Mediterranean in Orlando with Kid Friendly

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    There's no love lost between the Greeks and the Turks ' invasions, wars, cultural boasts and religious differences have all helped to fan the flames of animosity between the two proud nations. So when Greek Flame Taverna left its Winter Park digs and settled on Anatolia's fan the flames of animosity between the two proud nations. So when Greek Flame Taverna left its Winter Park digs and settled on Anatolia's turf in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, you knew the competitive, and culinary, juices of these two Mediterranean rivals would be flowing. turf in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace, you knew the competitive, and culinary, juices of these two Mediterranean rivals would be flowing. (The same, sadly, can't be said about GFT's chicken souvlaki, but more on that in a bit.) We've dined at both Anatolia and Greek Flame (The same, sadly, can't be said about GFT's chicken souvlaki, but more on that in a bit.) We've dined at both Anatolia and Greek Flame multiple times and we can state, without equivocation, that when it comes to straight-up Mediterranean classics ' kebabs, döner/gyros, without equivocation, that when it comes to straight-up Mediterranean classics ' kebabs, döner/gyros, grape leaves, honeyed pastries, sludgy coffee and the like ' Anatolia's dishes are unquestionably superior.

    Now them ain't fightin' words, just our humble opinion. Where GFT does shine is in the more uncommon offerings. Take the taramosalata, for instance. We fightin' words, just our humble opinion. Where GFT does shine is in the more uncommon offerings. Take the taramosalata, for instance. We couldn't quite gauge the flavor in the fluffy cream-colored spread, one of a quartet of dips comprising the 'silogi� ($12), but when the couldn't quite gauge the flavor in the fluffy cream-colored spread, one of a quartet of dips comprising the 'silogi� ($12), but when the mystery ingredient was revealed to be caviar, we liked it all the more. We also didn't mind dipping our fried pita triangles into mystery ingredient was revealed to be caviar, we liked it all the more. We also didn't mind dipping our fried pita triangles into refreshing melitzanosalata, an eggplant salsa of sorts; garlicky skordalia, a potato-garlic puree; and the ubiquitous creamy tzatziki. refreshing melitzanosalata, an eggplant salsa of sorts; garlicky skordalia, a potato-garlic puree; and the ubiquitous creamy tzatziki. Kreatopita, a flaky beef-and-pine-nut-filled pie, highlighted an otherwise ho-hum platter of pre-entrée pastries ($15) that included Kreatopita, a flaky beef-and-pine-nut-filled pie, highlighted an otherwise ho-hum platter of pre-entrée pastries ($15) that included tiropita (cheese pie) with too much parsley and an uninspired spanakopita (spinach pie). The latter two were a bit of a letdown and had me tiropita (cheese pie) with too much parsley and an uninspired spanakopita (spinach pie). The latter two were a bit of a letdown and had me longing for the flaky wonders found in the Greek bakeries off Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs.

    From the healthy selection of mains, the kleftico ($18) intrigued with slices of slow-roasted leg of lamb mixed with veggies and feta baked in a parchment bag. The mains, the kleftico ($18) intrigued with slices of slow-roasted leg of lamb mixed with veggies and feta baked in a parchment bag. The result was nothing short of outstanding: tender lamb infused with saltiness from the cheese mixed with still-crisp peppers of all colors result was nothing short of outstanding: tender lamb infused with saltiness from the cheese mixed with still-crisp peppers of all colors and perfectly cooked mushrooms and potatoes. The other items we sampled just didn't pass muster ' lackluster fried calamari ($8) required and perfectly cooked mushrooms and potatoes. The other items we sampled just didn't pass muster ' lackluster fried calamari ($8) required deep dunks into the roasted garlic aioli to extract any semblance of flavor; and chicken souvlaki ($18), a dish that every Greek kouzina deep dunks into the roasted garlic aioli to extract any semblance of flavor; and chicken souvlaki ($18), a dish that every Greek kouzina should master, was thoroughly zapped of any moisture. The fact that the dish came with just one skewer and a miserly portion of rice made should master, was thoroughly zapped of any moisture. The fact that the dish came with just one skewer and a miserly portion of rice made it an unqualified failure.

