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    A restaurant's service can be a make-or-break proposition. There are people who will let an unfilled water glass ruin the bliss brought on by multiple courses of gastronomic delight. Such fussy perfectionism is not how the vast majority of diners approach the restaurant experience. The food is the main attraction, and as long as it's delivered accurately and in a timely fashion, it's the quality of the dishes that determine whether or not a restaurant leaves a positive impression.

    Sometimes, however, what appears to be decent if unexceptional service may prevent a diner from walking away from a meal with an accurate sense of what that particular establishment is capable of.

    Such was the case with a sojourn to Ayothaya, a new "authentic" Thai place in the Dr. Phillips area. Given the level of competition among restaurants on that stretch of Sand Lake Road, I could be forgiven for expecting Ayothaya to be more than just another place to grab some mussaman curry. Though the teak-heavy décor was nice, the small dining room was cramped and possessed of none of the sumptuous and spacious elegance of Thai Thani, a nearby restaurant that hasn't let their strip-mall location prevent the proprietors from creating a relaxed oasis.

    But, real estate being what it is, this is the sort of thing I'd be willing to forgive. Except that within this small space, the owners have made the bizarre decision to install two unavoidable televisions on the premises … tuned to Central Florida News 13, no less. Here's a headline: Some people like to go out to dinner and not be distracted by nine-minute news cycles. (For the record, this trend of multiple televisions in supposedly "upscale" restaurants is a sin against nature. You run an Applebee's or a barbecue joint? Fine. Anywhere else, it's inexcusable.)

    Still, a too-cozy space, visually polluted by television, can be redeemed by a skillful kitchen. Perhaps one day I'll find out if Ayothaya has one. You see, our server forgot to tell us about the specials. Under some circumstances, such an omission would be a minor mistake – we'd miss the fish of the day or the chef's best effort to put an inventive spin on overstocked ingredients. And given the seemingly vast selection on Ayothaya's misspelling-riddled menu – a none-too-shabby 45 items – it didn't even occur to us to ask about the specials. A closer examination of the menu, however, revealed it to be filled with the standard dishes found in so many Thai restaurants, with a few surprises here and there. Somehow, it was both overwhelming and uninspiring, and our server didn't provide much assistance in navigating us through it.

    Eventually, our party of four settled on a combination of "the usual" and the unexpected. A sampler plate ($12.95) of six of Ayothaya's appetizers – chicken satay, spring rolls, shrimp dumplings, Thai crab cake, fried wontons and fried shrimp rolls – was wholly average. (The dumplings came out cold, adding to the disappointment.) Tom kha gai soup ($5.95) was the opposite of cold, as it was invigoratingly spiced and amply filled with massive shrimp, rather than the hide-and-seek variety many Thai places use. The wonton soup ($4.95) wasn't nearly as nuclear but was equally substantial, with sizable chicken- and shrimp-filled dumplings.

    Continuing with "the usual," we ordered a red curry with chicken ($12.95) and a shrimp and broccoli in oyster sauce ($12.95). Neither held any surprises, positive or negative. The red curry was flavorful and not overpoweringly spicy, while the oyster sauce had the right kind of salty zing. Moving out of familiar territory, it was on to a deliciously greasy, vegetable-heavy and appropriately named "spicy duck" ($14.95) and, the tour de force, a whole red snapper, fried and topped with a salsa-like concoction of red onions, basil, chilis, garlic and an excellent, spicy red sauce. Called pla chom suan, it wound up being a bit pricey ($28.95/market price), difficult to plate and too large for one person, but none of those things mattered in the slightest while we were greedily stuffing our gullets. The super-crispy exterior provided that perfectly pleasing contrast with the soft, flaky flesh, and the fresh spiciness of the topping made the dish that much more pleasingly complex.

    The entire latter part of Ayothaya's menu is comprised of 10 such "creations," all but one of which are centered around fresh fish. These dishes are rather costly, but they are the closest the restaurant gets to breaking out of the standard fare found at so many other Thai restaurants. Or so we thought.

    On our way out the door, I noticed a lengthy specials board that told me what might have been. This list of exciting-sounding seafood dishes (most notably a lobster curry) and other impressive concoctions were a drag to run across at the meal's end. Potentially, here was the exceptional food that would make the obnoxious televisions worth putting up with; here were the chef's personal signatures that would make what seemed like a run-of-the-mill restaurant the kind you tell friends about. And it was too late to try any of them.

