Normans Entrance

Norman’s, the fine dining restaurant from Florida’s celebrity chef Norman Van Aken at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Resort, will close this summer after 16 years. The final day of service will be Sept. 1

In a statement, Alissa Perez, director of public relations for Grande Lakes, said, “Norman’s was and will remain an incredible chapter in the story of our business and we are proud of what the team has accomplished since our relationship began in 2003.”

The decision to close the restaurant was made by the hotel’s corporate division at Marriott International. Company has a goal to revamp restaurants throughout its properties with an emphasis on company-owned concepts. Norman’s leased the space at the Ritz.

Perez said that a decision about what to do with the space has not yet been made, but it almost certainly will be another restaurant. (There had been talk of turning it into meeting space.)

When it opened, Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton was a second location of sorts for Van Aken’s popular restaurant in Miami’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. It was there the he won the Best Chef: South award from the James Beard Foundation. Van Aken was also one of a few South Florida chefs striving to create a new cuisine that would be uniquely Florida’s. Their style came to be known as Floribbean or New World Cuisine.

In 2016, Van Aken partnered in a Mount Dora restaurant called 1921 by Norman Van Aken. Though it was critically acclaimed, Van Aken severed ties with the restaurant in November 2018. The restaurant is now called 1921 Mount Dora.

Yusuf Yldiz has been manager and sommelier at Norman’s for 12 years. He said Thursday that there had been talk that this change was coming — I had first heard rumblings about it a year ago — but that no one had mentioned a date for the closing until now.

Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton is one of the last of the area’s fine dining restaurants, offering “white-glove service” in an atmosphere worthy of a Ritz.

Van Aken, who has entities in South Florida, was not immediately available for comment, but a statement on the restaurant's behalf said the partners were looking for another Central Florida space to relocate.


Proper exterior

There’s probably no better way to begin this review of Proper & Wild than with the owners’ Mission Statement, even though I generally am not a fan of mission statements because they’re so general and ethereal and lacking in specifics that they usually are meaningless.

But I like what Chelsie and Jamie Savage have to say here: “We believe community matters, food matters, and health matters, so we make damn good food that’s good for you, and we hold the space for Central Florida to come together and enjoy it.”

It still isn’t very specific in details, but the “damn good food” pretty much gets to the heart of what they’re doing with this Winter Park restaurant.


 Simply Gyros exterior

Restaurateur Sunny Corda, whose current brands include Rasa, Southern Spice, saffron and Mynt, is stepping out of his Indian milieu and dabbling in a bit of Greek with Simply Gyros.

Located next door to Rasa, on Restaurant Row, SG is a fast-food style outlet for everyone’s favorite Mediterranean sandwich.

As the name suggests, the menu is straightforward and focuses on gyros. However, if your concept of a gyro is lamb and beef sliced from a vertical tower of meat that continually spins on a rotisserie, you should know that here a falafel sandwich is also considered a gyro. So is chicken, though in both cases I would classify them as shawarmas or doners. But far be if from me to be difficult about a place called Simply Gyros.



Well, at least it wasn’t a chef from New Orleans, for a change.

The James Beard Foundation handed out its awards for culinary excellence Monday evening in a black-tie ceremony held in Chicago.

Frenchette, New York City, was named Best New Restaurant and the title for Outstanding Restaurant went to Philadelphia’s Zahav, an Israeli restaurant. Ashley Christensen of Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, North Carolina, took the Outstanding Chef award. Kelly Fields of Willa Jean in New Orleans is the 2019 Outstanding Pastry Chef.

Orlando had had a semifinalist in the pastry chef category, a national award. Rabii Saber of the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World Resort was a first-time nominee in that category.

For the second year in a row, Central Florida had no chefs even on the long list or nominees for Best Chef: South, a region that also includes Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Puerto Rico. Over the past decade, New Orleans chefs have dominated the region. Three of the five finalists were from New Orleans.

But this year the honor went to Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar in Oxford, Miss.

You can see the full list of winners here.


Whiskey Duck Sliders

Chastity Harvey, the executive chef at The Whiskey, has found a fun way to work some of the restaurant’s namesake into a duck and chorizo slider she features.

She takes the ingredients that would go into a traditional Old Fashioned cocktail and new-fashions an aioli with them. Add some arugula, marinated tomatoes and a smear of brie and you’ve got a great slider.

Mix yourself an Old Fashioned and watch the video as Harvey explains the process, then give the recipe below a try.

Just don’t drink the aioli.