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WDW Swan and Dolphin Causeway FW Classic

The 10th edition of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine Classic takes place Nov. 8 and 9 around and between to two hotels. It’s a weekend full of cocktail classes, culinary workshops and lots of wine sipping and food tasting.

I’ve always thought this was a great idea – hosting a companion event to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival just a popped Champagne cork away but without the theme-park admission fee. I think it’s even smarter that this year they’ve moved it to November from the usual October dates, so  balmier weather has a better chance of reaching Florida.

The structure of the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Food & Wine Classic, or WDWSDFWC, if you prefer, has remained the same, but its breadth has broadened.

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Kaizen interior

Amura, the sushi restaurant on Church Street in downtown Orlando, is now Kaizen Izakaya, and it’s not the first time this restaurant has changed names under the same owner.

When it first opened, more than 20 years ago, it was called Samurai. But, not surprisingly, another restaurant in the state already had claim to that name. So, perhaps to save on signage costs, the owner dropped the first and last letters from the word Samurai and came up with Amura.

What prompted the latest change I can’t say. An izakaya is basically the Japanese equivalent of a pub or tavern where the focus is more on the drinking and mingling with friends – the word means stay sake shop – and the food consists of small bites and nibbles.

Kaizen’s menu is just as robust as before with a full array of sushi and sashimi as well as noodle and rice dishes and other kitchen foods. And the surroundings here don’t exactly inspire one to linger, but I’ll come back to that.

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Beard Regions

When I gave notice, in May, that I was no longer associated with the James Beard Foundation, after having been a regional judge for 30 years, the chief reason I gave was my frustration with the awards process and the imbalance of competing entities within most regions. Specifically, Florida, as part of the South region, was grouped in with, among others, Louisiana. Therefore, New Orleans, one of the country’s great dining destinations, dominated the nominations each year, overshadowing other deserving chefs and restaurants, including many in Central Florida.

This month, JBF announced changes to its chef awards, increasing the number of regions to 12 from 10. But before you get too excited you should know that the changes will not affect the disparity that faces Florida and other states and communities clumped in with culinary powerhouses. In fact, in at least one instance, it makes things worse.

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Martins MiliotesOrlando Magic CEO Alex Martins, left, announces dates for 2nd annual Orlando Wine Festival & Auction at Wine Bar George Thursday as owner George Miliotes looks on.

The second annual Orlando Wine Festival & Auction will be March 13 and 14, 2020, again with the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes as home base.

Alex Martins, CEO of the Orlando Magic, which sponsors the event to benefit its Orlando Magic Youth Foundation, made the announcement at a kickoff reception Thursday at Wine Bar George in Disney Springs. Also in attendance were Charlie Freeman, president of the Magic’s business operations, players Nick Anderson and Bo Outlaw, and community members who attended and supported the inaugural event last March.

Martins announced that the first Orlando Wine Festival & Auction raised over $900,000 for local at-risk kids. The funds were raised through sales of attendance packages, priced at $2,500, $6,500 and $9,250 for two people with varying levels of participation, plus through bids on auction items that included trips to wine country (both domestic and European); luxury stays in Paris and London; an “Ultimate Super Bowl LIV Experience”; and a round of golf with Charles Barkley at Baha Mar Casino in Nassau.

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Due Amici exterior

The first time I visited Due Amici, a new Italian restaurant in College Park, it didn’t quite have all of its stuff together. It also didn’t have its beer and wine license. So one of my dining companions hiked over to Publix and brought back something for us to sip on. In fairness to DA, it had softly opened only a week earlier.

Two months later, its stuff is still a bit disarrayed, though the beer and wine issue has been resolved. But I was a tad flummoxed when I arrived at noon ahead of my lunch companion to find the doors locked, even though it clearly stated out front that the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. What’s more, I could see someone inside with her back to the door, and she did not respond to my knocking.

So I called, and the person who answered (the same one who didn’t answer my knock) was startled to learn that the doors were locked. (That might have something to do with a complete lack of business the first hour.) The music was a tad loud, which might have been why she couldn’t hear me knocking.

But even if the operation seems a bit scattered, the food is good. That was true even on that first visit in the early days.