    So that, folks, is why good service is so important.

    Fall is the season when millions of people converge on Munich for Oktoberfest, a two-week bacchanal of beer-drinking, bratwurst-eating and debauchery. But here in Orlando, you can catch the spirit year-round at Bauern-Stube.

    It's an old German restaurant with new digs on South Orange Avenue. A former Pizza Hut has been transformed into a German farm-house atmosphere, where costumed waiters with thick accents bring you piles of authentic food and German beer on tap. On Friday and Saturday nights, the live entertainment includes accordion players and an acrobat act from Berlin.

    This is the kind of food that has fortified generations of Germans against those bitter, cold winters: noodle casserole with Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese ($8.95) and East Prussian dumplings with horseradish gravy ($9.95). It's becoming more of a rarity even in places like Munich, where these days it's easier to find a good sushi bar than an old-style German restaurant, says co-owner Barbara Hutto, a native of Berlin.

    In keeping with a typical German "gasthaus" that entertains travelers, Bauern-Stube is decorated with a dizzy display of knick-knacks, cuckoo clocks, stuffed birds, fir-tree garlands and Cabbage Patch frauleins. My friend thought it looked like a Christmas tree had exploded inside the restaurant. But the clutter adds a cozy touch that grows on you.

    Potato pancakes ($4.95), fried and topped with applesauce and sour cream, take the edge off your appetite while you wait for dinner. These are much more than glorified hash browns – the shredded potatoes are bonded with eggs, nutmeg, oil and vinegar, and they're heavy and firm as burgers.

    Wiener schnitzel ($10.75) was a juicy, fried cutlet of pork, seasoned with paprika, which gave it a tasty reddish cast inside. The dish was teamed with spaetzle, a cross between noodles and dumplings. Tossed with butter, they're delicious.

    The moist and tender sauerbraten ($12.50) is a specialty here, featuring sliced roast beef with a deep, dark gravy of bay leaves and cloves. Even if you think you don't like sauerkraut, definitely give it a whirl at Bauern-Stube. Mild and mellow, fresh out of a pork broth stew, seasoned with juniper, it's nothing like the canned, excessively acidic variety.

    Among the desserts, Black Forest cake ($3) was a still a little too icy inside, having just been thawed out of the freezer. Otherwise it was properly folded with chocolate and cherries, iced with whipped cream.

    If you visit, heed the posted sign: "15% tip includet in bill!" (sic). Hutto instituted the policy because many of her German customers were not leaving tips, assuming it already was figured in – because that's the custom in Germany.

    Going to South OBT to dine in a strip mall can be kind of like going to another country. But don't be fooled; behind the surplus of fast-food restaurants on the Trail lurks a hidden culinary culture and we found a new adventure -- Bon Appetit is an epicurean experience in every sense of the word.

    Of about seven tables, only one was taken when I walked into this humble restaurant cloaked in country-ish decor. Naturally I took this to mean that the group of people sitting at the table came to the restaurant together and would leave together. But I was thinking like a typical American. No sooner had the hostess seated me than another waiter came up behind her and seated someone else -- at my table. So there I was, sitting across from a young Haitian man.

    Of about seven tables, only one was taken when I walked into this humble restaurant cloaked in country-ish decor. Naturally I took this to mean that the group of people sitting at the table came to the restaurant together and would leave together. But I was thinking like a typical American. No sooner had the hostess seated me than another waiter came up behind her and seated someone else -- at my table. So there I was, sitting across from a young Haitian man.

    "You ever try Haitian before?" he asked in a heavy Creole accent. His easy manner with our dining companionship didn't exactly match mine -- I mean, technically, he was a complete stranger.

    "You ever try Haitian before?" he asked in a heavy Creole accent. His easy manner with our dining companionship didn't exactly match mine -- I mean, technically, he was a complete stranger.

    "No," I responded. "I've never tried it, but I'm looking forward to my first Haitian experience."

    "No," I responded. "I've never tried it, but I'm looking forward to my first Haitian experience."

    "How about you try me?" he asked politely.

    "How about you try me?" he asked politely.

    I couldn't help but laugh. "No," I replied. "I'll stick to the menu."

    I couldn't help but laugh. "No," I replied. "I'll stick to the menu."

    "OK," he said, unfazed. "My name -- Christian."

    "OK," he said, unfazed. "My name -- Christian."

