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Walking up the stairs to the Portofino Bay Hotel's newest restaurant, Bice (pronounced "BEE-chay"), you feel like you've wandered onto a movie set. It's a familiar feeling to most Orlandoans, who often have no choice but to enter a theme park in order to enjoy an upscale restaurant. The hotel purports to be a re-creation of the Italian beach town of Portofino; the sprawling wings enclose a man-made lake upon which gondolas and water taxis float aimlessly. The cobblestone piazza seems genuine enough, but the vintage Vespas with engines removed, chained to lampposts, and the monotonous stucco walls betray the fact that it's a fake. The cruising golf carts don't help the illusion, either.

Once you're inside, though, the illusion's over. Bice, offering very expensive, very refined comfort food, is just another generic upscale hotel restaurant. It's very nice – muted ivory-toned lighting, frescoed ceiling, enormous flower arrangement – but bland. The one note of personality is the sharp black-and-white lacquered armchairs in the bar; too bad, the bar was populated by cheering football watchers on this night.

Once we attracted the attention of the waitress, we ordered a glass of 2000 Luigi Righetti ($16) while we waited for our table. The only amarone available by the glass, it was delicious but took no risks. Then the dance of the servicepeople commenced: A host told us our table was ready, a waiter led us there, a different waiter arrived to hand us menus and somewhere, the cocktail waitress was still holding our bar tab and credit card. Once that was sorted out, we made our selections from the huge menu – some of the choices oddly betraying a nouvelle cuisine twist – and settled back on the comfy banquette.

Before our starters arrived, a busboy brought a basket of bread and bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and dinner was off to an inauspicious beginning. The salty rosemary focaccia and rustic wheat bread were obviously mass-produced, possessed of a uniform crumb instead of the chewy density characteristic of bread baked in small batches. The olive oil was pale and weak, and the vinegar was sour. A glum anticipation settled over the table.

Beef carpaccio with black truffle dressing and an arugula and mushroom salad ($18) arrived looking like a rosy-petaled sunflower. Sadly, the beautiful pink beef, instead of being silky and earthy, was mushy and tasteless. The salad (arugula, raw cremini mushrooms, shaved Parmesan) was bright, clean, simple, but the taste of black truffle could scarcely be detected in the dressing. Across the table, the lentil soup "with black truffle fondue" was also simple yet expertly prepared, a delicate, peppery puree with, alas, nary a trace of the pungent black truffle in the swirl of olive oil on top.

Then chef Massimo Esposito knocked one out of the park. Resembling something a very chic caveman would eat, a huge 16-ounce veal chop ($42) arrived, lapped in porcini sauce and snuggled atop a drift of soft polenta. Surrounded by lovely charred fat (hey, don't knock it until you've tried it), the chop was grilled to a perfect medium-rare, as ordered. The polenta, rich with Parmesan, was the kind of dish that inspires compulsive eating – creamy and utterly comforting. The rigatoni alla Siciliana ($17) was less spectacular, though enjoyable. The traditional Sicilian marriage of eggplant, pine nuts, capers and raisins somehow didn't quite work this time around.

Though not a dessert fan, I splurged on the pistachio and caramel semifreddo ($8) and urged my companion to try the vanilla panna cotta (also $8). This was the best move we made all night. The semifreddo was a bustling playground of tastes and textures: soft, half-frozen cream crunchy with glassy shards of caramel and slivers of roasted almonds, in a pool of almond crème anglaise sprinkled with jade-green chopped pistachios. By contrast, the panna cotta was an elegant, austere dish: a vanilla custard gelatin dusted with black vanilla seeds and ringed with a compote of sweet dried apricots. It was pared down to the essentials, yet clearly created by a virtuoso. With two plates my resistance to dessert was ended.

Like the staircase we had to climb, our experience at Bice may have started on a low note, but it ended with a fabulous high. My suggestion: Grab a table on the patio, have a glass (or bottle) of wine, sample the desserts and watch the faux gondolas navigate the faux lake. At least the food will be the real thing.

Restaurants are organic things. Like the tide, they ebb and flow. Owners and names of places change at a dizzying rate. And, in a town where good chefs are a bankable commodity, it can be challenging to keep track of who is cooking what where.

Who's in the kitchen? It could be a chef from Disney, a woman trained in France or a guy who was managing an Arby's last week. A change can come because someone wonderful becomes available; sometimes it's because someone just left.

