Cauldron hall

I'm apparently on Universal Studio's no-fly list. When it was planning its big media preview of Diagon Alley, the second Harry Potter-themed attraction, I requested media credentials but was refused. You write a few (brutally) honest reviews over the years and you eventually get taken off the invite list.

Maybe it was my review of NASCAR Sports Grille, the one that ran with the headline "What a wreck of a restaurant; The NASCAR Sports Grille revs its engines and sideswipes its customers with a hit of bad service and lackluster food. Forfeit this one, drivers." I didn't write the headline, but the person who did summed up the review nicely, if nicely is the proper word there. It's fitting that Universal recently announced that it is closing NSG November 1. It should have closed years ago.

Maybe it was my review of the churrascaria at Latin Quarter (also closed and converted to Antojitos), which I also found lacking.

Or any of the other lackluster restaurant in and around the theme parks.

Whatever it was, I don't expect to be back in Universal's good graces with this review of the Leaky Cauldron, the dining venue in Diagon Alley, which I finally got around to visiting recently. Most of the food is embarrassingly inadequate, and what they charge for it borders on gouging.


Elliots sign

To say that Elliott's Public House is a better restaurant than the one it replaced would be a backhanded compliment at best. As much as I wanted to, I could never see Brian's restaurant as the delightful greasy spoon that so many others did. It had the right atmosphere but the food was never what I thought it should be. So I was encouraged when the news came that the space would have new owners and would make changes to the menu.

I'm still encouraged, although after two visits to the Ivanhoe Village restaurant my impression is that things have flip-flopped: the food is better but there's something lacking in the ambience.


crafted sign

Things didn't get off to a stellar start at Crafted Block & Brew, a MetroWest eatery that opened in early August. Beer, one would guess from the name, would be a focus of the menu, at least the bar menu. But when my guest and I were seated we were surprised to see that no beers were listed on the menu we were given.

My companion stood and walked over to a server who was entering information into the POS system nearby and asked if there was a beer menu. The young man looked up briefly and said, "They're at the hostess stand," then went back to the task at hand.

That is never the right answer when a guest asks for something that is in the server's power to fulfill.

And, by the way, they weren't at the hostess stand, either, as my friend discovered after walking across the restaurant to fetch one. Eventually, one was found.


Betony InteriorPhoto: Betony

It was serendipitous but entirely appropriate that I dined at Betony, a restaurant in midtown Manhattan, on the day that I did. On that very evening, on the other side of the country, Hubert Keller was conducting his final dinner service at Fleur de Lis. The meal that I had at that San Francisco restaurant is among the most memorable I've had. Now I can add the dinner at Betony to that list.

Betony, which opened in spring of 2013, is a project of several refugees of the estimable Eleven Madison Park, including executive chef Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey, Betony's general manager. Shuman, who was Eleven Madison Park's executive sous chef, has created an intriguing menu that is presented in an understated and austere way.

Betony lobsterTubular lobster rolls.

The description of the lobster roll hors d'oeuvre, for example, gives no clue that this is not a Boston harbor kind of roll. Instead it features a cigar-shaped tube with a sort of lobster cream filling. Perfectly cylindrical, no oozing lobster salad, but loads of flavor.


Kappo Spiny LobsterLordfer Lalicon dismantles a spiny lobster at Kappo at East End Market. Nothing will go to waste.

Just after I sat down on a stool at Kappo — one of only seven seats at this cubby-hole sushi bar at East End Market — I watched one of the owners rip apart a fresh spiny lobster. A few minutes later, its tail meat had been seared with a blowtorch and was part of my sashimi selection. And shortly after that its brain was floating in my soup. In case you haven't gathered, Kappo is not your typical sushi joint.

Kappo is owned by Jennifer Benagale, Lordfer Lalicon and Mark Vyan Berdin. All three have impressive resumes that would belie their youthfulness, with such well-known restaurants as Blue Hill, Morimoto, the Oak Room and Aquavit scattered among the three. Lalicon was part of the opening team at Carbone in New York; Benegale and Vyan Berdin were on the staff at Umu in the Mayfair section of London. All three are graduates of the University of Florida. It was while working together at an Asian restaurant in Gainesville that they met.