Main Street Week

Saturday, August 1, is the start of Main Street Restaurant Week, which runs…let’s see here…oh, a week, until August 8. So let’s all run down to Main Street and, um…

Wait a minute. According to Google Maps, Main Street in Orlando is essentially the parking lot of a strip mall that fronts Orange Avenue, just south of Gatlin Road. There are a couple of electronic cigarette stores and a balloon shop along with some other small businesses, but if there are any restaurants in the mix there aren’t enough of them to have their own weeklong celebration.

Ah, here’s more information. Main Street is an initiative of Orlando to recognize the various neighborhood commercial districts throughout the city. Ever wonder where the Mills 50 designation came from when everyone else was referring to that neighborhood as Little Saigon? That was from the Main Street program. The other designated Main Street neighborhoods are: 

  • Church Street
  • Audubon Park
  • College Park
  • Downtown South (not SoDo or even DoSo)
  • Ivanhoe Village (not Antique Row)
  • Thornton Park
  • Orlando Tech Association (huh?)
  • Gateway Orlando (ditto)

Gateway Orlando, apparently, refers to Semoran Boulevard leading up from Orlando International Airport. I can’t figure out what the heck Orlando Tech Association is or what it’s doing in the Main Street program. And the area code for the contact person is for Palm Beach. But they don’t have any restaurants participating in the Main Street Restaurant Week anyway, so we’ll just let that one slide.

So, Main Street Restaurant Week works similarly to other restaurant weeks or even months. Participating restaurants put together a special prix fixe menu, however there are no set rules as to what prix they fixe to it. It could be $5, it could be $30 or anything in between. It could be for lunch, it could be for dinner.

There is an official Main Street Restaurant Week website, but it’s a bit cumbersome and sluggish and only has spotty information. (I’d hate to think any of the Orlando Tech Association folks put that together; maybe they could get together and make it better.)

But you can at least see a list of the participating restaurants, and in some cases you can see what they’re offering.

K restaurant, for instance, has a $30 three-course dinner with a choice of Creole BBQ Shrimp or Watermelon and Lobster salad for a starter; Roast Tri-tip or Wild Salmon for an entree; and an ice cream sandwich or cheesecake for dessert.

Some other participants include flog favorites Tap Room at Dubsdread, Ragazzi’s Pizza & Restaurant; and Shari Sushi Lounge.

You can see the complete list of participants, if not all of their menus, at this link.


Vanbarrys interior bar

Vanbarry’s Public House certainly has caught on. It isn’t unusual to find its patio, bar and dining room, not to mention its parking lot, full at just about any time.

That includes Sunday brunch, but if you’re willing to get there before noon, when the music fires up on the patio (fire being the operative word in the current heat), you should be able to find a table.

And go ahead and find one yourself. I’ll give you permission to “sit wherever you want” even though my companion and I stood at the front door for several minutes before anyone told us. (This after several workers glanced a sleepy eye our way, quickly looking away so as not to commit to actually greeting us. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: If you’re not morning people, don’t open in the morning.)


VE table

The number one question a restaurant critic hears is "What is the best restaurant in [insert critic's town here]?" Sometimes it varies to "What's your favorite restaurant?" or "Where do you like to go when you're not working?"

The truth is, the answers to all of those questions change frequently. As they should. The "best restaurant" should be challenged constantly for that top spot by other restaurants improving their own game. My answer does change from time to time, as well.

But if we're talking about a pure restaurant experience, where the food is always top notch, the service impeccable and the atmosphere respectably quiet and serene, there really is only one answer: Victoria & Albert's.

It's pretty much the first restaurant I mention when someone is looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, depending, of course, on whether the asker truly appreciates fine food -- this isn't a place for steak and potato aficionados -- and is willing to pay for it, 'cause it ain't cheap. 

And if it's a really special occasion to be celebrated, I recommend the person seeking advice try to book Victoria & Albert's Chef's Table. There is, quite simply, no other culinary experience like it in the Southeastern United States.

So when I was tasked with finding a restaurant for a very special -- very big -- birthday celebration, I followed my own advice and booked the Chef's Table for a party of eight. (We had been a party of 10 -- the table's capacity -- but lost two diners at the last minute.) We arrived at the Grand Floridian at 6:30 p.m. and straggled out approximately five hours later.

In between we had been treated to 10 or so courses prepared and served by chef de cuisine Scott Hunnel, paired with wines selected by maitre d'hotel Israel Perez, and attended to by the able staff of skilled and highly trained servers.

Here is a rundown and gallery of our dinner:


Chefs night hunnel

This has to be a typo.

It says here that Scott Hunnel, the much decorated chef de cuisine at Victoria & Albert's, and the Grand Floridian's master pastry chef, Erich Herbitschel, who never saw a piece of chocolate he couldn't fashion into a work of art, will team up as guest chefs for Second Harvest's Chef's Night Series.

That part I believe. The two chefs have always been generous with their time and talent, especially when a good cause is involved. In this case, the cause is Second Harvest's Culinary Training Program, which teaches students the skills they need to obtain entry level food service positions. Teach a person to fish, and all that. Very worthy program.

And the four-course menu certainly sounds like something the two chefs would put together for a gourmet meal: King Crab Roulade with caviar; pickled peach soup; Gulf Shrimp with Prosciutto and Melon; Poulet Rouge with Mushroom Ragout and Summer Truffles; Grass-fed Beef with Potato-Turnip Gratin and Oxtail Jus; and Peruvian Chocolate Timbale.

But I think the press release left a couple of digits off the cost of the dinner, because it says here it's only $75 per person. Maybe it was supposed to say "per course." Or maybe that was just the cost of the truffles.

Whatever. I suggest you go to FeedHopeNow to claim your tickets before someone figures it out.

The dinner is Thursday, August 27, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, 411 Mercy Drive, Orlando.




A new concept called Urbain 40 American Brasserie is planned for the former Cantina Laredo space at the Dellagio plaza on Restaurant Row. It is being developed by a new company, Boulevard Restaurants, owned by Orlando attorney Jaafar Choufani, son of longtime restaurateur Rashid Choufani.

The elder Choufani told me that the new restaurant will be a paean to the 1940s in decor and ambience, including music of the Big Band era, “just like we used to have at Timpano’s,” he said. Choufani was the owner of E-brands, which developed Timpano and Samba Room. (The original Timpano on Sand Lake Road is where Eddie V’s now stands, and Rocco’s Tacos, next door, was the home of Samba Room.) Choufani still has the restaurants at the Morocco pavilion at Epcot and the Latin American themed restaurant Paradiso 37 at Downtown Disney. Paradiso 37 is undergoing renovations to become part of Disney Springs and its size will double.

Choufani said the chef for Urbain 40 will be Jean-Stephane Poinard, who previously owned Bistro de Leon in St. Augustine. (Poinard, from Lyon, France, is the son of a celebrated chef in that city, also named Jean-Stephane Poinard, whose body was found stuffed in a freezer — placed there by his common-law wife, apparently, 18 months before it was discovered — in 2010. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Rashid Choufani stressed that his son owns the company “100 percent” and that he is just helping him out. “I’m just doing this for my pleasure,” he said. He added that the menu, which will feature “big city cocktails and big city food,” will be mid priced.

The restaurant will feature a chef’s table in the kitchen and will make use of the terrace overlooking the Dellagio’s central courtyard and fountain.