STK is next up in the ongoing procession of new and elaborate restaurants opening at Disney Springs, the reimagined dining, shopping and entertainment district formerly known as Downtown Disney. The NYC based STK will start serving to the general public beginning with dinner service on Wednesday, May 25, (lunch hours will be added soon). On Tuesday evening, the restaurant will throw a grand opening party, by invitation only. (I'll be livecasting from the event on the SJO Facebook page.)

On Monday, I got a sneak peek at the restaurant, chatted with the Orlando restaurant's chef, James O'Donnell, and tasted a few of the dishes that will be offered.

Stylistically, the new restaurant has design elements characterisitc of other STKs. The photo at top was taken last Thursday at the STK in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan; below it is the Disney Springs. Besides this main dining room, there is a loungish area next to the bar in the front of the restaurant, and an upstairs dining area, also with bar, and a balcony that overlooks the newly filled Springs (although we're supposed to believe they've been there forever).

Although the name STK, when enough vowels are purchased, evokes steak, O'Donnell says his menu offers lighter fare. "We do a much better job with seafood, appetizers and vegetables." He calls it a " twist on the steakhouse that's light and modern with a little more seasonality."

Cognac front

As a restaurant critic, I’m used to being asked by locals and visitors for recommendations on where to dine, whether in my home area of Central Florida or in the various cities I’ve visited on my own travels.

(And no, to answer a question I’m often posed, I don’t mind being asked for recommendations. In fact, I’ll mind it very much when people stop asking.)

Especially when we travel, we want to know that a restaurant will be as close to a “sure thing” as possible. I’m no different. Yes, I enjoy the thrill of finding an out of the way place that no one else has written much about that delivers an extraordinary dining experience. But if I’m vacationing in, say, France, I don’t want to waste a meal on mediocre food. I want all of my meals to be exceptional.

So then, how does a restaurant critic find new places to visit when traveling? Well, sometimes I do the same thing others do: consult my counterparts in the cities I’m visiting. I also do other research, reading online reviews, though being careful to take extreme praises and condemnations with the proverbial grain of salt, and looking through articles and comments.

I also look for more oblique clues.

Such an indirect clue led me to Brasserie Cognac in New York recently. I cancelled a reservation I had for an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side and made one at Cognac all because of an interview with Eric Ripert that was published in the New York Times earlier in the month.

Ripert is the celebrated chef of the much lauded Le Bernadin just a few blocks away. (I also revisited Le Bernadin on the recent visit and will share my experience there with you soon.) In the opening sentences of the interview, by reporter Jeff Gordinier, Ripert is described as sliding into a banquette and ordering without even opening a menu. If Ripert, a native of France, finds the restaurant so classically French, and an exceptional place to be interviewed in, I’m there.

What a huge disappointment it was.

The annual Chef's Gala, one of the year's best food and drink affairs, is Saturday, May 21.

As always, the event is held at Epcot’s World Showplace, the biodome-like structure that also houses the weekly Party for the Senses dos during the International Food & Wine Festival.

Unlike the Senses Parties, however, admission to Epcot is not required to attend Chef’s Gala. The way they get around that is by busing attendees from a special area in the Epcot parking lot to the Showplace via the theme park’s backstage area, so besides attending a really terrific food and wine event, you also get an insider’s — or backsider’s, if you will — view of what’s behind the Epcot facades.

Tickets to the event are $275 per person or $500 per couple with all proceeds going to Heart of Florida United Way. Chef’s Gala supports programs in the areas of education, income, health and basic needs.

“Heart of Florida United Way is humbled each and every year by the community support we receive through Chef’s Gala to help more than 400,000 people in the tri-county region,” said Robert H. (Bob) Brown, president and CEO of Heart of Florida United Way. “Chef’s Gala is certainly one of my favorite events due to the impact we’re able to make with the help of volunteers, contributors and sponsors.”

This link will take you to the Chef’s Gala website where you can get more information and purchase your tickets. Also, you can bid on silent auction items, even if you're unable to attend. See below for a list of participating restaurants:

 Armando interior

Armando’s, the Italian restaurant from Winter Park’s Hannibal Square, has opened a second location in College Park. It takes over the space in the Wellesley condominium building that most recently was occupied by Hangar Bar and Grille (and originally was Harmoni Market).

It would appear to be an immediate hit, if the crowd that was packed into it on a recent Friday is any indication. Tables were hard to come by for anyone not wanting to wait at least 40 minutes, and there was a pleasant thrum from the people throughout the large space who showed no interest in making the wait shorter.

My companion and I snagged two seats at the bar and looked over the extensive (and difficult to read) menu.

taproom fish

I did something I haven’t done in a very long time when I visited the Tap Room at Dubsdread the other day.

Visiting Tap Room wasn’t the unusual thing. It’s a favorite of mine and I go there often.

But I almost always have the Tap Room Burger, which is just one of the best burgers in town. And if I don’t have the burger, I have the Prime Rib because I don’t think anyone does it better for such a fair price.

But in an effort to climb from the beefy rut, this time I ordered the Grouper Sandwich.

It shouldn’t have surprised me to find that the kitchen applies the same standards of quality and care in the selection and preparation of its fish selections as it does the burgers and steaks.

The fillet was beautifully cooked and had lovely char marks from the grill. It was served on a fresh bun — a presence of the burger there — with crisp leaves of lettuce and a thick and impossibly red slice of tomato. A stack of fries accompanied.

Tap Room has been a supporter of the flog longer than any of the other advertisers, so most would expect me to say good things about it. As many of you know if you've read my policy on advertisers, restaurants must meet certain standards in order to advertise here. I’m behooven to check on the advertisers you see here from time to time to verify that the standards are in place.

Tap Room at Dubsdread is still a place I can easily recommend, whether it’s for a burger or prime rib or steak or even fish.

Tap Room at Dubsdread is at 549 W. Par Ave., Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily (brunch on Sunday). The phone number is 407-650-0100.