How does the dining experience change when you can’t see what you’re eating because you’re dining in darkness? I don’t mean low lighting meant to inspire romance like you’d find in a fancy restaurant, the sort of place where you try to use the little candle on the table to read the menu.

I’m talking no candle, no light whatsoever. Total darkness. What would dinner be like when you can’t see what’s on the plate?

You can find out when Second Harvest Food Bank and Lighthouse Central Florida host Dining in the Dark on Thursday, July 16, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Second Harvest facility, 411 Mercy Drive, Orlando. Tickets are $125 per person and proceeds benefit the two charities.

Now you have to understand that Dining in the Dark means that the entire room will be plunged into total darkness — there will be no blindfolds that can be raised for peeking. You’ll have to use your senses of smell and touch — hearing, too — to figure out just what you’re eating (no one will tell you what it is until after the dinner). Conventional eating utensils can’t be used because you can’t see anything to put a fork in or cut with a knife (please, no knives!). And there won’t likely be stemware that can be tupped over easily.

How then, you’re probably wondering, does the food get served if even the waiters are working in darkness? Dining in the Dark has that covered. Guest servers for the evening will be members of the Orlando Police Department’s SWAT Team, who are trained in the use of night-vision goggles. (I can’t attest to their training as servers, but I’m guessing the plates will be placed precisely where they aim them.)

I have experienced an evening of dining in pitch black surroundings. It’s an interesting experience, and even with my background in food and dining, I was only able to guess what I was eating about 50 percent of the time.

It’s a fun experience, but it also brings awareness to what people with vision loss experience. Lighthouse of Central Florida helps people live with vision loss.

For tickets, visit DiningInTheDarkOrlando.com.


pork schnitzel

Executive chef Marc Kusche and his crew at Hamilton’s Kitchen at the Alfond Inn have introduced a new menu for summer, and it has a bunch of yummy options. Kusche has been raising the level of things at Winter Park’s newest dining destination since he took over a year ago. It’s one of the reasons I’m pleased to be partnering with the Alfond for the July meeting of Supper Club. (We have about 15 seats left; you can get details here.)

Hamilton’s new menu continues the restaurant’s commitment to using porducts sourced from local purveyors. The menu even lists the names.

Some of the highlights of the menu include a slow roasted pork belly with apples and rosemary; Hamilton’s Kitchen Meatballs, a blend of beef and pork with blue cheese infused mashed potatoes; sweet peas risotto and braised lamb; squid ink pasta and seared scallops; and whole pan-seared trout. Kusche gets a bit of his own heritage in there, as well, with a pork schnitzel (that's what's pictured above).

The entire menu is listed below. I encourage you to stop by and give them a try. Or join us for Supper Club and see an even more creative side of the kitchen.

By the way, there’s also a fun new bar menu, if you’re just out for a cocktail and a nosh.


SushiCafe sushi

Here’s a twist on the all-you-can-eat promotion, and I can’t decide if it’s a brilliant way of getting people to eat less or a dastardly ploy to get them to eat too much.

But first off, let me say that Sushi Cafe, the mundanely named restaurant that opened several months ago at the corner of University Boulevard and Goldenrod Road in Winter Park, does very good sushi. In fact, the nigirizushi that I sampled was among some of the most masterfully prepared that I’ve had in a long time. The pads were perfectly shaped, not too big, and the fish slices were properly placed on them so that one could turn the piece completely over so as to dip the fish in the soy — rather than the rice, which never turns out well — without the fish flopping off. Both the tuna and the mackerel were the right temperature, not so cold as to stun the flavor.Sushicafe gyoza

And the roll that I had, the egotistically named Yummy Yummy, which had avocado and krab inside a rice cocoon with crispy fried flakes on the outside.

It was all so good that I could have eaten more, but I was too frightened.