    After sifting through the standard bar fare on the menu, I finally got to the real stuff, and it was all Haitian. Considering that I was the only non-Haitian person in the room, there didn't seem to be a reason why the menu would be 90 percent burgers, quesadillas and wings.

    After sifting through the standard bar fare on the menu, I finally got to the real stuff, and it was all Haitian. Considering that I was the only non-Haitian person in the room, there didn't seem to be a reason why the menu would be 90 percent burgers, quesadillas and wings.

    Although the "grand opening special" happened to be six white-meat chicken nuggets for only 99 cents, there was no finger-lickin' processed chicken at any of the tables. Instead, almost everyone had a steaming plate of oxtails or some deliciously fragrant plate of stew in front of them.

    Although the "grand opening special" happened to be six white-meat chicken nuggets for only 99 cents, there was no finger-lickin' processed chicken at any of the tables. Instead, almost everyone had a steaming plate of oxtails or some deliciously fragrant plate of stew in front of them.

    With Christian's (platonic) help, I decided on the "boulettes," a Haitian-style meatball. They were sold out. I was also out of luck with "grio" ($6), a fried pork dish served with pickles and fried banana.

    With Christian's (platonic) help, I decided on the "boulettes," a Haitian-style meatball. They were sold out. I was also out of luck with "grio" ($6), a fried pork dish served with pickles and fried banana.

    Finally, I settled on "whatever Christian is having," which turned out to be "calalou" ($7, $5 half-portion), a gumbo made with pig's feet. I found the dish exceedingly flavorful, even though what I was eating belongs in hot dogs (conspicuously not on the menu). My meal was served with beans and rice, and I can assure you that you don't ever want to leave Bon Appetit without filling up on the red beans and rice and fried bananas -- they're that memorable.

    Finally, I settled on "whatever Christian is having," which turned out to be "calalou" ($7, $5 half-portion), a gumbo made with pig's feet. I found the dish exceedingly flavorful, even though what I was eating belongs in hot dogs (conspicuously not on the menu). My meal was served with beans and rice, and I can assure you that you don't ever want to leave Bon Appetit without filling up on the red beans and rice and fried bananas -- they're that memorable.

    The waitress brought out something called "lambi au noix" ($10) just for me to try. This delicately spiced gumbo -- scented with celery, onions, peppers and conch -- was nothing short of heavenly. I started plotting my vacation in Haiti, until the CNN reporters on the television, a centerpiece in the room, brought me back to reality. On this day, President Aristide, on the brink of being ousted, was broadcasting an urgent message to the international community. Everyone in the restaurant got out of their seats and crowded around the TV set.

    The waitress brought out something called "lambi au noix" ($10) just for me to try. This delicately spiced gumbo -- scented with celery, onions, peppers and conch -- was nothing short of heavenly. I started plotting my vacation in Haiti, until the CNN reporters on the television, a centerpiece in the room, brought me back to reality. On this day, President Aristide, on the brink of being ousted, was broadcasting an urgent message to the international community. Everyone in the restaurant got out of their seats and crowded around the TV set.

    When Christian asked for my phone number again, it was time to go. I shook my head and grabbed for my "peach fruit banane" with milk ($2.50), which is paradise through a straw. This thick, luscious, liqueur-flavored drink must be one of Haiti's mild diversions from the mess it's in. I did notice a man grab for his as he got up to watch Aristide on television.

    When Christian asked for my phone number again, it was time to go. I shook my head and grabbed for my "peach fruit banane" with milk ($2.50), which is paradise through a straw. This thick, luscious, liqueur-flavored drink must be one of Haiti's mild diversions from the mess it's in. I did notice a man grab for his as he got up to watch Aristide on television.

    Bon Appetit is a must for the epicurean adventurer. You can even bring along those disturbed individuals who will only eat fried mozzarella sticks and still have an authentic ethnic dining experience. And if you're lucky like me, they might even seat you with a Haitian admirer.

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

    Broadway Café is a quaint bistro and art gallery located in the heart of downtown Kissimmee. Not only a restaurant, the Café also allows you to dine surrounded by art that isn't just restricted to the walls! Every table is a one-of-a-kind painting depicting scenes ranging from the building in the 1920's to beautiful flora and local scenery. We also offers a variety of coffee drinks, homemade desserts and an ice cream bar! The motto of Broadway Café is â??Where the Creation of Good Food is an Art!â?� so if you enjoy the arts, irresistible food made with pride, and a unique dining experience, come visit us in Historic Downtown Kissimmee!

