UrbanTurban sign

Even though I rolled my eyes when I heard the name, I was excited at the news that Urban Turban would bring Indian cuisine back to downtown Orlando. By my recollection, there hasn’t been an Indian restaurant in the Central Business District since the mid nineteen nineties when Uday Kadam owned Bombay Bistro.

Why Indian cuisine been missing from downtown for so long is a mystery, given that most other cuisines are there. (No Vietnamese either, I believe, though at least it’s well represented nearby at Mills 50).

That said, I was hoping more from Urban Turban. Or maybe my expectations should have been tempered based on the name.


KhalilJohn Khalil, new owner of Enzo's on the Lake, next to the Longwood restaurant's popular antipasto bar.

When Jo Anne Perlini, who with her then-husband Enzo opened Enzo’s on the Lake in 1980, announced in October that she had sold the Longwood restaurant, many of the longtime customers were worried that it would change.

John Khalil, the Orlando dentist who bought it, wants to assure you that he intends to keep Enzo’s Enzo’s. “This place is kind of an institution,” said Khalil. “I love the atmosphere, the feel and obviously the food.” And in the two months that he’s owned it he’s stayed the proven course. Most of the staff, including the servers, cooks and the chef, Brandon Parran, have stayed on. Only one longtime server decided to leave, “But he made that decision before he met us,” said Khalil.

Of course Jo Anne Perlini, too, is no longer associated with the restaurant. But you can also thank her that Enzo’s will stay the same. According to Khalil, who purchased the restaurant with his business partner Logan Berkowitz for $3.2 million, there was another bidder for the business – offering more, he believes – but that person did not want to keep it Enzo’s. Perlini chose Khalil and Berkowitz’s offer because they assured her they wanted to keep things the way they were. “We had to save Enzo’s,” Khalil said.


Riverside Johnnys extDiesel's Bar & Grill, via Google Maps

John Khalil, the Orlando dentist who recently bought the storied Enzo’s on the Lake in Longwood, has acquired another waterfront property – the former Diesel’s Bar & Grill in Daytona Beach – and has tapped celebrated local chef Michael Collantes to develop the menu.

Khalil, who goes by Johnny, said his first choice for a name was already taken so for now the restaurant will be called Riverside Johnny’s. He’s hoping to have it open in time for Daytona’s Bike Week in March but said, “If it isn’t ready, we won’t launch.”

Collantes, whose omakase restaurant Soseki was awarded a star in last year’s inaugural Florida Michelin Guide, said in an interview Friday morning that he didn’t want to describe the cuisine of the new restaurant as “beach food” but that it would be more elevated. “It will be things you want to eat with a margarita in your hand.” He mentioned items such as calamari and fish tacos, smash burgers and a Viet-style crawfish boil. Collantes, who also owned the now-closed Taglish Filipino-American restaurant, added, “We want to bring some of the Pacific to the Atlantic.” (Kirk Mayer, the chef from Taglish, will move to the Daytona Beach kitchen.)


818 ext

Lunar New Year, which marks the beginning of the lunar calendar as observed in many Asian cultures, begins Sunday, Jan. 22. So let’s visit 818 Best Dim Sum to get in the holiday mood.

The restaurant, which opened in October, is in an outparcel in front of Mall at Millenia in a space that was previously The King Crab Shack Cajun Seafood. It’s a big place, brightly lit, with many large tables for families or groups.

Each Lunar New Year is denoted by a rotating roster of animals, including ox, snake and horse, among others. Coming up is the year of the rabbit, which last appeared in 2011 (as measured by the Gregorian calendar). I thought it would be clever of 818 to feature rabbit on its menu but there was none.


California Grill Brunch dining roomCalifornia Grill

Some chef nuggets to note. Way up on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort, the kitchen at California Grill is under new management, so to speak. Matthew Birch has moved up to the title of chef de cuisine and Daniel Rogers has been named area chef, a title that’s a little confusing when it comes to CG.

Usually, area chef means that someone oversees more than one property – those found within a certain area, if that’s not getting too technical. But according to Rogers, who explained the chef hierarchy at California Grill to me in a Facebook private message, area chef is second in command to chef de cuisine, which would make it more of an executive sous chef position but for some reason Disney has decided not to use that term. I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for it. CG also has three sous chefs and cooks, assistant cooks and others in the kitchen. Dennis Thompson is the executive chef for the Contemporary Resort, overseeing all culinary, including California Grill, and the legendary Scott Hunnel is culinary director for the Contemporary and other properties. An area manager, if you will.

Up Maitland way, Jason Campbell has announced that he is leaving the executive chef position at Luke’s Kitchen and Bar and will move to the yet-to-open Primrose Lanes in the Milk District, where presumably his food will be consumed by people wearing rented shoes. Campbell’s last day at Luke’s is Sat., Jan. 22.

Moving to Copenhagen (figuratively), René Redzepi, the chef/owner of Noma, putatively the best restaurant in the world – oh hell, let’s just say in the Solar System – has announced that he will close the restaurant and turn it in to a full time food laboratory. The closing is being viewed as an indicator that luxury level fine dining is at a crossroads, but it’s also a tacit acknowledgement to the often abusive treatment of the dozens of cooks that toil for low (or no) wages to produce the precious dishes for those willing to pay exorbitant prices. (Dinner at Noma runs about $500 per person.) For an example of the kind of bullying workers face in such kitchens, see the first episode of “The Bear” on Hulu. Redzepi has admitted to abusing his staff, verbally and physically, in the past.

I’ve never been to Noma. Even when I was in Copenhagen a few years ago I didn’t even look into the possibility of a reservation. Why? I’d much rather have real food than something painstakingly constructed and manipulated. I also know that some chefs try to out outre each other by serving odd items and asking for grand sums of money just to see if they can get away with it. Consider former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni’s remembrance of being served a still-alive and wriggling shrimp when he dined at Noma.

But if that’s your thing, take heart (reindeer heart on fresh pine needles, according to another Noma dish description) – the restaurant will not close until the end of 2024. I assume that’s how far out its reservation book is filled.