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Pepe’s Cantina, the Hannibal Square restaurant and winner of the 2017 Best Tex-Mex Foodster Award for Independent Restaurants, is opening a second location in downtown Orlando on Church Street in the space that most recently was Mary’s Side Bar Cafe. Pepe’s owner Stuart Kirban said by phone Monday that he is hoping to have the new restaurant up and running in about three weeks.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Kirban said. “That area has been revitalized. I think there’s going to be a lot of activity down there.”

The new Pepe’s will have the same menu as the Winter Park location, but Kirban expects that the clientele might be a bit different. “Younger single people, maybe,” he said. “We have a lot of families in Winter Park.”

Of course, the other news in this story is that Mary’s Side Bar Cafe has closed there. That was of course the venture from the owners of the Hamburger Mary’s franchise next door that was originally meant to offer “something with a Mary’s flair,” according to co-owner John Paonessa, but with a different menu.

Rumaku interior

I was up Oviedo way the other day so I decided to stop in a try Rumaku, a quick-serve sushi joint that opened recently.

Let’s talk about how important first impressions are. They’re very important. Any questions?

I bring it up because the second that I walked through the front door, I was met with two divergent impressions. The first was from the pleasant young man behind the counter who greeted me warmly. It may just have been that he was happy to see anyone given that there were no other customers in the small storefront space at the time, which was still during the lunch hour.

The other impression hit me almost as immediately as the welcome. It was a rather putrid smell that permeated the air. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was a definite assault on the nostrils.

Gentle diner, I submit to you that unpleasant smells in any restaurant should never be part of the ambience. But in a sushi restaurant such aromas are especially unwelcome.

Keating at Urbain

Tim Keating, who left Flying Fish Cafe after “nine wonderful, wonderful years,” is now the director of culinary operations for Boulevard Restaurants, which owns and operates Paradiso 37 at Disney Springs and Urbain 40 on Restaurant Row. Keating is also currently serving as executive chef at Urbain.

Urbain 40’s opening chef, Jean-Stephane Poinard, left the restaurant shortly after Keating joined the company, late last year. His leaving “had nothing to do with me, specifically,” Keating told me.

Keating has introduced a new menu, and you may be surprised to learn, as I was, that it has fewer French touches. The rationale, says Keating, is that Urbain 40 is an American brasserie, and as such, its menu reflects the country’s “big melting pot of ethnicities.”

So now, alongside the French Onion Soup and Bouillabaisse Provençal, you’ll also find Ginger-Teriyaki Char-Crusted Yellowfin Tuna, Duck Confit Trofie Di Abruzzo Pasta, and Shrimp Lo Mein. (The latter, says Keating, was one of the biggest sellers on Mother’s Day.) There’s even a new ceviche dish on the menu.

The French basics are still in place, Keating said. And his own cooking style is rooted in French training.

Keating abruptly left Disney in February of last year shortly after the Boardwalk restaurant closed for scheduled renovations. (It reopened in August as simply Flying Fish.) He says that Boulevard, which is headed by Orlando attorney Jaafer Choufani — and definitely not his father, Rashid, who operates the restaurants at the Morocco pavilion in Epcot and who wouldn’t be allowed to own a restaurant so close to Disney — has some things planned “down the road,” but nothing he can discuss now. As director of culinary operations, Keating also oversees the kitchen at Paradiso 37, which has a pan-Latin-American menu.

Watch for an updated review of Urbain 40 soon.

Mesa21 interior

Most people will likely gravitate directly to the patio at Mesa 21. They might not even enter through the front door, instead walking through the short gateway just behind the valet stand (more on the valet later).

The waterfront seating with a view of Lake Ivanhoe has long been the draw of this space, ever since the building was erected, circa 2004, and Gargi’s moved into it from its closet-sized restaurant across the street. Sitting on the patio at sunset helped one overlook shortfalls with food and service.

Gargi’s is gone, the owners retired, and Mesa 21 has moved in. While some now grouse that the view across the lake is marred by the ongoing construction related to the I-4 updates — what’s it been now, 15 years? — they probably assume the patio is the place to be.