Sometimes it's both. When The Boheme opened in the Westin Grand Bohemian Hotel downtown, Chef Todd Baggett had the enviable job of matching a menu to the expansive art collection and opulent-looking setting that surrounds diners. And mostly he succeeded. When he moved on to Wolfgang Puck's, the vacuum was filled by Robert Mason, former chef at the famous Vic Stewart's steak house in San Francisco and the California Café at Florida Mall. Mason promises he will take the restaurant "to a new level."

There aren't any changes in the room itself. Same dark woods, massive columns and burgundy accents, same eclectic and sometimes puzzling art.

As for the kitchen, the highs and lows suggest that Mason's reign also is organic. Our waiter, a bubbly chap, promised that the new fall menu was "more flavorful." I didn't see massive differences between the pre-Mason era and now. The menu still has seafood, and hefty chunks of Angus beef in several incarnations. The "au Poivre" with garlic-pepper crust ($26) is very "flavorful," though not quite as tender as I had expected. Breast of Muscovy duck ($25) and lobster still find their way to the table, and it was good to see the large a la carte vegetables available (order the "exotic mushrooms" -- in fact, order two and you may not need an entree).

The new dishes fit in with the scheme. A pan-roasted chicken breast, stuffed with vegetables and served atop spaghetti squash ($19), is tender and good; the herb sauce made from the drippings is extraordinary. Combine that with a deceptively simple "Boheme salad" ($6) and its irresistible Gorgonzola vinaigrette dressing, and you'll leave the table happy. But "Shrimp 2 Ways" was four shrimp that tasted almost the same "way," and didn't seem worth 12 bucks.

A new jazz brunch on Sunday allows you to eat roast turkey, omelets and waffles while hanging out around the $250,000 Imperial Grand Bösen-dorfer piano. Take an extra napkin.

A starving artist could ill afford to dine at Cafe Tu Tu Tango and leave with a full tummy. A recent dinner for two at the recently opened avant-garde establishment cost close to $50.

Entree portions at this cafe are intentionally downsized, and diners are encouraged to swap fare around the table. Nothing costs more than $8; the trouble is, you have to order at least four dishes to satisfy two normal appetites.

Entree portions at this cafe are intentionally downsized, and diners are encouraged to swap fare around the table. Nothing costs more than $8; the trouble is, you have to order at least four dishes to satisfy two normal appetites.

Ambience here is a curious yet entertaining blend of Mediterranean and artist's studio influences. There are actually artists at work while you eat in this minigallery, where art in various media decorates faux stucco walls and hangs from exposed overhead beams. A stilt walker and a female impersonator were sideshows during our meal. As one might expect, the mood is festive, even outrageous; the noise level loud.

Ambience here is a curious yet entertaining blend of Mediterranean and artist's studio influences. There are actually artists at work while you eat in this minigallery, where art in various media decorates faux stucco walls and hangs from exposed overhead beams. A stilt walker and a female impersonator were sideshows during our meal. As one might expect, the mood is festive, even outrageous; the noise level loud.

The multiethnic menu features chips, dips, breads and spreads, as well as soups, salads, fried delicacies, turnovers and Oriental rolls. There are brochettes and kabobs, pizzas, and an eclectic array of chicken wings, paella, barbecue ribs, seafood or quesadillas.

The multiethnic menu features chips, dips, breads and spreads, as well as soups, salads, fried delicacies, turnovers and Oriental rolls. There are brochettes and kabobs, pizzas, and an eclectic array of chicken wings, paella, barbecue ribs, seafood or quesadillas.

We began with a complimentary basket of triangular, pizzalike crusts dusted with garlic butter and herbs. Though the accompanying roasted red pepper butter was delicious, the bread would have been better warm. My corn and crabmeat chowder ($3,25) had a nice, rich flavor, though it contained more corn and potato than crab.

We began with a complimentary basket of triangular, pizzalike crusts dusted with garlic butter and herbs. Though the accompanying roasted red pepper butter was delicious, the bread would have been better warm. My corn and crabmeat chowder ($3,25) had a nice, rich flavor, though it contained more corn and potato than crab.

My husband's Oriental marinated steak skewer ($6) consisted of four generous and tender helpings of teriyaki seasoned skirt beef. It was paired with a delightful ginger-soy aïoli (garlic mayonnaise).

