Havana Bistro & Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Havana Bistro platter

This is not a review of Napa Venezuelan Cafe. True, it’s also not a review of four thousand or so other restaurants in the area, but those restaurants aren’t the one that I set out to visit the other day. Napa was my destination, however, even though I showed up at a time that the website said it would be open, it was not.

Luckily, right next door, Havana Bistro & Cafe was. So in I popped.

Isla Verde by V

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Isla Verde food

When evaluating a restaurant, one takes into consideration the food, of course, but also the service and the ambience. When the three are at their finest and everyone is working together, you have a great dining experience.

But if only one of those components is at an acceptable level and the other two are substandard, should the restaurant get a review that ends in a recommendation? What if the only thing good about the place is the food? Should that be given more weight?

Sushi Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

SushiCafe sushi

Here’s a twist on the all-you-can-eat promotion, and I can’t decide if it’s a brilliant way of getting people to eat less or a dastardly ploy to get them to eat too much.

But first off, let me say that Sushi Cafe, the mundanely named restaurant that opened several months ago at the corner of University Boulevard and Goldenrod Road in Winter Park, does very good sushi. In fact, the nigirizushi that I sampled was among some of the most masterfully prepared that I’ve had in a long time. The pads were perfectly shaped, not too big, and the fish slices were properly placed on them so that one could turn the piece completely over so as to dip the fish in the soy — rather than the rice, which never turns out well — without the fish flopping off. Both the tuna and the mackerel were the right temperature, not so cold as to stun the flavor.Sushicafe gyoza

And the roll that I had, the egotistically named Yummy Yummy, which had avocado and krab inside a rice cocoon with crispy fried flakes on the outside.

It was all so good that I could have eaten more, but I was too frightened.

Sushi Cafe features and all-you-can-eat option for $12.99 at lunch and $14.99 at dinner. You can have an appetizer (although the gyoza that I ordered weren’t all that) and as much nigiri, sashimi or rolls that you want. But there’s a catch.

Think of the signs that General Eisenhauer was said to have put in the mess halls of the soldiers under his command: “Take all you want, but eat all you take.”

Sushi Cafe has added a couple of rules to its all-you-can-eat option. If you order too much, you’ll be charged 75 cents for each uneaten piece. Fine, you say, I’ll just take the leftovers with me. In that case, each leftover piece you want boxed up will incur a $1.50 charge.

I get it. The restaurant is offering what is, according to my quick math, a pretty good deal with its ayce option. Some people, however, might (will) simply over order and leave a great deal of food go to waste. And I don’t find the extra charge to take the food home out of order, either. Again, some people might (would) over order and then ask for a to-go box for the leftovers. Refusing to provide one is not uncommon in glutfest restaurants, in which case the food gets wasted anyway. Here at least is an option to enjoy the food later, at a still reasonable rate.

Unfortunately, I think more people will tend to stuff as much of the uneaten sushi into their cheeks to avoid the surcharge.

The way it worked for me? I ordered a moderate amount of food that still made the all-you-can-eat option attractive but did not have me tempted to eat more. Still, I would have loved another round of the Yummy Yummy roll.

Sushi Cafe is at 7550 University Blvd., Winter Park, in the Winn-Dixie plaza. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-960-5722.

Sushicafe cafe

Tap Room Grille

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Taproomgrille burger

I just happened to visit Tap Room Grille in Waterford Lakes on National Burger Day, one of the few made-up holidays not invented by the greeting card industry. I don’t go in for these marketing ploys. I don’t need a special day to remind me to eat lasagna, pickles or, in this case, a good burger.

And Tap Room Grille makes a good burger. It should be noted right off the top that this Tap Room is not related to the Tap Room at Dubsdread, which also makes a good burger — arguably one of the best in town — but it is associated with Nona Tap Room in Lake Nona, which I reviewed in April of 2012.

Then, as now, I went straight for the Loaded Burger, which features the basic Tap Room burger but with bacon and mushrooms added to the tomato, onions, lettuce and cheese choice toppings.

Shaan Indian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shaan pakora

I’ve had enough negative experiences with Lake Mary Indian restaurants that having a mediocre one seems a move in the right direction.

A recent meal at Shaan was no more nor less than that. It manages somehow to take one of the world’s most complicated cuisines, one that is characterized by myriad spices, multilayered and complex, and turn it into an offering so bland that Darden could market it to the masses.

My guest and I started with an appetizer of the mixed pakora, assorted vegetables frittered and fried using chickpea flour and, according to the menu, “cholesterol free oil.” I’d have been willing to take the responsibility of having my cholesterol spike a point or two in exchange for some flavor. We did have fun, though, trying to identify the vegetables under the breading.

Cafe Caobana

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Caobana Counter

I was driving down Semoran Boulevard the other day and passed a nice looking place called Cafe Caobana, so I made a u-ey and headed back to check it out.

It was nice looking on the inside, too, and in fact was bigger than I expected it to be with a spacious and tidy dining area in the back of the place. (Actually, it looked bigger because it’s well mirrored, but there were still more seats than I thought there’d be.

I arrived at just a few minutes before closing time, so not wanting to be one of “those” people, I placed my order to go. I got a tamal for an appetizer and the shredded fried beef for my entree, with white rice, black beans and tostados.


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Kokino interior

Just when you thought that every possible niche and gimmick had been exploited in the restaurant world, along comes Kokino, a new restaurant in the Bay Hill Plaza in the Restaurant Row district.

Just going by the name, I was expecting maybe a sushi bar or other type of Asian restaurant. I may be misremembering it, but I think my waiter might have used the term Asianified. However, on its Facebook page, Kokino is described as new American. It also places itself in the tapas bar category. Apparently there was no box to tick off that lists its true intended specialty: tartare bar.

Yes, that’s right. Kokino’s owners are hoping that the thing diners have been craving is a varied selection of tartare preparations. Not just the standard steak tartare, but also other meats and seafood. It might remind you — it did me — of the trend of a few years ago to do riffs on eggs Benedict.

Artisan's Table Brunch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 artisans interior

Artisan’s Table, the downtown restaurant owned and head-cheffed by Scott Copeland, has a pleasant vibe on Sunday mornings. It’s a decidedly young crowd, and I got the distinct impression that some of them had not yet been home since the night before. At least not to their own homes.

My guest and I were shown to a dark table in the center of the dining room. When we asked if we could possibly have the empty table next to the window overlooking Pine Street, she told us that they were waiting for clean butcher paper (which is what covers the tablecloths here) and that that paper was too dirty. There was no offer to seat us at one of the other, less dimly lit tables, so we alighted.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

AlFresco interior

I went out to Winter Garden to attend a show at the Garden Theater and had a thoroughly enjoyable pre-theater dining experience at alFresco.

Despite the name, alFresco is not all outdoor dining. In fact, from what I could see of the actual patio space, it wasn’t nearly as comfortable and inviting as the indoor dining space, which has a balance of old and new in its decor of rustic bricks and brightly painted walls.

AlFresco arancini

My guest and I started with appetizers of arancini and empanadas. The two risotto balls were substantial and perfectly fried, served sitting in a puddle of fresh tomato sauce and topped with greens and shaved parmesan. I liked them, though I thought the pomodoro, though clearly freshly made, lacked any distinctive flavor.