Sabor del Caribe platter

An article in Tuesday’s New York Times says that Central Florida is the destination for an influx of Puerto Rican transplants, and that Florida is set to overtake New York as the state with the most Puerto Ricans. “The migration … is transforming a corridor of Central Florida that is increasingly viewed as economically powerful, culturally diverse and politically pivotal,” the article said.

If it means that we’ll see more restaurants like Sabor del Caribe, I say “Welcome!”

Sabor del Caribe is a small storefront place in a strip mall in extreme East Orlando just around the corner from the city dump. That’s the sort of proximity that restaurant critics take note of just in case the food isn’t very good. But is what I sampled at SdC is any indication, the only things that will be going into the landfill will be the extra takeout containers the guests will need for the sample leftovers.

tip jar

People have been railing against the practice of tipping for service in restaurants for as long as there have been tip jars. I recall doing a feature article in the late 1980s on a man who had started a national campaign to do away with tips. He had printed cards that he left instead of a gratuity with the check. The cards explained to the hapless server that he did not believe in the tipping strategy and that he thought the restaurateur should pay the servers a proper wage. I’m sure the servers understood his position entirely.

Obviously, that movement didn’t go anywhere. Neither have any of the other efforts to dismantle the practice of tipping that seem to crop up every year or so.

But there is a new move afoot, and this time it could take hold. This time the situation is different.

MagDinMo 15

Once confined only to the 30 days that September hath, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month is not longer only a month. It begins on Monday, August 24, this year for a five and a half week run. And with more than 70 restaurants participating, you’re going to need those extra days.

For the uninitiated, restaurants that are a part of Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month offer a special prix fixe, three-course menu, usually an appetizer, soup or salad, an entree and a dessert, with two or three choices in each category. In most cases the menu items are chosen to showcase the restaurants’ specialties. And the best of the restaurants offer the same portion sizes that would be served if ordered from the regular menu, even though the savings can be significant.

This year the fixed prix of the menus is $33, plus tax and gratuity and whatever drinks you have, which is the same price as last year. For some of the restaurants, however, it’s costing a bit more to be a part of the areawide event than it did previously.

 

I'm very pleased about the recent success of local magician Kostya Kimlat, a man who thinks I don't like him or magic. In fact, neither is true. 

If you've missed the many Facebook reposts and congratulatory messages, Kimlat appeared on a recent edition of "Penn & Teller: Fool Us" on the CW channel and performed a card trick and did just that -- fooled the two headliner magicians and earned himself the possibility of being their opening act in an upcoming Las Vegas appearance. Click on the image above to see the flawless performance and the hilarious, explosive reaction of Penn, who declares in no uncertain terms how much he "hates" kimlat.

It's clear that Kimlat has come a long way since he was performing tableside magic tricks at Del Frisco's Prime Steak & Lobster (now Christner's) on Lee Road. That's where I first encountered him, and that's where he got the idea that I don't like him or magic.

Actually, I like magic a lot. A college roommate of mine was an amateur magician -- card tricks were his specialty, too -- and I gained an appreciation of the art from him. And Kimlat himself is quite charming. He introduced himself to me on another occasion, following a seminar I had participated in. He handed me his business card, which had an array of letters that were out of line and didn't spell anything. He apologized, took the card back from me and shook it a little, then handed it back, now completely readable.

What I don't like, however, is having a dining experience interrupted. Not just by a magician, but by a strolling violinist, mariachi band or accordian player -- please, God, not an accordian player. There was even one restaurant, many years ago, that had a "comedian" go table to table to make jokes. In retrospect, that guy was probably trying to do his own sleight of hand to deflect attention from the dreadful food.

I don't know why restaurants feel they have to add a song and dance act to the dining experience. Perhaps it's insecurity, a fear that a slow kitchen or poor service will result in complaints. Give 'em the ol' razzle dazzle, as the song goes...

That night at the steakhouse, I'm sure I stopped Kimlat before he could perform with a "no thanks" or something to that effect. He was only trying to do his job, but I was trying to do mine, too, and that meant watching other things than card tricks. 

So it's great to see Kimlat still performing, and in venues more suited to his talents. I don't think he will have to resort to doing strolling card tricks in area restaurants again.

Coop breakfast

I stopped by the Coop in Winter Park to try the new breakfast menu as the guest of the founder, John Rivers. The quick-serve restaurant, which opened as a fried chicken and Southern cuisine specialty, added a breakfast menu recently.

As you'd expect from any Southern breakfast menu, there are the usual biscuits and gravy, pancakes, and, marrying the dinner menu to the morning fare, the inevitable chicken and waffles. 

I'm an eggs-for-breakfast kind of guy, so I focused my attention on that part of the menu. I almost went for the fried catfish and grits (which came with an egg, so I'd be covered) but decided on the Low Country Omelet instead. It was a fat omelet stuffed with sauteed shrimp and bits of spicy andouille sausage in a red sauce that oozed out when pierced. It was plopped atop a bed of Anson Mills grits, so it was a bit like having shrimp and grits for breakfast. The biscuit that came with it was fresh and firm and it had me wishing I'd gotten an order of gravy to cover it with.

Rivers told me that the Coop is very busy for breakfast on the weekends but that during the week it's calmer. I'm going to keep that in mind the next time I need to schedule a morning meeting over eggs. Or catfish.

The Coop is at 610 W. Morse Blvd., Winter Park. It is open for breakfast Monday through Saturday at 7 a.m. The phone number is 407-843-2667.