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    In a previous life, I spent a lot of time traveling for business, which brought me to a lot of hotel restaurants, usually alone (sniff). Being perched at a noisy, dimly lit table trying to read a book and eat affords ample time to experience the food, and let me tell you, it was usually a bad experience.

    So my hopes for Bistro 1501, the slightly upscale restaurant at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, weren't high, although I always go into an establishment hoping for a fabulous meal. This time, my hopes were answered.

    So my hopes for Bistro 1501, the slightly upscale restaurant at the Orlando Marriott Lake Mary, weren't high, although I always go into an establishment hoping for a fabulous meal. This time, my hopes were answered.

    The room isn't overwhelmingly large, and sitting at the high, cushy banquettes is like having your own private little dining area. I liked the décor -- wood walls and gorgeous glass accents -- and the casual attentiveness of the staff. The food was damn good, too.

    The room isn't overwhelmingly large, and sitting at the high, cushy banquettes is like having your own private little dining area. I liked the décor -- wood walls and gorgeous glass accents -- and the casual attentiveness of the staff. The food was damn good, too.

    Scott Dickenson, former executive chef for the Church Street Station complex, is behind the stove at Bistro, turning out his own recipes of what management calls "American food," which means that the influences are from everywhere.

    Scott Dickenson, former executive chef for the Church Street Station complex, is behind the stove at Bistro, turning out his own recipes of what management calls "American food," which means that the influences are from everywhere.

    Half the menu features seafood. The fish arrives whole in the kitchen and is filleted there.

    Half the menu features seafood. The fish arrives whole in the kitchen and is filleted there.

    My fried-oyster and spinach salad ($7.95) was a huge bowl of tender leaves dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp, flattened, fried oysters, sort of shellfish fritters. If you only order this dish, you'll be happy.

    My fried-oyster and spinach salad ($7.95) was a huge bowl of tender leaves dressed in a lemony vinaigrette and accompanied by crisp, flattened, fried oysters, sort of shellfish fritters. If you only order this dish, you'll be happy.

    A simple bowl of seafood chowder is far from simple here, a $3.95 feast of grouper chunks, shrimp (a little overcooked, but delectable) and crabmeat in a thick tomato and corn base with perhaps a bit too much salt.

    A simple bowl of seafood chowder is far from simple here, a $3.95 feast of grouper chunks, shrimp (a little overcooked, but delectable) and crabmeat in a thick tomato and corn base with perhaps a bit too much salt.

    The cream of asparagus "carpe diem" soup du jour ($3.50) didn't suffer from a salt problem and came out rich and marvelously green tasting.

    The cream of asparagus "carpe diem" soup du jour ($3.50) didn't suffer from a salt problem and came out rich and marvelously green tasting.

    The "Captain's grouper" ($19.95) is a guilty pleasure. Topped with lump crabmeat, the perfectly sautéed fish is coated in what tastes like a richly caramelized breading, but is actually a crust of pulverized Captain Crunch cereal. Yes, it sounds disgusting but, heaven help me, it's delicious. And you won't have to eat breakfast the next morning.

    The "Captain's grouper" ($19.95) is a guilty pleasure. Topped with lump crabmeat, the perfectly sautéed fish is coated in what tastes like a richly caramelized breading, but is actually a crust of pulverized Captain Crunch cereal. Yes, it sounds disgusting but, heaven help me, it's delicious. And you won't have to eat breakfast the next morning.

    Over on the carnivorous side of the menu, the 12-ounce New York strip ($20.95) comes to the table glistening from the grill and basted in a red wine reduction. The steak was a bit fatty and not tough, but resistant ... but that's a NY strip after all. The taste was worth it.

    Over on the carnivorous side of the menu, the 12-ounce New York strip ($20.95) comes to the table glistening from the grill and basted in a red wine reduction. The steak was a bit fatty and not tough, but resistant ... but that's a NY strip after all. The taste was worth it.

    Dessert choices are varied and unique, including a must-have apple caramel custard pie, and a very strange-sounding "cheesecake burrito" that I just couldn't get myself to order.