My husband's Oriental marinated steak skewer ($6) consisted of four generous and tender helpings of teriyaki seasoned skirt beef. It was paired with a delightful ginger-soy aïoli (garlic mayonnaise).

The Barcelona stir-fry ($8) was a colorful blend of shrimp, calamari, chicken, andouille sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and garlic. Accompanied by a side-order of rice ($1.25), it was slightly larger than appetizer size. (The rice also made the dish more filling.) Despite the presence of sausage, we were unable to discern any smoky flavor.

The Barcelona stir-fry ($8) was a colorful blend of shrimp, calamari, chicken, andouille sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and garlic. Accompanied by a side-order of rice ($1.25), it was slightly larger than appetizer size. (The rice also made the dish more filling.) Despite the presence of sausage, we were unable to discern any smoky flavor.

My chicken and poblano pizza ($6), baked in a brick oven, arrived last. There was plenty of melted cheese to complement a zesty marinara sauce, a healthy dose of peppers and a just-right thin crust. The chicken, however, was scant.

My chicken and poblano pizza ($6), baked in a brick oven, arrived last. There was plenty of melted cheese to complement a zesty marinara sauce, a healthy dose of peppers and a just-right thin crust. The chicken, however, was scant.

Dessert, likewise, was inconsistent. There were more silvered almonds and whipped cream than custard in my petite-sized almond and amaretto flan ($2.75), but the distinctive almond liqueur flavor was lovely.

Dessert, likewise, was inconsistent. There were more silvered almonds and whipped cream than custard in my petite-sized almond and amaretto flan ($2.75), but the distinctive almond liqueur flavor was lovely.

My husband's ice cream pie ($3.25) was gigantic by Tu Tu standards. Similar to a mud pie, the chocolate hazelnut and praline ice cream layers rested on a moist, chocolate spongecake crust. Topped with a cloud of whipped cream and thin, drizzled chocolate sauce, it was much better.

My husband's ice cream pie ($3.25) was gigantic by Tu Tu standards. Similar to a mud pie, the chocolate hazelnut and praline ice cream layers rested on a moist, chocolate spongecake crust. Topped with a cloud of whipped cream and thin, drizzled chocolate sauce, it was much better.

Service here was impressive; our server was efficient, accommodating and well-versed on food preparation. We especially liked the ice water carafe left on the table for self-serve refills.

Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along that is so special, it causes a seismic shift on the restaurant scene. The whole staff performed such a dazzling job at our dinner at Citricos that it earned my highest recommendation even though dinner for two easily runs more than $100, and from some areas of town, a visit could involve a 45-minute drive. But Citricos is worth the travel and expense.

Part of Citricos' intrigue is the setting – on the second floor of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a Victorian luxury hotel that evokes Old Florida. While the restaurant's menu upon opening late last year called for a Mediterranean-Florida fusion, the current fare is more southern French, with international influences. The atmosphere has modern sensibilities, with earthy tiles and rich decor. The kitchen is "onstage," so you can watch chefs whip up gourmet creations.

Our waiter guided us through the menu, offering suggestions and tempting descriptions of meats sizzled over oak-mesquite log fires and dishes cooked in the hand-made, iron Chandler oven, acclaimed for bread-baking and slow-roasting excellence. The bread basket got our dinner off to a sensational start. It would be hard to exaggerate how moist and exquisite these breads were. The best were flecked with seaweed and pecans.

Among the entrees, roasted loin of lamb ($36) is arranged around an incredible Maine lobster ratatouille, with quarters of buerre blanc and spicy cabernet sauce. Another winner is the pork tenderloin ($25), roasted on a rotisserie, served with basil pesto, a spiral cut log of scalloped potatoes, and mixed Mediterranean vegetables.

Desserts include Key lime cheesecake and citrus crè'me brûlée, but we favored the bittersweet chocolate ravioli – a crescent of sheer escapism, cradled around a divine scoop of licorice ice cream.

Citricos is worthy of the most special of occasions, or if you're just in the mood for an epicurean indulgence.

Fine dining is a series of combinations of tastes, textures, the feel of the room, and the quality of service. If any one factor is off, it affects how you react to all the others. Of course, if the food is extraordinary, it's a lot easier to forgive an uninformed waiter or a noisy dishwasher, but when all the pieces fall into place... that's when an evening becomes unforgettable.

