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True to form, in the Artist Point restaurant, Disney does it up big – from the size of the room, to the size of your plate, to the size of your food portion, to the size of your bill, which, in this instance, is justified.

And they do it beautifully.

And they do it beautifully.

Located in the jaw-dropping magnitude of the Wilderness Lodge, in the Magic Kingdom resort area, the restaurant follows the Northwest theme both in decor and menu. Half-a-dozen starters from the woods, rivers and fields offer exotics such as the sautéed elk sausage that's served with braised potatoes, onions and mushrooms ($5), or shrimp and chicken saté marinated and grilled on a rosemary skewer and served with sea grass and dipping sauce ($8.25).

Located in the jaw-dropping magnitude of the Wilderness Lodge, in the Magic Kingdom resort area, the restaurant follows the Northwest theme both in decor and menu. Half-a-dozen starters from the woods, rivers and fields offer exotics such as the sautéed elk sausage that's served with braised potatoes, onions and mushrooms ($5), or shrimp and chicken saté marinated and grilled on a rosemary skewer and served with sea grass and dipping sauce ($8.25).

The Northwest salmon sampler ($9) featured smoked pepperlachs and cured gravlachs (both are cuts of salmon) and pan-seared salmon presented with a relish side of onion, sweet peppers and capers – a generous and successful combination. However, smoky pepperlachs and pork nearly overpowered the pot-au-feu, a hearty soup combining lentils, potatoes, pork and elk sausage in a saffron broth ($4). The Oregon sampler of marinated wild berries, pickled asparagus, bleu cheese and duck confit ($7.25) delivered enough vinegar to lock even my vinegar-loving jaw, and the fowl was typically greasy. But the creamed onion soup ($3.50) was light, perfectly seasoned and garnished with chive strips and freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

The Northwest salmon sampler ($9) featured smoked pepperlachs and cured gravlachs (both are cuts of salmon) and pan-seared salmon presented with a relish side of onion, sweet peppers and capers – a generous and successful combination. However, smoky pepperlachs and pork nearly overpowered the pot-au-feu, a hearty soup combining lentils, potatoes, pork and elk sausage in a saffron broth ($4). The Oregon sampler of marinated wild berries, pickled asparagus, bleu cheese and duck confit ($7.25) delivered enough vinegar to lock even my vinegar-loving jaw, and the fowl was typically greasy. But the creamed onion soup ($3.50) was light, perfectly seasoned and garnished with chive strips and freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Five seafood entrees ranged from a rainbow trout pan roasted with pancetta with a lentil and red pepper side ($15) to a line-caught wild king salmon from Alaska ($19.50). The latter was marinated in whiskey and oven-roasted with julienned winter squash and couscous enhanced with plump raisins and pine nuts. The huge salmon steak was perfect – flaky but moist with delicate seasoning.

Five seafood entrees ranged from a rainbow trout pan roasted with pancetta with a lentil and red pepper side ($15) to a line-caught wild king salmon from Alaska ($19.50). The latter was marinated in whiskey and oven-roasted with julienned winter squash and couscous enhanced with plump raisins and pine nuts. The huge salmon steak was perfect – flaky but moist with delicate seasoning.

From a meat list that included espresso bean barbecued chicken ($15.25); a 16-ounce porterhouse ($21) and a lamb-pheasant dish ($19.50), my companion chose a smoked prime rib ($17.50) that was generously marbled and served with red potatoes he deemed delicious. All entrees are served with a delicious tri-lettuce salad, nicely chilled and tossed with just a whisper of raspberry vinaigrette. There's also a freshly baked hazelnut bread loaf and sunflower seed rolls.

From a meat list that included espresso bean barbecued chicken ($15.25); a 16-ounce porterhouse ($21) and a lamb-pheasant dish ($19.50), my companion chose a smoked prime rib ($17.50) that was generously marbled and served with red potatoes he deemed delicious. All entrees are served with a delicious tri-lettuce salad, nicely chilled and tossed with just a whisper of raspberry vinaigrette. There's also a freshly baked hazelnut bread loaf and sunflower seed rolls.

