TraderSam typhoonTraderSam serene

Disney's Polynesian Village Resort has been undergoing some renovations and it recently debuted a couple of new features, including Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, which is not to be confused with Trader Joe's. For one thing, there's plenty of parking available at the Polynesian.

Not that it would take many carloads of people to fill up Trader Sam's, a couple of SUVs should do it. That's because this new bar inside the resort holds only 50 people at a time. No surprise that people are waiting for hours for their turn to go inside.

What's the attraction? Well, the small space is chockfull of atmospheric gewgaws, from tiki style knickknacks to high-tech special effects.


Americna Gymkhana logoEveryone knows the old adage about too many cooks in a kitchen, but no one ever mentions too many investors in a restaurant. Unfortunately, discrepancies among local investors and the operational team at American Gymkhana, the fine dining Indian restaurant on Sand Lake Road, are bringing about its untimely demise.

In a statement to be released later today from RB Hospitality Group, which has been operating the restaurant, "American Gymkhana will no longer be open for business after April 2015 in its current location. The decision to withdraw our concept and restaurant group from this project was made after considerate deliberation regarding our brand standards."

The statement acknowledges that the modern Indian restaurant and cocktail lounge has "flourished and has been well received by the Central Florida community." Conversations with people close to the operation reveal that some of the local investors wanted to make changes to the concept that the management team found unacceptable. Rather than acquiesce, the management team made the decision to sever ties with the investment group. The American Gymkhana name was conceived by Rajesh Bhardwaj, principal of RB Hospitality Group, and he will retain ownership of it. It is possible that an Indian restaurant will continue to operate in that space beyond April, but that has not been confirmed, and it would have to take on another name. Attempts to reach the investors have not been successful as yet.


Scratch brunch

I've been an unapologetic fan of Scratch, the moody small-plates restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue, since I first visited, even as I sometimes wondered if the folks involved in it knew what they were doing right. There is bona fide talent in the kitchen, and the laid back attitude in the front of the house (though really there isn't much separation between front and back here — even the kitchen is out front) seemed right with the overall feel of the place.

But on a recent brunch visit everything fell apart, and I was left wondering yet again whether earlier enjoyable visits were only flukes.


brian-koziolWalt Disney World has a master sommelier again.

Brian Koziol, who previously worked for WDW from 1994 to 2004, has rejoined the resort with the rather cumbersome title of (deep breath) concept and development director of food and beverage, front of the house. Basically, he told me in a phone conversation, he will oversee the beverage program for all venues that serve beverages. So, a big task.

Walt Disney World has not had a master somm on staff since John Blazon was laid off in May of 2009.

Blazon, Koziol and and fellow master sommelier George Miliotes, also a former Disney cast member now overseeing the wine program for Darden Restaurants, have continued to work together to educate others interested in earning sommelier certification. Koziol said that even after Blazon left, the company continued to support their efforts. "We always had at least 50 people come through our classes" each year, he said.

Koziol was director of sales for Stacole Fine Wines before accepting the position at Disney World. "This is a bit of a homecoming," he said. "I'm really thrilled to be back."


spoleto exterior

Pasta shouldn't be complicated. Spoleto, a new concept that opened recently near UCF with other locations coming soon, makes it so. That isn't to say that what it offers isn't good. In fact, I liked my food — and other aspects about the experience — at Spoleto a lot. I just wish it weren't so confusing. And it doesn't have to be, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Spoleto is another in the growing list of assemblage concepts, the quick-serve restaurants where diners select the ingredients from various columns to be assembled by a worker behind the counter as you watch. And in the case of Spoleto, while you wait, too. Spoleto calls this "Culinary Freedom." Keep in mind that freedom isn't free, but in this case it is reasonably priced.