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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.

    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.

    On a trip to Medina's Restaurant I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Arthur Hoppe, longtime columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle: "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." The corollary to that is: "Never let the restaurant get in the way of a good dinner."

    I enjoyed Medina's, and so do many others who frequent this local landmark. Medina's specializes in hearty Cuban and Puerto Rican home-cooking, and that alone brings 'em back for more -- from businessmen on cell phones to college couples in jeans and flip-flops.

    I enjoyed Medina's, and so do many others who frequent this local landmark. Medina's specializes in hearty Cuban and Puerto Rican home-cooking, and that alone brings 'em back for more -- from businessmen on cell phones to college couples in jeans and flip-flops.

    But Medina's counters its word-of-mouth popularity with spotty service. The pace was glacial on a recent evening, but nobody appeared to mind, maybe because it's such a humble setting. The dining area is festooned with homey touches, almost like it's set up for a birthday party. Murals of Latin beaches are framed by twinkling Christmas lights. Crêpe streamers are twirled across the ceiling. A board lists "especialidades de dia."

    But Medina's counters its word-of-mouth popularity with spotty service. The pace was glacial on a recent evening, but nobody appeared to mind, maybe because it's such a humble setting. The dining area is festooned with homey touches, almost like it's set up for a birthday party. Murals of Latin beaches are framed by twinkling Christmas lights. Crêpe streamers are twirled across the ceiling. A board lists "especialidades de dia."

    An array of side-orders make good appetizers, like the empanada (99 cents), a succulent meat turnover, the pastry neatly crimped and fried until crispy and dry. Tamal preparado ($2.39) was a variation on the traditional tamale, with soft, sweet corn dough topped with thin-sliced roast pork and melted white cheese. Even better was the croquetta ($2.39), a tubular roll of minced, seasoned ham, breaded and deep fried.

    An array of side-orders make good appetizers, like the empanada (99 cents), a succulent meat turnover, the pastry neatly crimped and fried until crispy and dry. Tamal preparado ($2.39) was a variation on the traditional tamale, with soft, sweet corn dough topped with thin-sliced roast pork and melted white cheese. Even better was the croquetta ($2.39), a tubular roll of minced, seasoned ham, breaded and deep fried.

    While waiting -- and waiting -- for our entrees, we dallied over bottles of Polar Beer ($2.39), a South American import that tastes a lot like Old Milwaukee. Finally the waitress returned with a delicious plate of bistec de palomilla, steak Cuban-style ($4.89), a simple cut of beef pounded thin, lightly seasoned and slightly charred. Arroz blanco was proof that white rice never need be bland. The grains were pearly and plump, glistening with a bit of oil. Black beans were stewed until tender in a thick, natural gravy. My friend's lechon adado, or roast pork ($5.89), was a lean cut of meat, yet juicy. He had more of the beans and rice, and sweet, firm platanos maduros, or ripened plantains (99 cents).

    While waiting -- and waiting -- for our entrees, we dallied over bottles of Polar Beer ($2.39), a South American import that tastes a lot like Old Milwaukee. Finally the waitress returned with a delicious plate of bistec de palomilla, steak Cuban-style ($4.89), a simple cut of beef pounded thin, lightly seasoned and slightly charred. Arroz blanco was proof that white rice never need be bland. The grains were pearly and plump, glistening with a bit of oil. Black beans were stewed until tender in a thick, natural gravy. My friend's lechon adado, or roast pork ($5.89), was a lean cut of meat, yet juicy. He had more of the beans and rice, and sweet, firm platanos maduros, or ripened plantains (99 cents).

    We were there about 45 minutes longer than necessary, but it was a pleasant stay. We might have been there even longer, except my friend ventured past the door that warned "Waitress Only" to ask for dessert and the check. But I did enjoy the flan con coco ($1.39), a rich custard with sweet coconut meat.

    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.

    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.

    Mimis Cafe is new construction trying to wear an old-world face. Sitting on Millenia Boulevard, on the fringe of our most popular consumer mecca, there wasn't anything authentic or quaint about it.

    Actually, Mimis is exactly the kind of restaurant I hate. Don't get me wrong, the food is fine. Not great, but good enough. What I hate about this kind of restaurant is the jumbled, unfocused menu of more than 100 items. Mimis features everything from comfort food to New Orleans jambalaya to diner fare to brunch to pseudo-Asian to middle-of-the-road Italian – all of it trying too hard to unexceptionally please the masses. Also distasteful are the bright, prefabricated rooms filled with assembled paraphernalia – a fake 2-foot wrought-iron porch hosting a phony candlelit table hovered over our table. When dining at an establishment like Mimis, one can't help but think of the market surveys and trend magazines that must have inspired it.