    Dessert choices are varied and unique, including a must-have apple caramel custard pie, and a very strange-sounding "cheesecake burrito" that I just couldn't get myself to order.

    All in all, the surroundings, service and bill of fare makes Bistro 1501 well worth the drive up I-4.

    My friend and I got to Harvey's Heathrow around 5 p.m., just as they were opening for the evening. We sidled into a bar booth and eagerly embraced our bronze paper menus. As my eyes rested on a delightful-sounding onion and ale soup with Gouda ($5), my friend said, "Oh, look. The beautiful people are arriving."

    Startled out of my menu-reading trance, I looked up to watch a gaggle of golf shirts strutting in accompanied by fake boobs. Welcome to the Lake Mary dining scene, where replicas of great restaurants are set amidst the sprawl of construction.

    The original Harvey's, a downtown Orlando establishment for more than 10 years, has decidedly kept up with the dining times, even if it's a little dated in appearance. The new Heathrow site has an updated appearance, while still maintaining the delicious set of standards upheld by the original.

    The Harvey's in Heathrow differs from the original in one respect: The room is lighter and brighter and more airy than the dark-wood, bottom-floor-of-a-bank original. A shotgun dining room juts out from a spacious bar and is bathed in mint green and russet. Adorning every nook and cranny are design elements made of geometrical shapes – like the giant orb lamps suspended near small, angular square paintings.

    We ordered a first course of lobster bisque ($5) and artichoke and cashew salad ($7) as we perused the menu for more. The lobster bisque was perfect: Sweet lobster meat mixed with rich, heavy cream that hit the tongue first. Then a subtle heat followed, tinged with pungent garlic and fragrant tarragon. Finally, a note of acidic sherry burst through, while the taste of cream still lingered. I was so absorbed that I barely had a chance to taste my friend's salad, but she insisted. Raspberry vinaigrette draped over greens and whole cashews made for a bright, clean flavor that paired well with artichoke hearts. We also tried Harvey's version of Caprese salad ($7), a mixture of underripe red and perfectly ripened yellow tomatoes stacked with fresh mozzarella cheese. This is a dish in which most restaurants miss the point. Let's face it: This is a seasonal salad, at its best when the ingredients are so fresh that the tomatoes are picked an hour before they're served (why even bother with a tasteless, green tomato?) and the cheese has been hand-pulled by the owner's grandmother in the basement. Unfortunately, Harvey's didn't quite meet that expectation, but the fresh basil and a crude pesto gave it some spunk.

    The entrees are a mix of surf and turf with a few pasta dishes thrown in. My friend ordered the grilled petite tenderloin ($24), a succulent center cut of beef, well seasoned and cooked exactly to her desired doneness. A mélange of jardinière snow peas, carrots and onions, cooked tender with a refreshing snap of crispness, were dynamite. I eschewed my usual pot roast ($17) to try herb-crusted sea scallops on angel hair ($18). Drenched in a silky sauce of wine, garlic and clams, the pasta was irresistible. A few dollops of sautéed spinach made a bed for the herb-encrusted scallops, which tasted superb with nice salinity and a wonderful crust of herbed batter. But the four scallops themselves were a tad overcooked and on the rubbery side. There are many other choices, but if you like duck, don't miss the roasted half duck with triple sec and pistachio glaze ($19), a tribute to the undervalued bird.

    For a nibble at the bar, I recommend ordering a bowl of truffle fries ($6), dusted with Parmesan and tossed with lightly fried shiitake mushrooms. They had a deft hand with truffle oil in the kitchen, and this dish was magic, instead of a mouthful of perfume.

    We were full by dessert, but we couldn't resist at least sharing a slice of Key lime pie ($5), a pleasing balance of tartness and sweetness.

    Harvey's is another successful addition to the expanding dining scene of the Lake Mary/ Heathrow area. Even if this part of town represents a maze of highways, malls, construction and suburban sprawl that I don't appreciate, at least they know how to eat up here.

    We didn't make the connection at first, but anytime you visit Heathrow, the community where frozen-pizza baron Jeno Paulucci has played such a pivotal role for more than a decade, you can assume he's somehow involved. Luigino's Pasta and Steak House is indeed Paulucci's brain child, taking its title from his formal name. (Jeno's Pasta and Steak House definitely would not suit this upscale restaurant.)

