Maialino vanity

Here’s how a good manager can turn a bad situation around. Sort of. Potentially.

Maybe not.

On a recent trip to New York, I did something I don’t often do: I went back to a restaurant I had already visited. I seldom do that because there are always new and interesting restaurants to check out. A trip to the city offers only so many dining opportunities, why waste one on a known commodity?

But every now and then I like to relax and enjoy myself. So I made reservations for Maialino, the Danny Meyer restaurant in the Gramercy Park that I had enjoyed in the past. The homey Italian cuisine and comfortably bustling atmosphere of the popular restaurant was just what I wanted.

But the Roman-style trattoria, which opened in 2010, was showing signs of fatigue, both physically and emotionally.

Ataj with bread

I found myself in Kissimmee the other day, which isn’t nearly as sinister as it sounds. I mean, it’s not like I was hit over the head and thrown into a trunk of a car and woke up alongside US 192. There was no trunk involved.

But as I came to, I saw a new restaurant called Ataj Indian Cuisine. I dusted myself off and went inside.

Now, there’s no reason for us to get into a discussion of preconceived notions for restaurants in this part of town. Let’s just say that a disappointing number of businesses seem to ascribe to the theory that they don’t really need to try very hard to impress customers because, being in a tourist-dominated area, a new wave of customers comes in every week. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

5C kitchen

I had the honor of serving as the emcee at Sunday’s 5 Chefs, 5 Courses, 5 Charities event at the Alfond Inn at Rollins College. My role allowed me accessed to the kitchen where the five chefs — Kathleen Blake, Kevin Fonzo, Jason Klingensmith, Greg Richie and Henry Salgado — were preparing the dinner, each taking one course.

But here’s what I love about the Central Florida culinary community. Even though each chef was tasked with one of the five courses to be served to the guests, they all helped each other. They have competing restaurants but don’t see each other as competitors, at least not when they’re working together. They’ve come to realize that when one chef looks good, they all look good.

And they all cooked really good Sunday.

Here’s a Facebook Live video that I shot at the beginning of the evening.

PHO pirate

Planet Hollywood Observatory is already seeing stars.

The reimagined and newly reopened mega-eatery at Disney Springs will have its official VIP Ribbon Cutting on Friday, March 17, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. It’s an invitation-only event, but if you’re at the Springs that night you just might catch sight of Reese Witherspoon. She’ll be part of the festivities that evening.

And don’t tell anyone you heard this from me, but Britney Spears is having lunch there this Monday with her family. Wouldn’t be surprised to learn of more celebs coming in during the week. I’ll let you know if I hear more.

In case you missed my recent review, Planet Hollywood has been remodeled to look like a massive observatory with a large central telescope as part of the interior decor. But the most impressive thing inside is the wall that doubles as a projection screen. It’s like dining in an IMAX movie.

No word on whether Guy Fieri will come back into town for the opening. The Food Network star was here several weeks ago when the opening was supposed to take place. But when Robert Earl’s daughter went into labor on the West Coast, everything was put on hold.

UCF Dinner series

The first  of the UCF Rosen College Spring Dinner Series will be March 30. 

The dinner will be prepared and served by students in the restaurant and hospitality management programs under the direction of guest chef Jason Fridrich. The dinner is three courses -- four if you count the intermezzo (you never count the intermezzo) -- and is only $30 per person. And don't factor in a gratuity -- tipping is not allowed.

Sounds like a good opportunity to check out what's going on at the Rosen College and support education, too.

There are two seatings, at 5 and 6 p.m. You can make your reservations at Spring Dinner Series web page.

UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management is at 9907 Universal Blvd., Orlando