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    When we first drove up, we were greeted by harsh fluorescents dipping into the strip-mall parking lot. Surrounded by rental cars, timeshares and newly built hotels, this area of the Orlando dining scene is difficult to figure out. There are mostly chain restaurants, but somehow they fit together – Olive Garden and Taco Bell alongside Marriott and Hilton. But a family-operated Venezuelan hole-in-the-wall? Q'Kenan (pronounced koo-ke-nan) certainly adds something unique to this mix but, even better, the cuisine is deserving of special attention.

    Although Q'Kenan is nothing more than a sparse room with brightly colored walls and intense overhead lighting, the food speaks rapturous volumes. A long counter with chafing dishes full of homemade Latin stews runs the length of the restaurant. It's also part grocery store, and there is an assortment of candy bars and T-shirts with "Venezuela" scrawled across the front in red, blue and yellow. In fact, the owner previously operated a Venezuelan grocery on State Road 192, but sold it because she wanted to introduce Central Floridians to a wider range of food from her homeland.

    The restaurant name refers to a plateau-type mountain in the highlands of southern Venezuela. At Q'Kenan, you ARE likely to get a mountain of food, so come hungry. Take, for instance, the parrilla tepui mixta ($10.99) that my friend ordered. The mountain range of a dish came with a hearty portion of pork chop, chicken breast, skirt steak and sausage, all nicely seasoned and expertly grilled. It was served with a heap of french fries, yuca, green salad and – last but not least – a grilled arepa, the Venezuelan sandwich staple.

    Before delving into any of the entrees, we sampled the tequeños ($4.99) starter, described as cheese sticks. Neither battered nor deep-fried, these finger snacks were covered in a yeasty bread that tightly wound around homemade Venezuelan cheese. The bread was slightly sour and salty like a Bavarian pretzel, and the cheese had a soft, mellow tanginess. Another starter, and the one that will keep me coming back again and again, is the cachapas: sweet corn pancakes folded in half crepe-style and stuffed with a delicious assortment of cheeses and meats. We tried the cachapas with queso rallado ($4.50), a strongly aged Venezuelan cheese. Sweet corn peeked through these quarter-inch thick pancakes. The cheese within made them moist and bright in flavor. Dipped in homemade crema, a sauce much like seasoned sour cream, they were wonderful.

    My husband talked me into getting madurito ($4.99), and I wasn't all that excited about it until I took the first bite. Basically, it's a sandwich of shredded beef, lettuce and tomatoes between two large pieces of fried plantain (in place of bread). You can't really hold it like a sandwich because 1) it's dripping with a tartar-like sauce, and 2) fried plantains aren't very sturdy. But I loved how the sweet plantain tasted against the backdrop of the spicy shredded beef, called pabellón.

    Q'Kenan has a wide selection of arepas, another type of corn pancake that's savory and dry. They can be served plain but are often opened like a pocket and stuffed with fillings, then wrapped in paper to munch down one-handed. I tried one with cold chicken salad and avocado ($3.99) stuffed into a crisp, warm, freshly made arepa. Our waitress suggested the one stuffed with pabellón, black beans and cheese ($4.25), and if I hadn't already been so full, I would've indulged. I did manage a bite or two of tres leches ($2.50), but by the time I got up to leave I was feeling quite like a mountain myself.

    Although we tend to think of "Indian" as one cuisine, there are many cultures within that country, and diets differ dramatically. In general, the food of Southern India is fragrant with curry leaves, coconuts and tamarind. In the North, cream and yogurt are common ingredients and the predominant spice is garam masala, a mixture based on cardamom, clove, black pepper and cumin.

    Serving Northern-style cuisine is just what Amit Kumar and partner Joy Kakkanad were after when they opened Aashirwad (meaning "blessing") last November on the south side of Orlando. And although that is not a part of town hungering for an Indian restaurant, the owners wanted to set themselves apart by keeping the cost affordable.

