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There isn't much on the outside of the boxy structure at 2625 Edgewater Drive in College Park that indicates RusTeak lives there. Maybe that has to do with the seemingly hasty move to take over that building at the last minute instead of the previously announced location down the street. It takes time to deal with sign makers in this town, I've heard.

But RusTeak is definitely inside, and so is a more attractive decor, though I can't for the life of me figure out what a painting of Edgar Allen Poe (or big-eyed bees, for that matter) has to do with the brand. Oh well, the food is good and the service is, too. In fact, the servers could tone it down just a bit, but I'll come back to that.

I stopped in for a recent lunch visit and looked over the overwhelming menu — 34 mains and 17 starters or salads. I settled on an appetizer of shrimp fritters and a burger, while my companion chose the Californication sandwich.


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The latest buzz generator in downtown Orlando restaurants is Soco, the first "from scratch" restaurant from Thornton Park Restaurant Group. TPRG also has Cityfish, which it acquired from Urban Life Restaurant Group. Soco — the name means Southern contemporary — is also the first restaurant where Greg Richie can claim top billing. Richie is a partner in TPRG and is also Soco's executive chef (Cityfish's, too, but more about that another time). Previously, he was leading the kitchen at Emeril's Tchoup Chop for celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and before that he opened the Restaurant Row Roy's, named for Roy Yamaguchi.

Although both of those restaurants might be called chef driven, Soco is the first where Richie is clearly behind the wheel.

But let me stop here. As I've mentioned in previous articles about Soco, TPRG is a client of Scott Joseph Company's consulting services, and therefore it would be inappropriate for me to offer a review. So here's what I've done instead: At the annual gala for the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, I was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Actually, dinner with me was the auction item. And there were three bidders who matched the "buy it now" price. For its part, Soco donated the dinners.

My dinner companions on the first visit were Arlen and Diane Chase, archeologists with UCF. On the second visit I was joined by John and Rita Lowndes and Mike and Marian Peters. John, of course, is the Lowndes of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor and Reed; Rita is the force of nature behind Orlando Shakes. Mike is the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist who draws the Mother Goose and Grimm strip. I recorded their comments through the dinners.


Normans Dining Room wideNorman's at the Ritz-Carlton is one of the top hotel restaurants in the world, according to The Daily Meal.

The Daily Meal, a feature of MailOnline.co.uk from London's the Daily Mail has announced its annual list of 101 Best Hotel Restaurants from around the world, and Orlando's very own Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton is listed at number 37. The only other Florida restaurants on the list are Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel & Beach Club in Palm Beach (74) and Hakkasan at Fontainebleau Miami Beach (98).

It's no surprise that there are five Las Vegas based restaurants on the list, but it is a bit of a shock that only two New Yorkers made the cut, including Jean-Georges at the Trump International Hotel & Tower, listed at number six overall, and NoMad at the NoMad Hotel (52).

How is the list compiled? Here is what it says on the Daily Meal's page:

"In making their decisions, The Daily Meal considered winners and nominees from their 2013 list of the best hotel restaurants, consulted the Michelin Guide, and also looked at hotel restaurants from its annual regional 101 Best Restaurants lists.

"The restaurants were then grouped by continent and an experienced panel of bloggers, critics, and food and lifestyle writers were then invited to vote for their favourites in an online survey.
To be considered, the hotel has to have at least 15 rooms and restaurants must be in the same building - and under the same proprietorship - as the hotel."

Here's a link to the story and the full list of 101 best hotel restaurants. There's a lot of extraneous stuff on the page — you'll have to scroll all the way to the bottom to get to rankings 11 through 101.

How many of these great hotel restaurants have you been to?


Larry GarrettLarry Foor, left, and Garrett Ward will share brewing duties at Cask & Larder.

When I told you back in September that Cask & Larder had lost its longtime brewmaster, Ron Raike, I speculated that Larry Foor, veteran bar manager for Cask and The Ravenous Pig, might be named the new brewman. Turns out I was half right.

C&L has announced that Foor will be sharing the title with Garrett Ward, who has served as assistant brewmaster for the past year and was previously a bartender at the Pig, Cask & Larder's sister restaurant. Both Foor and Ward are certified cicerones, or beer experts, and Foor recently earned a degree in brewing technology from the Siebel Institute in Chicago.

Besides continuing the brewing program for Cask & Larder, which was recently named one of the top 11 new restaurants in America by Esquire magazine, the two will begin ramping up the restaurant's retail beer business. Beginning Thursday, the restaurant will be selling 32-ounce cans, called crowlers, of their specialty brews to go. The first beers available for takeaway imbibing will be Lone Palm Golden Ale, Olde Southern Wit and Flame Out Pale Ale.

Eventually, the beers will be available for purchase in the retail space planned in the building next door. Swine & Sons Provisions, which is scheduled to open in February, will sells charcuterie, sandwiches and other comestibles, as well as the crowlers.

For his part, former brewmaster Raike has joined on with Playalinda Brewing Co., a Titusville operation that is expected to open the taps this month.


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Eddie V's was the site of the October edition of our Supper Club, and the Sand Lake Road seafood and steak house showed the assembled clubbers why it has become a Restaurant Row favorite in such a short time.

In fact, our October 24 dinner coincided with the first anniversary for the Orlando location of Darden's premium brand, and the evening couldn't have been lovelier. We began by sipping our first wine on the patio overlooking the lake at sunset. All of the wines were provided by Rioja through an arrangement with Wine on the Way. We started with a Vina Herminia Rosado, which is not yet available commercially in the United States. Several people who tried it are waiting for the day it will arrive.

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It went perfectly with the first course of Maine Lobster Taco, a signature appetizer on Eddie V's regular menu. It featured sweet lobster meat and grilled corn on a tortilla made in house.