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California Grill 2014

Caligrill 14 interior

It's different than before. The "new" California Grill, the top-floor restaurant at Disney's Contemporary Resort, reopened almost a full year ago, after a major renovation. It seems brighter now, and it's lost some of its glamor and style, the ambience that somehow made you think that just maybe you could be dining at New York's Rainbow Room. That is, if you could look past the clods in t-shirts and flip-flops.

In fact, the original designer, Martin Dorf, told me that the Rainbow Room was his inspiration. But the new design, by San Francisco's Puccini Group, has none of that former romance. It's brighter now, more boisterous, as though it has now been made to embrace the t-shirted crowd.

Fortunately, the attention to the food has stayed in focus, and Brian Piasecki remains at the kitchen's helm. The menu has been retooled but keeps the basic tone the restaurant always had, even if some of the longtime favorites have new names following a retweaking.

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Shake Shack

Shake shack ext

I always have to smile whenever I'm walking around Manhattan and come across a Shake Shack. It doesn't seem to matter what time of day or night it is, the line snakes out of the restaurant and down whatever avenue the chain occupies. And yes, it is a chain, something else that always makes me laugh because, you know, New Yorkers look upon cities with chain restaurants with a certain distain. I remember one story, perhaps apocryphal, that a woman who had stood in line for so long decided to give up her tickets to "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway rather than leave. In June, for the company's 10th anniversary, the wildly popular chef David Chang was asked to create a special burger for the occasion. The lines were three-hours long.

Are the burgers that good?

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Raglan Road Rocked; Now on to Dublin

Raglansc plated lamb

The first of a two-parter Supper Club took place August 14 at Raglan Road in Downtown Disney. The second part will occur on August 29 at Morgans Wine Merchants in Dublin as a celebration of the Croke Park Classic, which will pit the UCF Knights against Penn State. For Knights fans who aren't able to make the trip but would like to experience a bit of the Irish air while watching the game, there's a special showing of the CPC Saturday morning, August 30. I'll tell you about that below.

The Dublin dinner is sold out, and if it's anything like the Supper Club that celebrity chef Kevin Dundon and his Raglan Road crew put together, it's going to knock everyone's Irish woolen socks off.

RaglanSC tomatoes

The dinner began with a salad of heirloom tomatoes — golden, red, cherry — dotted with balsamic vinegar drops. It's been a long time since I've tasted tomatoes that luscious. And it included a tomato sorbet that tasted a little like a frozen bloody mary. It was paired with a Vocoret Chablis.

Read more: Raglan Road Rocked; Now on to Dublin

RA Sushi

ra vegas

The two initials in the name RA Sushi don't seem to stand for anything. Instead, apparently, they're to be pronounced like the state of most of the fish that is served in sushi: raw. It's a stretch, but it's the only explanation I can come up with for the sushi bar and restaurant that opened recently at Pointe Orlando.

RA got its start in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1997 and over the next few years added some more locations in the Phoenix area. Then, in 2002, Benihana Inc. snatched up the company and has since been slowly adding locations outside of the Valley of the Sun. The Orlando location is the fourth in Florida. I was invited recently along with a guest to sample some of RA's raw goods.

What struck us both about the various rolls that we sampled was that each was distinct. Too many times sushi bars prepare their rolls with interchangeable dressings and garnishes. They tend to look the same, even if the ingredients within the rolls are different. Each of RA's rolls was unique.

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Lolailo the Original is More than Tapas


When I first reviewed Lolailo, it was for a lunch visit. It was, as I mentioned in the review, very pleasant. But I thought I might be missing out on some of what the Spanish restaurant has to offer, so I returned for an evening visit. And I was right — dinner is a much more lively and fulfilling experience.

For one thing, the menu is more robust, with more meat and seafood options to complement the tapas menu. And if you happen to be there when there's music, dinner becomes even more entertaining.

lolailo octopus

I couldn't resist having the pulpo a la brasa, or grilled octopus, that I had enjoyed on my lunch visit. The lovely tentacles were artistically placed on a starfish design of pureed potatoes. The meat was firm and had a wonderful smoky flavor. If there's a better octopus appetizer in town I haven't had it.

Read more: Lolailo the Original is More than Tapas

Friday, 29th August 2014

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