For ten years, one good combination has been the Peabody Hotel's reputation for service and the quality of their two restaurants, Dux and Capriccio. Dux is the more formal of the two and the only Mobil Four-Star rated restaurant in town. I've seen listings that "suggest" jackets, but I saw just as many casual diners as not when I was there.

For ten years, one good combination has been the Peabody Hotel's reputation for service and the quality of their two restaurants, Dux and Capriccio. Dux is the more formal of the two and the only Mobil Four-Star rated restaurant in town. I've seen listings that "suggest" jackets, but I saw just as many casual diners as not when I was there.

Yes, the ducks still parade twice a day (11 and 5), and Peabody chefs have actually disqualified themselves from national competitions if the ingredients include duck. Sort of like Disney chefs refusing to cook... maybe that's not a good example.

Yes, the ducks still parade twice a day (11 and 5), and Peabody chefs have actually disqualified themselves from national competitions if the ingredients include duck. Sort of like Disney chefs refusing to cook... maybe that's not a good example.

A neat, orchid-bedecked lobby with a small bar leads into the dining room, marble and muted maroon and taupe walls decorated with batik depictions of mallards and swans (ugly ducklings, I suppose). It's a comfortable room, tasteful yet removed from the formal atmosphere one would associate with jacketed waiters and silver serving trays (of which there are plenty - wait until you see the synchronized lid removal).

A neat, orchid-bedecked lobby with a small bar leads into the dining room, marble and muted maroon and taupe walls decorated with batik depictions of mallards and swans (ugly ducklings, I suppose). It's a comfortable room, tasteful yet removed from the formal atmosphere one would associate with jacketed waiters and silver serving trays (of which there are plenty - wait until you see the synchronized lid removal).

I was rather surprised at the brevity of the menu. The offerings do change seasonally – perhaps summer is the short season. An alternative to deciding is a chef's choice of four courses, which that night included soup, a fish course, tenderloin and dessert, for $65 a person. I chose to forgo the steak, and we ordered ala carte.

I was rather surprised at the brevity of the menu. The offerings do change seasonally – perhaps summer is the short season. An alternative to deciding is a chef's choice of four courses, which that night included soup, a fish course, tenderloin and dessert, for $65 a person. I chose to forgo the steak, and we ordered ala carte.

Combinations came into play with the chilled cucumber-yogurt soup ($14), garnished with dill and thin julienne of mint. The menu said it came with taboule, but there was a round island of couscous in the middle – which our waiter insisted was taboule, even without any evidence of parsley or tomato. Definitions change, I suppose. My crab salad, very fresh pieces of crab served atop a marinated tomato confit and lovely sunflower sprouts, was liberally laced with a very tart lemon dressing which did an unfortunate job of hiding the taste of the crab ($16).

Combinations came into play with the chilled cucumber-yogurt soup ($14), garnished with dill and thin julienne of mint. The menu said it came with taboule, but there was a round island of couscous in the middle – which our waiter insisted was taboule, even without any evidence of parsley or tomato. Definitions change, I suppose. My crab salad, very fresh pieces of crab served atop a marinated tomato confit and lovely sunflower sprouts, was liberally laced with a very tart lemon dressing which did an unfortunate job of hiding the taste of the crab ($16).

The lamb sirloin ($28), a tender round of meat, sat atop a bland mixture of eggplant, tomato and pine nuts which neither subtracted nor enhanced the taste. A moist, perfectly cooked cross-section of Atlantic salmon, topped with jewel-like salmon roe, was revealed under my domed lid ($24). The saltwater taste of the roe made the fish seem even fresher. It was served with savory sautéd artichoke and a Merlot wine reduction that I can only call magnificent. But back to combinations: perfect taken separately, the sauce was so overwhelming that unless I ate the salmon by itself I could barely taste it. My partner kept leaning over and dipping her lamb into the sauce, and that's where it should have been.

The lamb sirloin ($28), a tender round of meat, sat atop a bland mixture of eggplant, tomato and pine nuts which neither subtracted nor enhanced the taste. A moist, perfectly cooked cross-section of Atlantic salmon, topped with jewel-like salmon roe, was revealed under my domed lid ($24). The saltwater taste of the roe made the fish seem even fresher. It was served with savory sautéd artichoke and a Merlot wine reduction that I can only call magnificent. But back to combinations: perfect taken separately, the sauce was so overwhelming that unless I ate the salmon by itself I could barely taste it. My partner kept leaning over and dipping her lamb into the sauce, and that's where it should have been.