    Even though it's set in a shopping plaza and mini-office park, Luigino's initially strikes you with the look and tone of a country club. Enter through the polished glass doors into the mahogany-accented foyer to be led to table in the dining room, which is dominated by expansive waterfront views of palatial homes and golf-course links. Add to that the Continental menu with entrees that top out at $29.95, and this restaurant would seemingly qualify as a selection for special occasions.

    Even though it's set in a shopping plaza and mini-office park, Luigino's initially strikes you with the look and tone of a country club. Enter through the polished glass doors into the mahogany-accented foyer to be led to table in the dining room, which is dominated by expansive waterfront views of palatial homes and golf-course links. Add to that the Continental menu with entrees that top out at $29.95, and this restaurant would seemingly qualify as a selection for special occasions.

    But we quickly got over the imposing setting and relaxed when we found the mood to be lively and casual, with diners dressed in khakis and oxfords. And the couple at the next table felt comfortable enough to engage us in a friendly conversation about what another table had ordered.

    But we quickly got over the imposing setting and relaxed when we found the mood to be lively and casual, with diners dressed in khakis and oxfords. And the couple at the next table felt comfortable enough to engage us in a friendly conversation about what another table had ordered.

    The menu is up to par, as we discovered, beginning with our appetizers. My guest's "antipasto misto" ($8.95) was a delicious presentation of a platter of the best cuts of tender, salty prosciutto, salami slices, ham and mozzarella. A luscious, marinated artichoke was carved open to reveal a firm, meaty center. We also enjoyed "calamari fritti," priced rather low at $5.95. The calamari rings were curiously narrow and slender, but the fried batter was light-tasting with a hint of "pomodoro" sauce.

    The menu is up to par, as we discovered, beginning with our appetizers. My guest's "antipasto misto" ($8.95) was a delicious presentation of a platter of the best cuts of tender, salty prosciutto, salami slices, ham and mozzarella. A luscious, marinated artichoke was carved open to reveal a firm, meaty center. We also enjoyed "calamari fritti," priced rather low at $5.95. The calamari rings were curiously narrow and slender, but the fried batter was light-tasting with a hint of "pomodoro" sauce.

    There is a substantial pasta menu that includes primavera versions of penne dishes and a delicious lobster ravioli ($18.95) that's seasoned with saffron and topped with a pink sauce of shiitake mushrooms. But my guest raved about the frutti di mare ($23.95), which included a sautéed jumble of lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and calamari. These were served over a bed of linguine with a surprisingly delicate marinara sauce. We also enjoyed "filet Guiseppe" ($24.95), a dish reminiscent of beef Wellington. The filet mignon was stuffed with prosciutto and cheeses that were a bit too salty, but it was baked in a towering puff pastry and served with bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.

    There is a substantial pasta menu that includes primavera versions of penne dishes and a delicious lobster ravioli ($18.95) that's seasoned with saffron and topped with a pink sauce of shiitake mushrooms. But my guest raved about the frutti di mare ($23.95), which included a sautéed jumble of lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and calamari. These were served over a bed of linguine with a surprisingly delicate marinara sauce. We also enjoyed "filet Guiseppe" ($24.95), a dish reminiscent of beef Wellington. The filet mignon was stuffed with prosciutto and cheeses that were a bit too salty, but it was baked in a towering puff pastry and served with bordelaise and béarnaise sauce.

    The wait staff was watchful throughout the meal; water goblets and coffee cups stayed full, and leftovers were discreetly boxed up and presented with the check. Luigino's Pasta and Steak House may not break new culinary ground, but on the north side of town, it stands out for its consistently delicious menu and picturesque setting.

    Take a peek at the "Steaks" heading in Orlando Weekly's 2004 edition of BITE, and you'll see that this town is up to here in steakhouses. From Linda's La Cantina, to Kres (you say steakhouse, they say chophouse, let's call that whole argument off), to Ruth's Chris, to Sam Seltzer's, to Vito's, if you can't find a big platter of beef with a side of garlic mashed potatoes within minutes of where you are right now, you're not really trying.

