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    It's a rare sight to see a professional chef who doubles as a professor of mathematics, but at DeLand's Cress Restaurant, that relative improbability is an absolute certainty courtesy of arithmetic and culinary whiz Hari Pulapaka. What's more, diners can expect an improbability of another sort, that being the pleasant sight of chef Hari paying not one, but multiple tableside visits to check on your meal and shoot the breeze. Of course, such visits are contingent on how busy the restaurant happens to be ' mathematically speaking, the frequency of visits (V) is inversely proportional to the number of patrons (P) in the dining room, or V = 1/P. Gastronomically speaking, it all adds up to a special dining experience, and one that area foodies will eat up.

    The prime reason, undoubtedly, is the Mumbai-born and bred chef. He apprenticed at Canoe, one of Toronto's finest restaurants, before honing and diversifying his skills at local eateries Machon, Kohinoor and Cress predecessor Le Jardin. Another is Cress' organic garden, which supplies a good portion of the menu's fruits and vegetables. The Cress signature salad ($8), with its mix of large-leafed greens, heirloom tomatoes and roasted grapes slicked in grapeseed oil, offers a representative sampling from the garden; the walnuts and Humboldt Fog cheese, a little Cali character. Delicately crisp basil-brie wontons ($7) wreathed with pea tendrils glazed in a vanilla-passionfruit emulsion were beautifully executed and segued nicely from the evening's amuse-bouche ' a tickling tapenade of chickpeas and olives blended with sesame-chili oil, flax and a balsamic reduction. Each dish, suffice it to say, was plated with a precision befitting a mathematician.

    The pacing embraces the same exactitude ' not surprising, given how polished and professional the waiters are. No sooner had I finished admiring the restaurant's cultured, casual décor than a plate of ancho-rubbed ostrich tenderloin ($28), seared medium-rare, was laid before me. Granted, the edges were cooked through, but the redemptive qualities of the blackberry-habañero sauce made it a main worthy of ordering again. Remarkable shiitake-thyme grits suppressed any yearning for potatoes ' fried, mashed or otherwise. (Enjoy it with a glass of Côtes du Rhone Châteauneuf, $9, a nice pairing with the entree.) A marinara of pureed poma rosa tomatoes rendered pappardelle ($16) crowned with two lumps of buffalo mozzarella anything but pedestrian. If you like tomatoes and happen to be craving pasta, you'll lick the plate clean.

    More thought and consideration could be given to the dessert offerings. A trio of Belgian truffles ($12), while satisfying, was hardly inspired, and the chocolate croissant bread pudding ($7) was scalding hot and required a significant amount of waiting time before it cooled. Accompanying dessert ladles of crème anglaise and Godiva chocolate appeared more out of affectation than confection.

    But desserts alone shouldn't prevent the foodie trail from passing through the historically quaint streets of DeLand, even during these down economic times. A prix-fixe, three-course menu is available for $40; a five-course menu for $55 ' reasonable costs, considering the quality of the fare. And if you're one to question these figures, just know that being a mathematician, Pulapaka will, in all probability, have an answer.

    Even a James Beard Award semifinalist isn't immune from the vagaries of the economy. Nationally recognized chef Kevin Fonzo, owner of both K Restaurant Wine Bar and Nonna Trattoria ed Enoteca, closed K's doors in late February and consolidated operations in the bungalow that housed Nonna. The newly amalgamated boîte, now called K Restaurant, has Kevin's brother Greg taking charge of a menu largely reflective of K's old bill of fare with influences from Nonna. The roll call of seasonal gems with a focus on local sourcing is what kept the old K thriving for many years, and it'll do the same for K's latest incarnation. As far as the space is concerned, the cosmetic changes are a welcome sight to the ears. The one aspect of Nonna that I didn't care for was the hardwood floor ' while aesthetically pleasing, that floor contributed to a clamorous racket throughout the restaurant. Now, with a thorough carpeting, the dining room makes craned-neck lobe-pinching a thing of the past. Velvet curtains add a touch of subdued elegance while nurturing an environment much more conducive to conversational sustenance.