    This is certainly the case at lunch, when Aashirwad serves a tasty, if depleted at times, buffet for only $6.95. Every day, the buffet is stocked with favorites such as chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, curry and rice. They also have salad and a rotating array of vegetarian items that make this buffet well worth the price of admission. But it's necessary to exercise patience when eating here – service is slow, and they don't always keep the buffet completely stocked. My second trip to the mother lode was fraught with empty chafing dishes (in one there were three florets of cauliflower) and puddles of spilled curry sauce. Eventually we were waited on, and eventually the buffet was restocked. Even though this wasn't a fast lunch, I would happily recommend it for the frugal and hungry.

    The dinner experience at Aashirwad is more suggestive of the basic hospitality background studied by Kumar and Kakkanad in hotel/restaurant management school in India: They keep the lights low, the music medium and the service high. Still, the restaurant is in a strip mall on the corner of International Drive and Kirkman Road, and the dining room itself is nothing special, just a collection of booths and tables and Indian-inspired wall hangings.

    We started our meal with aromatic vegetable samosas ($3.50), delicate and flaky pastry snugly enfolding a mixture of potatoes and peas. Most of the vegetables at Aashirwad seemed slightly abused, as if they were overcooked or kept around too long, and the starchy-tasting veggies in the samosas were no exception.

    Both the tandoori chicken ($11.95) and the tandoori mixed grill ($15.95) were fabulously flavorful and rich with the characteristic charred smokiness of the signature clay oven. The lamb that comes as part of the mix was succulent and moist, but the morsels of chicken were on the dry side. A nice element of surprise was the addition of grilled paneer (Indian-style cottage cheese); the smooth creaminess of the cheese and the spiciness of the seasonings blended quite beautifully.

    I was disappointed with Aashirwad's version of palak paneer ($9.45), creamy spinach with cubes of Indian cheese. The spinach lacked the usual creaminess and tasted flat; the cheese – though very tasty itself – kind of hung in suspension and seemed out of place.

    Many things we tasted were good but were shy of being great. The cucumber and yogurt condiment, raita ($1.95), didn't burst with flavor; the chickpea crackers with cumin seeds, pappadam (complimentary), were slightly greasy; the lentils with tomatoes and onions, tadka dal ($8.95), had a watery quality. But the tandoor-baked bread, naan ($1.50) was spectacular: springy and soft in the center, yet crisp and smoky on the outside where it melded with the heat of the clay oven.

    I have a feeling this restaurant hasn't quite hit its stride yet. Until then, I'll go back just for the naan.

    We arrived early for dinner -- about 5 p.m. -- at Passage to India, and although the restaurant was virtually empty of customers, we still had a sense of the countless people who have enjoyed meals within its four walls. The foyer was studded with framed photographs of celebrity regulars. We spotted one of Shaquille O'Neal, but another photo looked like Julio Iglesias as a famous cricket player.

    For more than a decade, Passage to India has held fast to its reputation for fine Indian dining on International Drive. While it draws its share of locals, tourist business accounts significantly for its success.

    Proprietor Uday Kadam has created a selection of classic Indian dishes that are, as the menu reads, "rich but not fatty, spicy but not hot." We found that to be the case with the appetizer platter ($8.95), which is a reasonably priced way to investigate the spices and textures of Indian cuisine: juicy chicken tikka tenders roasted in spicy yogurt sauce, flaky samosa pastries stuffed with peas and potatoes, crunchy pakora vegetable fritters and the more spicy, deep-fried bhaji onions.

    Vegetarians will have a heyday with more than a dozen vegetable-based dishes. We absolutely loved palak sabji dal ($12.95), a sautéed mixture of spinach and eggplant in a deep, dark, tomato-based sauce. The other half of the menu is represented by chicken, lamb and seafood. All dinners are served with all-you-can-eat helpings of fluffy, oven-baked basmati rice, which is perfumed with hints of cumin, cinnamon and cloves.

    Chicken korma ($15.95) was a creamy, curry dish that was prepared in an extremely mild version; the heat level barely registered. So if you prefer more formidable renditions, be specific with the waiter in advance. Lamb palak ($18.95) was more recommendable with its delicious sauce of ginger and garlic, and accented with sautéed onions and spinach.