    Desserts offer some sweet redemption in the form of chocolate baklava ($5) ' here it takes the shape of a circular pie instead of a triangular wedge. We would've preferred a little more phyllo, but the honeyed treat was chock full of nuts. a circular pie instead of a triangular wedge. We would've preferred a little more phyllo, but the honeyed treat was chock full of nuts. Homemade dark chocolate, vanilla wafers and pistachios go into making the chocolate pyramid ($8), a dense capper served with two scoops of Homemade dark chocolate, vanilla wafers and pistachios go into making the chocolate pyramid ($8), a dense capper served with two scoops of black cherry ice cream (not made in-house).

    While our servers were thorough, knowledgeable and attentive, the hostess, after seating us and announcing the Grecian-named specials of the evening, couldn't tell us what anything about said specials besides their seating us and announcing the Grecian-named specials of the evening, couldn't tell us what anything about said specials besides their names. That didn't make a good first impression, and it's precisely those intangible elements, along with a skilled kitchen, that separate names. That didn't make a good first impression, and it's precisely those intangible elements, along with a skilled kitchen, that separate restaurants that rise to the top from those relegated to Sisyphean frustration.

    In dining, as in casino gambling, it helps to have a man on the inside. That's certainly the case at Hot Olives – the comfortably stylish Hannibal Square eatery that's been wending its way toward upscale fusion since taking over the site of the old Winter Park Grill in 2001. On a recent visit, our waitress welcomed us into her confidence by volunteering a couple of invaluable tidbits about the newly expanded menu: 1) the "spicy pecan salad" isn't really very spicy at all; and 2) even folks who think they don't like olives go crazy for the house-specialty appetizer, the "spicy fried olives."

    She was right on both counts. The fried olives ($7) were simply mouth-watering, their breaded exterior and Asiago cheese-infused innards enough to tempt the most olive-wary martini-phobe. Dunking one of the delicious nuggets in the attendant dip – a swirl of blue cheese and three-chili sauce – brought the experience up yet another notch of memorability. It's easy to see why these namesake noshes are such a popular choice.

    She was right on both counts. The fried olives ($7) were simply mouth-watering, their breaded exterior and Asiago cheese-infused innards enough to tempt the most olive-wary martini-phobe. Dunking one of the delicious nuggets in the attendant dip – a swirl of blue cheese and three-chili sauce – brought the experience up yet another notch of memorability. It's easy to see why these namesake noshes are such a popular choice.

    As promised, nothing about the "spicy pecan salad" ($9) had us crying hoarsely for water, though the placement of toasted pecans, gorgonzola cheese and Granny Smith apple slices atop field greens produced a taste of its own pleasant distinction. For a more daring palate, there's the "Anjou pear and Cajun walnut salad" ($9), with the sprinkle of piquant nuts adding quite a kick to the assemblage of pears, greens and crumbled feta cheese.

    As promised, nothing about the "spicy pecan salad" ($9) had us crying hoarsely for water, though the placement of toasted pecans, gorgonzola cheese and Granny Smith apple slices atop field greens produced a taste of its own pleasant distinction. For a more daring palate, there's the "Anjou pear and Cajun walnut salad" ($9), with the sprinkle of piquant nuts adding quite a kick to the assemblage of pears, greens and crumbled feta cheese.

    As an entree, we opted for the herb-crusted grouper ($18), which reveled in a positively buttery texture that placed it among the finest specimens of this favorite fish we've yet encountered. The dish's sole failing – and it's our only strong criticism of the entire meal – was the topping of onions, which struck us as idling uncomfortably between the raw and the sautéed. Don't you hate it when a vegetable can't make up its mind?

    As an entree, we opted for the herb-crusted grouper ($18), which reveled in a positively buttery texture that placed it among the finest specimens of this favorite fish we've yet encountered. The dish's sole failing – and it's our only strong criticism of the entire meal – was the topping of onions, which struck us as idling uncomfortably between the raw and the sautéed. Don't you hate it when a vegetable can't make up its mind?

    The sesame-seared ahi tuna ($17) went down smooth and tender, another standout in a crowded field – but be careful with the Szechuan sauce, which if not applied sparingly can overwhelm the bed of orzo and stir-fried vegetables.

    The sesame-seared ahi tuna ($17) went down smooth and tender, another standout in a crowded field – but be careful with the Szechuan sauce, which if not applied sparingly can overwhelm the bed of orzo and stir-fried vegetables.

    Ordering from the dessert tray yielded two more success stories: The Snickers cheesecake ($6) had a terrifically gooey cohesion. Just as delectable was the macadamia nut pie ($6), overflowing with nuts and ending in a thin, soft crust that could have been a meal-finishing sweet in its own right.