    So why would yet another steakhouse venture into this already crowded field? Good question, and one I can't answer after a recent visit to Omaha SteakHouse.

    So why would yet another steakhouse venture into this already crowded field? Good question, and one I can't answer after a recent visit to Omaha SteakHouse.

    The first thing to know about the new kid on the block is that, yes, it is the restaurant manifestation of Omaha Steaks, the mail-order and retail meat folks. Getting a cooler full of cuts in the mail has always been kind of cool, and Omaha Steaks has a deserved reputation for their beef. They still claim it's their corn-fed cows that make for such good eating.

    The first thing to know about the new kid on the block is that, yes, it is the restaurant manifestation of Omaha Steaks, the mail-order and retail meat folks. Getting a cooler full of cuts in the mail has always been kind of cool, and Omaha Steaks has a deserved reputation for their beef. They still claim it's their corn-fed cows that make for such good eating.

    The second thing to know about the new kid on the block is that it is hard to find. There are only seven Omaha SteakHouses in the country so far, so you'd think they'd want a big, splashy location that screams "We're here!" But you'd be wrong. The restaurant is located in the Embassy Suites Orlando North, an outwardly generic (though inwardly posh) hotel set back from the gash of commerce that is Altamonte Drive east of I-4. I drove by it twice before finding it. Even when you find the Embassy Suites, there is precious little signage letting on that you've also found Omaha SteakHouse.

    The second thing to know about the new kid on the block is that it is hard to find. There are only seven Omaha SteakHouses in the country so far, so you'd think they'd want a big, splashy location that screams "We're here!" But you'd be wrong. The restaurant is located in the Embassy Suites Orlando North, an outwardly generic (though inwardly posh) hotel set back from the gash of commerce that is Altamonte Drive east of I-4. I drove by it twice before finding it. Even when you find the Embassy Suites, there is precious little signage letting on that you've also found Omaha SteakHouse.

    Maybe they were thinking that the beef is so good they can hide and still draw a crowd. But from my experience (and the fact that the place was almost empty), I'm thinking not.

    Maybe they were thinking that the beef is so good they can hide and still draw a crowd. But from my experience (and the fact that the place was almost empty), I'm thinking not.

    Don't get me wrong: The food was good to excellent, the service was low-key and impeccable, and the atmosphere was refined and relaxing. I could say the same, however, for almost every other steakhouse in Orlando.

    Don't get me wrong: The food was good to excellent, the service was low-key and impeccable, and the atmosphere was refined and relaxing. I could say the same, however, for almost every other steakhouse in Orlando.

    We started with the crab bisque ($4.95), which proved as smooth, savory and delicious as its burnt-orange hue suggested. That it came in a bowl big enough to serve as a washbasin only added to my enjoyment. Another appetizer, three-cheese quesadillas ($7.25), was generous enough to serve as a kids' meal.

    We started with the crab bisque ($4.95), which proved as smooth, savory and delicious as its burnt-orange hue suggested. That it came in a bowl big enough to serve as a washbasin only added to my enjoyment. Another appetizer, three-cheese quesadillas ($7.25), was generous enough to serve as a kids' meal.

    For entrees, we ordered up the Roquefort and chive encrusted top sirloin ($18.95), and the 7-ounce "private reserve" filet mignon ($23.95). The former was a touch dry, and I wouldn't exactly say it was "encrusted"; more like the Roquefort was plopped on top. Nonetheless, the cheese added needed moisture to the meat, complementing it beautifully. The filet, on the other hand, was fork tender and flavorful all on its own, a near-perfect cut.

    For entrees, we ordered up the Roquefort and chive encrusted top sirloin ($18.95), and the 7-ounce "private reserve" filet mignon ($23.95). The former was a touch dry, and I wouldn't exactly say it was "encrusted"; more like the Roquefort was plopped on top. Nonetheless, the cheese added needed moisture to the meat, complementing it beautifully. The filet, on the other hand, was fork tender and flavorful all on its own, a near-perfect cut.