    The dining room affords a sense of intimacy, and it is formally appointed with mahogany and ruby-red details that evoke images of Bombay and the days of the British empire. Service was poised and graceful, but not affected. We felt welcomed from the beginning to the end of our dinner. Passage to India is a haven for those who want to explore the nuances of Indian cuisine in an upscale setting.

    Kevin and Laurie Tarter expand their culinary empire within the confines of the Edgewater Hotel's ground floor, also home to their Chef's Table. Small plates take on Big Easy flavors with liberal doses of spice; smoked fish dip, boudin balls crowned with runny egg yolk and Asian beef skewers are stellar, and sublime sauces elevate both shrimp & grits and chicken livers. Dessert shooters satisfy without oversating.


    Teaser: Kevin and Laurie Tarter expand their culinary empire within the confines of the Edgewater Hotel's ground floor, also home to their Chef's Table. Small plates take on Big Easy flavors with liberal doses of spice; smoked fish dip, boudin balls crowned with runny egg yolk and Asian beef skewers are stellar, and sublime sauces elevate both shrimp & grits and chicken livers. Dessert shooters satisfy without satiating.

    At some point in any discussion of the new Palm Restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel, the 75-year history of the original and its 22 other branches are bound to come up.

    Yes, the first Palm, circa 1926, was opened in New York as a Northern Italian restaurant, and, yes, the corporation is still run by descendants of the original owners. It's impressive that the business is still thriving, but I want to be wowed by the food, not the resume.

    Yes, the first Palm, circa 1926, was opened in New York as a Northern Italian restaurant, and, yes, the corporation is still run by descendants of the original owners. It's impressive that the business is still thriving, but I want to be wowed by the food, not the resume.

    Notwithstanding the celebrity caricatures stenciled seemingly everywhere on the walls, Palm describes itself as a "white tablecloth restaurant." What goes on the tablecloth is a mixture of fine, uncomplicated dishes and slight near-misses. Try the "Monday night salad" ($8.50) to start. The name came from whatever was left over from Sunday getting finely chopped and served on Monday, and it's a great blend of tomato, ancho-vies, pimentos and greens in a perfect balsamic dressing. Save some bread for spreading.

    Among the appetizers, a sampler combo of "shrimp Bruno" and crab cake ($12, but not listed on the menu) was not as successful: The plentiful serving of sweet lump crab was way too loose to qualify as a cake. As for the breaded fried shrimp served with mustard sauce, I liked the shrimp and the sauce but could have done without the breading.

    Among the appetizers, a sampler combo of "shrimp Bruno" and crab cake ($12, but not listed on the menu) was not as successful: The plentiful serving of sweet lump crab was way too loose to qualify as a cake. As for the breaded fried shrimp served with mustard sauce, I liked the shrimp and the sauce but could have done without the breading.

    In a day when chefs like to layer flavor upon flavor until it's impossible to tell what you're eating, Palm sticks to simple combinations. The mackerel ($30) -- one of that night's specials -- came sitting atop a smooth and subtle lobster velouté sauce and dressed with spicy fresh tomato and cilantro salsa. The fish was moist and mild, perhaps seconds from being overcooked but certainly enjoyable.

    In a day when chefs like to layer flavor upon flavor until it's impossible to tell what you're eating, Palm sticks to simple combinations. The mackerel ($30) -- one of that night's specials -- came sitting atop a smooth and subtle lobster velouté sauce and dressed with spicy fresh tomato and cilantro salsa. The fish was moist and mild, perhaps seconds from being overcooked but certainly enjoyable.

    If you like a good cut of meat, Palm is up there with the best. The double-cut lamb chops ($29) are done to perfection and, like everything else, come in a very large serving. Steaks are enormous and, with true New York daring, are served with a side of Hollandaise.

    If you like a good cut of meat, Palm is up there with the best. The double-cut lamb chops ($29) are done to perfection and, like everything else, come in a very large serving. Steaks are enormous and, with true New York daring, are served with a side of Hollandaise.

