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For around 50 bucks, our table was quickly loaded with more than enough to feed a hungry fivesome – and that's the best thing I can say about a recent visit to Mama Fu's Noodle House in Lake Mary. The rest of the experience – from the food to the service to the ambience – ranged from OK to laughable.

Interestingly, the randomly numbered laminated cards – ours read "one billion 92" – that diners post on their tables (so orders can be matched up) read: "Laughter can make friends remember ... and enemies forget." Everybody's gotta have a gimmick these days, an approach that is working like gangbusters for 38-year-old entrepreneur Martin Sprock of Raving Brands Inc. Dipping into Florida, his ventures include Mama Fu's, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Planet Smoothie, and there are more concepts on the way. While this Mama Fu's is the first in town, fast expansion plans already call for 13 more. It's a good bet that they'll show up in other Stepford-style shopping malls, such as this one, Colonial Town Park, which has the new Dexter's.

Interestingly, the randomly numbered laminated cards – ours read "one billion 92" – that diners post on their tables (so orders can be matched up) read: "Laughter can make friends remember ... and enemies forget." Everybody's gotta have a gimmick these days, an approach that is working like gangbusters for 38-year-old entrepreneur Martin Sprock of Raving Brands Inc. Dipping into Florida, his ventures include Mama Fu's, Moe's Southwestern Grill and Planet Smoothie, and there are more concepts on the way. While this Mama Fu's is the first in town, fast expansion plans already call for 13 more. It's a good bet that they'll show up in other Stepford-style shopping malls, such as this one, Colonial Town Park, which has the new Dexter's.

Walk through the glass doors and you're at the order counter under the wall-board menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and noodle bowls that can be juggled with choices of chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu and veggies. They are not really Asian dishes, but more like a corporate fusion of American tastes and Asian influences, with everything a little too sweet, even the noodles. After ordering a sampling of items, we headed to an outdoor table to avoid the cavernous echo inside – the kind that numbs your senses (and is perfect for letting kids run wild).

Walk through the glass doors and you're at the order counter under the wall-board menu of appetizers, salads, entrees and noodle bowls that can be juggled with choices of chicken, beef, shrimp and tofu and veggies. They are not really Asian dishes, but more like a corporate fusion of American tastes and Asian influences, with everything a little too sweet, even the noodles. After ordering a sampling of items, we headed to an outdoor table to avoid the cavernous echo inside – the kind that numbs your senses (and is perfect for letting kids run wild).

On the OK side of the meal were the seared ahi tuna ($5.99 "mama" size/$6.99 "big mama") and "Bangkok basil rolls" ($3.99/$5.99) appetizers. The sesame-encrusted ahi was served on a bed of fresh spinach with a sharp ponzu dipping sauce. There was an odd spice in the peanut sauce, but the rolls were filled with the finely grated crunchiness of carrots, cucumbers, spring lettuce and rice noodles. And the "Mongolian" with beef ("soy glaze with mushrooms, yellow onions and fresh scallion sticks") was ordered with noodles for an additional 99 cents, instead of the usual rice, at the helpful recommendation of the order-taker. Noodles are the definitely the way to go.

On the OK side of the meal were the seared ahi tuna ($5.99 "mama" size/$6.99 "big mama") and "Bangkok basil rolls" ($3.99/$5.99) appetizers. The sesame-encrusted ahi was served on a bed of fresh spinach with a sharp ponzu dipping sauce. There was an odd spice in the peanut sauce, but the rolls were filled with the finely grated crunchiness of carrots, cucumbers, spring lettuce and rice noodles. And the "Mongolian" with beef ("soy glaze with mushrooms, yellow onions and fresh scallion sticks") was ordered with noodles for an additional 99 cents, instead of the usual rice, at the helpful recommendation of the order-taker. Noodles are the definitely the way to go.

The "spicy basil" noodle bowl with tofu ($6.99) also benefited from the noodles, and the tofu was nicely sliced and fried for a crispy effect. This is one of the spicy-hot dishes, and it did leave a burn on the lips but without any depth to back it up. The "spicy General Fu" with shrimp ($8.99) was served with rice and featured the battered and fried variety that you buy frozen at the grocery store, and its sauce was an overly sweet and sour one.

The "spicy basil" noodle bowl with tofu ($6.99) also benefited from the noodles, and the tofu was nicely sliced and fried for a crispy effect. This is one of the spicy-hot dishes, and it did leave a burn on the lips but without any depth to back it up. The "spicy General Fu" with shrimp ($8.99) was served with rice and featured the battered and fried variety that you buy frozen at the grocery store, and its sauce was an overly sweet and sour one.

