Krungthep Tea Time

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Krungthep interior

Krungthep Tea Time isn’t your typical tearoom.

Or maybe it is and I’m just not familiar with them any more. My perception of a tearoom is set in the days of doilies and lace, quilted cozies and delicate tea cups with rose patterns and handles so small you couldn’t pick one up without raising your pinkie.

At Krungthep there are no doilies, no tablecloths of any kind. The floor is bare concrete, and tea is served in big honkin’ glass mugs.

1921 by Norman Van Aken

Written by Scott Joseph on .

1921 bar 1

Get a room.

No, seriously. 

That way you can spend the leisurely pace a meal here demands without the worry of the drive ahead, the concern about whether you can have one of the craft cocktails before dinner or enjoy the carefully selected wines to accompany the fine cuisine during. And an after-dinner drink with the freshly roasted coffee and exquisite desserts isn’t given a second thought.

This highly anticipated restaurant from one of Florida’s most celebrated chefs is, to be a bit trite, a feast for the senses. The restaurant occupies an old house, built circa 1921, across the street from the Modernism Museum in the quaint downtown. In partnership with the museum and Main Street Leasing, which is listed as the “presenter” of the museum, 1921 becomes part of the artistic complex that also includes the museum’s shop (every museum has to have a shop), which shares an adjoining patio with the restaurant.

Brunch at Highball & Harvest

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HH brunch market

I finally had a chance to try the new brunch at Highball & Harvest at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando and I liked it very much.

Chef Nathan Hardin and pastry chef Stephane Chéramy put out a lavish spread of pre- and post-noon dishes, and general manager Matt Cristi and his staff make sure guests are happy and have plenty of whatever their hearts desire. (You’re heart might want to desire one of specialty Bloody Marys; the Hail Mary, with Absolut, heirloom tomato juice, pork crackling and lime and an Old Bay salted rim won my heart.)

HH brunch marys

At this point in a review I would tell you which dishes I recommend. But the thing with H&H is that they change things up every week. Everything is set up in a sort of pantry area and guests help themselves to the various dishes. But Hardin says he likes to offer different items each week.

Zaza New Cuban Diner

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zaza ext

Zaza New Cuban Diner is developing into a slick operation, one that has all the earmarks of a nascent franchise. And that’s just fine, because as it stands now, it’s also a pretty tasty operation, and one that offers good food at a bargain.

Zaza now has three locations (which qualifies it as an independent restaurant operation in my definition; I’ll explain why that’s important in the coming weeks). The original opened about this time four years ago in a drab freestanding building on Curry Ford Road that began its life as a Maryland Fried Chicken.

Actually, the restaurant that opened in 2012 was called YaYa’s Cuban Cafe & Bakery. But the name was changed to Zaza’s a few months later when someone else pointed out, politely, I’m sure, that they owned the rights to the YaYa name. (There had been another Cuban restaurant in that space before Ya/Za called Tino’s.)

I recently visited one of the newer locations of the restaurant, now called Zaza New Cuban Diner. The Waterford Lakes Zaza is in a corner spot close to the movie theater and next door to a Banana Republic Factory Store (don’t rely on the Google Maps that will drop you off at the entrance to Waterford Lakes Town Center; you have to go in deeper).

Chef Art Smith's Homecoming

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Homecoming interior

If it had been a regular night, I might have dinged the staff at Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming for sloppy service. The bar, for example, was strewn with the plates and glasses of previous diners, and we had to ask for a bar rag so we could wipe down the counter in front of us ourselves.

But it wasn’t a regular night. It was Friday, after Hurricane Matthew had blown through and left the area. Its impact was less than we had feared, but most restaurants had made the decision — a wise one, I thought — to suspend service until Saturday. That’s an expensive choice to make. Any time a restaurant is closed it’s not making money. But restaurants run on people, and entreating their staffs to stay home and out of harms way was the right thing to do.

I also thought it was the right thing that some restaurants scrambled to open for dinner Friday.

Homecoming Kitchen was one that did. But because the staff had originally been told not to report to work until at least Saturday — who knew if even then there would be power, supplies, a building left standing? — those who came to work did so on a voluntary basis. And because many of the businesses at Disney Springs remained shuttered, those that were open were slammed. The wait for a two-top, I was told at the host stand, would be three and a half to four hours.

Davi Cajun Seafood

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Davi ext

I paid 30 bucks for a beer and a soft-shell crab po’boy, and not a very good one at that.

Actually, I only paid $12.95 for the sandwich, which, even with the modest fries that came with it, also wasn’t worth that price. But my check at Davi Cajun Seafood in the Mills 50 district included an appetizer that also cost $12.95, and was one of the most worthless piles of slugs I’ve ever encountered.