    The ruling theme at Mimis is New Orleans, although one can't help but wonder why. I searched and searched for an answer. Was the founder/CEO Tom Simms from New Orleans? No. Did he spend a lot of time there? No. Was his muse Mimi Cajun? No.

    "We used to be more French countryside," the PR representative told me. "But we found that the New Orleans theme had BROADER APPEAL." Say no more.

    So Mimis has nothing to do with New Orleans, despite the décor, and even the proprietors do not consider it a New Orleans-style restaurant. Mimis, in fact, started in 1978 in Orange County, Calif., as a place that served hearty portions of freshly prepared food at reasonable prices. And that mission is what Mimis continues to do moderately well. The only problem is that when you see a New Orleans theme you mouth-wateringly expect Cajun or Creole dishes, which are sparse on their bloated menu. We tried the pasta jambalaya ($12.29), an oversized dish of penne with chicken, shrimp, sausage and pork tossed in a lightly spicy sauce. It was good enough to finish, but lacked depth. The other Cajun-style offerings on the menu included popcorn shrimp ($8.99), a Cajun chicken sandwich ($8.79) and a rather large portion of bread pudding with whiskey sauce ($4.79). Clearly, none of these dishes were made by that breed of New Orleans chef who has the flavor of the "holy trinity" (green peppers, onions and celery) running through his or her veins.

    As for comfort food, I tried the barbecue meat loaf ($9.99), which is made fresh daily. The meat was tender and flavorful, while the sauce was a sticky, sweet concoction that seemed a cross between pan gravy and Texas-style barbecue sauce.

    We tried the soup special, corn chowder ($3.99), which was a little on the thick side but was spiked with fresh red peppers and sweet kernels of corn.

    As of last July, the Bob Evans restaurant company has owned Mimis Cafe, and they are expanding (like every other chain outfit). By next spring they'll have gone from zero to six restaurants in Florida alone. A new store already opened in Altamonte Springs on Feb. 15 and I have to wonder: Will Orlando's local market take to it as well as tourists have?

    Fill your belly at Mimis, yes. But if you really want to eat – in the sense of engaging in a transcendent journey of culinary sensations – head somewhere that is run by passion rather than market surveys.

    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.

    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."

    Village Tavern features a wide-ranging menu of inventive American food. Only the finest ingredients are incorporated into each dish, including fresh produce, made-from-scratch pizza dough and Certified Angus beef that is cut and aged to exclusive specifications.

    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.

    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.

    Combination lunch-and-dinner restaurant with weekend entertainment shows, stand-up comedy, bands and other live arts performances.

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

    My friend and I got to Harvey's Heathrow around 5 p.m., just as they were opening for the evening. We sidled into a bar booth and eagerly embraced our bronze paper menus. As my eyes rested on a delightful-sounding onion and ale soup with Gouda ($5), my friend said, "Oh, look. The beautiful people are arriving."

    Startled out of my menu-reading trance, I looked up to watch a gaggle of golf shirts strutting in accompanied by fake boobs. Welcome to the Lake Mary dining scene, where replicas of great restaurants are set amidst the sprawl of construction.

    The original Harvey's, a downtown Orlando establishment for more than 10 years, has decidedly kept up with the dining times, even if it's a little dated in appearance. The new Heathrow site has an updated appearance, while still maintaining the delicious set of standards upheld by the original.

    The Harvey's in Heathrow differs from the original in one respect: The room is lighter and brighter and more airy than the dark-wood, bottom-floor-of-a-bank original. A shotgun dining room juts out from a spacious bar and is bathed in mint green and russet. Adorning every nook and cranny are design elements made of geometrical shapes – like the giant orb lamps suspended near small, angular square paintings.

    We ordered a first course of lobster bisque ($5) and artichoke and cashew salad ($7) as we perused the menu for more. The lobster bisque was perfect: Sweet lobster meat mixed with rich, heavy cream that hit the tongue first. Then a subtle heat followed, tinged with pungent garlic and fragrant tarragon. Finally, a note of acidic sherry burst through, while the taste of cream still lingered. I was so absorbed that I barely had a chance to taste my friend's salad, but she insisted. Raspberry vinaigrette draped over greens and whole cashews made for a bright, clean flavor that paired well with artichoke hearts. We also tried Harvey's version of Caprese salad ($7), a mixture of underripe red and perfectly ripened yellow tomatoes stacked with fresh mozzarella cheese. This is a dish in which most restaurants miss the point. Let's face it: This is a seasonal salad, at its best when the ingredients are so fresh that the tomatoes are picked an hour before they're served (why even bother with a tasteless, green tomato?) and the cheese has been hand-pulled by the owner's grandmother in the basement. Unfortunately, Harvey's didn't quite meet that expectation, but the fresh basil and a crude pesto gave it some spunk.