    The sides were not as successful. I'd like to formally lodge a complaint against all steakhouses that charge $20-plus for a piece of meat and skimp on (or do away with) any vegetables on the plate. The steak-on-a-stark-white-plate aesthetic has had its day. At Omaha, your meat comes with a side of mashed potatoes that, in our case, came out cold and crying out for salt.

    The sides were not as successful. I'd like to formally lodge a complaint against all steakhouses that charge $20-plus for a piece of meat and skimp on (or do away with) any vegetables on the plate. The steak-on-a-stark-white-plate aesthetic has had its day. At Omaha, your meat comes with a side of mashed potatoes that, in our case, came out cold and crying out for salt.

    I only ate half my steak in order to save room for dessert, and frankly I've had none finer that I can recall. Omaha's "big New Yorker cheesecake" ($6.95) was worth the trip itself; fluffy and dense at the same time, the epitome of New York-style cheesecake.

    I only ate half my steak in order to save room for dessert, and frankly I've had none finer that I can recall. Omaha's "big New Yorker cheesecake" ($6.95) was worth the trip itself; fluffy and dense at the same time, the epitome of New York-style cheesecake.

    Perhaps we are so Atkins crazed that any steakhouse is a guaranteed success these days. But I have to say that I left Omaha SteakHouse thinking they have a struggle ahead of them to make it in this market. Step No. 1: Get yourself a bigger sign.

    Judging from the packed parking lot, we thought we were about to experience Steaks "R" Us. And since we spotted quite a few "Jeb!" and Confederate flag bumper stickers, we weren't quite sure what else to expect. A gaudy marquee announced Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse to the traffic on State Road 436, and a small group of fiberglass cow statues greeted us at the front door.

    And so we found ourselves lining up with hundreds of other carnivores at the restaurant that bills itself as "the biggest steakhouse in town." Steak World might be a better name. The smoking section alone seats about 110 people, and the restaurant holds a total of 375 customers. On a busy night, it's almost like visiting a Disney satellite attraction, where hundreds of animatrons sit neatly at tables, chewing politely on their red-meat fix.

    And so we found ourselves lining up with hundreds of other carnivores at the restaurant that bills itself as "the biggest steakhouse in town." Steak World might be a better name. The smoking section alone seats about 110 people, and the restaurant holds a total of 375 customers. On a busy night, it's almost like visiting a Disney satellite attraction, where hundreds of animatrons sit neatly at tables, chewing politely on their red-meat fix.

    The seating is arranged into dining clusters through a series of rooms, so at least you aren't elbow-to-elbow with the masses. After scanning the appetizer menu, we chose the deep-fried onion blossom -- of course. It's required eating in a steakhouse, and it seems like every restaurant trots out the same basic version these days. Here, it's called "Sam's wild onion rose" ($4.95), and it was not bad at all -- crisp and crunchy, not greasy a bit, served with a peppery horseradish-Thousand Island dressing.

    The seating is arranged into dining clusters through a series of rooms, so at least you aren't elbow-to-elbow with the masses. After scanning the appetizer menu, we chose the deep-fried onion blossom -- of course. It's required eating in a steakhouse, and it seems like every restaurant trots out the same basic version these days. Here, it's called "Sam's wild onion rose" ($4.95), and it was not bad at all -- crisp and crunchy, not greasy a bit, served with a peppery horseradish-Thousand Island dressing.

    "Sam's wings & ribs" ($6.95) turned out to be drummettes and ribs, but they were fall-off-the-bone tender, glazed with a sweet barbecue sauce. In fact, they were far more tender than my 16-ounce rib-eye ($13.95), which the menu promised would be "exquisitely tender" but wasn't. My guest's 10-ounce filet mignon ($14.95) was the best thing we had that evening. It was cooked properly medium, with a hot, pink center. Our dinners came with a choice of salads and sides, and our favorite was the garlic mashed potatoes. The creamed spinach was excruciatingly bland.

