Amatista Cookhouse

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Amatista dining room

I took avail of its participation in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month to visit Amatista Cookhouse at Sapphire Falls, the new Loews resort at Universal Orlando.

The hotel’s website says that it “transports guests to a paradise in the heart of the tropics.” But with its austere and cold decor and vast, open dining room, I thought more about the icy Fortress of Solitude from “ Superman” than anything equatorial. (It might be more solitary than than the operators would like, given the low number of guests on the evening I dined.)

The menu is ostensibly Caribbean but the food is presented in a creative and stylistic way.

Dancing Pigs Deli

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Dancing Pig Interior

I did something I haven’t done in a long time recently. Or maybe I should say I didn’t do something. During my most recent trip to New Orleans, I didn’t get a muffuletta. I lived, and I most certainly didn’t go hungry. (I’ll tell you about a couple of outstanding meals soon.)

But I did sort of miss it. So when I saw that Dancing Pigs Deli’s menu highlighted its muffuletta, or muffaletta, as they prefer to spell it, as one “that would make a Cajun envious,” I figured I could right the wrong of three weeks ago in NOLA.

No, I don’t think any Cajuns will be turning green over this version. (And by the way, the sandwich is an invention of Italian immigrants to the area, but let’s not quibble about that.)

Thailicious

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Thailicious soup

I ended up having a pleasant meal at Thailicious in Longwood. It didn’t seem promising when I walked through the door and stood waiting to be greeted. A waiter breezed right by me without so much as a how do you do. But almost as quickly as he whooshed by, another young man stepped right up and offered me the kind of warm welcome a visitor to a new place should receive. He showed me to a a small table at a banquette.

I was less encouraged when it became clear that the first fellow would be my server, and I wish I could say that he warmed up a bit. But clearly something was distracting him.

Pizza Bruno

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Pizza Bruno pie

Finally stopped by Pizza Bruno, a new ‘zeria in the Conway area on Curry Ford Road. Stopping by isn’t  easy to do since the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, open only for dinner on weekdays and the small parking lot fills up quickly. Oh, and it doesn’t have a phone. Or website.

That hasn’t kept it from being crowded to overflowing, because advance word is that a good pie shop has finally moved into the area.

That’s true, though I’m sure it isn’t much comfort to the people who ran Soprano’s Ristorante-Pizza in the same spot before closing earlier this year.

The Daily Poutine

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Daily Poutine poutine

Before we discuss the Daily Poutine, I feel I should mention that there is no one anywhere who under any circumstances whatsoever would recommend that poutine be a consumed daily. Although, it would seem that many of the people lining up at the new Disney Springs kiosk are pretty sure that poutine is part of the broad base of the USDA’s food pyramid (judging from their own broad bases).

Poutine is a mid 20th century Canadian concoction that began finding its way south a few years ago. It's now found at such places as North Quarter Tavern and the Smiling Bison. It is easier to explain what poutine is than it is to explain why it is.

In its simple and original form, poutine consists of french fries with fresh cheddar cheese curds and brown gravy. Dr. Pritikin would not approve. Still, when done right, poutine can be a guilty pleasure to enjoy occasionally, but certainly not daily. But I suppose Semi-Annual Poutine doesn’t have the same ring.

Kreyol Kafe & Bakery

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Kreyol interior

I’ve written in the past that restaurant critics, over time, developed an innate sixth sense. But instead of seeing dead people we see dead restaurants. Or at least restaurants that are about to be dead. There’s just something about the look and feel of a place that tells us without even tasting the food that this visit isn’t going to turn out well.

But the opposite can also be true — call it a seventh sense — that when we enter a new restaurant, especially one we’ve never heard of before, we immediately know this is going to be good.

That’s what I felt when I walked into Kreyol Kafe & Bakery, a Haitian eatery in East Orlando. Despite the liberties taken with the spelling of its name, I immediately knew this was going to be a find. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Stubborn Mule

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Stubborn Mule exterior

The folks who own RusTeak, the casual bistro with locations in Ocoee and College Park, have taken over the corner restaurant/bar space in the Sanctuary Condominiums building in downtown Orlando and installed the Stubborn Mule.

This space most recently was occupied by Sonoma Kitchen, which originally was called Sonoma Draught House, and before that was a place called Beacon.

If you’re a fan of the food at RusTeak, you’ll probably like what you taste at the Stubborn Mule. That’s not to say the menus are identical, but they do both have the same feel and approach to casual American cuisine. The Mule’s menu is smaller, something that isn’t unexpected considering that this is a smaller venue and the focus here, as with previous occupants, is more to offer edible sustenance to go with the sloshable quaffs. Indeed, the restaurant’s name is derived from the currently repopular classic Moscow Mule cocktail served in a copper cup.

Stubborn Mule mule

Oddly, although there are several mulish variations on SM’s drink menu, none is called a Moscow Mule. The one named for the restaurant comes the closest to the recipe — vodka, lime juice and ginger beer — but adds orange bitters, just to be stubborn, I suppose. I found it refreshing, but I prefer my mule to, ahem, have a little more kick.

Supper Club Redux: A Progressive Dinner at Gaylord Palms

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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

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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

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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.