    The entrees are a mix of surf and turf with a few pasta dishes thrown in. My friend ordered the grilled petite tenderloin ($24), a succulent center cut of beef, well seasoned and cooked exactly to her desired doneness. A mélange of jardinière snow peas, carrots and onions, cooked tender with a refreshing snap of crispness, were dynamite. I eschewed my usual pot roast ($17) to try herb-crusted sea scallops on angel hair ($18). Drenched in a silky sauce of wine, garlic and clams, the pasta was irresistible. A few dollops of sautéed spinach made a bed for the herb-encrusted scallops, which tasted superb with nice salinity and a wonderful crust of herbed batter. But the four scallops themselves were a tad overcooked and on the rubbery side. There are many other choices, but if you like duck, don't miss the roasted half duck with triple sec and pistachio glaze ($19), a tribute to the undervalued bird.

    For a nibble at the bar, I recommend ordering a bowl of truffle fries ($6), dusted with Parmesan and tossed with lightly fried shiitake mushrooms. They had a deft hand with truffle oil in the kitchen, and this dish was magic, instead of a mouthful of perfume.

    We were full by dessert, but we couldn't resist at least sharing a slice of Key lime pie ($5), a pleasing balance of tartness and sweetness.

    Harvey's is another successful addition to the expanding dining scene of the Lake Mary/ Heathrow area. Even if this part of town represents a maze of highways, malls, construction and suburban sprawl that I don't appreciate, at least they know how to eat up here.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    No longer burdened by his eponymous chophouse in Longwood, restaurateur Manny Tato can now focus energies on his chain of Spice Modern Steakhouses in Winter Park, Heathrow and the soon-to-open downtown locale that once housed the Lake Eola Yacht Club. And judging from the inherent swank his Park Avenue steakhouse exudes, its longevity should outlast the space’s predecessor, R Bistro, though I have to say the split-room layout is a little odd and lacks consistent sophistication.

    On one side sits the bar/lounge, where the inebriated wails of martini-soaked fashionistas drown out the vanilla-tinged melodies of live entertainment. What’s worse is that the hybrid cacophony filters its way through the divide and into the dining room, not enough to rattle the postmodern art off the walls but enough to warrant my waiter’s remark, “Didn’t know you were dining in a nightclub, did you?”

    Still, there’s a fair amount of culinary dash to go along with this supper club’s ornamental flash. The generous round of baked brie ($9) was flawlessly executed, right down to the flaky, golden-brown pastry, and a dip in the strawberry compote made it all the better. Guinness-marinated fried oysters ($12) were lightly battered and fried to a subtle crisp, but the accompanying hoisin-soy sauce resulted in a bittersweet clash of east and west.

    For a steakhouse, there weren’t many cuts from which to choose – only five, in fact, along with pork and lamb chops. But the two cuts of beef I did sample were top-notch; actually, they were “upper choice,” a USDA grade not quite as good as prime, but exceptional nonetheless. The 12-ounce center-cut filet ($36), a wonderfully tender chunk of beef, may put a dent in your wallet, but your palate will be forever indebted. I’ve always thought it offensive to adulterate a great piece of beef with béarnaise or hollandaise, but I’ll admit the chimichurri-ish cilantro-garlic sauce ($3) was a worthy dip for the filet.

    No need for dressings of any sort with the vibrantly flavorful 16-ounce ribeye ($25), its synthesis of meat and marbling making for a rapturous melt-in-your-mouth affair. Both steaks come with a heaping serving of mashed potatoes, green beans and a dollop of gravy, so no need to order any of the a la carte sides, but if you must, opt for something other than the baked macaroni and cheese ($6). The singed-dry penne suffered from too many licks of the flame, and could’ve used a more liberal topping of sharp cheddar. A few chicken and vegetarian dishes are also offered, as are seafood specialties like pan-seared blackened grouper ($24) served over parmesan orzo.

    With the exception of the chocolate chip cookies and milk ($6), the dozen or so desserts continue the extravagance, but the colossal slab of overly sweet tiramisu ($5) underwhelmed with its density. A wedge of moist “black-tie mousse cake” ($6), with its thick chocolate frosting and buttercream center, fared a little better.

    From bold reds to nectar-sweet endings, their extensive wine list comprises nearly 200 selections, though a flight of four 2-ounce pours ($16) offers a taste of four different world regions. For all you night owls, a menu of light fare is served from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

    Tato is raising the, ahem, stakes with his foray into the meat market, and no doubt his new-school chophouse spices things up by rejecting stodgy and traditional for trendy and urbane, with nary a reduction in food quality.

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