This is a thoughtful menu, innovative and prepared with care – an amazing feat when you consider that this place can accommodate 206 people (and often does). And our service was as spectacular as the setting – although next time, we plan to take our coffee outside, by the magnificent lobby fireplace.

If you love buffets, there's nothing better than table after table laden with massive and sometimes bizarre combinations of food. But if you dislike or distrust the concept of groaning boards, you'd probably be inclined to avoid Boma - Flavors of Africa, the buffet-style African restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. You do so at the risk of missing some unusual and very tasty dishes.

"Boma" is a fenced space in the Maasai bushland, surrounded by thatch huts and usually home to a chief and his family. The Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is designed as wonderfully as the rest of the building (the massive thatch cathedral ceiling in the lobby still makes me teary-eyed), with pillars like stacks of huge ceramic pots, a massive copper hood over the hot tables, and hanging lights made of orange, yellow, and green glass gourds. The 270-seat restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner, with a half-dozen "cooking stations" offering serve-yourself salads, soups, meats, seafood, veggies and desserts.

The servers, all from various African countries, seat more than 1,000 people a day, and dinner will set you back $21.99 (breakfast $14.99). But that price opens the gate to a world of very different (and sometimes unrecognizable) foods, from salmon baked in banana leaves to "zebra mousse."

Some dishes change by availability, but you'll usually find a thick and creamy carrot soup spiced with ginger, along with curried coconut soup and mulligatawny that show the Indian influence on South African food. The puzzling flavors in the different dishes come from unusual combinations of tamarind, cumin and cinnamon, along with hot chilis, cilantro and papaya. For a mouthful, try the cucumber chutney with the grilled spiced chicken.

Prime rib and ham (and mac 'n' cheese for the kids) are by far the most unimaginative of the offerings and not really African at all. Better to check out the seafood stews or a wonderful mix of white potatoes and sweet potatoes spiked with cinnamon and pepper. "Pap," a white corn mash almost identical to grits, is served as porridge for breakfast, but made thicker – and sometimes grilled – at dinner. Wines are strictly South African and equal to vintages anywhere; the coffee is Kenyan.

Boma is an unusual take on the buffet. But it's best to call ahead for priority seating – it could save 45 minutes of agonizing wait time.

When I walked into the giant pineapple housing Bongos Cuban Café, I wasn't sure what to expect. As we are all aware, the 470-seat restaurant at Downtown Disney is the brainchild of singer Gloria Estefan (there's another one in Miami), and the combination of the Mouse and the Diva made me wary.

I went early to avoid the inevitable theme park rush, and was seated at the only table actually under the winding concrete staircase that leads up to the second-floor lounge and live music area in the light, pineapple-themed – and at this point, nearly empty – room. I changed tables immediately, and waited for the expected disappointing meal. I waited in vain.

I went early to avoid the inevitable theme park rush, and was seated at the only table actually under the winding concrete staircase that leads up to the second-floor lounge and live music area in the light, pineapple-themed – and at this point, nearly empty – room. I changed tables immediately, and waited for the expected disappointing meal. I waited in vain.

To put it succinctly, dinner at Bongos is superb. Chef Quintin Larios is, if anything, conservative when it comes to his takes on Cuban cuisine. For instance, the appetizer Tostones Rellenos con Camarones ($9.50), tiny shrimp or beef in a thick and tomatoey creole sauce, presented in deep-fried cups made from green plantain. The plantain, more like potato than banana, gives a pleasant earthy taste to the mild dish. Ask for extra creole on the plate and Bongos own hot sauce to add some needed kick. For more authentic starters, order the Tamal en Hoja ($6.75), polenta with seasoned pork and wrapped in a corn husk, or ham croquettes (Croquetas de Jamon; $5.25)