    Case in point: the grilled beef hearts ($9). We couldn't stop talking about how all the disparate elements of the appetizer harmonized ' the robust flavor of the sliced hearts, sweet roasted beets, brined tangerines, earthy greens and a horseradish dressing with pop. The thick tomato slice in the K-Stack salad ($7) came topped with goat cheese and mixed greens splashed with a citrus vinaigrette, but it was the basil leaves that helped balance out all the flavors. Fonzo's locavore predilection shows in these dishes, with the beef hearts coming from DeLeon Springs' Deep Creek Ranch and the tomato sourced from Sanford's Waterkist Farm. The herb and vegetable garden on the restaurant's premises was trampled during the move, we were told, but it should be primed for picking in a few weeks. An inordinate amount of time passed before our entrees arrived ' our server appeared somewhat harried waiting on the handful of tables in our vicinity and, as a result, we didn't quite get the attentive service we expected. Along with the time lag, our water glasses went unfilled ' minor miscues that were temporarily dismissed after one bite of the porcini-rubbed filet mignon ($32). Each silken bite washed in a cabernet sauvignon sauce aroused groans of gratification, as did the square of potato au gratin, slightly seared on top. A side of grilled broccolini ($7) dusted with parmesan and sprinkled with lemon was an ideal green to pair with the steak. The grilled wild Scottish salmon ($21) didn't produce as enthusiastic a response, but it was a decent slab, served with basmati rice and a pickled-tomato relish. Just when we forgot and forgave the wait time to get our mains, an even longer wait ensued just to put in our dessert order. Other servers tended to us through the course of our entrees, but we were all but neglected for a good 10 minutes after our table was cleared. Nevertheless, it was well worth the wait to sample a slice of fresh pecan pie ($6) served with a scoop of Guinness ice cream. Molten chocolate lava cake ($8), a choice insisted on by our server, was also superb. I can see why the table next to us chose to start their meals off with dessert.

    As they've done in the past, the Fonzos, for the most part, run their restaurant to the letter. In K's case, that letter happens to be an A.

    I'll never forget when a fun, pretty girl from out of town joined my high school halfway through junior year. It caused quite a stir with the popular crowd, and the trendiest girls were all in a tizzy, threatened by their sudden change in status. They eventually began to imitate her language and style. The same may happen with newcomer Luma on Park. I imagine other restaurants of her caliber ducking for cover, reorganizing, emulating.

    Terrazzo spreads over a cozy bar and a vivacious dining room, partitioned by a glass-encased stairwell that leads to an impressive wine cellar. Beyond a backdrop of stylish wood, leather, metal and marble sits an open kitchen. Luma is scattered with nooks that allow patrons to be comfortably alone, while still part of the lively room. Polka-dotted rugs and circles of chairs in the bar create miniature, but exceedingly stylish, private spaces. Likewise with long pub tables, spacious booths and rooms created for bigger parties.

    My meals have been flawless. The ambience – gorgeous. But I want to address two issues: One, their hosting system needs help. I arrived with reservations and still waited for over an hour on one visit. My second issue has to do with the bathrooms. When did design trump function in restaurant bathrooms? It's hard to find your way in, and then all the locks on the stalls are broken. Not pleasant.

    But on to the food, which is the reason to visit Luma. Executive chef Todd Immel has put together an inspiring selection of dishes that are creative, comforting and trendy. His passion for food exudes through the ingredients he selects, the way he marries them together, and the way he presents them.

    More than half of the menu is dedicated to quick bites, all enticing, which makes it difficult to choose. Keep in mind that the menu changes seasonally and according to availability, but here's a sampling: On one occasion we had clams "al forno" ($12), littlenecks floating in silky Mediterranean broth with wine, rosemary and pancetta. Chickpeas lent an earthy flavor that contrasted well with the oceany cockles.

    Ravioli ($10) was an austere dish of six pillows stuffed with goat cheese, orange zest and fennel pollen. Eating them was like riding on the top of autumn while looking back to the summer.

    Delicately gamey rabbit terrine ($12) was served cold with the traditional accompaniment of cornichons. In place of prepared mustard was a clever mustard ice cream that dispersed the piquant flavor wider on the palate.

    Luma's fennel salad ($9) puts the pale green fennel bulb to delicious use. Licorice overtones were enhanced by tangy pomegranate and orange slices. The flavor could have stopped there, but to this colorful salad, they added aged pecorino cheese for a hint of nuttiness.

    Could it get any better than this? We weren't sure until the entrees arrived. They were beautifully presented with a gentle touch. Food that manages to be pretty without looking too fussed over is most pleasing, and Luma is gifted in the art of presentation.

    Diver scallops ($21) were plump and had a caramelized crust poised gracefully on tender, pristine flesh. Like a floral centerpiece, purple and red radish salad rested colorfully in the middle of the plate, graced by citrusy sauce. Rich olive tapenade, which at first seemed out of place, proved to enhance the flavor.

    I had chicken "sous vide" ($17), made by vacuum sealing. I am fascinated with this high-tech-preservation-method-cum-gourmet-preparation that every top chef – from Keller to Ducasse – is taking for a spin. The flavorful chicken was tender and well-seasoned but nothing special. The accompaniment of creamy polenta and braised collard greens added much depth.

    The duck ($20) took my breath away. With tender breast meat fanned out, this dish displayed a flavorful crust and pink flesh that yielded to a tender center. Accompanying this was a ring of butternut squash with a mystifyingly airy texture. A hint of lemon lingered on my tongue, leaving me wanting more.

    The sirloin ($24), too, was deftly prepared. This slab of Niman Ranch's best was well-teamed with spicy watercress and creamy Gorgonzola, topped by dollop of port reduction.