    "Sam's wings & ribs" ($6.95) turned out to be drummettes and ribs, but they were fall-off-the-bone tender, glazed with a sweet barbecue sauce. In fact, they were far more tender than my 16-ounce rib-eye ($13.95), which the menu promised would be "exquisitely tender" but wasn't. My guest's 10-ounce filet mignon ($14.95) was the best thing we had that evening. It was cooked properly medium, with a hot, pink center. Our dinners came with a choice of salads and sides, and our favorite was the garlic mashed potatoes. The creamed spinach was excruciatingly bland.

    If you have room for dessert, there is a great "chocolate explosion" ($4.50) that features a triple-whammy of cake, mousse and brownie, dunked with hot fudge sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.

    If you have room for dessert, there is a great "chocolate explosion" ($4.50) that features a triple-whammy of cake, mousse and brownie, dunked with hot fudge sauce and topped with vanilla ice cream.

    Our waiter was on the ball, obliging every request and checking on us frequently, which couldn't have been easy considering how fast the place filled up. Sam Seltzer's is a notch above the more generic steak shacks, but it's also handy for those times when you don't want to part with the monthly power-bill allowance to feed your craving at Ruth's Chris Steak House or Del Frisco's.

    We were told the wait would be 25 minutes, which wasn't surprising given it was Saturday night and that we hadn't made reservations at Shula's 347 Grill, a casual spinoff of the Don's chain of upscale steakhouses. A hightop table was offered, but we politely declined, took a seat on the curvilinear silver sofa and opted to wait it out. But someone in the front of the house must have decided to run the hurry-up offense, because not two minutes later, we were being seated at a table in the back of the restaurant, away from the din and clamor of the bar. We may not have been seated in those cozy plush leather booths (they were all occupied), but we had sufficient privacy, given the entire back row of tables was free of diners.

    The '347� is a reference to the number of wins Don Shula amassed over his 33-year coaching career. It's safe to say Shula has notched another win with this restaurant situated inside the Westin Lake Mary hotel, but it isn't resounding enough a win to compel us to come, ahem, running back. For one, the potential for a burgeoning hotel-bar pick-up scene isn't really one we particularly care for, nor is the incessant clatter ringing through the restaurant. Understandably, it's the restaurant's raison d'être and the milieu many of its patrons look for. Part sports bar, part trendy steakhouse, Shula's 347 undoubtedly benefits from the spillage from bars and restaurants situated across the street in the Colonial TownPark. 

    The space itself is attractive, with metallic steel-grey walls, chrome accents, polished hardwood floors and a centerpiece wine vault splitting the lounge from the dining area. It's a high-energy joint in which our sprightly waiter seemed perfectly comfortable. His suggestion that we start with the honey-sesame chicken ($9) was a good one; the seemingly prosaic starter was a delight ' fried orbs of chicken came in a bowl zested with ginger and stacked with plenty of cabbage and green and red onions for a healthy crunch. But beef is what we really came for, and we were a little saddened to see only four cuts available, three of which were of the 'Shula Cut� variety (premium Black Angus beef that exceeds seven of the eight standards qualifying steaks as USDA Prime). The 10-ounce flatiron steak ($26), while cooked perfectly, was somewhat marred by the spice rub and a pool of red wine demi-glace. A heap of crispy fried onions were a nice topping, but a little less adulteration would've benefited this steak. 

    For a few bucks more, the cowboy steak ($32) was simply outstanding. The wonderful marbling and flavor running through this 16-ounce bone-in ribeye made it a dish we'd seriously consider returning for, though next time we'd probably just eat it outside on the patio. We didn't care for the sides of corn-edamame succotash (the texture didn't mesh well with the juicy steak) or the dry citrus rice pilaf. 

    Seafood and sandwiches comprise a hefty chunk of the menu, and we were thoroughly gratified by the fish of the day, a hefty chunk of grouper ($26), simply grilled and served with asparagus drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and creamy smashed potatoes. After waiting a while for our dessert order, we ultimately indulged in a divine wedge of warm chocolate cake ($8) and vanilla-bean crème brûlée, a now all-too familiar and common standby. In retrospect, the same claim can be made for Shula's 347.

    Picture this: A smart-looking grill and tavern at Heathrow, part of an up-and-coming chain founded by a couple of Darden Restaurants refugees. We thought we knew the drill: big brews, plenty of animal protein and a menu that tastes like it was prepared by bookkeepers from corporate headquarters.