    This isn't the most expensive place in town, but it ain't cheap either. Entrees can run up to $60 for the 36-ounce New York strip "double steak," designed to serve two, and side veggies are priced separately.

    The original Palm always had a reputation for waiters with attitude; although efficient at bringing your dinner, they weren't always happy about it. I don't know if that's still true in New York. But service people at Palm Orlando are quick, pleasant and well trained, with a level of casualness that is more friendly than intrusive. And in a break from standard Universal fare, free valet parking is right at the door. Don't be put off by the rock-memorabilia theme of the hotel environs; the Palm's well-prepared food is worth checking into.

    One of my favorite manhattan restaurants is Sardi's where celebrity caricatures on the walls are fun to study, and the food is good, too. On a recent visit to Jack's Place in the Clarion Plaza Hotel on International Drive, I discovered an establishment with a remarkably similar ambience.

    Soft light from wrought-iron chandeliers enhance dark woods, marble room dividers and shadowy archways. Tables are draped with linen and feature brass oil lamps.

    Soft light from wrought-iron chandeliers enhance dark woods, marble room dividers and shadowy archways. Tables are draped with linen and feature brass oil lamps.

    Upon our arrival for dinner, we were promptly seated in a cozy corner surrounded by sketches of world-class luminaries, many of whom autographed the works. The art was created by Jack Rosen during his 30-year tenure with the Waldorf Astoria and is believed to be the largest collection of its kind. (Jack's son, Harris, owns the Clarion.)

    Upon our arrival for dinner, we were promptly seated in a cozy corner surrounded by sketches of world-class luminaries, many of whom autographed the works. The art was created by Jack Rosen during his 30-year tenure with the Waldorf Astoria and is believed to be the largest collection of its kind. (Jack's son, Harris, owns the Clarion.)

    Entrees range from steak and seafood to pasta and chicken. All come with baked potato, vegetable and a basket of garlic French bread, with whipped butter and "Texas caviar" -- a novel accoutrement of cold (and undercooked) black-eyed peas, cilantro, onion and bell peppers in a mild vinaigrette. Although the mixture was refreshing, we found it impossible to keep the concoction on the bread.

    Entrees range from steak and seafood to pasta and chicken. All come with baked potato, vegetable and a basket of garlic French bread, with whipped butter and "Texas caviar" -- a novel accoutrement of cold (and undercooked) black-eyed peas, cilantro, onion and bell peppers in a mild vinaigrette. Although the mixture was refreshing, we found it impossible to keep the concoction on the bread.

    The escargot ($6.95) ordered by my guest was served with angel-hair pasta and a delicious roasted-red pepper sauce.

    The escargot ($6.95) ordered by my guest was served with angel-hair pasta and a delicious roasted-red pepper sauce.

    I found the house salad ($2.95) of mixed greens to be nice and fresh; the lovely presentation included diced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus a nest of bean sprouts. The creamy peppercorn house dressing, however, was pretty bland.

    I found the house salad ($2.95) of mixed greens to be nice and fresh; the lovely presentation included diced tomatoes and cucumbers, plus a nest of bean sprouts. The creamy peppercorn house dressing, however, was pretty bland.

    The 10-ounce filet mignon ($18.95) that my guest chose was an excellent cut, perfectly prepared. It was delicately topped with a pat of seasoned butter (we suspected rosemary).

    The 10-ounce filet mignon ($18.95) that my guest chose was an excellent cut, perfectly prepared. It was delicately topped with a pat of seasoned butter (we suspected rosemary).

    My grilled yellowfin tuna ($14.95) was fresh, though disappointingly overcooked. The generous portion was crowned with an adequate béarnaise sauce, which helped mask the fillet's dryness.

    My grilled yellowfin tuna ($14.95) was fresh, though disappointingly overcooked. The generous portion was crowned with an adequate béarnaise sauce, which helped mask the fillet's dryness.

    Large baked potatoes came wrapped in gold foil, along with a lazy Susan bearing scallions, fresh bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese. Sour cream and butter were included. Generous squares of corn soufflé were flavorful, light and airy.