To put it succinctly, dinner at Bongos is superb. Chef Quintin Larios is, if anything, conservative when it comes to his takes on Cuban cuisine. For instance, the appetizer Tostones Rellenos con Camarones ($9.50), tiny shrimp or beef in a thick and tomatoey creole sauce, presented in deep-fried cups made from green plantain. The plantain, more like potato than banana, gives a pleasant earthy taste to the mild dish. Ask for extra creole on the plate and Bongos own hot sauce to add some needed kick. For more authentic starters, order the Tamal en Hoja ($6.75), polenta with seasoned pork and wrapped in a corn husk, or ham croquettes (Croquetas de Jamon; $5.25)

Main courses affirm the talent in the kitchen. Mariscos Salteados ($26.95) is a simple combination of seafood in a garlic, butter and wine sauce. It had me eating with eyes closed to savor the perfectly prepared baby scallops, green mussels, mild white fish, tender calamari, grilled shrimp and a toothsome lobster tail that easily lifted out of its half-shell and was eagerly devoured. Pollo Asado ($14.95) was a tender marinated half-chicken, served with a slightly different version of the creole sauce from the appetizer – here it was more piquant and nicely set off the very juicy grilled chicken, virtually falling off the bone. Entrees come with green or sweet plantains, and the choice of rice and black beans is a good one, tasty without inauthentic seasonings and not the least bit dry, as Frijoles Negros can be at times.

Main courses affirm the talent in the kitchen. Mariscos Salteados ($26.95) is a simple combination of seafood in a garlic, butter and wine sauce. It had me eating with eyes closed to savor the perfectly prepared baby scallops, green mussels, mild white fish, tender calamari, grilled shrimp and a toothsome lobster tail that easily lifted out of its half-shell and was eagerly devoured. Pollo Asado ($14.95) was a tender marinated half-chicken, served with a slightly different version of the creole sauce from the appetizer – here it was more piquant and nicely set off the very juicy grilled chicken, virtually falling off the bone. Entrees come with green or sweet plantains, and the choice of rice and black beans is a good one, tasty without inauthentic seasonings and not the least bit dry, as Frijoles Negros can be at times.

There's live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7 to 10:30, featuring Latin bands that will make it hard to sit still. Even Desi Arnaz Jr. has played there.

There's live music on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7 to 10:30, featuring Latin bands that will make it hard to sit still. Even Desi Arnaz Jr. has played there.

My waiter was an attentive and helpful chap who knew the menu, checked on me at all the proper intervals, and made good suggestions, like dessert of a cortadito – a small Cuban version of espresso – and Flan de Leche. Pumpkin-pie colored and covered in sweet caramel sauce, the creamy texture of this simple custard is a delight to the mouth and one of life's simple pleasures.

My waiter was an attentive and helpful chap who knew the menu, checked on me at all the proper intervals, and made good suggestions, like dessert of a cortadito – a small Cuban version of espresso – and Flan de Leche. Pumpkin-pie colored and covered in sweet caramel sauce, the creamy texture of this simple custard is a delight to the mouth and one of life's simple pleasures.

Oh, and one more thing: Babaloo!

Handsome downtown spot diversifies its pan-Asian portfolio to include Turkish fare. The mixed grill of beef, chicken, lamb and shrimp is a kebab-lovers’ delight, though traditional Peking duck, steamed dumplings and beef soup impress as well. Turkish coffee and fresh lychees topped with cream make splendid endings.


Teaser: Handsome downtown spot diversifies its pan-Asian portfolio to include Turkish fare. The mixed grill of beef, chicken, lamb and shrimp is a kebab-lovers' delight, though traditional Peking duck, steamed dumplings and beef soup impress as well. Turkish coffee and fresh lychees topped with cream make splendid endings.

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.

Most of what we're familiar with as "Indian food" comes from the northern part of the subcontinent. Tandoori, tikkas and yellow curry are wonderful things, but special treats are found to the south and western coast. Indian lobster? You bet.

Reggie D'Souza, who has owned the Northern-themed Far Pavilion restaurant on I-Drive for many years, says he wanted a place "where I could eat the foods I eat at home." And Dakshin (which means "south") is a reflection of his roots in the coastal town of Mangalore. The menu is alive with seafood recipes and tomato-based hot curries with influences of the Portuguese, who first brought hot peppers to India.