Frankly, I've been more impressed with the quality and variety of food at Capriccio, right next door. I'd hate to think that Dux was nesting on its laurels.

It was about 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday, and Enzo's on the Lake was in its glory. Most of the tables were filled. Waiters glided through the dining areas bearing trays of Italian delicacies that perfumed the room. As the sunlight faded over Fairy Lake outside, soft candles in the restaurant threw a golden blush on the pale walls, which were filled with Picasso-style portraits. The sounds of Sade struck a note of serenity that seemed, on the surface of things, to define the mood.

But all was not as it seemed. The couple at the table next to us were debating whether to get up and leave. Having been seated 20 minutes prior, they still hadn't received a bread basket or a menu. I've heard reports of long waits at Enzo's, but we received plenty of attention from our charming waiter during most of the dinner. It was later when we found ourselves waiting about 20 minutes too long for the check, something that's not easy to overlook when you're paying upward of $100 at a restaurant that maintains its reputation as one of the area's best.

Such are the apparent contradictions of Enzo's on the Lake, a stunningly beautiful and sophisticated restaurant, oddly situated on a section of Highway 17-92 in Longwood that's clogged with convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets. The restaurant's culinary reputation is impeccable, and we tasted the proof. But it's also the lakefront setting, lush with old Florida foliage, that draws people from metro Orlando and beyond.

Our waiter had a crisp Italian accent, and it only whets the appetite to hear lilting, lyrical descriptions of zuppa del giorno (soup of the day) and to hear shrimp referred to as gamberoni.

We started off with a huge platter filled with cozze (mussels), peeking out of glossy, black shells ($9.80). There was a classic broth of white wine, tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and a touch of red pepper. The simple treatment enhanced the tender flavors of the mussel flesh. Next we tried the traditional wedding soup (pastina in brodo, $4.75), a clear consomme in which floated delicate veal meatballs, pasta and chopped carrots and celery.

Gamberoni alla verdure is an excellent choice for shrimp lovers ($25). Four jumbo shrimp are accented by a sauce of Pernod French liqueur, served alongside a dome of moist spinach risotto. And the ravioli al sugo entree is notable mainly for the wide, flat pasta pillows that are lightly stuffed with spinach, chicken and ricotta ($17.50). The accompanying Neapolitan veal sauce is a specialty of owner Enzo Perlini.

Dessert would have been nice, but we grew tired of waiting for the check and settled for a cappuccino instead.

Although you may experience some delays in service while navigating the menu, Enzo's offers dinners to remember – visually, as well as tastefully.

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?

I had a hard time pinning down what kind of food it is namesake chef Justin Plank turns out of the kitchen of this renamed venture in a tenured Park Avenue location, so I went to the restaurant's website and came up with this gem: "New Euro Florida cuisine with a retro flair led by Mediterranean flavors with a slight Pan-Asian influence." In other words, they're not really sure what they're cooking either. had a hard time pinning down what kind of food it is namesake chef Justin Plank turns out of the kitchen of this renamed venture in a tenured Park Avenue location, so I went to the restaurant's website and came up with this gem: "New Euro Florida cuisine with a retro flair led by Mediterranean flavors with a slight Pan-Asian influence." In other words, they're not really sure what they're cooking either.

The line sounds like description by committee, or a new stab at reviving the "fusion" label, and it does a disservice to what Park Plaza is about: reliably good, innovative dishes served with style and flair in an atmosphere that does justice to the Park Avenue address. The place has casual-yet-refined feel to it; you can hang out on the sidewalk café and watch the poseurs pass by, you can take a seat at the renovated bar, or you can sit down for a full meal and enjoy the outdoors-indoors feel of the patio/restaurant. That's not trendy, it's just cool.

The line sounds like description by committee, or a new stab at reviving the "fusion" label, and it does a disservice to what Park Plaza is about: reliably good, innovative dishes served with style and flair in an atmosphere that does justice to the Park Avenue address. The place has casual-yet-refined feel to it; you can hang out on the sidewalk café and watch the poseurs pass by, you can take a seat at the renovated bar, or you can sit down for a full meal and enjoy the outdoors-indoors feel of the patio/restaurant. That's not trendy, it's just cool.