    Large baked potatoes came wrapped in gold foil, along with a lazy Susan bearing scallions, fresh bacon bits and shredded cheddar cheese. Sour cream and butter were included. Generous squares of corn soufflé were flavorful, light and airy.

    The server promoted Jack's fried ice cream ($4.25) for dessert. A fried pastry jacket hid a relatively small scoop of ice cream that was just enough to share. Sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon, the dish was complemented by sliced strawberries and plenty of whipped cream.

    The server promoted Jack's fried ice cream ($4.25) for dessert. A fried pastry jacket hid a relatively small scoop of ice cream that was just enough to share. Sprinkled with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon, the dish was complemented by sliced strawberries and plenty of whipped cream.

    Be forewarned that an 18 percent gratuity is included in the bill rather than allowing diners the right to tip in direct correlation to the service rendered. But, all in all, it was a pleasant evening that was worth the expense.

    Rigorous sustainability and local sourcing are integral to chef Cory York's  stellar seafood dishes, though you'll have to navigate the depths of Disney property to sample them The astoounding crab cake is an absolute must, though the eight fresh fish options are the real draw. Don't overlook prime cuts of beef - the 22-ounce T-bone is a budget-buster, but well worth the price. Desserts please, but won't necessarily wow. Validated parking offered.


    Teaser: Rigorous sustainability and local sourcing are integral to chef Cory York's stellar seafood dishes, though you'll have to navigate the depths of Disney property to sample them. The astounding crab cake is an absolute must, though the eight fresh fish options are the real draw. Don't overlook prime cuts of beef ' the 22-ounce T-bone is a budget-buster, but well worth the price. Desserts please, but won't necessarily wow. Validated parking offered.
    Orlando’s lone Ethiopian restaurant is a blessing for foodies with an appetite for the exotic. Utensils come in the form of pancake-like sourdough bread called injera, used to scoop intensely spiced dishes from a large communal platter. Be sure to sample traditional honey wine as well as Ethiopian coffee, brewed in a clay pot.

    When you want to soak up the flavor of Key West -- the last link in the archipelago that reaches from south Miami to the open seas -- but don't want to travel, a visit to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville might satisfy at least the drink-and-be-merry craving. Some tricky navigation is necessary, though, to find the way through the maze of parking garages and electronic people-movers at Universal Studios Escape. Just when you're ready to give up, you arrive in the heart of glitzy CityWalk, where the Jimmy Buffet-inspired party house fits right in.

    For another paradigm shift, step inside the re-created Margaritaville, which is steeped in the icons of Key West. If you could accuse this restaurant of any one thing, it would be the cartoonish, commercialization of the romanticized hideaway Buffet paid homage to in his '70s song. Witness the margarita volcano that erupts over the bar periodically and the well-stocked gift shop. The sherbet shades of gingerbread houses are perfectly refabricated here, minus the morning-after stench of Duval Street and the stray pop-tops underfoot. Safe, clean and wholesome, it's certainly not the real Key West, but then we went there for the food.

    For another paradigm shift, step inside the re-created Margaritaville, which is steeped in the icons of Key West. If you could accuse this restaurant of any one thing, it would be the cartoonish, commercialization of the romanticized hideaway Buffet paid homage to in his '70s song. Witness the margarita volcano that erupts over the bar periodically and the well-stocked gift shop. The sherbet shades of gingerbread houses are perfectly refabricated here, minus the morning-after stench of Duval Street and the stray pop-tops underfoot. Safe, clean and wholesome, it's certainly not the real Key West, but then we went there for the food.

    On a previous visit, the conch fritters ($6.45) were in top form: sizzling, sweet, meaty and blissfully free of chewy, unidentified objects. This time, they were a disappointment -- overly battered and weak on the conch. Fortunately, the "pink crustaceans" crab cakes ($16.95) were loaded with blue crabmeat, pan-sautéed with spices, fresh mixed vegetables and potatoes to perfection.