I started with the mixed starter platter ($9.95) to sample the goods, and good they were. Crunchy lentil patties, dense and flavorful fish cutlets, and bhonda -- sort of the Indian version of hushpuppies -- complemented pan-fried shrimp. If I'd known the shrimp was that good I'd have ordered more. Suhke tesriya ($8.95) turned out to be a plate of tender mussels cooked with a green coconut chutney for a rich delight.

A side of aloo paratha ($2.95), flat bread stuffed with peas and soft potatoes, makes a perfect accompaniment to the lobster curry ($18.95), with its meat simmered in spicy red-curry gravy and fragrant with anisette. My companion's lamb masala ($12.95), a rich, dark sauce spiced with curry leaves and pepper, was so tender it practically cut itself.

In a nod to northern cuisine, several biryanis appear, and the slow-cooked shrimp and rice casserole I ordered ($14.95) was flavored with a magnificently intense mixture of spices.

The vegetable dishes, like spicy "paneer capsicum" ($11.95) from Bombay (dense Indian cheese cooked with chilis), are too expensive to just sample, so most folks will miss a wonderful experience. Order bhendi sukhe ($10.95), a thick okra dish, and share.

There's also a full nonmeat menu available for dinner, with treats such as dosais -- lentil crepes filled with potato and onion -- and uthappam, which is called "Indian pizza" on the menu but turned out to be a savory rice-flour pancake. Try the tomato version ($7.25), topped with onion and thin flakes of coconut.

The place setting at each table confused me, so a quick lesson might help. On the table is a round copper tray and three bowls. Meat (or vegetables) and sauces go into the bowls for sharing and dipping with chapati or aloo paratha. Spread the rice into the tray, making it easy to pick up with a fork or bread. You'll get smiles from your waiter. And the food will get smiles from you.

My friend had a theory: The walls were bugged at the Flying Fish Cafe. We couldn't figure out how else the waiters seemed to read our minds when we had dinner at the restaurant at Disney's Boardwalk. As the wait staff roamed through the dining area, stopping by this or that table to bring food or answer questions, they always seemed to wind up at our table at the precise moment when we were thinking of asking for more (and more) of the moist, rich and chewy sourdough bread or wondering, "What's in this sauce?"

It's rare to find a restaurant staff that anticipates your needs without becoming a distraction or invading your space. But Flying Fish Cafe has this one down. And the menu – new American cuisine with a seafood spin – is creatively and attentively prepared, though most of the entrees are in the $20 range. This is luxury dining that becomes affordable by virtue of the quality and value. Cooking guru Julia Child had visited two days before we were there, and she proclaimed it the best restaurant in Florida, our waiter told us.

Located along the waterfront collection of clubs, shops and restaurants, Flying Fish has a whimsical atmosphere inspired by the golden age of rollercoasters, the 1920s. There is a faux ferris wheel and a collection of fish sculptures parachuting from the ceiling. The colors throughout the dining area are watery blues and oceanic greens.

The menu changes daily to reflect what's indigenous and in season in the United States, which amounts to a constant logistics challenge for head chef John State. He consistently and successfully pulls off his synchronized fresh selections.

For appetizers, we chose the "Flying Fish sampler" ($11) and had "snapper escabeche," which was cured in a spicy vinaigrette of olives and capers. There also was a chilled "rock shrimp roll" of sushi rolled up with wasabi, scallions and mayonnaise. But our favorite was the "peeky toe crab cake." It was so packed with premium crab meat, and just enough peppers, onions and parsley to bind it, that we wished we'd ordered this one as a full appetizer ($10-$20). Meanwhile, we stayed busy with a delicious bread basket that was so alluring we couldn't stop dipping in.

The evening's entrees included pan-roasted golden tilefish ($23), a Florida fish that takes its sweetness from swimming deep and living on shrimp and lobster. Teamed with a subtle chervil créme fraèche, which had anise undertones, it was a real treat. Another entree, the red snapper ($24), is so popular that it has become one of several standard items on the menu. It was gorgeous in its presentation: The moist, flaky fillet was delicately wrapped in a crisp potato casing and served with leek fondue and cabernet sauvignon reduction.

