Supper Club Redux: A Progressive Dinner at Gaylord Palms

Written by Scott Joseph.

Gaylord SC nightboat

For our most recent meeting of Scott Joseph’s Supper Club, we did something a little different. Our friends at Gaylord Palms wanted to host the Supper Clubbers but I had a hard time choosing between the two very good restaurants. Do we go to Old Hickory Steakhouse and go all meaty? Or do we set sail for MOOR, the seafood centric restaurant?

Ultimately, the decision was easy: we’ll do them both.

And so that’s how the first Progressive Supper Club came to be. It was so much fun, I don’t think it will be our last.

We started with a reception and hors d’oeuvres at Old Hickory. Gaylord Palms is a massive structure that features a gigantic interior atrium under a glass roof. Old Hick is situated in a houselike structure in an area designed to resemble the Everglades, except with air conditioning and no threat of Zika.

DoveCote

Written by Scott Joseph.

 

Dovecote walls

 I’ve now been to DoveCote, the new brasserie in downtown Orlando, a half dozen times. I’m pretty sure that’s a pre-review record, especially considering it opened just over a month ago. The previous record was five visits, to a forgotten restaurant many years ago that required the extra scrutiny to break the tie between good experiences and not-so-good. (Ultimately, it tipped in the not-so-good category, which is probably why the restaurant is forgotten.)

That wasn’t the case with DoveCote, and to be clear, not all of the visits were purpose-driven with this review in mind. Some were a matter of convenience, needing a convenient downtown venue for a meeting, and at least one visit was from an invitation from friends.

And no tie-breaker was needed because in fact I liked DoveCote. There were a few missteps along the way, but nothing too unusual for a new restaurant or anything that portends trouble in the longterm. DoveCote is a welcome addition not only to downtown Orlando but to the Central Florida dining scene at large.

Much has already been said about the impressive pedigrees of the partners in the venture. They include executive chef Clay Miller, whose resume includes stints at the estimable French Laundry and who was the opening executive chef and pastry chef at Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton; and Gene Zimmerman, owner of the downtown craft cocktail lounge The Courtesy, who oversees the front of the house operations for DoveCote, including its beverage program. The two of them are the co-owners, but Ravenous Pig’s James and Julie Petrakis are involved as advisers and investors.

But one of the most impressive things about the new restaurant is the space itself. It has undergone a transformation that is, well, transformative. Occupying a corner of the imposing Bank of America building, the restaurant space has held many tenants over the years, all of which kept the same basic decor dominated by the cold, gray sandstone walls. That look and feel is fine for the bank across the lobby but hardly made for a comfortable dining atmosphere.

(For history buffs, other restaurants that occupied the space have included Bakerstreet, Ettore’s, and Harvey’s Bistro, which stayed for the longest stretch, from 1992 to 2009. Then came a handful of failed ventures, including Terrace 390 and Terrace 390 Bistro. As for the structure itself, it has been known as the DuPont building, the First F.A. Tower and the Barnett Bank building before B of A came in.)

With the reimagined interior, designer Drew White of Lot 1433 has covered all of the sandstone and created a post-modern brasserie. On one of the larger walls is a splashy mural, by Brigan Gresh, in deep blues and gold leaf that seems a mashup of Klimpt, Chagall and Miro styles. False frames have been added to the large windows to add a bit of quaintness and white-glass globe light fixtures offer an iconic note.

Dovecote kitchen

The bar has been expanded, mostly to allow more room behind it, and the kitchen is now open and visible from the side dining area, known as the Livingston Room. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of all of the design choices, though I love that someone was daring enough to make them — not sure what the white steel girders are doing there, other than to bring down the feel of the voluminous ceiling and to allow a perch for a fake bird. Dovecote is a French word for a pigeon sanctuary, so I guess we should be grateful that chicken wire wasn’t employed in the decor.

And before you ask, no, squab is not on the menu.

Kimchi's Korean Grill

Written by Scott Joseph.

kimchis logo

Korean food has come to the SoDo district in the form of Kimchi’s Korean Grill.

Notice I didn’t say there’s a new Korean restaurant in the area? That’s because KKG is a takeout-only place. I don’t know why that is. It has more space than, say, the original Black Bean Deli in Winter Park that somehow still manages to provide some ledges for customers who want to consume their food onsite.

