you dine at this or any other pancake/waffle house. It'll make your meal considerably more gratifying and, really, it's no different than bringing your own hot sauce to a restaurant.

    My dining partner opted for the granola crunch waffle ($6.69). For $1.10 more than the Belgian waffle, you get a sprinkling of rolled oats and raisins along with a plate of whipped cream. I have to admit, it just didn't look very appetizing. Perhaps it was because the granola looked like chicken feed scattered over a subway grate, or that waffles and granola seem about as culinarily mismatched as foie gras and Cheerios. No matter, traditionalists can select from other, less health-food-y options such as chocolate chip, baked pecan and strawberries with cream.

    Similarly flavored pancakes are also offered, as are a range of omelets in time-honored ingredient combos, but I was more intrigued by the Florida french toast ($6.79). Though I expected to see wheat germ, bananas, strawberries and powdered sugar dusted over thick slabs of Franco-American-inspired toast, our austere waitress set down a plate of four fluffy slabs of regular french toast ($5.79). Though I was disappointed by the lack of Floridian embellishment, my frustration was tempered by the aesthetically appealing plating and the savory cinnamon-tinged eggy bread, which I ravenously devoured.

    The Florida Waffle Shop also has a selection of burgers, sandwiches, salads and other lunchtime faves on hand, all of which can be enjoyed until 3 p.m., and their 'you've got to love it guaranteeâ?� ensures customers are satisfied with their orders. But until I can pour real maple syrup on my griddled cakes, complete customer satisfaction will evade me. Guess what's on my shopping list?

    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.

    With a commitment to nose-to-tail cookery and a fine selection of accessible-but-atypical cuts, this "Southern Public House" has already reached legendary status. James and Julie Petrakis' latest venture (now available only to ticketed airline passengers, as it's behind security at MCO) serves terrific nouveau-Southern fare -- grilled lamb heart, ethereal pork belly, foie gras-stuffed quail and a country-ham tasting flight, to name just a few. Pair your meal with a house-made brew or craft cocktail.

    Captain's Cove is a hidden treasure! We are located at a marina that overlooks the beautiful St. John's River. We are now offering an extensive frozen drink menu and tasty selections from our outside grill.
    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.

    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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    I'll never forget when a fun, pretty girl from out of town joined my high school halfway through junior year. It caused quite a stir with the popular crowd, and the trendiest girls were all in a tizzy, threatened by their sudden change in status. They eventually began to imitate her language and style. The same may happen with newcomer Luma on Park. I imagine other restaurants of her caliber ducking for cover, reorganizing, emulating.

    Terrazzo spreads over a cozy bar and a vivacious dining room, partitioned by a glass-encased stairwell that leads to an impressive wine cellar. Beyond a backdrop of stylish wood, leather, metal and marble sits an open kitchen. Luma is scattered with nooks that allow patrons to be comfortably alone, while still part of the lively room. Polka-dotted rugs and circles of chairs in the bar create miniature, but exceedingly stylish, private spaces. Likewise with long pub tables, spacious booths and rooms created for bigger parties.

    My meals have been flawless. The ambience – gorgeous. But I want to address two issues: One, their hosting system needs help. I arrived with reservations and still waited for over an hour on one visit. My second issue has to do with the bathrooms. When did design trump function in restaurant bathrooms? It's hard to find your way in, and then all the locks on the stalls are broken. Not pleasant.

    But on to the food, which is the reason to visit Luma. Executive chef Todd Immel has put together an inspiring selection of dishes that are creative, comforting and trendy. His passion for food exudes through the ingredients he selects, the way he marries them together, and the way he presents them.

    More than half of the menu is dedicated to quick bites, all enticing, which makes it difficult to choose. Keep in mind that the menu changes seasonally and according to availability, but here's a sampling: On one occasion we had clams "al forno" ($12), littlenecks floating in silky Mediterranean broth with wine, rosemary and pancetta. Chickpeas lent an earthy flavor that contrasted well with the oceany cockles.

    Ravioli ($10) was an austere dish of six pillows stuffed with goat cheese, orange zest and fennel pollen. Eating them was like riding on the top of autumn while looking back to the summer.

    Delicately gamey rabbit terrine ($12) was served cold with the traditional accompaniment of cornichons. In place of prepared mustard was a clever mustard ice cream that dispersed the piquant flavor wider on the palate.

    Luma's fennel salad ($9) puts the pale green fennel bulb to delicious use. Licorice overtones were enhanced by tangy pomegranate and orange slices. The flavor could have stopped there, but to this colorful salad, they added aged pecorino cheese for a hint of nuttiness.

    Could it get any better than this? We weren't sure until the entrees arrived. They were beautifully presented with a gentle touch. Food that manages to be pretty without looking too fussed over is most pleasing, and Luma is gifted in the art of presentation.

    Diver scallops ($21) were plump and had a caramelized crust poised gracefully on tender, pristine flesh. Like a floral centerpiece, purple and red radish salad rested colorfully in the middle of the plate, graced by citrusy sauce. Rich olive tapenade, which at first seemed out of place, proved to enhance the flavor.

    I had chicken "sous vide" ($17), made by vacuum sealing. I am fascinated with this high-tech-preservation-method-cum-gourmet-preparation that every top chef – from Keller to Ducasse – is taking for a spin. The flavorful chicken was tender and well-seasoned but nothing special. The accompaniment of creamy polenta and braised collard greens added much depth.

    The duck ($20) took my breath away. With tender breast meat fanned out, this dish displayed a flavorful crust and pink flesh that yielded to a tender center. Accompanying this was a ring of butternut squash with a mystifyingly airy texture. A hint of lemon lingered on my tongue, leaving me wanting more.

