I'm honored to once again be serving as emcee for this evening's Savor the Night event, this year sharing duties with the indefatigable Jorge Estevez of WFTV. Savor the Night is the kickoff to the Latin Food & Wine Festival, sponsored by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando.

Latin Food and wine logo

Tonight's event is sold out, but Saturday's main event is not, mainly because there are no tickets to buy. It's a free event (parking, too) and takes place from 3 until 9 p.m. at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs.

Since you get in free, the food and drink samples are sold separately. There will be plenty of live music, undoubtedly some dancing, and generally good times. And, of course, wonderful Latin cuisine. See below for a list of vendors.

If you were lucky enough to snag a ticket to tonight's event, which is from 6:30 until 10 p.m., also at Cranes Roost Park, please stop by and say hello (although I'll be frantically running around trying to keep up with Jorge).

Some of the participants include:


SpiceBurgr - Orange final mtManny Tato, owner of Spice Modern Steakhouse at Lake Eola (and formerly, originally, on Park Avenue), plans to open Spice Burgr in a space at the Plaza in downtown Orlando. Tato says the intentionally misspelled business will feature all natural, all beef burgers. Other sandwiches, too, will be hormone free, he told me.

He said he hopes to open in two weeks, on October 29. That's a quick turnaround, but Tato says he's been planning this for a long time. "Five or six years we've been wanting to do a burger concept," he said, and when he said it I'm pretty sure there was an e in burger. However, the recession being what it was five or six years ago, Tato put the idea on the back griddle. Now, he believes, the timing is right.

Price point for a single cheeseburger with shoestring fries will be $5.95. Other side items, including onion rings and and totted potatoes, will also be available. You can download the front of the menu here and the back of the menu here.

If you blinked — and if your blinks last, say, a few months — you probably missed the last business that occupied the space that will soon be home to Spice Burgr. That was Meltz, a melted cheese sandwich concept. I asked Tato if he thought the location presented any particular challenges. He said he expects to have slow days on holidays when nearby offices are closed. But he thinks that with numerous condominiums close by and the movie theater just upstairs there will be plenty of people looking for a burger. Or burgr.

I hope he's right, though one would have thought the same thing about Cafe Red just a block away. That was the burger business that went out of it not long after that location's previous tenant, a Five Guys Burger & Fries, closed.

In the meantime, Tato said that Spice Modern is doing well on Central Boulevard. "We've come around in our consistency," he said. "One thing I've learned is that consistency is the key to success."


Royal INdian exterior

I'm always glad to see a new Indian restaurant open in the area. Especially since I lost my go-to favorite, Memories of India on Turkey Lake Road in the Restaurant Row district.

The newest, Royal Indian Cuisine, is a long way from the Bay Hill Plaza area — it opened recently in Casselberry — and it may not fill the figurative space left by Memories, but its food is good, and the staff is exceptionally welcoming and accommodating.

As with most area Indian restaurants, Royal, rather than focusing on the cuisine of one region, features dishes throughout the vast country. So there are tandoor dishes, biriyanis, meat entrees as well as vegetarian, and seafood specialties from the coastal region.


EsquireCask & Larder, the Winter Park Southern Public House from the owners of the Ravenous Pig, has been named one of Esquire magazine's Best New Restaurants in America in its 2014 American Food & Drink Awards issue. Owners James and Julie Petrakis are attending a ceremony in New York this evening at The Cecil in Harlem, which is receiving the magazine's Best New Restaurant in America award.

"It was an honor to just be in that category and be considered," James told me by phone as he and Julie were preparing to head out to the ceremony. "So it was definitely a thrill when we heard that we had won." He said they were notified by the magazine about six weeks ago but were sworn to secrecy.

The Petrakises are natives of Central Florida but didn't meet until they were living in New York attending the Culinary Institute of America.

Petrakis said the award is a coup for all of Central Florida. "I think it's really good for Orlando," James Julie copyJames and Julie Petrakishe said. "This is a big publication, and it's good that a local restaurant is getting this kind of recognition." He acknowledged that a lot of people have been working to improve the area's culinary image in the eyes of outsiders; the award, he said, will help do that. "I think we're just as excited about that."

Only 11 restaurants are being named as Best New Restaurants by Esquire this year. New restaurants may be open more than a year to be considered. Cask & Larder opened in 2012.

The other 10 restaurants on the list are: Chi Spacca, Los Angeles; The Commissary, San Francisco; Faith & Flower, Los Angeles; Gunshow, Atlanta; Husk, Nashville; Knife, Dallas; Nico Osteria, Chicago; Rappahannock, Richmond, Virginia; Take Root, Brooklyn; and Tosca Cafe, San Francisco.

Paul Qui of Qui in Austin is Esquire's Chef of the Year. And chicken pot pie from the NoMad Bar in New York is the Dish of the Year.

The magazine will feature additional coverage on its website and in its November issues, which will hit newsstands on Oct. 21.

Cask & Larder is at 565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park.


OK, I don't want anyone to start talking about a curse. It's much too soon for that. But the restaurants set to open on Park Avenue in the space that has been occupied by oh so many restaurants over the years is experiencing some chef issues. Dominic Rice, who had been hired to be the chef at Boca, one of three venues planned for that corner on Canton Avenue, has left the organization. Rice had been working as a chef in New York when he was tapped to lead the kitchen at the new restaurant. What happened?

"I wish I knew," said Michael Blesser, a partner with SoHo Hospitality Management, the Tampa restaurant group that is developing the new restaurants. According to Blesser, the chef's leaving was abrupt. "[Rice] called me from the airport."

"Airport?" Rice said when I reached him by phone. "I'm sitting in my house in College Park." So, again I asked, What happened?

Rice initially said that he thought the restaurant, which has not yet opened, was strong enough that he could step away. But chefs rarely step away from a kitchen without having another one to step into immediately, which is not the case with Rice. There's obviously more to it than that.

According to others close to the project, the partners wanted Rice to follow the menu that is in place, and apparently popular, at their Tampa Bay Boca. Rice, however, felt that he would have more freedom to be creative and put his imprint on the menu.

But his leaving doesn't put SoHo back at square one. Rocky Tarantello, the chef who originally designed the Boca menu and was the company's corporate chef when it opened in Tampa's Hyde Park, is being brought on to open the Winter Park restaurant. And he doesn't have far to go: Tarantello has been serving as a consultant through his company, ROC Inc., just down the street at Park Plaza Gardens. Tarantello told me that he will serve once again as the corporate chef to get Boca open. According to Blesser, that could be in approximately 10 days. He said he also hopes to open the venue upstairs, a bar with food to be known as Park Social, at the same time.

The third part of the project, Atlantic Beer & Oyster, off the Avenue in the Hidden Gardens plaza, opened over the weekend and was busy with crowds attending the art festival in Central Park.

As for Rice, there was some speculation that he had been planning to return to New York for some time, but he insists that isn't true. "I'm fully vested in Central Florida," he told me. "I just got my Florida driver's licence today."