Venetian Room dininig roomThe Venetian Room is just as romantic on February 13 and is extending its Valentine's Day special. Get a room!

What's the most romantic restaurant in Central Florida? According to our poll, the current frontrunners are K restaurant in College Park, followed by Vito's Chophouse on International Drive and Cafe de France on Park Avenue. Other top vote getters include Bistro on Park, RusTeak in College Park and the new Boca, also on Park Avenue. I guess those Winter Parkers are a passionate bunch.

There's still time for you to vote for your favorite — I'm holding the voting open until Friday. Click here to place your vote for Most Romantic Restaurant in Orlando. The winner will be announced Friday afternoon.

It's a fairly disparate collection, which only goes to prove that romantic is as romantic does. And of course all of this is just to remind you that Valentine's Day is next week and if you haven't made a reservation at your favorite romantic restaurant yet, you may find yourself trying to whisper sweet nothings to your Valentine across a table at Chuck E. Cheese. And they probably have a wait list.


Umi logoI wonder if there's a clause in the lease for the space at 525 Park Avenue South in Winter Park that it must be occupied by a sushi restaurant. It's been one for as long as I can remember -- and it's been three in just the past few years.

Most recently it was Avenue Thai and Sushi, which replaced the short-lived Thai Thai V. Despite its name, TTV was largely a sushi restaurant. Avenue Thai closed in December, and since Monday, Umi Japanese restaurant has been operating there. 

Avenue Thai's owners have opened U Roll Sushi at 7685 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando. Haven't been yet, but it appears from the website to be another assemblage concept where you tell the person behind the counter (no doubt a skilled sushi master <cough>) what ingredients to put in your sushi roll.

I haven't been to Umi yet, either, but if the person who answered the phone so warmly is any indication, it shows promise. No details on the scope of the menu -- the website is still under development. More to come. 

For you historians, it was Shiki Sushi that was the longtime occupant of this storefront at the southernmost end of Park Avenue.


Chris Brown 2015 copyChris Brown is leaving his position as executive chef at JW Marriott Orlando, but he has only a short stroll to his new job. Brown will be taking over as director of food and beverage at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando. Both properties are on the Grande Lakes estate.

In his new job, Brown will oversee the management of all things food and beverage at the Ritz, including the new and critically acclaimed Highball & Harvest restaurant. (Norman's at the Ritz-Carlton is privately owned and operated.)

While at JW Marriott he led the creation of Whisper Creek Farm, the 18,000 square foot farm that produces herbs and produce used by both hotels. He has also been involved in two upcoming projects: an onsite brewery and The Kitchen, a restaurant at the farm. Both are expected to open in the spring. Brown will still be involved in those projects as he helps transition his replacement as executive chef at the Marriott. An announcement about that position is expected soon. Brown replaces Brian McHugh, who has transferred to the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain in Arizona.

"We are delighted to welcome Chris Brown to The Ritz-Carlton Orlando," Jon McGavin, the Ritz-Carlton's general manager, said in a statement released Wednesday. "His knowledge and talent combined with his exceptional experience at Grande Lakes Orlando will allow him to continue to positively grow the culinary program at the resort."

Brown, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, is a certified cicerone (a beer equivalent of a sommelier), master barbecue cook and certified judge of the Kansas City Barbeque Society. Prior to joining the JW Marriott Orlando, Brown was executive chef at the company's Tucson Starr Pass and has also cooked at the Orlando World Center Marriott and the New Orleans Marriott.


South + Yorksouthyork logo, the charming and creative restaurant that was doing what it could to bring good food to the Winter Springs and Oviedo area, has closed. The farm-to-table concept had been open just over 13 months.

The name of the restaurant was a reflection of chef and co-owner Edgar Cruz's dual heritage, a native New Yorker who married into the Florida South. His wife, Emily Pratt-Cruz, was a co-owner. Emily's mother, Lydia Pratt, died unexpectedly on Christmas Eve. She and Emily's father were the sole investors in the restaurant, but her father, Emily told me, is having difficulty dealing with the loss of his wife and the financial demands of a struggling restaurant. The couple found they were unable to keep the business going without that support.

Pratt-Cruz also said that the location proved problematic. It was located in an upscale, Publix-anchored strip mall at the corner of Tuskawilla Road and State Road 434 in Winter Springs. The space it occupied was ideal and had garage-doorlike openings that allowed the dining room to open to the patio. However, the restaurant could not be seen from the road, and Pratt-Cruz said that so many people in the area would eventually happen by and tell her they had no idea the restaurant was there.

Currently there are no plans to reopen in another location. Cruz will keep cooking and may move back to New York, although Pratt-Cruz said they would prefer to stay in the are.

"We had a whole lot of money sunk into this place and we'll try to recoup what we can."

I recently told you about the opening of Rock & Brews, the rock star-owned restaurant that said on its website that it chose Oviedo for its first Florida location because of its "energized...restaurant scene." If there was any validity in that statement it was because of South + York.


Turkish bar interior

There's a new Turkish bar and grill in town. It's called Turkish Bar & Grill. And what it lacks in name creativity, it makes up for in many other ways.

We were just here a few months ago, not at TB&G but in this same space. Then it was a place called Wassabi Asian Fusion. Based on my experience there, its closing wasn't a surprise.

The new tenants changed precious little about the interior. That's a picture of Turkish Bar & Grill at the top; I've included one of Wassabi at the bottom of this review. With the exception of daylight through the windows at Wassabi and some Turkish rugs thrown over the decidedly unattractive green beams it's pretty much the same. (I was even seated at the same table — you'd be surprised how often that happens.)