    The sirloin ($24), too, was deftly prepared. This slab of Niman Ranch's best was well-teamed with spicy watercress and creamy Gorgonzola, topped by dollop of port reduction.

    The dessert were awe-inspiring, with a style all their own. The sweet corn pudding ($6) couldn't be more alluring. With macerated blackberries and a touch of fried polenta, the flavors lingered like a remembrance of something innovative yet familiar. Just like Luma itself.

    Haute-Texican cuisine with Portuguese flourishes gives cause to visit this industrial-chic Park Avenue-area resto. From shrimp piri-piri to pollo pibil to duck confit tacos, chef Chico employs traditional and contemporary methods to skillfully render his dishes. If ordering Mexican doughnuts, it's possible you may get lemony Portuguese malassadas instead, sans cinnamon.

    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."

    The Celt bids you "céad míle fáilte," and it's the closest downtown Orlando gets to a genuine Irish pub experience. Pound a plate of Irish nachos, slide over a few pints of Guinness, and you won't want to be anywhere else for the rest of the evening – probably because your legs will stop working at some point. This traditional Celtic haven feels like home from the moment you walk through the door till you part ways and stumble on home.

    To celebrate their third birthday, House of Blues has strayed a bit from its Southern menu, introducing dishes that might be based on Delta traditions but have taken a few detours.

    First, some HOB dining secrets. After listening to the "30-minute wait" speech and getting a beeper from the hostess, you should stroll around back to the Voodoo Garden. It overlooks the lake, there's live music, and – best of all – there's often an empty table. Second: The Voodoo Garden music ends at 10 p.m., when it becomes a very peaceful place to dine. The last secret? Order extra rosemary corn bread – even at $3.95 – since it's moist, crunchy and satisfying.

    First, some HOB dining secrets. After listening to the "30-minute wait" speech and getting a beeper from the hostess, you should stroll around back to the Voodoo Garden. It overlooks the lake, there's live music, and – best of all – there's often an empty table. Second: The Voodoo Garden music ends at 10 p.m., when it becomes a very peaceful place to dine. The last secret? Order extra rosemary corn bread – even at $3.95 – since it's moist, crunchy and satisfying.

    The staple "seafood gumbo" ($3.95 a cup) has a flavorful soup base, which takes a lot of concentration to notice, since the slightly burnt taste of blackened seasonongs masks everything. With almost none of the promised ingredients showing up (andouille sausage, shrimp, oysters and crawfish are listed, but you couldn't prove it by me), it's not the enjoyable dish it could be.

    The staple "seafood gumbo" ($3.95 a cup) has a flavorful soup base, which takes a lot of concentration to notice, since the slightly burnt taste of blackened seasonongs masks everything. With almost none of the promised ingredients showing up (andouille sausage, shrimp, oysters and crawfish are listed, but you couldn't prove it by me), it's not the enjoyable dish it could be.

    Options for appetizers include "Caribbean jerk chicken wings in Pickapepper sauce" ($8.95) and "seared Gulf shrimp with Blackened Voodoo Beer" ($10.25). For the latter, six decent-sized shrimp come coated in a dark, spicy sauce, the deep flavor accented by a mound of radish sprouts. It's a good precursor of the interesting combinations of textures and flavors to follow.

    Options for appetizers include "Caribbean jerk chicken wings in Pickapepper sauce" ($8.95) and "seared Gulf shrimp with Blackened Voodoo Beer" ($10.25). For the latter, six decent-sized shrimp come coated in a dark, spicy sauce, the deep flavor accented by a mound of radish sprouts. It's a good precursor of the interesting combinations of textures and flavors to follow.

    For the "ahi tuna salad" ($10.95), rare slices of quickly seared tuna are wound around a heap of red cabbage and topped in a drizzle of wasabi mayonnaise. The fish is sushi-grade and splendid, and while the cabbage is a bit too oversoyed, the crisp texture offsets the buttery feel of the fish.

    For the "ahi tuna salad" ($10.95), rare slices of quickly seared tuna are wound around a heap of red cabbage and topped in a drizzle of wasabi mayonnaise. The fish is sushi-grade and splendid, and while the cabbage is a bit too oversoyed, the crisp texture offsets the buttery feel of the fish.

    Some of the so-called "Southern specials" come from South Elsewhere. I don't think any bayou cook has ever rustled up a mess of "chicken and penne pasta with wild mushroom cream sauce and Gouda cheese" ($14.95). The "grilled rosemary chicken" ($14.95) comes nicely charcoaled and juicy, along with mashed potatoes that are richly creamy and wonderfully lumpy at the same time, and perfect, tender sautéed asparagus.

    Some of the so-called "Southern specials" come from South Elsewhere. I don't think any bayou cook has ever rustled up a mess of "chicken and penne pasta with wild mushroom cream sauce and Gouda cheese" ($14.95). The "grilled rosemary chicken" ($14.95) comes nicely charcoaled and juicy, along with mashed potatoes that are richly creamy and wonderfully lumpy at the same time, and perfect, tender sautéed asparagus.

    Our attentive server recommended the "white chocolate banana bread pudding" (all desserts $5.95). CrÈme anglaise and dark-chocolate drizzles accent the muffinlike pudding, but by the time we got to the car I felt several pounds heavier. Try the "sweet potato cheesecake" for something lighter.

    Our attentive server recommended the "white chocolate banana bread pudding" (all desserts $5.95). CrÈme anglaise and dark-chocolate drizzles accent the muffinlike pudding, but by the time we got to the car I felt several pounds heavier. Try the "sweet potato cheesecake" for something lighter.

    HOB will always be a theme restaurant, but this theme has the food to back it up.

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