On the unpleasant side of the meal, the Thai coconut soup ($1.99/$3.49) and the red Thai curry were curiosities. The base of the soup had a cloying thickness, more like a bisque, and there was not much in the way of the promised black mushrooms and tomatoes. The red curry with chicken ($6.99) had the veggies (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, white mushrooms and red bell peppers), but the sauce was watery and oddly seasoned.

On the unpleasant side of the meal, the Thai coconut soup ($1.99/$3.49) and the red Thai curry were curiosities. The base of the soup had a cloying thickness, more like a bisque, and there was not much in the way of the promised black mushrooms and tomatoes. The red curry with chicken ($6.99) had the veggies (carrots, broccoli, zucchini, white mushrooms and red bell peppers), but the sauce was watery and oddly seasoned.

As for service, we moved dirty dishes off our table and shooed away flies. The items were delivered in the order they came out of the kitchen, so appetizers, soups and entrees all piled up at one time. Then we had to track down missing items from the student-age servers, who looked unhappy. The fictitious Mama Fu isn't fooling anyone with this venture.

The sheer variety and low price point of the assorted dishes makes this hub of pan-Asian small plates a popular draw, but it's better for snacking and drinking beer with a group than sitting down to a trad meal. The menu attempts to replicate the feel of a Singaporean street-food market with an array of tiny, tasty Chinese, Malay, Viet and Indian dishes. The place packs ’em in, so call ahead or risk waiting.

Fresh ingredients, genial service and sheer variety help make this Winter Park hot pot joint an option for these looking for a change in their restaurant routine. Meats aren't too out of the ordinary, though live blue crab, lobster, shrimp and bass keep it interesting. Stock base and spice levels can be adjusted according to taste, though "numb-spicy" isn't as excruciating as you might think/hope. Open daily, and until 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.


Teaser: Fresh ingredients, genial service and sheer variety help make this Winter Park hot pot joint an option for these looking for a change in their restaurant routine. Meats aren't too out of the ordinary, though live blue crab, lobster, shrimp and bass keep it interesting. Stock base and spice levels can be adjusted according to taste, though "numb-spicy" isn't as excruciating as you might think/hope. Open daily, and until 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Mamak brings a semblance of Malaysia’s food-stall culture to Mills 50 with plenty of pan-Asian noodle soups, wok-fired delicacies and small plates. From beef bulgogi and seasoned cod in black bean sauce to char kway teow and kari mee, the dishes here are exemplary and thoroughly gratifying. Get a plate of stir-fried green beans to nosh on throughout your meal. To end, sweet ice kacang is a cold comfort.

Fast food sure ain't what it used to be. These days, urban slackers have clusters of "fast-casual eateries" to satisfy their immediate demands, like the one in front of Target on East Colonial Drive. First came the drive-through Starbucks, then Chipotle and now the snazzy Pei Wei Asian Diner (prounounced pay-way), operated by P.F. Chang's. And while Pei Wei is a testament to the fact that the convenience market is stronger than ever, their menu has panache and, I'll admit, better choices than the fast food of my Big Mac generation.

The Pei Wei concept was created to be a competitor in the noodle shop trend, but they offer more than just noodles. They also offer rice bowls, salads and an array of pan-Asian "signature dishes" that bring together Korean, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cuisines.

Since P.F. Chang's practically put lettuce cups on the culinary map, no visit to Pei Wei is complete without an order of minced chicken ($6.25) or chile-seared pork ($6.25) lettuce wraps. Both have tangy fillings loaded onto cool, crisp lettuce.

Among the noodle dishes, my only disappointment was with the pad Thai ($6.25) – the gummy noodles laced with crushed peanuts were missing flavor that could have been remedied with a few turns of fish sauce. The lo meins ($6.25) with shiitake mushrooms and pungent garlic sauce were comforting and satisfying, just what a bowl of noodles should be.

The rice bowls, which come with either brown or white rice, are gracefully simple, such as the shrimp with lobster sauce bowl ($7.25), which looked tempting. But I stuck to the array of hugely portioned signature dishes – like the blazing noodles ($7.25) – which all come with high-quality meat and interesting sauces. This is my kind of fast food.

Don't let the fuchsia hues and J-pop-themed decor fool you ' Sushi Pop takes its fare seriously. Stellar sushi and sashimi complement a variety of rolls, entrees and whimsical desserts flourished with notes of molecular gastronomy (blue cheese powder or liquid nitrogen sorbet, anyone?). Sake fans have the privilege of consulting an in-house expert.
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