Wassabi Sushi

A lot of you young'uns won't remember that there was once a time when a Thai restaurant was a hard thing to find around these parts. One of the first was a restaurant called Bangkok, which occupied a pagodalike building in Altamonte Springs. It was a favorite of many people because they didn't have a larger survey of what Thai food should really be, so they didn't know that what Bangkok was serving was pretty mediocre. Once more Thai restaurants began to open in the area, people realized they didn't have to settle. Bangkok eventually closed.

The same thing happened with sushi bars and Japanese restaurants. Once hard to find, they are now quite common. And I mean common in more ways than one.

Now Wassabi Asian Fusion, featuring sushi and Japanese cuisine, has taken over the old Bangkok space, and unfortunately a bit of the mediocrity has apparently rubbed off on the new tenants.


Trotter Tribute

It was exactly a year ago — November 5, 2013 — that renowned chef Charlie Trotter died at the age of 54. So it seems fitting to choose today to tell you about a grand tribute that his friend Norman Van Aken is planning to benefit the organization that was founded in his name.

A Tribute to Charlie Trotter will be held at Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes on Saturday, December 13, from 7 until 10 p.m. Tickets are $200 per person plus tax and gratuity. Proceeds will benefit the Trotter Project, an organization formed to honor the late chef through programs, services and events that promote culinary and personal excellence.

The evening will feature culinary stations helmed by Van Aken and his Norman's staff as well as several of Central Florida's most celebrated chefs. In addition, sommeliers will offer wines to match the dishes being offered. You can expect this to be more than your usual cocktail-party-style nibbles; these chefs will be offering their best efforts to wow the crowd.

Among those participating are:


Tartini arugula

It had been a while since I'd first visited Tartini, the very good "Pizzeria & Spaghetteria" on South Orange Avenue in Orlando, so I was happy to be invited back to see how things are going, and I'm happy to report they're going quite nicely.

And I can reaffirm that the pizzas coming out of the unique oven here are still some of the best pies in town. Well, the oven isn't unique anymore. And the town isn't confined to Orlando. That's because Tartini has opened a second location, at 625 Rock Ridge Blvd. in Apopka, and the new location has the same type of oven. What makes it unusual is that it has a turntable inside the brick oven. But the turntable doesn't just rotate, it also rises and falls, lifting the dough through the hot air. A pizza can cook fully in about 25 seconds.


TOTG exteriorThere are few restaurants that enjoy iconic status. New York's Tavern on the Green is arguably one of them. The restaurant, which sits on the edge of Central Park (that's the green that it's on), has been the site of many memorable meals and special occasions over the years. But its quality flagged over the past decade, and it finally closed. New owners reopened the restaurant earlier this year. It was met mostly with a big yawn, getting mixed reviews, including this one from me.

But now, as announced by Florence Fabricant in the New York Times, the owners have hired Jeremiah Tower, who is himself something of an icon among chefs, to take over the kitchen there. Does this mean they're really serious about restoring the restaurant to its former glory and not just relying on unsuspecting tourists to keep the place filled?

I do hope so.

Tower was among the chefs who came last year to cook at the 10th anniversary gala for Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton. When Tower stepped up to the podium to tell the assembled guests about his course, the other chefs -- Norman Van Aken, Emeril Lagasse, Dean Fearing, Scott Hunnel, Brandon McGlamery among them -- made bowing motions to show their admiration.

"I think Jeremiah Tower is on the shortest list imaginable when it comes to a Chef who has the stature, historical knowledge, cultural breadth and outright PERSONA to match that storied place," Van Aken told me in an email. "Bravo! Let's hope the owners are willing to give this Culinary King reign for a good year to turn the ship around!"

The New York article also had this from my friend Clark Wolf: "The idea that Jeremiah would do something in New York is kind of fabulous," said Clark Wolf, a food consultant from California. "There'll be a lot of delicious food. It won't be boring. He'll know how to give the place that sizzle it needs."

A New York production company is currently assembling a documentary about Tower, which they hope to have ready to submit to film festivals next spring. (A representatlve for the production company contacted me about footage I shot at the gala.) I asked one of the people involved in the documentary what this news means for the production. "It definitely throws a curve ball at our narrative ark, but we will pivot accordingly." 

Let's hope it means that Tavern on the Green will live happily ever after.