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of Buca di Beppo in Maitland.

    In the barbecue latitudes of the Deep South, the lines of distinction between regional variations can be about as narrow as Hank Hill's urethra. But over in the Republic of Texas, where dalliances in grilling experimentation are generally frowned on, a tried and true formula is followed ' hot-smoking, aka slow-cooking over a wood-fired haze.

    And Floridians have Cecil Reaves to thank for bringing the Lone Star brand of 'cueing to the Sunshine State. His smokehouse is a simple brick edifice on the Boulevard of Barbecue Dreams (South Orange is home to three other joints ' Conway's, O'Boys and Blackwater Bar-B-Q), where the waft of some critter being cooked to perfection two-steps its way into your nostrils the moment you get out of your car.

    Inside, amid the country kitsch and Texas paraphernalia, a simple and orderly protocol is followed: Stand in the 'cue queue, place your order deli-style, get your plate of hand-carved meat, then proceed around the counter and get your fill of sides. Meats such as pulled pork, ham, chicken and ribs are offered individually, though your best bet is to go with a 2- or 3-meat specialty plate ($10.95; $12.95), both of which come with a slice of Texas toast and two sides. But if you're talking Texas-style barbecue, you're talking beef brisket and sausage, and the brisket done here is dang near perfect. Velvety strands of pink under a char of epidermal smokiness are the result of 16 hours of slow-searing over hickory wood. Once cooked, briskets are sheathed in plastic wrap and kept in a warming drawer to retain their juicy flavor.

    Puncturing the resplendent skin of the hot links produced a perfect snap with every bite and yielded superbly moist flesh underneath. Both the pulled pork and the pork ribs were infused in a smoky essence, but devoid of moisture. I enjoyed the smoky succulence of the turkey breast and the perfumed meat of the chicken though, again, the latter was a tad dry. Enter the sauce bar, where hot, mild and sweet sauces are kept warm in crocks. A word of warning, hoss ' repetitive dunks in the fiery-hot version will have you squattin' on your spurs.

    What really places Cecil's a country mile ahead of the competition are the 16 available side items, like jalapeño mashed potatoes, not too spicy, but blended with a ton of butter. I couldn't get enough of the sweet potato soufflé, an ideal complement to the brisket, and the breaded fried okra. Black-eyed peas, sautéed in a ham, butter and onion sauce, were true to form, and the jalapeño chili beans were hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch.

    Desserts are a bit of a luxury, as free soft-serve ice cream comes with all dine-in orders, but if you're bringing a Texas-sized appetite, creamy banana pudding ($2.50) with crumbly Nilla wafers is the way to go. Conversely, like one of Dubya's State of the Union addresses, the peach pie ($2.50) was pretty hard to digest.

    Cecil's has raised the bar of BBQ bodacity in this city, and you have to applaud their commitment to slaving over meats for hours on end ' no nuking, parboiling, pre-cooking or quick-broiling here. And I hope to be kicked to death by grasshoppers if that ain't the truth.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of Charley's Steak House on International Drive.

    China and Peru have enjoyed a long-standing diplomatic friendship; now diners can benefit from their culinary partnership. While the traditional Chinese fare is less than remarkable, the flavors of Peru shine. Don’t miss the ceviche mixto, tender citrus-marinated seafood served with a handful of toasted corn nuts. Read Orlando Weekly's full review: http://www2.orlandoweekly.com/dining/review.asp?rid=13329


    Teaser: China and Peru have enjoyed a long-standing diplomatic friendship; now diners can benefit from their culinary partnership. While the traditional Chinese fare is less than remarkable, the flavors of Peru shine. Don't miss the ceviche mixto, tender citrus-marinated seafood served with a handful of toasted corn nuts.

    At least once a year, on St. Patrick's Day, many Americans take to the streets in search of an Irish way to celebrate. There's no reason to settle for fake green beer at chain outlets when there are wee mom-and-pop pubs that can dish out the real deal, like Claddagh Cottage, on Curry Ford Road, of all places. Keep your eyes open as you drive east from Semoran Boulevard past the blur of shopping strips to spot the sliver storefront and shamrocked sign.