    Ordering from the dessert tray yielded two more success stories: The Snickers cheesecake ($6) had a terrifically gooey cohesion. Just as delectable was the macadamia nut pie ($6), overflowing with nuts and ending in a thin, soft crust that could have been a meal-finishing sweet in its own right.

    With menu assets like these, you could forgive a restaurant for being light on ambience, but Hot Olives has it in spades. Outside patio seating is available, with blazing torches in place to make al fresco dining comfortable no matter the season. On the inside, faux-marble tabletops and rattan-backed chairs are laid out in an airy configuration; the effect is high-toned, yet just cozy enough to keep sterility at bay. Segregating interior from exterior are glass panels that mist up winsomely on rainy nights, imparting a feeling of pampered isolation from the outlying neighborhood. Acoustically, the room can be a bit loud, which poses a problem when all the tables are full. You should be whispering, anyway – how better to pick up that priceless insider knowledge the waitstaff is so eager to share with you?

    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.
    Editor's note: This story has been changed to clarify the fact that although Theo's Kitchen no longer operates at this location, it did not go out of business; it relocated to Curry Ford Road.

    Theo's Kitchen may be gone from this familiar location, but the space is being kept Greek by Mediterranean Blue, who also did us the favor of sprucing the joint up a bit, stocking eco-friendly wares, and adding a little flair to the menu (read: more cheese for everyone!). 

    Said menu is deceptively simple, populated with just a handful of sandwiches and salads, but nearly everything is a winner. The Provence sandwich with ham, brie, herbes de Provence-infused butter and Dijon mustard ($6.50, comes with a side) may be just a Greek Cuban, but it's a delicious trip across the salty-savory spectrum. The more traditional falafel ($6.50 with a side) gets extra points for fresh, soft pita and the choice house-made tzatziki sauce. If doing dinner, a side of olive oil and oregano-garnished Greek fries helps fill you, but it'd be a ' what else ' tragedy not to order it smothered with feta cheese for $2. 

    Orlando's ability to create and attract "stars" goes for acclaimed cuisine celebrities just as well as sports and music figures.

    Chefs Paul Bocuse and Gaston Lenotre call Epcot their Florida home; Todd English is moving in to the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel; Roy Yamaguchi holds sway on Sand Lake Road; and we've all been exposed to Emeril and Wolfgang Puck. Slightly lower on the fame scale, but no less talented, is Melissa Kelly, the guiding hand behind Primo at the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes.

    The massive Grande Lakes complex also includes The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, home of Norman's, the signature restaurant headed by fellow James Beard Award winner Norman Van Aken; Kelly was named "Best Chef: Northeast."

    This Primo is the second location for the renowned chef, who opened her Rockland, Maine, location in 1999 to critical acclaim. While Kelly's "down east" spot is a fairly simple affair in a Victorian house, the Orlando version reflects its massive surroundings. In a deep-colored room with semi-William Morris wallpaper and organic-looking chandeliers, you're confronted with a dizzying assortment of salad knives, fish forks and several sizes of dessert spoons. The cutlery is only slightly more complex than the food.

    Kelly and chef de cuisine Kathleen Blake are well-versed in the ways of organic foods -- in fact, there's an organic garden on the premises -- and the menu varies with available supplies. The stuffed squash blossom starter ($10) was immensely pleasurable: crispy flowers filled with creamy ricotta and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Too bad there were only two. Fried calamari ($11) used tender ring slices and spicy tentacles dressed with cress and citrus.

    It isn't often you encounter a new experience, which I did with the sturgeon entree ($28). Sturgeon are huge, dense beasts, and my serving had a firm texture more like chicken than fish, with a flavor that only comes from cold-water catches. It was served alongside a baby artichoke half-filled with tomato couscous and a braised slice of escarole (impossible to cut with the fish knife).

    Beautiful women and young men with spiky hair make up the well-trained staff, and do their jobs well. The only downside that comes to mind is the price: Dinner for two easily rises to more than $100. The Maine lobster ($32) -- while interestingly served with handmade pansoti (similar to ravioli) stuffed with squash -- is not the expected full shellfish but some chunks and a few deshelled claws, which seems a bit expensive.

    There's thought behind the cuisine, and the excellent food isn't simply trendy -- Melissa Kelly has earned her fame.

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