The Daily Flog

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?

drayer danDan Drayer, who has served as executive chef for Talk of the Town Restaurants for nearly 15 years, has left that company. He is leaving Central Florida Tuesday to accept a position as executive chef for Restaurant Works, a Dallas group with restaurants in Texas, Colorado and Georgia.

Drayer, 57, said he will be doing some of the same things he has been doing for Talk of the Town, “opening restaurants, training guys.” But he said the move was desirable because it’s a return to his hometown region where he still has family.

He also is mulling around the idea of returning to school to pursue the field he was studying for before he got pulled into the restaurant business: medicine.

Drayer recently received his master chef’s degree, and he completed a book he cowrote with Charley Woodsby. Drayer said the book is “all about [Woodsby’s] Red Lobster days, all of that history, the Old South and the restaurants he was involved with.” The book, he said, is on its way to a publisher.

Drayer’s last day at ToTT was June 2. Talk’s Seth Miller told me that there currently are no plans to replace Drayer but that his duties will likely be absorbed by others, at least initially. He said Drayer’s leaving was “a big loss. He was a very dynamic individual.”

Restaurant Works’ brands includ Cru - Food & Wine Bar, Victory Tavern City Grille, and a new restaurant called Princi Italia.

Dininginthedark

How does the dining experience change when you can’t see what you’re eating because you’re dining in darkness? I don’t mean low lighting meant to inspire romance like you’d find in a fancy restaurant, the sort of place where you try to use the little candle on the table to read the menu.

I’m talking no candle, no light whatsoever. Total darkness. What would dinner be like when you can’t see what’s on the plate?

You can find out when Second Harvest Food Bank and Lighthouse Central Florida host Dining in the Dark on Thursday, July 16, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Second Harvest facility, 411 Mercy Drive, Orlando. Tickets are $125 per person and proceeds benefit the two charities.

Now you have to understand that Dining in the Dark means that the entire room will be plunged into total darkness — there will be no blindfolds that can be raised for peeking. You’ll have to use your senses of smell and touch — hearing, too — to figure out just what you’re eating (no one will tell you what it is until after the dinner). Conventional eating utensils can’t be used because you can’t see anything to put a fork in or cut with a knife (please, no knives!). And there won’t likely be stemware that can be tupped over easily.

How then, you’re probably wondering, does the food get served if even the waiters are working in darkness? Dining in the Dark has that covered. Guest servers for the evening will be members of the Orlando Police Department’s SWAT Team, who are trained in the use of night-vision goggles. (I can’t attest to their training as servers, but I’m guessing the plates will be placed precisely where they aim them.)

I have experienced an evening of dining in pitch black surroundings. It’s an interesting experience, and even with my background in food and dining, I was only able to guess what I was eating about 50 percent of the time.

It’s a fun experience, but it also brings awareness to what people with vision loss experience. Lighthouse of Central Florida helps people live with vision loss.

For tickets, visit DiningInTheDarkOrlando.com.

pork schnitzel

Executive chef Marc Kusche and his crew at Hamilton’s Kitchen at the Alfond Inn have introduced a new menu for summer, and it has a bunch of yummy options. Kusche has been raising the level of things at Winter Park’s newest dining destination since he took over a year ago. It’s one of the reasons I’m pleased to be partnering with the Alfond for the July meeting of Supper Club. (We have about 15 seats left; you can get details here.)

Hamilton’s new menu continues the restaurant’s commitment to using porducts sourced from local purveyors. The menu even lists the names.

Some of the highlights of the menu include a slow roasted pork belly with apples and rosemary; Hamilton’s Kitchen Meatballs, a blend of beef and pork with blue cheese infused mashed potatoes; sweet peas risotto and braised lamb; squid ink pasta and seared scallops; and whole pan-seared trout. Kusche gets a bit of his own heritage in there, as well, with a pork schnitzel (that's what's pictured above).

The entire menu is listed below. I encourage you to stop by and give them a try. Or join us for Supper Club and see an even more creative side of the kitchen.

By the way, there’s also a fun new bar menu, if you’re just out for a cocktail and a nosh.

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