    On a previous visit, the conch fritters ($6.45) were in top form: sizzling, sweet, meaty and blissfully free of chewy, unidentified objects. This time, they were a disappointment -- overly battered and weak on the conch. Fortunately, the "pink crustaceans" crab cakes ($16.95) were loaded with blue crabmeat, pan-sautéed with spices, fresh mixed vegetables and potatoes to perfection.

    While my guest loved "Jimmy's jammin' jambalaya" ($12.95), I thought the spices were far too tame. Still, there were generous amounts of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and Cajun rice.

    While my guest loved "Jimmy's jammin' jambalaya" ($12.95), I thought the spices were far too tame. Still, there were generous amounts of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage and Cajun rice.

    When dessert arrived, my guest was skeptical. True Key lime pie ($4.95) should never be weighed down with a cream-based preparation, she said, as was the case here -- it makes it too heavy and oily. This version was prepared with a 100-year-old lime-juice recipe from the famed Joe & Nellie's factory in Key West, and it was properly tart and tangy without too much of the pucker factor. It sported a fluffy meringue and crisp graham-cracker crust, but I had to admit it didn't pass the ultimate dessert test, which is to say, I probably would not order it next time.

    When dessert arrived, my guest was skeptical. True Key lime pie ($4.95) should never be weighed down with a cream-based preparation, she said, as was the case here -- it makes it too heavy and oily. This version was prepared with a 100-year-old lime-juice recipe from the famed Joe & Nellie's factory in Key West, and it was properly tart and tangy without too much of the pucker factor. It sported a fluffy meringue and crisp graham-cracker crust, but I had to admit it didn't pass the ultimate dessert test, which is to say, I probably would not order it next time.

    Our waiter was knowledgeable about the menu, and he had a casual, friendly efficiency without interfering. In the end, our trip to the theme-park Margaritaville was all flash with just a little substance. It was noisy. It was crowded. The food was OK. But there was an ocean of margarita varieties. What more could a Parrothead want?

    With its array of large pillars, HRC stands majestically like a Roman Coliseum of rock, boasting more pieces of rock and roll memorabilia than any other Hard Rock. Not only is there a vast, multi-level cafe, but throw in Hard Rock Live Orlando, a 3,000-person concert venue, and you've got a winner.


    Teaser: With large, statuesque pillars, HRC stands majestically like a Roman Coliseum of rock, boasting more pieces of rock & roll memorabilia than any other Hard Rock. Not only is there a vast, multi-level cafe, but throw in Hard Rock Live Orlando, a 3,000-person concert venue, and you've got a winner.

    The story of the churrascaria starts in the high plains of Brazil, the Pampas, where land is rich and soil fertile. It became tradition for the ranchers there to host feasts to celebrate their bounty. Especially enjoyed were the plentiful meats from animals that grazed the land. The cowboys, or gauchos, developed an out-country method of barbecuing fresh cuts of beef, pork, chicken and lamb on skewers over open-pit fires to bring out intense flavor and aroma. This churrasco cooking style was soon adopted by restaurants across Brazil, evolving into the popular steakhouses they are today: no menus, just an array of roasted meats on skewers brought around to the tables for guests to graze upon. "Rodizio" is the name for this type of service – it's like a buffet, only they keep bringing the food to you until you say, "Enough."

    Texas de Brazil elegantly brings the churrascaria to Orlando. Started by a Brazilian family in Texas, the chain has been around since 1998 when they opened their first restaurant in Addison, Texas. Now there are eight restaurants around the country and in Aruba, including Orlando. Preserving the churrascaria's roots while upscaling the experience, Texas de Brazil uses rich but rustic design elements – heavy wrought-iron doors push open like horse stalls, riveted metal adorns the bright walls and ceiling; copper bowls of fire sit aside gorgeous sprays of fresh flowers.