In reality they were sea snails, a Vietnamese street food. Unlike the escargot of Burgundy, these snails are smaller and have a more conical shell. Also unlike the snails served in a French restaurant, the “meat” has not been extracted for preparation and then replaced in the shell for presentation.

That’s assuming there’s any meat in them at all. You can’t prove it by me.

Moroccan Breeze

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Moroccanbreeze exterior

Moroccan Breeze certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

I had, um, gotten wind of Breeze as a newly opened restaurant in South Orlando. But when my Google Maps app led me to the address on South Orange Blossom Trail, a strip mall anchored by the Apna Bazaar, the restaurant was nowhere in sight. I wondered if the signage on one of the eateries just hadn’t been changed to reflect new ownership. I also hoped that wasn’t the case because they looked pretty bedraggled. So I called the phone number for Moroccan Breeze and the gentleman who answered told me that he was located inside the Bazaar. So in I went.

Moroccan Breeze was located at the back of the building in a sort of minimalist food court, a couple of food vendors, including an Indian cafe next door, and a scattering of tables and chairs for customers to eat at. Just off to the side of the food court were the restrooms, designated for men and women, and prayer rooms, also so delineated.

Le Cirque Pops Up Over Downtown Orlando

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Le Cirque tabletop

A bit of New York iconicity came to town recently when famed Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque staged a pop-up restaurant at Orlando’s Citrus Club. The dinner, part of a traveling series in partnership with ClubCorp, operators of the private club, was a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. It was a reprise, of sorts, of the pop-up restaurant Le Cirque staged in 2012, though it seemed to be carried out better this time.

I was invited to attend the dinner, which was hosted in part by Carlo Mantica, co-managing member of Maccioni Group, owners of Le Cirque, Sirio and Circo. I was a guest at the table of Andrew Gross, who is bringing Circo to Orlando next year.

The dinner was also a chance to try certain Le Cirque menu selections under the direction of Massimo Bebber, who was hired as the restaurant’s executive chef in 2014. The kitchens of Le Cirque have been a springboard to such chefs as Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Terrance Brennan, Rick Moonen and Sottha Khun. A dinner I experienced at Le Cirque 2000 when it was housed at New York’s Palace Hotel and with Kuhn at the helm is still one of the top meals I’ve had.

The "New" Tony Roma's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

tony roma interior

I recently got a glimpse of a brand new restaurant that’s about to open and had a chance to taste some of the innovative dishes it will serve. It’s called Tony Roma’s and it will have its official debut in October.

I know, I know. Tony Roma’s has been around for, what, 45 years? But the brand, which is owned by Orlando based RomaCorp, was due for a refresh. (Because, 45 years.)

So the International Drive location has undergone a massive renovation that will serve as a global prototype (you can find Tony Roma’ses in 30 countries, so that’s about as global as you can get).

tony roma fireplacetony roma patio

The refurbishment includes a spiffed up and brighter interior with a welcoming indoor/outdoor bar in the main room, and expanded patio dining that includes a corner fireplace and a commanding view of the Coca-Cola Eye.

The menu (see below) has been refreshed, too, with more than two dozen new items designed by executive chef Bob Gallagher. (Gallagher also oversees the culinary program at TR Fire Grill, RomaCorp’s newest brand, in Winter Park.) Tony Roma’s has always had the nickname “the Place for Ribs,” and that continues to be a specialty.

Taste of Yucatan

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Yucatan counter

I was surprised when my GPS led me to 1375 S. Semoran Blvd. and the Taste of Yucatan. I was pretty sure I’d paid my last visit to this address years ago. And I’d been here many times before.

Over the years, the free-standing building, which began its life as a Captain D’s seafood restaurant, has had many tenants. After the captain ran this particular franchise aground, it became Thai Chili, which in the late ‘90s was part of a then-surging Thai scene.

Then Two Fat Chefs moved in. That was the name of the restaurant, please don’t accuse me of fat shaming. The name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a popular BBC program at the time called “Two Fat Ladies,” but the corpulent cooks moniker gave no clue to the restaurant’s cuisine, which was Scandinavian.

That was followed by a string of Mexican restaurants: Las Carretas, Casa Rene and Casa Mexico.

Then it became a Church’s Chicken fast fooder. That’s when I figured I’d walked through that door for the last time. Whoever heard of a Church’s Chicken franchise folding?

I don’t know if it actually went out of business or the franchisee just decided to move on. (The property is still listed as owned by a Church’s LLC.) But the conversion has been completed and the kitchen is once again putting out Mexican food.