Desserts were equally impressive. We took the waiter's advice and had "banana Napoleon" ($7), a concoction of cinnamon crème brûlee, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Also delicious was a warm crepe filled with hazelnut praline and Granny apples, topped with vanilla-bean ice cream ($7).

A tall crystal mug of Spanish coffee warmed our bones, thanks to a shot of Tia Maria. It was a perfect end to a perfect dinner.

Casting into the pool of local seafood restaurants has always yielded an uncertain catch – water, water everywhere but not a decent broiled flounder to eat. That's what made a recent trip to Fulton's Crab House – the former Empress Lily gone Huck Finn – seem all the more like a fish tale. Were it possible, our dinner should have been stuffed and mounted, a trophy from a high-priced adventure.

A Saturday morning call secured a table for 8 o' clock that night. Fashionably late, we were whisked through two checkpoints to an upper-deck booth with a sunset view.

A Saturday morning call secured a table for 8 o' clock that night. Fashionably late, we were whisked through two checkpoints to an upper-deck booth with a sunset view.

With excellent service and insights provided by our waiter, we browsed the exhaustive menu over spicy Bloody Marys ($4.95) and the house crab dip and crispy lahvosh. The horseradish thickness in the drinks prompted an order of the oyster sampler platter (half-dozen $8.95, dozen $16.95) harvested from the Pacific Northwest. Other than names – Spencer Cove, Kumomoto, Malpeque, Penn Cove, Snow Creek and Quilcene – the twist on this succulent sampling was an awakening jalapeño Tabasco ice. We took our waiter up on the suggestion of Manila clams ($8.95), a deep bowl of tender clams steamed in a soy sauce and scallion broth, enhanced by a round of fragrant thyme-onion rolls.

With excellent service and insights provided by our waiter, we browsed the exhaustive menu over spicy Bloody Marys ($4.95) and the house crab dip and crispy lahvosh. The horseradish thickness in the drinks prompted an order of the oyster sampler platter (half-dozen $8.95, dozen $16.95) harvested from the Pacific Northwest. Other than names – Spencer Cove, Kumomoto, Malpeque, Penn Cove, Snow Creek and Quilcene – the twist on this succulent sampling was an awakening jalapeño Tabasco ice. We took our waiter up on the suggestion of Manila clams ($8.95), a deep bowl of tender clams steamed in a soy sauce and scallion broth, enhanced by a round of fragrant thyme-onion rolls.

Alaskan red king crab claws ($34.95) was the winning selection from the crab and lobster offerings. The Cousteau-worthy specimens neatly yielded meaty portions for dipping in drawn butter. Though the boiled red-skin potatoes were perfect, I found myself thinking of spicier versions on the menu, like roasted garlic and pepper whipped potatoes.

Alaskan red king crab claws ($34.95) was the winning selection from the crab and lobster offerings. The Cousteau-worthy specimens neatly yielded meaty portions for dipping in drawn butter. Though the boiled red-skin potatoes were perfect, I found myself thinking of spicier versions on the menu, like roasted garlic and pepper whipped potatoes.

From the fresh fish and seasonal specials came Alaska's Copper River king salmon – charcoal-grilled, served with field greens, roasted jalepeño tomato vinaigrette, corn salsa and rice ($22.95). This work of art and nature was best enjoyed like a sophisticated salad, scooping together petals of salmon with delicate greens and the chunky piquant salsa.

From the fresh fish and seasonal specials came Alaska's Copper River king salmon – charcoal-grilled, served with field greens, roasted jalepeño tomato vinaigrette, corn salsa and rice ($22.95). This work of art and nature was best enjoyed like a sophisticated salad, scooping together petals of salmon with delicate greens and the chunky piquant salsa.

The sun was down by the time we sipped cappuccinos ($2.95), savoring the divine sour cherry pie ($4.95) and milk chocolate crème brûlée ($3.95). But there's nothing like the sight of tourists throwing money around to help you loosen up and enjoy such a costly yet memorable indulgence.

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