And if there had been one at Kimchi’s perhaps the fried egg that was so perfectly sunny-side upped onto the top of the BiBimBop I had ordered wouldn’t have been nearly hard-cooked by the time I got it home.

Delicious Disney Summer Chef Series

Written by Scott Joseph.

Delicious Disney table

Some of the top Disney chefs are getting together to create some exquisite dinners this summer, and you can’t go.

Well, maybe you can. Maybe you have.

It’s all part of a program that’s being tried out called Delicious Disney Summer Chef Series that invites chefs from some of the resort’s more notable restaurants to cook at Markham’s at Golden Oak. Golden Oak is the new home development where you can’t live.

Or maybe you can. Maybe you do -- if you have multiple millions to spend on a house.

If so, you may have been among the lucky few who have been able to snatch the coveted few seats for this series, which concludes August 31 with an already sold out dinner.

So why am I telling you this if you can’t go? Because I’m thinking that with the success of the summer series the Disney culinears will extend it to the other three seasons and offer more opportunities to experience what I did at the July dinner.

Sodo Sushi Bar and Grill

Written by Scott Joseph.

Sodo Sushi bar

Sodo has a new sushi bar and grill. It’s called Sodo Sushi Bar and Grill. It took over the space of the oft troubled Olv, whose name had no hidden meaning or acronymic message. Sodo, or SoDo, is shorthand for south of downtown, which is where it is.

And that’s a good place for this new restaurant, too, because there aren’t any other sushi joints anywhere nearby. Bars and grills, yes, but not sushi bars and grills.

All that seems to have been required to transform the Olv space into a sushi restaurant was to plop a refrigerated case on top of the bar. Voila — or dekiagari, as they say in Japan — sushi bar.

That’s where I sat when I visited recently, under the unwatchable glare of Godzilla-sized television screens.

Townhouse Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph.

Townhouse exterior

Sometimes being evicted can be a good thing.

The Townhouse Restaurant — or Town House, you’ll find it both ways, even on its website (or web site, if you prefer) — has been part of downtown Oviedo for decades. Some might even say it WAS downtown Oviedo. It had occupied a little box of a building at the corner of Broadway Street and Central Avenue on a spit of land triangulated by Railroad Street.

To call it rustic would be an understatement. It looked its age and was often unkempt. But it was comfortable, and it had a dedicated and loyal base of customers who were horrified when it was announced, in 2014, that the Townhouse house would be torn down to accommodate the broadening of Broadway.

But it didn’t mean the end of the Townhouse. It found new digs only several hundred feet up Central Avenue and now has more seating in a spacious restaurant with volume ceilings, a pleasant outdoor patio overlooking the Florida Trail bike path and a parking lot (which seemed to be used a lot by bikers who may or may not have been eating at the restaurant). And the old Colonial style sign has even been incorporated into the new building.

The new place reminded me of the Peach Valley Cafe in Lake Mary, only with better food.

Flying Fish

Written by Scott Joseph.

Flying Fish majoras

And just like that, Flying Fish, formerly known as Flying Fish Cafe, has become arguably the second most elegant restaurant at Walt Disney World. In my estimation, only Victoria & Albert’s offers a more upscale decor.

It took more than just dropping the word Cafe from the name. The restaurant, on Disney’s Boardwalk, was closed in February for a complete renovation. When it originally opened, almost 20 years ago, the Fish had a more whimsical decor that featured paeans to the glory days of Coney Island’s boardwalk, with such touches as booth backs that swooped like the track of a roller coaster, light fixtures of parachuting porpoises and touches of tiles that resembled fish scales.

Flying Fish table

All of that is gone, though there are still subtle hints at fish scales, such as in the tasteful flatware, which now is set on white tablecoths or stone instead of bare wood. (Comfier uphostered chairs, too, to replace the nautical-looking wooden ones.) The color scheme ranges from an azure blue to a deep violet, perhaps a nod to Tyrian purple, which is derived from mollusks.

Flying Fish dining room

Instead of drifting dolphins, a flowing sculpture of glass bubbles lights the length of the room. (See below for a video tour via Facebook Live but be aware that the audio quality is poor.)