    Inside Claddagh (pronounced KLA-dah) Cottage, it's like a scene from "The Quiet Man." Faded lace curtains hang in the windows, wooden beams crisscross on the ceiling. Dusty black-and-white photos of the old country fill the walls, and the whistles of Irish folk music fill the air. Instead of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, you'll find proprietors Jimmy and Kathy Mulvaney, formerly of Dublin and Limerick, respectively. They keep the ale flowing, fortified by traditional Irish stick-to-your-ribs meat-and-potatoes fare.

    Inside Claddagh (pronounced KLA-dah) Cottage, it's like a scene from "The Quiet Man." Faded lace curtains hang in the windows, wooden beams crisscross on the ceiling. Dusty black-and-white photos of the old country fill the walls, and the whistles of Irish folk music fill the air. Instead of John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, you'll find proprietors Jimmy and Kathy Mulvaney, formerly of Dublin and Limerick, respectively. They keep the ale flowing, fortified by traditional Irish stick-to-your-ribs meat-and-potatoes fare.

    Jimmy Mulvaney claims to serve the best pint of Guinness in town, using a "double-pour" method that's been approved by the brewery: He fills the glass three-fourths of the way, then allows time for settling before topping off with a smooth, creamy head ($3.50). He refined his art at Mulvaney's Irish Pub on Church Street, which he co-founded with his brothers before branching off. The two pubs are different as night and day. Where Mulvaney's is a polished club that attracts a business crowd by day and barflies by night, Claddagh Cottage is a neighborhood draw, where the beer splatters on the wall only add to the character.

    Jimmy Mulvaney claims to serve the best pint of Guinness in town, using a "double-pour" method that's been approved by the brewery: He fills the glass three-fourths of the way, then allows time for settling before topping off with a smooth, creamy head ($3.50). He refined his art at Mulvaney's Irish Pub on Church Street, which he co-founded with his brothers before branching off. The two pubs are different as night and day. Where Mulvaney's is a polished club that attracts a business crowd by day and barflies by night, Claddagh Cottage is a neighborhood draw, where the beer splatters on the wall only add to the character.

    We visited on a Sunday, and some menu items weren't available, like "Cottage pie" ($5.25), a beefy stew crowned with mashed potatoes. So we started with a "country sausage roll" ($4.25). It was a glorified pig-in-a-blanket, but good, with two links of mild Irish pork sausage baked in puff pastry. We tried a steak and mushroom pastry pie, and another with chicken and mushrooms ($5.25 each). Both were filled with savory, meaty gravy inside buttery crusts. We also enjoyed a steamy "Dubliner" sandwich ($5.50), stuffed with shredded roast beef, sautéed onions and melted Swiss cheese.

    We visited on a Sunday, and some menu items weren't available, like "Cottage pie" ($5.25), a beefy stew crowned with mashed potatoes. So we started with a "country sausage roll" ($4.25). It was a glorified pig-in-a-blanket, but good, with two links of mild Irish pork sausage baked in puff pastry. We tried a steak and mushroom pastry pie, and another with chicken and mushrooms ($5.25 each). Both were filled with savory, meaty gravy inside buttery crusts. We also enjoyed a steamy "Dubliner" sandwich ($5.50), stuffed with shredded roast beef, sautéed onions and melted Swiss cheese.

    Claddagh Cottage is laid-back, so don't expect speedy service or get in a twist if some items aren't available. Expect a friendly crowd that includes genuine Irish expatriates lined up at the bar, as well as others trying to soak in that world-famous Irish charm.

    When I hear a place mentioned a couple of times in one week, it causes me to stop and listen – especially when the restaurant is neither new nor fancy. Having recently moved back from New York City, I've been lamenting the dearth of decent pizza in Orlando, and people keep confidently mentioning Cornerstone Pizza, a dive-y joint on Michigan Street, at the corner of Ferncreek Avenue. My appetite for a slice was keen.

    So there we were in the starkly lit, harshly undecorated pizza spot on a dreary March evening; the pit-pat of rain could be heard beneath the shriek of the pizza oven opening and closing. The Simpsons blared from a TV mounted above our table. We were alone in the greasy air that filled the room until a man stumbled in, coughing loudly. He drunkenly made his way through a conversation with cook/owner Scott Bruens (who once upon a time saved up enough money delivering pizzas to buy Cornerstone).

    We started with 10 wings ($5.49), fried ultracrisp and drenched in tangy-hot buffalo sauce. I licked the sauce off my fingers and delved into the chicken Parmesan sub ($5.99), well-seasoned chicken doused in surprisingly fresh tomato sauce atop a lily-white bun.