    But we really loved Stonewood Tavern and Grill, and so does the neighborhood, even though the place has been open less than a month. Stonewood has become an instant player in the Lake Mary/Heathrow area. Part of its allure is the rustic elegance: The tavern and dining area are pulled together by stacked stone walls, rich wood tables and high-backed booths so plush you could take a nap in them. (And the jeans-clad waiters are so friendly, they probably wouldn't mind.) Lighting design adds to the feng shui; recessed into high ceilings, the lights illuminate the walkways, with a subtle spotlight aimed at the center of each table. The focus is on the meat lover's menu, highlighted by the many offerings that are smoked over an oak-wood grill.

    But we really loved Stonewood Tavern and Grill, and so does the neighborhood, even though the place has been open less than a month. Stonewood has become an instant player in the Lake Mary/Heathrow area. Part of its allure is the rustic elegance: The tavern and dining area are pulled together by stacked stone walls, rich wood tables and high-backed booths so plush you could take a nap in them. (And the jeans-clad waiters are so friendly, they probably wouldn't mind.) Lighting design adds to the feng shui; recessed into high ceilings, the lights illuminate the walkways, with a subtle spotlight aimed at the center of each table. The focus is on the meat lover's menu, highlighted by the many offerings that are smoked over an oak-wood grill.

    From the start it was clear that our attempts to have a linear conversation would be useless: Every time a fresh wave of handiwork arrived from the kitchen, we forgot whatever it was we were talking about.

    From the start it was clear that our attempts to have a linear conversation would be useless: Every time a fresh wave of handiwork arrived from the kitchen, we forgot whatever it was we were talking about.

    The "oak-grilled shrimp" appetizer ($7.45) is well worth the splurge; the bright-pink crustaceans were succulently steeped in tempting woodsy aromas, and they were excellent when dipped in the avocado-basil sauce. Attention also must be paid to "walla walla" fried onions ($5.95), which were jumbo onion sticks dipped in buttermilk batter, fried to a greaseless crisp and served with red-pepper sauce.

    The "oak-grilled shrimp" appetizer ($7.45) is well worth the splurge; the bright-pink crustaceans were succulently steeped in tempting woodsy aromas, and they were excellent when dipped in the avocado-basil sauce. Attention also must be paid to "walla walla" fried onions ($5.95), which were jumbo onion sticks dipped in buttermilk batter, fried to a greaseless crisp and served with red-pepper sauce.

    For an entree, you could fork over a bundle for the lamb chops ($19.95) encrusted with herbs or the "Pacific cliffs salmon" ($16.95) coated with almonds and brandied blueberry compote. But the sandwiches are excellent, too, and they come with heaps of fries. Or try the pan-seared grouper with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise ($8.45).

    For an entree, you could fork over a bundle for the lamb chops ($19.95) encrusted with herbs or the "Pacific cliffs salmon" ($16.95) coated with almonds and brandied blueberry compote. But the sandwiches are excellent, too, and they come with heaps of fries. Or try the pan-seared grouper with ginger-wasabi mayonnaise ($8.45).

    The tender and juicy "pork Adirondack" ($15.95), a tenderloin sautéed in white-wine mushroom sauce, is about as good as pork gets. And although it doesn't quite qualify as truly great, the scorching New York strip steak ($20.95) was still a source of pleasure. The prime-grade cut of beef was dry aged and sizzled with a bit of butter.

    The tender and juicy "pork Adirondack" ($15.95), a tenderloin sautéed in white-wine mushroom sauce, is about as good as pork gets. And although it doesn't quite qualify as truly great, the scorching New York strip steak ($20.95) was still a source of pleasure. The prime-grade cut of beef was dry aged and sizzled with a bit of butter.

    Service was great and collaborative; the whole team knew what they were doing, with the exception of a baked potato that arrived with the works on top, not on the side as requested.

    Service was great and collaborative; the whole team knew what they were doing, with the exception of a baked potato that arrived with the works on top, not on the side as requested.

    For a new entry, Stonewood carries the smell of success.

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