Peters Chinese sign

The Lunar New Year celebration begins Friday when the Year of the Dog is ushered in. Dog years are my favorites, even though they seem longer than the others.

Sometimes called Chinese New Year, the event is celebrated by several Asian countries. It's never on the same day but rather is tied to the occurrence of the first new moon between January 1 and February 20. The moon will be newest on Feb. 16 this year.

So you might see some celebrations around town, especially in the area of Mills 50 where there is a high concentration of Asian businesses and restaurants. Look for lanterns, red ribbons and firecrackers. There might be dragons.

Beard Rise

The James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists for its 2018 awards in Chicago Thursday, and for the first time in many years no Central Florida chefs were included in the Best Chef: South category.

Among the 20 semifinalists, five are from Florida, including Lindsay Autry, The Regional Kitchen & Public House, West Palm Beach; Clay Conley, Buccan, Palm Beach; Brad Kilgore, Alter, Miami; Lauren Macellaro, The Reading Room, St. Petersburg; and Niven Patel, Ghee Indian Kitchen, Miami.

Regional judges, a panel comprised mainly of restaurant critics and food journalists, will vote for their top five candidates in each category. The five finalists will be announced March 14 with the winners revealed at a black-tie gala in Chicago on May 7.

Central Florida has never had a chef advance to the finals, but not having one, or several, on the long list is rare. Considering the favorable press that local restaurants have been receiving recently, including an article in Sunday's New York Times that listed several restaurants whose chefs would be Beard worthy, this is a disappointing setback.

The full list of nominees may be seen at the James Beard Foundation webpage.

Women chefs

As we await the announcement Thursday of the semifinalists for the James Beard Awards, here's an event that's loaded with Beard nominees and award winners: Women in the Kitchen: Legends, Mentors and Friends. The dinner is Sunday, March 18 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Lake Meadow Naturals in Ocoee.

The event is hosted by Rusty Spoon chef and multiple Beard nominee Kathleen Blake. Joining her will be Elizabeth Falkner (Falk Yeah Productions, Brooklyn), Melissa Kelly (Primo, Orlando, Rockland, Maine, and Tucson), Melissa Khoury and Penny Barend (Saucisson, Cleveland), Jody Adams (Porto & Saloniki, Boston), Charleen Badman (FnB, Scottsdale), Katharine Elder (Elderslie Farm, Wichita), Britt Marie Culey (Coquette Patisserie, Cleveland) and Gloriann Rivera (1921 by Norman Van Aken, Mount Dora).

They will collaborate on a four-course seated dinner served on the grounds of the popular farm. Tickets are $150 per person ($125 for James Beard Foundation Members) with proceeds going to advance the foundation's support of women in the culinary industry.

Tickets may be purchased online at this link.

Cilantros counter

It's Taco Tuesday. And also Fat Tuesday. So I was hoping for some Fat Tacos. Taco Gras, if you will.

So I headed over the the area of town that is still not officially designated the Hourglass District to try out a new place called Cilantro's Taqueria. It's in a small group of storefronts that also holds the oddly named businesses Hair Partners and Ambrose the Printer. The latter always makes me think of a medieval scribe.

Cilantro's is charming. I have no idea what was in this space before, even though I've passed by this corner several times a week for more than 25 years. It might have been a wonderful business, but even without knowing, I'd say Cilantro's is an improvement.

FoodieFriday shot

When you think about Valentine's Day, you think about romantic restaurants. But what comprises a romantic restaurant is a very subjective matter. And so it's difficult to make a recommendation because what I consider romantic may not be what you think of for an intimate dinner.

Click here to see the Facebook Live chat about Valentine's Day dining.

For me, it's a quiet atmosphere, someplace where you can have a conversation without having to shout over the noise of the restaurant, or a place so cramped that your neighbors can hear all of your sweet nothings meant only for your sweetie's ear.

But a romantic restaurant might be something entirely different for you. Maybe it's the restaurant where you had your first date. Even if that's a place as crowded and loud as, say, Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, going back there might be very romantic.

If you don't have a special restaurant and you're trying to come up with one to take your Valentine to, keep some things in mind.