Sushi Cafe features and all-you-can-eat option for $12.99 at lunch and $14.99 at dinner. You can have an appetizer (although the gyoza that I ordered weren’t all that) and as much nigiri, sashimi or rolls that you want. But there’s a catch.

Think of the signs that General Eisenhauer was said to have put in the mess halls of the soldiers under his command: “Take all you want, but eat all you take.”

Sushi Cafe has added a couple of rules to its all-you-can-eat option. If you order too much, you’ll be charged 75 cents for each uneaten piece. Fine, you say, I’ll just take the leftovers with me. In that case, each leftover piece you want boxed up will incur a $1.50 charge.

I get it. The restaurant is offering what is, according to my quick math, a pretty good deal with its ayce option. Some people, however, might (will) simply over order and leave a great deal of food go to waste. And I don’t find the extra charge to take the food home out of order, either. Again, some people might (would) over order and then ask for a to-go box for the leftovers. Refusing to provide one is not uncommon in glutfest restaurants, in which case the food gets wasted anyway. Here at least is an option to enjoy the food later, at a still reasonable rate.

Unfortunately, I think more people will tend to stuff as much of the uneaten sushi into their cheeks to avoid the surcharge.

The way it worked for me? I ordered a moderate amount of food that still made the all-you-can-eat option attractive but did not have me tempted to eat more. Still, I would have loved another round of the Yummy Yummy roll.

Sushi Cafe is at 7550 University Blvd., Winter Park, in the Winn-Dixie plaza. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-960-5722.

Sushicafe cafe


NQT logo

North Quarter Tavern has opened in the quarter north of downtown Orlando known as the, um, North Quarter.

NQT is a project of the folks at Citrus, which is just across from the new tavern, and indeed Matt Wall, who has been cooking at Citrus for the past six years, will be heading the team here as executive chef. ““The Tavern has been a project two years in the making and the team is excited to share our chef-driven neighborhood tavern with Orlando.,” Wall said in a statement.

North Quarter Tavern is located on the ground floor of the recently opened NORA apartment building at 861 N. Orange Ave. Initially, NQT will only be open for dinner hours Tuesday through Saturday, but there are plans to expand to lunch and brunch and extend the dinner service to other days, as well.

The menu features pubby fare, but with more chef touches. You’ll find such items as burgers, fried chicken, pork cassoulet and a Guinness braised lamb leg, as well as meatloaf, short rib tacos and poutine, the cheese curdy Candadian favorite.

You can get a look at the menu at North Quarter Tavern’s website. The phone number is 407-757-0930


tofu scallops

Local chef Ed Hollingsworth is in final negotiations to lease the space on Mills Avenue that has been home to the original Funky Monkey for the past eight years. As I told you yesterday, FMI Restaurant Group owners Eddie Nickell and Nicolas Olivieri are closing that location on Sunday but will continue to serve as landlords for the building in the Mills 50 district.

Hollingsworth has cooked in a number of respected local kitchens, including Bistro on Park Avenue, CityFish, and, most recently, RusTeak in College Park. The new restaurant will be called Mills Bistro Wine Bar.

Hollingsworth says the negotiations are in the final stage. "We're just waiting for the contracts and lease agreement to make sure it meets our requirements," he says. Once the deal is signed, he and his investor hope for a quick turnaround to reopen the restaurant, perhaps as quickly as 45 days.

Hollingsworth says it will be a "farm to fork" type of restaurant and the menu will feature fresh, local ingredients. Some items he has planned include:

  • Airline chicken breast with black-eyed pea risotto
  • Tofu "scallops" with jasmine rice (pictured at top)
  • Lobster dip
  • Mussels in tomato and saffron broth
  • Beef tartare
  • Shrimp and Grits with smoked gouda and bacon and tomato gravy
  • Chocolate bomb dessert

Although he says part of the allure is that the restaurant is in turnkey condition, Hollingsworth says that there are plans to make the kitchen more open and to add a beer garden in back of the restaurant.