    The stromboli ($6), with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions and green peppers, came next, and it was totally over-the-top in a made-by-hungry-stoners way. (I almost canceled the pizza so as not to ruin this Cornerstone moment of rapture, but thought better of it.) When our pizza came, we munched on satisfactory slices of pepperoni and mushroom. The crust is not as thin as I like, and the cheese is not charred and bubbly on top – but it's close.

    Mr. Can't Stand Up was still trying to put a sentence together, while an acne-faced teen munched on a slice. A woman in business attire leaned against her car under an umbrella and talked on her cell phone while waiting for her pie to come out of the oven. Stopping by Cornerstone on the way home seems to be a neighborhood sport. So, it wasn't quite New York, but it was damn close – present company included.

    Rumor had it that in recent years, Dragonfly – Gainesville's much-lauded modern izakaya – had lost some of its luster in its effort to maintain "it spot" status among the college town's cognoscenti. So, like those naysayers' attitudes, the posh Japanese resto headed south to the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando, intent on wowing a less judgmental audience. At first blush, the place does indeed impress – the glossy wraparound sushi bar and angled bento-box ceiling are pure eye candy inside this trendster's haven. Tranquil it's not, but with a name like Dragonfly," one would expect the joint to be abuzz in music, chatter and hubbub, and it is. The restaurant's website, however, offers an alternative description of the vibe:

    Dragonfly strives to reach an emotional enlightenment through the balancing of the Sensual, Spiritual and Savory philosophy. Dragonfly is a modern day female yakuza boss.

    The first sentence reads like a bad Babelfish translation; the second – well, that's just bloody amusing, if not a little threatening. Really, apart from the heavily bandaged pinkies on all the servers and cooks, there's nothing remotely menacing here. Daunting, yes – for instance, the menu, which comprises a swarm of small plates of the sushi, sashimi and robata (grilled simply over charcoal) variety. The indulgent passion platter ($24) is a testament to the slicing skills of the sashimi chefs – nine pieces of ruby-red tuna, plush salmon and buttery izume dai (farm-raised tilapia) are artfully presented, while yellowtail sashimi ($6) is spectacularly melt-in-your-mouth. Signature dragonfly rolls ($14), while meaty, are somewhat cumbersome, with tuna and albacore wrapped with thick strips of grouper, then topped with scallions and eel sauce. The fact that the rolls are baked lends to their corpulence, but it's all just a bit too much for its own good. A mistake in our order resulted in a complimentary plate of yellowtail collar (regularly $14), a truly outstanding piece of fish and, like all their robata items, grilled over imported, smoke-free bincho-tan charcoal. 

    Other robata favorites we joyfully gorged on were shishito peppers ($4), skewered chicken breast ($5) and sublime bone-in short ribs ($9) served with kimchi. The latter, a nod to Korean galbi, is further sparked with a dip into the spicy mayo and orange yuzu sauces. Both beef tataki ($10), made of rare, lightly seared ribeye mixed with daikon and ponzu, and sesame-bolstered wakame salad ($5) show that the kitchen can also do the simple things right. No izakaya experience would be complete without a swig of sake ' we liked the crisp, clean and mellow taste of the Hatsumago junmaishu ($24).

    Desserts aren't listed on a menu but, rather, recited by rote. We nodded when "green tea tiramisu" ($7) was uttered, which turned out to be more gimmick than concept. The red-bean ice cream ($3) was as modest and toothsome as a meal-ender can get; the bowl came with dollops of flavorless green-tea ice cream and surprisingly snappy ginger ice cream, but we would've preferred three scoops of that blushy confection.

    There's no question that Dragonfly is dressed to impress, and with Amura and Nagoya just yards away, the sushi scene on the corner of Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard has certainly gotten a lot more competitive. For Dragonfly's sake, here's hoping it doesn't make like its namesake and live an intense, albeit fleeting, existence.

    There's no question that Dragonfly is dressed to impress, and with Amura and Nagoya just yards away, the sushi scene on the corner of Sand Lake Road and Dr. Phillips Boulevard has certainly gotten a lot more competitive. For Dragonfly's sake, here's hoping it doesn't make like its namesake and live an intense, albeit fleeting, existence.

