Americna Gymkhana logoAmerican Gymkhana, the restaurant that will replace Raga on Sand Lake Road's Restaurant Row, will open to the public on Saturday, November 8. The restaurant is operated by Rajesh Bhardwaj, who also owns the Michelin-starred Junoon in Manhattan.

American Gymkhana is styled after the sports clubs that were popular during the British raj. Although not a copy of Junoon, the Orlando restaurant will have a similar approach to its cuisines, which Bhardwaj describes as a restaurant that serves Indian food rather than an Indian restaurant.

Aarthi Sampath, who Bhardwaj brought from his New York restaurant, will head the kitchen.

American Gymkhana is at 7559 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando, and will be open daily for dinner.


Morimoto-Asia-ExteriorRendering of Morimoto Asia from Studio V via WDW News

It seems that the folks at Walt Disney World finally got around to confirming what I first told you about in April and again in June: That some big name restaurants would be part of the current construction project to be called Disney Springs, and that one of those big names would be Morimoto.

In his article for the Orlando Sentinel this week, Theme Park Ranger Dewayne Bevil even included a quote from Masaharu Morimoto, the Iron Chef whose Morimoto restaurants in Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere have earned praise from sushi lovers and critics alike. However, the restaurant at the redone Downtown Disney will be called Morimoto Asia, not Morimoto like his other restaurants. Is that because this won't be his restaurant?

My sources now tell me that Morimoto is only licensing the use of his name for the restaurant, much in the same way that Todd English allows the use of his for Todd English's bluezoo at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, also at Walt Disney World Resort. Originally, the restaurant was to be another Morimoto, but, according to people close to the project, the celebrity chef became disillusioned with the process involved in getting the restaurant project going. It shouldn't surprise anyone that working with a behemoth (or behemouse?) like Disney can be a bureaucratic nightmare.

I've been getting a few tidbits about another restaurant group that is in the planning stage to open a celebrity chef helmed restaurant, also at the Springs. Let's hope the process doesn't scare them away. I'll let you know when I have something concrete to pass along.

By the way, although this week's formal announcement also confirmed that the Boathouse, from Schussler Creative, would be part of the project, it did not mention the Edison or STK. But you should be hearing official word about them soon.


nikkis lunch

If you were to look only at the website for Nikki's Place without first visiting the restaurant in the Parramore district restaurant, you might expect something quite different than what it actually is, a quaint neighborhood diner. In fact, you might be expecting someplace quite grand and celebrated. And if you reverse the order and check out the website after a visit, you might wonder if you'd been to the same place.

That's because the website for Nikki's Place was apparently designed by someone who was trying to get the attention of Internet search engines by inserting key phrases into the copy. Go to the site and try to count how many times the phrase "best restaurants in Orlando" appears. That's so that if someone, perhaps a potential visitor to the City Beautiful, types that phrase into, say, the Google search bar, Nikki's Place might be one of the top results. (By the way, be warned that the website has an annoying autoplay video with rather loud music, too).

The problem is that Mr. Google and other search engine moguls long ago figured out that people were trying to game the system and the algorithms that determine search results have been rewritten several times over. Search with that phrase now and Nikki's will not appear until several pages in. And that's how it should be.



Party for the Senses is the weekly event during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival that features chefs from around the country who are visiting the festival. This year there was something new: An all-Disney Party for the Senses with chefs from properties around the world. I was invited to stop by the party on Oct. 25 and experience this first-ever gathering. (Click the video above to see some of the sights and hear some of the sounds.)

Not all of the company's properties were accounted for, as it turns out. Conspicuous in their absence were any representatives for Disneyland Paris, which you'd think would be a natural for a food and wine event. At least, no one from Paris was listed in the official program, and I did not come across any Frenchmen as I wandered the vast space, but I certainly could have missed a thing or two.

Not surprising, the majority of the chefs cooking Saturday didn't have to travel too far. They were from the various restaurants and properties situated throughout the WDW campus. And among them were some of the food highlights of the evening, including Tim Keating's Fish Tacos a la Flying Fish and Lamb Four Ways from California Grill's Brian Piasecki. Victoria & Albert's sous chef, Tom Hill, standing in for a missing Scott Hunnel, had a delicious Tuna with Black Radish and Celery Root.

Michael Pythoud, listed on the program as executive chef at Disney's Hollywood Studios, even though he was recently promoted to executive chef of resorts, offered a baked Salibut - a salmon and halibut fusion — with fennel confit, saffron pearl potatoes and pinot noir sauce "inked" with squid ink. Stefan Riemer, pastry chef and concept developer, offered Marscapone-Lemon Cremeux, and Erich Herbitschek, executive pastry chef at the Grand Floridian, had Peruvian Chocolate Timbale with Raspberry Foam. Curiously, Herbitschek's booth featured a Darth Vader helmet.

Christine Weissman was still listed in the program as the executive chef at Disneyland in Anaheim even though she has returned to Orlando to oversee the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. She offered Braised Veal Cheeks with Butter-Poached Lobster and Carrot Puree.

Among the out of town chefs, Kevin Chong of Aulani, a Disney resort and spa in Hawaii, stood out with his Spicy Tuna Poke stuffed with Yuzu Crab Salad and coated with Puffed Furikake Rice.

Masayoshi Suzuki, executive chef at Disneyland Tokyo, had Deep-Fried Mille-Feuille of Scallop and Mushroom Duxelles, and Tony Leung, executive sous chef at Hong Kong Disneyland, presented Braised Pork Belly with Chinese herbs.

As with other Parties, entertainment was provided by cast member of Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba.

Only one more Party for the Senses remains for this year's festival, on Saturday, November 1.