    The dessert were awe-inspiring, with a style all their own. The sweet corn pudding ($6) couldn't be more alluring. With macerated blackberries and a touch of fried polenta, the flavors lingered like a remembrance of something innovative yet familiar. Just like Luma itself.

    In the years since the Eagle landed on London’s Farringdon Road and spawned the gastropub phenomenon, that word’s definition has been interpreted in an increasingly liberal fashion amongst restaurateurs on this side of the pond. Case in point: the Ravenous Pig. The place in no way resembles a humble watering hole where commoners can indulge in high-quality meals; rather, it’s as sexy-cool as its clientele, and its frills are just as sophisticated as its fare. Granted, chef/owners James and Julie Petrakis (of Greens & Grille) make a point of calling their latest venture an “American” gastropub, ostensibly justifying the expansion of the definition.

    The Pig, like its predecessor Popolo, is divided into three distinct rooms: the bar area; a central dining room; and an adjunct room with brick wall and kitchen view. The latter resembles a comedy club, but it was the complimentary fresh-baked gruyère biscuits that proved laughable. The three humble little lumps were decent enough, but we were politely declined when we requested for more. Evidently, they only make a limited number of these cheesy numbers, but no effort was made to accommodate us – we would’ve taken regular bread if offered.

    The appetizers, thankfully, were seriously better. Succulent grilled quail and herbaceous made-in-house sausage ($13) underscored the talent in the kitchen; champagne grapes and shaved fennel provided a delicately sweet crown. But the crunch of cabbage overwhelmed the trio of lobster tacos ($13), an item off the “pub menu” that my two guests and I deemed insipid and disappointing. Being told TRP was one of only three restaurants in town to serve Nantucket Bay scallops ($14) necessitated an order of these coveted, incredibly sweet mollusks. Served in a balsamic brown butter, the glistening orbs were perfectly opaque, pillowy and moist.

    In terms of portions, entrees aren’t much more substantial than the appetizers, but that didn’t mean mains like loin of lamb ($25) and steak frites ($22) didn’t satisfy. The former featured meaty, olive-crusted lamb rolls in a light basil-infused jus. My only complaint: The dish was served under the desired medium-rare, giving the lamb a slightly sinewy texture. The latter, a wonderfully tender porcini-marinated flatiron steak, may strike patrons who’ve dined at Greens & Grille as somewhat familiar (G&G offers porcini-marinated flank steak). A ramekin of deftly executed béarnaise and a beer glass of thinly cut truffle fries rounded out the dish.

    For a place named the Ravenous Pig, there are surprisingly few pork dishes offered, but the roasted suckling pig ($23) will satiate those who worship that singular magical animal. Chunks of tenderloin bathed in stout come served over a bed of collards; the rye gnocchi flecked with caraway seeds drew a mixed reaction.

    Chocoholics will undoubtedly rave about thick chocolate-chili pot de crème ($7) and the pig tails ($7), funnelcake-like fritters shaped like rear appendages and served with a comforting chocolate-espresso sauce. Cappuccino ($3.50) was served tepid, a likely malfunction of an inferior push-button contrivance, or else server negligence. You’re better off sampling an après-meal microbrew ($5 for a pint).

    Service could use a bit more polishing; our waitress seemed somewhat distracted and inattentive – a lot of time was spent staring at the bronze ceiling tiles waiting for her eventual return. Still, my sincere hope is that the Ravenous Pig won’t succumb to the curse that plagued the space’s many predecessors, and if the gastropub’s moniker turns you off, don’t let it – it's a misnomer. The conservative portions ensure no patrons indulge in piggish behavior.

    Self-described "gastropub" brings a locavore credo to the downtown core along with an urban-farmhouse vibe. The rustic menu focuses on locally farmed and raised ingredients, but not obsessively so. Best: tapenade-stuffed eggs, coffee-rubbed culotte steak and grown-up s'mores. There's a small, but decent, selection of craft beers, signature drinks and wines as well. Live music on weekends. Open daily.

    Greg Richie’s imaginative take on Southern classics has made Soco one of downtown’s premier dining destinations, thanks to such renditions as cassoulet of duck confit with boiled peanuts, molasses-glazed hanger steak with smoked brisket hash browns, and hot-smoked cobia with buttermilk potato cakes. Bourbon hounds will appreciate the extensive selection, while those with a penchant for indulgent endings will appreciate oatmeal spice cake with a pink peppercorn whiskey syrup or house-made moon pies served with a vanilla RC Cola float.

    A 22-seat restaurant modeled after a dinner party gives one of the more interesting dining experiences in the city. A sumptuous five-course meal with hors d’oeuvres and wine pairings await those willing to foot the all-inclusive $100 per person bill; some wine choices can be puzzling, but the food is deftly and deliciously executed.



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