    Fish on Fire
    If you’re into fishing and boating around the Conway chain of lakes, you’re sure to make friends here – a lot of the patrons are Belle Isle and Conway residents who appreciate this place for its completely unpretentious, laid-back Florida fish camp kind of feel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Gain's German Restaurant doesn't have the most charming name, but there is a good reason why the former moniker, Old Munich, needed to be replaced. Munich is located squarely in Bavaria, but the restaurant's new owners, Hans and Kessy Gain, wanted their menu to reflect all types of German cuisine, not just Bavarian.

    And so far the Gains are doing an able job of showcasing the German culinary canon. While their menu includes the same comfort cooking – schnitzels, bratwursts, sauerkraut and spaetzle noodles – found at a dozen other German restaurants around town, the Gains expand the possibilities. They create elaborate presentations with smoked-salmon canapes, intricately sliced pickles and salads anchored by arched fans of lettuce leaves. Even fish such as rainbow trout are pan-fried from head to tail and served whole in the Teutonic tradition ($15.95).

    Most of the members of the wait staff are bilingual and can handle German-style service. That means waiters might sweep through the dining area bearing four or five entree platters at a time without losing so much as a crumb.

    The menu's German-to-English translations are quite literal. One appetizer, described as "diced white meat," is pork in a creamy wine sauce topped with melted cheese ($5.75). This stew had a sharp taste and is thick enough to serve as Swiss-style fondue.

    Simple dinners such as braised beef cubes ($13.25) are made more interesting by being dished up with thick sauces flavored with peppers and onions. And they are just as worthy as some of the more elaborate creations.

    Breaded, fried veal schnitzel ($21.95) would be plenty with a side of sauerkraut. But it's even more of a delicacy topped with a grilled egg and surrounded by canapes of caviar, anchovies and smoked salmon.

    Some entrees come with the "special salad," which turned out to be simply chunks of bell peppers, celery and cucumbers. But it's unexpectedly delicious, due to a hot, peppery vinaigrette. Red cabbage laced with apples and bacon is another side item not to miss.

    This restaurant still has the look of a revamped pancake house, with a steeple roof and long, narrow proportions. But in its current incarnation it's more polished than those first impressions imply. Tables are draped with crisp, white cloths, and the space remains largely free of knickknacks and clutter.

    Other than during the Friday- and Saturday-night German "cowbells" musical acts, the place is toned down enough to be a business-lunch destination. This alone makes it a cosmopolitan restaurant worth exploring, in an area where ethnic takeouts and hamburger joints abound.

    Belle Isle is no bastion of elegant eats, but there are plenty of places to get your grub on happily - like the Gnarly Barley. A roadhouse that happens to serve great food, the brewpub features 10 beers on tap and a menu full of hangover preventers (or cures) like the "Snack Attack", a mound of kettle chips buried under shredded chicken, blue cheese, and salsa, and the "Johnnie Mac'n Cheese" sandwich, a bombshell take on the French dip.


    Teaser: Belle Isle is no bastion of elegant eats, but there are plenty of places to get your grub on happily - like the Gnarly Barley. A roadhouse that happens to serve great food, the brewpub features 10 beers on tap and a menu full of hangover preventers (or cures) like the "Snack Attack", a mound of kettle chips buried under shredded chicken, blue cheese, and salsa, and the "Johnnie Mac'n Cheese" sandwich, a bombshell take on the French dip.

    For the people who know me, it is no secret that I love chocolate, but they don't realize the extent of my affliction. I was spawned by ravenous chocoholics. My father has been known to get up in the middle of the night and drive himself several miles to get his favorite Cadbury bar. When my mother says the word "chocolate," her voice gets kind of breathy like a young girl talking about her first love. And at my grandmother's house, no dinner is complete without three courses of dessert: First fruit, then whatever baked goods a guest was kind enough to bring, which we nibble while waiting for the real dessert, an imported bar of dark chocolate with hazelnuts that is passed around the table and voraciously dispatched.

    I'm also a chocolate snob. Hand me a Hershey's bar and you'll likely hear a polemic on the disgraces of poor chocolate manufacturing (wax!) versus handcrafting (bliss!) So when my good friend told me about frozen chocolate drinks at Godiva Boutique, my heart skipped a beat, but I was still skeptical, even as we headed to the store at the Mall at Millenia. Eventually I tried all three flavors of Godiva's Chocolixir ($4.50): milk chocolate latte, dark chocolate decadence and white chocolate raspberry. All are good, but the dark chocolate is what really excited me. My first sip was rapturous. As I pulled the cold, dark slush up through the straw, past the top layer of Grade-A heavy whipping cream, a particularly well-poised mixture of flavors hit my palate.

