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Magical Logo 22

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining, the popular annual restaurant promotion, returns this year, running from Aug. 26 through Oct. 3. During that time, participating restaurants will feature special three-course menus for a set price of $40.

Yep, even the cost of Magical Dining has gone up from last year’s $37; that’s an eight percent, so it’s roughly following inflation.

As in years past, Visit Orlando will donate one dollar from each Magical Dinner to a local charity (no inflational increase for them). This years beneficiary is The Able Trust, an organization helping to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. In addition, Visit Orlando will donate $2,000 to one local nonprofit in each of Orange County’s six commission districts that also supports workforce development.

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Plantees ext

Do you find it odd that a restaurant that bills itself as “100% Plant Based” would have artificial turf out front?

Maybe I should have taken that as an omen and fled from Plantees, a new fast fooder with a limited menu of meat-free items in the Mills 50 District.

Now before the die-hard vegans get poised to tap out a poison-pixel letter let me assure you this is not an anti-vegan review. In fact, I would love to introduce more plant-based foods into my diet. Obviously, someone in my profession can’t entirely eliminate animal products from his diet and still present a wide variety of restaurants for your consideration.

But on my nights off, those evenings when I don’t have to go to a restaurant, I’ve been striving to be more meatless (meatlesser?).

I was hoping to find the food at Plantees to be so good that it could offer a vegetarian option if I didn’t feel like cooking. I did not.

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Tartini Bruschetta

When I recently revisited Tartini Pizza & Spaghetteria, I was impressed with the improvements new owners Oleksandr Nechyporenko and Alvaro Ramirez, who is also the chef, had made. And I loved Ramirez’s creative take on Italian cuisine. His Chef’s Bruschetta is a perfect example.

Ramirez has taken something that is usually no more than chopped tomatoes and basil with olive oil on toast and taken it to new levels. For starters, forget the tomatoes and basil. Instead, he uses creamy herbed goat cheese, arugula and fresh peaches. He tops it with balsamic pearls that look like oversized caviar. The spherification process is included in the online version of the recipe for those who like to dabble in kitchen chemistry. But, Ramirez says, you can also just drizzle some balsamic vinegar for a workaround.

Click here to go to the recipe.

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4flameSC long table

After a pause of nearly three years, we finally had an in-person Supper Club again, breaking our pandemic fast at Four Flamingos: A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen. When I opened the reservations to my newsletter sibscribers, the dinner sold out in less than 24 hours. So the restaurant added another night – a Supper Club first.

4flameSC blais closer

And at both nights, Richard Blais, the celebrity chef who has attached his name to the restaurant, was on hand to talk with us. When we were in the planning stage for the dinner, we discussed having Blais join us by Zoom – something we learned when we did a virtual Supper Club online. We could talk with chefs and winemakers anywhere in the world. But Blais said “No, I want to be there.”

He greeted us, joked amiably and talked about his vision for the restaurant. Then he introduced his resident executive chef, Shelby Farrell, who ran us through the menu.

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taproom outdoor

The Tap Room at Dubsdread has been voted Best Outdoor Dining in our 2022 Foodster Award for Independent Restaurants. Maxine’s On Shine was second and The Garlic in New Smyrna Beach third. Only one vote separated second and third places.

Tap Room was a runaway first place winner. Its wraparound veranda has long been a favorite for lunches, dinners and Sunday brunches.

In placing her vote, Betsy Landesman Jacobs wrote: “Picked The Tap Room for their beautiful porch overlooking the golf course. A bit different from the rest, and so peaceful. Good food, great staff and service.”

Maxine’s On Shine, which was also recently honored as a Bib Gourmand recommendation in the inaugural Florida Michelin Guide, expanded its outdoor dining area beyond its front sidewalk area during the pandemic to include gazebos in the small side parking lot. Although the expanded outdoor dining was meant to be temporary, Maxine’s management has petitioned the city to make it permanent.

The Garlic, an Italian restaurant, is known for its overgrown garden dining area.