DahlmannEXCLUSIVE -- I thought there was something different about Jens Dahlmann when I saw him walk into the World Showplace Saturday evening at the first Party for the Senses of this year's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Dahlmann, as Epcot's executive chef, has been in charge of the festival for the past several years. He's been very much a hands-on overseer, frequently seen in his crisp chef whites bouncing around the World Showcase from kiosk to kiosk to things are going smoothly.

That's what was different about him Saturday night: He wasn't wearing his chef's jacket. He arrived at the event in a blue blazer and open-collared white shirt. He might have been mistaken for just another Party for the Sensors if not for the ever-present oval nametag that identified him as a cast member.

The reason for the costume change, it emerged, is that Dahlmann is no longer Epcot's executive chef. Effective immediately, he is now general manager for Epcot Food and Beverage operations. His longtime assistant, Gregg Hannon, takes over as executive chef for the park.

It's interesting that the changes would be made mid festival, but Dahlmann and the other team members have turned the multi-week event into a smooth running machine. The transition should be seamless.

Besides the sartorial shift, Dahlmann had another different look: one of relative calm. And he looked ready to party. I'll have notes about Saturday's edition of Party for the Senses on Monday.


Cress tacoSmoked halibut taco at Cress. Photo: Cress restaurant

Saturday is National Taco Day, to which you might very well ask, "Which nation?" It's true that taco is one of the few foodstuffs we've adopted that is legitimately authentically Mexican, but adopt it we have, in a very big way.

According to the National Taco Day website — yes, it has its own website — Americans ate more than 4.5 billion tacos last year. I have a pretty good idea how many I ate, but I have no idea who is responsible for the other 4 billion. The site also says those tacos would equal the weight of two Empire State Buildings, although I have to think it would be pretty close to impossible to actually put the Empire State Building on a scale. And what would we possibly do with two of them?

Of course, you have to take what they say at nationaltacoday.com with a grain of sal because it also says the "word taco is the Mexican equivalent of the English word for sandwich." Actually, sandwich in Spanish is sandwich; torta is sort of the Mexican equivalent.

But let's not quibble, not on National Taco Day Eve.


thaipurple fish cakes

I came across another nice little eatery in that unlikely and unassuming strip mall on East Colonial Drive. We've been here before, at Taka Taka, a Venezuelan restaurant. This time it's Thai Purple Orchid Cafe & Grocery, although the grocery part of it is pretty meager — fewer shelves than many people have in their closets.

And there aren't a lot of tables in the cafe part, either. But the owner will greet you graciously and will even serve you the food. I can say for certain, but she may have been back there cooking it, too.



I had a perfectly delightful lunch the other day at the Bistro on Park Avenue, which of course is not actually on Park Avenue but rather off the street in the charming Hidden Gardens. It's out-of-sight location probably keeps it out of mind for a lot of people looking for a good place to eat, but Bistro on Park Avenue is worth remembering.

As many longtime residents of the area know, this location was for many years home to Maison de Crepes, or as I liked to refer to it, the House of Pancakes. Erika Boesch, one of the owners of Bistro, says that so many people associated the restaurant with crepes that they finally gave in and put some on the menu.



Hamiltons chef table

Since he took over Hamilton's Kitchen at the Alfond Inn about five months ago, executive chef Marc Kusche has been making big changes, and all for the better. In case you missed it, here is the re-review I did in July. The restaurant has better focus, and there is an emphasis on local ingredients and market-fresh fare.

One of Kusche's more recent additions is a Chef's Table dining experience, which features five courses, each paired with an appropriate wine, for a very reasonable $125 per person. It's served at the large farm table just outside the big kitchen window, so guests seated there have a great view of what's going on inside the kitchen as well as in the dining room. Kusche and his other staff members serve the guests seated at the table and explain each dish.

KuscheAnd what's on the menu at the Chef's Table? Impossible to say because Kusche never knows what it will be until someone has booked it and he goes off to the market. "We entirely customize the menu," Kusche told me. Often the table is booked for a Saturday evening, so Kusche will visit the Winter Park Farmer's Market just a few blocks away from the Alfond in the morning and start creating the menu with the fresh produce he finds there. He has one steadfast rule for the Chef's Table menu: It never has items from the restaurant's regular menu. That's just another way to keep it special.

The Chef's Table must be booked at least 24 hours in advance in order to give the chefs time to shop and be creative. The table holds a maximum of 10 people but you can book it for as few as two persons.

Another of Kusche's additions to Hamilton's Kitchen is a four-course Tasting Menu, with smaller plates of the restaurant's signature items, such as pork belly with local honey; wild mushroom ravioli; steak frites with broccolini; and brioche bread pudding. The tasting menu is only $45 per person or $55 with two sommelier wine pairings (10 bucks for two glasses of wine is pretty reasonable, don't you think?).

And Sundays now feature an a la carte brunch with nearly two dozen items, most of which are priced mid to lower teens. There's also a build-your-own bloody mary and mimosa bar. Brunch is served from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Hamilton's Kitchen Tasting Menu is available nightly. To book the Chef's Table, call 407-998-8090.