    Godiva cleverly utilizes two byproducts of the cocoa bean to make their Chocolixir: cocoa powder and real chocolate chips. Oh, and let me not forget about the rich chocolate syrup they delicately drizzle onto the whipped cream. But I've said too much. I need one – now.

    There are two kinds of luxury. There's the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous kind or the real-life-only-much-better kind. Solid-gold cutlery, Chanel couture and Rolls-Royces fall into the first camp. James Perse T-shirts, Prada lip balm and Greens & Grille fall squarely into the second: simple everyday basics that turn out to be deceptively luxurious.

    At first blush, Greens & Grille seems pleasant but nothing special. A high-ceilinged room decorated in industrial-lite chic ' concrete floor, exposed ducts overhead, lots of galvanized steel ' slowly reveals lavish touches: potted orchids blooming on the tables of the high-backed booths; stainless steel fresh-pepper grinders; heavy white china plates.

    The cafeteria-style service plays up the bare-bones-basic mood, but as you stand at the salad, grilled-meat or sandwich station, the high quality of the ingredients and preparation becomes apparent. On my first visit, I was befuddled by the tempting array of salad toppings. Salad bars are so often mirages ' the vision of a 30-foot-long array of gorgeous vegetables turns out to be 10 yards of iceberg lettuce, canned beets and sodden macaroni salad. At Greens & Grille, my fantasy salad bar coalesced before my eyes: jade-green edamame, oven-roasted beets, juicy kalamata olives. That heightened-basics approach revealed itself here as well: crispy pancetta instead of bacon bits; sweet grilled red-onion strips instead of stiff, stinky purple rings.

    For $6.50, you can choose your organic greens (romaine or baby 'farmer's greensâ?�) and add five out of the 27 'seasonal toppingsâ?� available. For another $2.50, add grilled-to-order turkey, pork loin, chicken, steak, shrimp or portobello mushroom. (I chose the porcini-rubbed flank steak.) The salads are tossed and dressed before your eyes. All dressings are made from scratch daily; I especially recommend the sherry-thyme vinaigrette. Also, the greens can be 'rolled or bowledâ?� ' that is, tossed onto a plate or wrapped up in a grilled flatbread.

    The sandwich station plunks any of the above-mentioned grilled meats onto bread nicely charred on the grill when you order. There's nothing simpler than a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato and onion, but the G&G version I ate was worlds beyond any average sandwich shop's. First, and most importantly, the turkey was sliced from a roasted breast, not the reconstituted meat slurry usually passed off as 'cold cuts.� Instead of a pale tomato and a leaf of iceberg lettuce, my sandwich was finished with organic baby greens, grilled onions and juicy roasted tomato. Rather than plasticky American, G&G offers Havarti, Gruyère, Gorgonzola and white cheddar; I chose the Havarti. I added a generous portion of Hass avocado (also luscious on my companion's portobello-mushroom sandwich). A side of macaroni and cheese ($3.50) was incredibly rich, bubbling-hot and crowned with crunchy bread crumbs; the wild mushroom soup ($4.50) was an earthy, savory broth with generous chunks of sauteed creminis.

    The only problem with all of this is greed. I had to remind myself on my second visit not to overload the circuits with Gorgonzola and steak and avocado and pancetta, enticing as it all was. When each element sings with freshness, what would be a spartan green salad or vegan sandwich elsewhere becomes a rich symphony of tastes. The roasted turkey, faintly tasting of lemon and herbs, was sufficient unto itself; had I not made a point of nibbling an unadorned bite, its essence might have been lost under all of the other equally wonderful ingredients. And this attention to detail doesn't come cheap. It's easy to spend almost $9 on a simple sandwich or salad.

    Chef/owner Julie Petrakis, formerly of slow-food palace Primo and now pastry chef at Luma on Park, has departed after developing the recipes, leaving her brother-in-law Brian to head the team. Some changes have already begun; the excellent tomatoes, previously roasted in-house, are now sourced from Sysco, according to one of the friendly prep folk. (Much as the name 'Syscoâ?� might curl any foodie's lip, I must admit that I found the tomatoes exceptional, and was chagrined to learn their provenance.) Let's hope the new chef Rob Pompa is able to keep up the high standards. With any luck, G&G will not only survive but thrive and expand; this covert hedonist is running out of excuses to drive all the way to Millenia for a sandwich.

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