sticky rice

I love rice.

Even though I have limited real estate on my kitchen counter, my rice cooker has a permanent dedicated space. Food processor, mixer, slow cooker -- all relegated to the pantry or even the garage. But the rice cooker is used too often to put away. I've been known to make a full meal out of rice with just butter, salt and pepper.

So a new restaurant called Sticky Rice certainly got my attention. I'll admit, though, that I was a bit wary. That's because Sticky Rice moved into a small space on Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district that in a very short span of time has been home to at least two (and I think three) really disappointing restaurants.

But those memories faded during my visit to SR. The food is good, the staff, though not especially warm or fuzzy, work hard, and the overall experience is positive.

Jose Andres by Ryan ForbesJose Andres by Ryan Forbes

Who else could they possibly have chosen?

The James Beard Foundation has announced that chef José Andrés will receive the 2018 Humanitarian of the Year Award at the organization's gala ceremony in Chicago on May 7.

Andrés is a multiple Beard Award winner, including Outstanding Chef in 2011. He has also been recognized, in 2012, by Time magazine as one of the most influential people in the world, and GQ magazine named him its Man of the Year in 2009.

The Spanish-born chef has restaurant operations all over the world and later this year will open Jaleo at Disney Springs.

He is a longtime advocate for food and hunger issues, and in 2012 founded World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides solutions to hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies.

But it is surely what Andrés has been doing over the past several months that brings him the humanitarian award. Along with World Central Kitchen, Andrés has served over three million meals to the citizens of Puerto Rico following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. He didn't just send representatives, he went over himself to cook and serve the food, usually under challenging conditions.

And it's ongoing. Just Saturday he posted a video on Facebook from Punta Santiago that said schools were closing at 11:30 a.m. because they could not feed the students.

Andres facebook

“The Foundation is thrilled to name José Andrés as the 2018 Humanitarian of the Year,” Mitchell Davis, executive vice president of the James Beard Foundation, said in a statement. “José’s work in Puerto Rico and Haiti shows how chefs can use their expertise and unique skills to enact profound change on a global scale. He has demonstrated how, at the most difficult times, hot-cooked meals provide more than nutrition, they provide dignity."

No details have been released regarding the opening date for the Disney Springs Jaleo, but I'm sure we'll all welcome Andés to the community.

Winnies exterior

Winnie's Oriental Garden, the Chinese restaurant on Orange Avenue in Winter Park, is expected to close in "a few more months," according to Nick Leung, son of the restaurant's owner and namesake, Winnie. Leung said that his mother "is ready to retire and I can't handle it on my own." The restaurant opened in the summer of 1995.

Leung said that his mother has a preliminary agreement with the owner of Black Bean Deli, the popular Cuban eatery whose original location is just around the corner on U.S. Highway 17-92.

Leung that despite the proximity to the Winnie's location, the owners of Black Bean Deli intend to keep the original BBD as a catering kitchen. That location has virtually no seating, mainly just a ledge along the wall. A second Black Bean Deli opened in 2013 in the former Vega's space on Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district with seating and full service. Black Bean Deli also has an outlet in the Amway Center open during events. A call to the owners of Black Bean Deli was not immediately returned.

Winnie Leung has been operating Chinese restaurants in the area since 1979. She and her husband owned China Garden, the restaurant on Semoran Boulevard near University Boulevard in Winter Park. When the couple divorced, she opened Winnie's.

Nick Leung said that he's not sure what's next for him or the "five to seven" employees at Winnie's. As for his mother, she's just ready to relax.

Peppinos pizza

I've lost track of all of the restaurants that have tried to make a go of it in the little freestanding building at 2420 Curry Ford Road in Orlando. Little is the operative word there. The space is so small that it didn't provide enough seats to support most restaurant concepts. I don't think that most of the people considered the "butts in seats" calculation -- the number of customers that must be served each day -- that would be necessary to provide enough income to sustain a business.

And so there was a steady flow of hopeful new restaurants over the years, the majority of them Latino. When I started reviewing restaurants in Orlando, in 1988, it was International Cafe. That business moved -- to a larger space -- on Orange Avenue. It was called Cruzin' Crabs for a short time, and Señor Frogi even shorter (though that business may have complicated its chance for survival by choosing a name similar to a major chain's). La Fiesta Mexican Grill started there, too, before moving to a slightly larger space a couple of blocks down the road and then, last year, across the street to even larger digs. Butts in seats, people, butts in seats.

So when it was announced that the next business to move in would be a pizzeria, I thought brilliant, that's just the sort of restaurant that can work in such a space. Besides a potentially lower food cost, pizzerias are historically reliable for takeout business, which does not require a seat therein to put a butt.


victoria and albert table

Victoria & Albert's has added to its constellation of star-studded awards. Forbes Travel Guide released its 2018 ratings and awarded the celebrated restaurant its highest rating: five stars. It had previously been ranked at four stars. It now joins the likes of Alinea in Chicago and New York's Jean-George.

"There is no shortage of upscale dining experiences at Walt Disney World Resorts," reads the description at the Forbes site, "but when it comes to personalized service, theatricality and sheer luxury — both in the room and on the plate — Victoria & Albert’s reigns supreme."

Under the direction of executive chef Scott Hunnel, Victoria & Albert's, which occupies an intimate space on the second level of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, has been recognized with the highest honors from AAA and Mobil guides. Israel Pèrez has been the longtime maître d'hotel and sommelier. Aimée Rivera is the chef de cuisine, and Erich Herbitschek the master pastry chef.

NAOE, Miami, is the only other Florida restaurant to receive the top-level designation. Capa, Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World, made the list with a rating of "recommended."

Click here to see the complete list from Forbes Travel Guide and to read what the inspector had to say about Victoria & Albert's.