    Pleasure and overindulgence are the rules here. The music is loud, the colors vibrant. The smell of garlic and wood charcoal waft through the room like a pair of lovers dancing the samba. Walking past the sprawling salad bar that rounds out the meaty main course, one is overwhelmed by the sense of abundance: Fresh items such as carrots, celery, tomatoes, spring greens and cucumbers lie next to specialties like fresh buffalo mozzarella, shrimp ceviche, green beans with walnuts, artichoke and raisin mélange, and mushrooms sautéed with wine and garlic. And there's a huge section dedicated to Latino favorites, such as succulent black beans, garlic soup, tender rice, farofa and yuca.

    Back at the table, they dropped off cinnamon-sprinkled sweet fried plantains, garlic mashed potatoes and a small disc that looks like a coaster – one side green, the other red. In keeping with rodizio custom, the green signals an onslaught of servers to bring oversized skewers of top sirloin, Brazilian sausage, roasted lamb, chicken wrapped in bacon, Parmesan-encrusted pork, filet mignon, pork ribs, flank steak and at least six other cuts of juicy, scrumptious morsels, including the unforgettable garlic-marinated picanha. If there were an Olympic category for cooked meats, Brazil would win with this heavenly beef rump cut. Feeling full? Turn the disc to red, and they'll give you a break, so you can head back up to bar.

    The churrascaria meal fits well in the low-carb diet craze, but I wouldn't set foot in one without downing at least a half-dozen pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese rolls). And there is enough starchy yuca in the place to carb-load an army. Actually, all food groups are tastefully represented. Dinner is $39.99 per person and worth every hard-earned penny for the excessive amount of quality cooking it buys you. So come with an appetite, and remember: Brazil is known as a country of gorgeous people who like to frolic in scantily clad fashion – they must be on to something.

    Japanese cuisine is all about harmony. Everything – from the food to the presentation to the restaurant's decor – is suppose to work together to create a flawlessly integrated and refreshing experience. But since my kind of sushi joint is the sort that blares music and uses Godzilla as a mascot, this concept of harmony remained foreign to me until I dined at Hanamizuki.

    Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

    Situated in a bland I-Drive strip mall, Hanamizuki has zero vibe from the outside. But inside is a spacious room with sage-green walls, elegantly minimalist decor, and a menu of refreshing depth and intrigue. An absolute lack of all things kitschy gives the place an unfussy, authentic air. The focus is on flavorful, expertly prepared food and enjoying it in the proper environment.

    My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

    My dining partner and I opted for courtside seats at the sushi bar. Hanamizuki's expansive menu is an invitation to experiment, so we kicked off with two appetizers, tako su ($6) and ika nuta ($5). The former was a small salad of sliced octopus that was well-complemented by a soy-sauce dressing with a distinct bacon flavor. The latter was a small bowl of squid and scallions blended with a sauce of white soybean paste, vinegar and a hot mustard with a delightful kick.

    Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

    Pleased thus far, we moved onto the more traditional sashimi and maki-style sushi (rolled with rice). Moriawase ($20 and up) is the chef's selection of the day's best raw fish. Presented with little fanfare on a medium-size white plate, the dish focuses totally on the superb sliced fish. Fresh and firm with barely a scent from the sea, this was top-notch sashimi (at nearly $2 a bite.) The tightly wrapped maki-style rolls were neatly presented, with the very spicy cod being our favorite.

    From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

    From the menu's grilled and fried sections, we liked the "beef nagima yaki" ($15), a substantial plate of small rolls of thinly sliced, if a bit dry, grilled beef surrounding enticingly crunchy braised scallions flavored by soy sauce. And the "kashige combination" ($15) boasts 10 skewers, each with one crisp piece of seafood, meat or vegetable (the onion was our favorite). All were deep fried in a very light batter that recalled coconut shavings.

    Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

    Our sole misadventure was mozuku tororo ($7), a ghastly blend of grated yam and mozuku seaweed in a viscous broth, topped with a raw quail egg. We attempted to eat it with chopsticks, which brought chuckles from the chef and waitress.

    Our otherwise exquisite meal was topped off by Japanese ice cream enhanced with red-bean toppings – a graceful way to end this feast. Hanamizuki isn't cheap, but it is a most gracious and delicious way to enjoy the foods of Japan.

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