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    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 expect to be greeted with a remote beeper and a 20-minute wait for a table when we arrived at Le Peep on a Saturday morning. But then, it was our first visit, and those who live in the Bay Hill/Dr. Phillips area were way ahead of us. In fact, Le Peep has been packing them in for 12 years at the intersection of Kirkman and Conroy/Windermere roads.

    Le Peep was originally an upscale Aspen breakfast spot, founded by a ski buff who wanted to pay the bills and hit the slopes in the afternoon. As the restaurant has expanded into a national chain, some of the individual charm has given way to formulas and concepts. The menu reads like a series of cutesy one-liners, many of them trademarked, like the "pampered eggs," "berry patch waffles," "Sir Benedict omelettes" and "proud bird" chicken sandwiches.

    Le Peep was originally an upscale Aspen breakfast spot, founded by a ski buff who wanted to pay the bills and hit the slopes in the afternoon. As the restaurant has expanded into a national chain, some of the individual charm has given way to formulas and concepts. The menu reads like a series of cutesy one-liners, many of them trademarked, like the "pampered eggs," "berry patch waffles," "Sir Benedict omelettes" and "proud bird" chicken sandwiches.

    We were won over by the muffins. "Gooey buns" ($1.95) are nothing like they sound. They're actually English muffins transformed into toasted-brown-sugar-and-cinnamon rolls, and served with a dollop of cream cheese and a side of baked apples.

    We were won over by the muffins. "Gooey buns" ($1.95) are nothing like they sound. They're actually English muffins transformed into toasted-brown-sugar-and-cinnamon rolls, and served with a dollop of cream cheese and a side of baked apples.

    The dining area is a step up from a Denny's or a Perkins, with patio seating and umbrellas over some of the tables. Every table was filled, so the waiters were on their toes. But with an ever-present crowd of people waiting in line out front, there was understandably more emphasis on turning tables than encouraging customers to linger.

    The dining area is a step up from a Denny's or a Perkins, with patio seating and umbrellas over some of the tables. Every table was filled, so the waiters were on their toes. But with an ever-present crowd of people waiting in line out front, there was understandably more emphasis on turning tables than encouraging customers to linger.

    With dozens of combinations of omelets, skillet dishes, French toast, Belgian waffles and pancakes, there's something for everyone here. Some of it is original, like the "granola blues" pancakes that have crunch thanks to the blueberry granola ($4.55). But even better are the pancakes textured with sliced bananas and crumbled Southern pecans ($4.15).

    With dozens of combinations of omelets, skillet dishes, French toast, Belgian waffles and pancakes, there's something for everyone here. Some of it is original, like the "granola blues" pancakes that have crunch thanks to the blueberry granola ($4.55). But even better are the pancakes textured with sliced bananas and crumbled Southern pecans ($4.15).

    By comparison, "original French toast" ($4.50) isn't as exciting as the menu's detailed description. The thick slices of Vienna bread, soaked in custard batter and grilled until light and golden, taste like plain old French toast.

    By comparison, "original French toast" ($4.50) isn't as exciting as the menu's detailed description. The thick slices of Vienna bread, soaked in custard batter and grilled until light and golden, taste like plain old French toast.

    Many items are featured with hollandaise sauce, and a little bit of caution might be in order here. A heavy helping of the sauce weighed down an otherwise fine seafood skillet crepe ($6.15), which was filled with crabmeat, broccoli and veggies. On the side, "peasant potatoes" were a lame rendition of diced potatoes that tasted dry and flavorless.

    Many items are featured with hollandaise sauce, and a little bit of caution might be in order here. A heavy helping of the sauce weighed down an otherwise fine seafood skillet crepe ($6.15), which was filled with crabmeat, broccoli and veggies. On the side, "peasant potatoes" were a lame rendition of diced potatoes that tasted dry and flavorless.

    The "light" omelets are quite good, made with whipped egg-whites and light cheddar cheese. We liked "white lightning" ($6.15), a Southwestern version with chicken, green chiles and guacamole.

    The "light" omelets are quite good, made with whipped egg-whites and light cheddar cheese. We liked "white lightning" ($6.15), a Southwestern version with chicken, green chiles and guacamole.

    And if you're a fan of fresh-squeezed orange juice, Le Peep offers one of the best deals in town. A half-liter carafe ($2.95) easily serves two, and then some.

    And if you're a fan of fresh-squeezed orange juice, Le Peep offers one of the best deals in town. A half-liter carafe ($2.95) easily serves two, and then some.

    With its wide variety of breakfast and brunch meals, Le Peep fills a niche in the high-traffic area. But there isn't anything new going on here that would drive hungry brunchers to traveling extremes.

    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.

    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.

    When Brennan's of Houston started the whole chef's table phenomenon back in 1985, the thought was that a little cook-diner interaction in the kitchen (and not the kind doled out at the local Benihana) would offer patrons a glimpse into the world of the culinary artist, while providing a testing ground for the chef's creativity. Since then, the concept has been watered down, as happens to trends, though that hasn't prevented the local foodie trail from passing through Winter Garden, where the Chef's Table sits within the historically quaint walls of the Edgewater Hotel.

    Chef's Tables, plural, might be a more apropos moniker for Kevin and Laurie Tarter's restaurant. The intimate dining room has about 10 tables, all in full or partial view of the kitchen where Kevin and sous-chef Crystal Womelsdorf, both alumni of Disney's California Grill, ply their craft. But intimate as it is, don't expect any cozy confabs with the chef, though a small window of banter opportunity does exist if Tarter serves a course at your table himself. On my visit, it was Womelsdorf serving the appetizer course, but the flourishes emerging from her kitchen were impressive nevertheless.

    A three-course prix fixe menu ($46.99) puts the focus on quality, the proof being in the pudding that came in the form of a luscious foie gras crème brûlée. Green apples and goat cheese complete the flavor trifecta of this decadently creamy delicacy. Simplicity is a virtue in the torte; the earthy wild mushrooms and assertive gruyère cheese give weight to this flaky first course. A mushroom reduction and beurre blanc sauce validates Womelsdorf's ascension in the kitchen, temporary though it may have been.

    Mains are also superbly, and confidently, executed. Two fat medallions of sesame-crusted, sushi-grade tuna were perfectly seared and elegantly propped on a bed of Asian slaw and noodles that lent a pleasant crunch to the dish. (You may find yourself asking for more wasabi mayonnaise.) Fire-grilled New York strip was lent flair by a blue cheese'red wine emulsion and well-whipped mashed potatoes. The Tarters are both budding sommeliers, so it's no surprise that wine pairings (an optional three-glass offering, $21.99) are thoughtfully listed for every dish. A fresh, delicate glass of Leon Beyer pinot blanc ($8) with the fish and a hearty Langhorne Crossing shiraz-cabernet ($8) with the steak proved ideal complements.

    For the final course, berries sauté consist of an irresistible mix of blue-, black-, straw- and raspberries floating in a Grand Marnier sauce, along with a sweet biscuit and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. I didn't care much for the biscuit ' I would've preferred a spongy cake of some sort. The thick peanut butter crème anglaise made the chocolate soufflé a too-substantial meal-ender. If you fancy a savory fromage rather than a sweet finale, a modest five-cheese tasting course ($14.99) is also offered for your post-meal pleasure.

    And pleasure is central at the Chef's Table. Kitchen creations aside, the wood floors and beautiful stained glass enhance the aesthetic gratification, and if you happen to dine here as the sun sets, you'll find yourself awash in a warm, luminescent glow ' although, sun or no sun, that's sure to happen anyway.

    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.

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