Vanbarrys interior bar

Vanbarry’s Public House certainly has caught on. It isn’t unusual to find its patio, bar and dining room, not to mention its parking lot, full at just about any time.

That includes Sunday brunch, but if you’re willing to get there before noon, when the music fires up on the patio (fire being the operative word in the current heat), you should be able to find a table.

And go ahead and find one yourself. I’ll give you permission to “sit wherever you want” even though my companion and I stood at the front door for several minutes before anyone told us. (This after several workers glanced a sleepy eye our way, quickly looking away so as not to commit to actually greeting us. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: If you’re not morning people, don’t open in the morning.)


VE table

The number one question a restaurant critic hears is "What is the best restaurant in [insert critic's town here]?" Sometimes it varies to "What's your favorite restaurant?" or "Where do you like to go when you're not working?"

The truth is, the answers to all of those questions change frequently. As they should. The "best restaurant" should be challenged constantly for that top spot by other restaurants improving their own game. My answer does change from time to time, as well.

But if we're talking about a pure restaurant experience, where the food is always top notch, the service impeccable and the atmosphere respectably quiet and serene, there really is only one answer: Victoria & Albert's.

It's pretty much the first restaurant I mention when someone is looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, depending, of course, on whether the asker truly appreciates fine food -- this isn't a place for steak and potato aficionados -- and is willing to pay for it, 'cause it ain't cheap. 

And if it's a really special occasion to be celebrated, I recommend the person seeking advice try to book Victoria & Albert's Chef's Table. There is, quite simply, no other culinary experience like it in the Southeastern United States.

So when I was tasked with finding a restaurant for a very special -- very big -- birthday celebration, I followed my own advice and booked the Chef's Table for a party of eight. (We had been a party of 10 -- the table's capacity -- but lost two diners at the last minute.) We arrived at the Grand Floridian at 6:30 p.m. and straggled out approximately five hours later.

In between we had been treated to 10 or so courses prepared and served by chef de cuisine Scott Hunnel, paired with wines selected by maitre d'hotel Israel Perez, and attended to by the able staff of skilled and highly trained servers.

Here is a rundown and gallery of our dinner:


Chefs night hunnel

This has to be a typo.

It says here that Scott Hunnel, the much decorated chef de cuisine at Victoria & Albert's, and the Grand Floridian's master pastry chef, Erich Herbitschel, who never saw a piece of chocolate he couldn't fashion into a work of art, will team up as guest chefs for Second Harvest's Chef's Night Series.

That part I believe. The two chefs have always been generous with their time and talent, especially when a good cause is involved. In this case, the cause is Second Harvest's Culinary Training Program, which teaches students the skills they need to obtain entry level food service positions. Teach a person to fish, and all that. Very worthy program.

And the four-course menu certainly sounds like something the two chefs would put together for a gourmet meal: King Crab Roulade with caviar; pickled peach soup; Gulf Shrimp with Prosciutto and Melon; Poulet Rouge with Mushroom Ragout and Summer Truffles; Grass-fed Beef with Potato-Turnip Gratin and Oxtail Jus; and Peruvian Chocolate Timbale.

But I think the press release left a couple of digits off the cost of the dinner, because it says here it's only $75 per person. Maybe it was supposed to say "per course." Or maybe that was just the cost of the truffles.

Whatever. I suggest you go to FeedHopeNow to claim your tickets before someone figures it out.

The dinner is Thursday, August 27, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, 411 Mercy Drive, Orlando.




A new concept called Urbain 40 American Brasserie is planned for the former Cantina Laredo space at the Dellagio plaza on Restaurant Row. It is being developed by a new company, Boulevard Restaurants, owned by Orlando attorney Jaafar Choufani, son of longtime restaurateur Rashid Choufani.

The elder Choufani told me that the new restaurant will be a paean to the 1940s in decor and ambience, including music of the Big Band era, “just like we used to have at Timpano’s,” he said. Choufani was the owner of E-brands, which developed Timpano and Samba Room. (The original Timpano on Sand Lake Road is where Eddie V’s now stands, and Rocco’s Tacos, next door, was the home of Samba Room.) Choufani still has the restaurants at the Morocco pavilion at Epcot and the Latin American themed restaurant Paradiso 37 at Downtown Disney. Paradiso 37 is undergoing renovations to become part of Disney Springs and its size will double.

Choufani said the chef for Urbain 40 will be Jean-Stephane Poinard, who previously owned Bistro de Leon in St. Augustine. (Poinard, from Lyon, France, is the son of a celebrated chef in that city, also named Jean-Stephane Poinard, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer — placed there by his common-law wife, apparently, 18 months before it was discovered — in 2010. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Rashid Choufani stressed that his son owns the company “100 percent” and that he is just helping him out. “I’m just doing this for my pleasure,” he said. He added that the menu, which will feature “big city cocktails and big city food,” will be mid priced.

The restaurant will feature a chef’s table in the kitchen and will make use of the terrace overlooking the Dellagio’s central courtyard and fountain.


Fusion 360 lounge

Fusion 360 has opened on Sand Lake Road in the space that previously, and all too briefly, held American Gymkhana. Although the name might lead one to think it features a global cuisine, Fusion 360, like its predecessor, is mainly Indian (see below for the menu).

Watch for a review of Fusion 360 soon.

In a very short span of time, this second level restaurant space has been home to three restaurants — Raga, in addition to the other two mentioned above — all of them Indian and all of them with essentially the same ownership. When Raga failed to catch on, the investors approached Manhattan restaurateur Rajesh Bhardwaj, whose Junoon, an upscale Indian restaurant, boasts a Michelin star, to redo it in a similar light. American Gymkhana was the result.

That restaurant was well received critically, including by this critic, but the investors weren’t pleased with its performance. Bhardwaj and much of the team he had assembled, including chef Aarthi Sampath, returned to New York.

Fusion 360’s menu features many familiar Indian dishes, some with an Asian influence, much as Raga had at one time.

The biggest difference with F360 is that on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings the restaurant will be turned into a nightclub called Kerala, with, it claims, the largest dance floor on Sand Lake Road. (Quick, name another place on Sand Lake Road with a dance floor.) There will also be bottle service, a late night menu and a VIP room. Best of luck with all of that.

Later in the summer, a halal menu is planned.

Fusion 360, 7559 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando, is open for dinner daily. Here’s the current menu (prices not provided):