We went for the full-meal treatment, kicking it off with "Chef Justin's risotto" ($9), an appetizer easily big enough for two that featured cubes of roast duck and mango. While the duck was cut too small to add much to the dish, the mango imparted a sweetness that proved an excellent complement to the texture of the risotto. Another appetizer, "The Plaza wedge" ($7), was just as ambitious, if less successful. It turned out to be a hunk of iceberg lettuce topped with Gouda cheese, a slice of prosciutto and cherry tomatoes in herbed balsamic vinaigrette. Iceberg lettuce is always a problem at this price point, and the vinaigrette was too sweet. On the other hand, I'll sing the praises of "Chef Justin's five onion soup" ($6) to the rafters; it may well be the best bowl of onion soup on the planet. This hearty, intoxicating mixture of red, green and yellow onions, shallots and chives, topped with provolone, is the antidote for anyone who thinks onion soup has to be a thin, salty broth with slivers of white onions and bread cubes floating around in it.

We went for the full-meal treatment, kicking it off with "Chef Justin's risotto" ($9), an appetizer easily big enough for two that featured cubes of roast duck and mango. While the duck was cut too small to add much to the dish, the mango imparted a sweetness that proved an excellent complement to the texture of the risotto. Another appetizer, "The Plaza wedge" ($7), was just as ambitious, if less successful. It turned out to be a hunk of iceberg lettuce topped with Gouda cheese, a slice of prosciutto and cherry tomatoes in herbed balsamic vinaigrette. Iceberg lettuce is always a problem at this price point, and the vinaigrette was too sweet. On the other hand, I'll sing the praises of "Chef Justin's five onion soup" ($6) to the rafters; it may well be the best bowl of onion soup on the planet. This hearty, intoxicating mixture of red, green and yellow onions, shallots and chives, topped with provolone, is the antidote for anyone who thinks onion soup has to be a thin, salty broth with slivers of white onions and bread cubes floating around in it.

When the entrées came, I was a bit reluctant to dig in to mine – an herb-crusted roast pork tenderloin on a bed of root vegetables ($26) – because it looked so darn pretty arranged just so and topped with a hibiscus bud. It proved as good as it looked; the pork was as tender as quality beef with an infused smoky sweetness. The sauce also picked up sweetness and texture from the cranberries and cashews, and overall the dish was polished and satisfying.

When the entrées came, I was a bit reluctant to dig in to mine – an herb-crusted roast pork tenderloin on a bed of root vegetables ($26) – because it looked so darn pretty arranged just so and topped with a hibiscus bud. It proved as good as it looked; the pork was as tender as quality beef with an infused smoky sweetness. The sauce also picked up sweetness and texture from the cranberries and cashews, and overall the dish was polished and satisfying.

A seafood bouillabaisse ($36) came to the table looking every bit as gorgeous, filled as it was with mussels, giant prawns, clams, fish and half a Maine lobster tail. I had high expectations, given the price, and was a bit disappointed. The lobster and prawns were grilled before being added and were a touch dry, while the clams and mussels did get a chance to stew in the juices and benefited from it. The stock was hearty and fishy, with a subtle curry flavor Chef Justin himself attributes to his use of star anise and Pernod. The trouble was that the spicing just didn't seem to make its way into the larger chunks of seafood.

A seafood bouillabaisse ($36) came to the table looking every bit as gorgeous, filled as it was with mussels, giant prawns, clams, fish and half a Maine lobster tail. I had high expectations, given the price, and was a bit disappointed. The lobster and prawns were grilled before being added and were a touch dry, while the clams and mussels did get a chance to stew in the juices and benefited from it. The stock was hearty and fishy, with a subtle curry flavor Chef Justin himself attributes to his use of star anise and Pernod. The trouble was that the spicing just didn't seem to make its way into the larger chunks of seafood.

Service was courteous to a fault, attentive without being annoying, in keeping with the Continental atmosphere of the restaurant. But overall the experience felt pricey. When entrees get into the $30 range, they'd better be something to burst into song about. Chef Justin's Park Plaza Gardens had me humming a tune, but not quite ready to dance on the tables.

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