There is still an on-stage kitchen, and instead of the tiled chef’s counter, gathering-height tables may be abutted next to the kitchen counter to affect chef tables of various sizes.

Restaurant Ash

Written by Scott Joseph.

Ash portrait

I have to begin by saying that I don’t watch the “reality” cooking shows. None of them. And in fact it’s “Hell’s Kitchen” that first put me off of the genre.

When the program was first set to air, in 2005, my editors at the Orlando Sentinel thought it might be fun to have the restaurant critic write a review. So they handed me tv critic Hal Boedeker’s preview copy — I think it was VHS — and I sat down to watch it. It turned my stomach.

I found celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s rudeness and belittling behavior repulsive. The way he spoke to and treated the contestants was demeaning. It didn’t take me long to figure out that humiliation was a key ingredient in all such shows. Sorry, I’m humiliation intolerant. I haven’t watched that show since.

So I’ve not seen any of the episodes from last season that featured Central Floridian Ashely Nickell as one of the cheftestants. Presumably it was her participation in the program that served as the impetus for Restaurant Ash, which opened in May in the space that was the original Funky Monkey, which closed in June of 2015. (Nickell is the daughter of FMI Restaurant Group’s Eddie Nickell and Nicholas Olivieri.)

It’s interesting that a restaurant built around the recognizability of someone who has been on national cooking shows — she was also on “Cutthroat Kitchen,” which also sounds delightful — would feature a menu that is largely sandwiches. Nothing inherently wrong with that. Sandwiches and burgers are an increasingly popular food segment.

But I would expect a restaurant that places an emphasis on the chef, going so far as to name the restaurant after her, would offer food that is more, well, cheffy.

Mr. Cebiche

Written by Scott Joseph.

Cebiche ceviche

I arrived in Mt. Dora a little early for an appointment recently — it’s difficult to gauge how long a drive it’s going to be and I lucked out with light traffic. So I decided to pop in to a restaurant that specializes in ceviche, sometimes, as in this case, spelled cebiche.

That’s Mr. Cebiche to you, pal.

And by the way, this isn’t a place you just pop into, not unless you already know where it is. I had the address, but as I drove down Donnelly Street in the sleepy downtown, I couldn’t spot it. It was only after I parked the car and walked to where the address should be that I discovered it’s inside a sort of arcade of businesses, on the second floor, in a charming little space that overlooks the street below.

Because I had only a half hour before my appointment, I ordered something that could come out quickly. And, not so coincidentally, was the signature dish of the place: ceviche. I mean Mr. Cebiche. Ceviche, of course, is generally fish that is “cooked” in citrus juices. Because this is a process that takes time, and a dish that is served chilled, I knew that ceviche wouldn’t require any cooking. And seeing as how I was the only customer in the place at the time, I was pretty sure I’d be in and out in no time.

I was late for my appointment.

Frontera Cocina

Written by Scott Joseph.

Frontera interior

 

There isn’t anything remotely Mexican about the decor and design of Frontera Cocina, the new restaurant from Rick Bayless that has opened at Disney Springs. And that just may be the point.

Bayless, the Chicagoland chef who has won no fewer than six James Beard Awards, says his style of Mexican food has “bright flavors” and isn’t heavy because they don’t do much frying. His menu focuses on the Central and Southern regions of Mexico, staying far away from the influences of Tex-Mex or Ameri-Mex, or, heaven forbid, Flori-Mex.

That brightness shows in the decor, as well. More modern, with bright splashes of color — orange, blue and green — walls of windows and shelves of tequilas. No artificially cracked plaster walls showing bare bricks beneath and nary a sombrero hanging on a hook. That alone is refreshing.

Bayless expanded his culinary empire — or frontier, to use one of the translations of the word — from his wildly popular Frontera Grill, which, like all of his other restaurants, is in or around Chicago. (The flagship restaurant is on Clark Street.)

Besides being the first Bayless restaurant in Florida, the Disney Springs location is the first, and only, Frontera Cocina. That may be, in part, because the restaurant is a partnership with the San Angel Group, which also operates the restaurants at the Mexico pavilion in Epcot.