Hambean bowl

I fell in love with pasta e fagioli, the ubiquitous Italian soup, the first time I tasted it. I recall one particular version early in my reviewing career that was especially notable. It was served at Toscanelli, a little mom and pop osteria where Mario and Evita Morosi were the pop and mom. It’s long gone, but if anyone ever forces me to sit down and list the best restaurants I’ve reviewed in Central Florida, Toscanelli would certainly make the cut. And the pasta e fagioli would be on my list of best things I’ve tasted.

Why? It’s just a simple bean and noodle soup. Yet if I’m dining at an Italian restaurant and it’s on the menu, I’m almost certain to order it.

Then one day not long ago it dawned on me. The reason I like pasta e fagioli is because it reminds me of the ham, bean and noodle soup that my mother made so often when I was a kid. So it is the very definition of a comfort food for me. If I had played the curmudgeonly critic in the “Ratatouille” movie, the rat would have made this soup for me – and Disney would have had to rename and recast the movie. Maybe the star of “Fagioli” would have been a ferret.

It isn’t an exact match to the Italian version. And in fact there are many variations. (I’m not much of a fan of any that have tomato in the broth.) But most use ditalini, the short macaroni. My mom made her own egg noodles, long and thick. She’d use her wooden rolling pin to flatten the dough, then roll it up and slice it with her utility knife. Then she’d toss the rolled noodles until they fell open into strands. I’ve tried doing that and it never works for me.

My mom died about 13 years ago so I can’t have her show me how it’s done, and I can no longer experience her soup, though I can still taste it in my memory. (And just a side note here: If you’re still fortunate to have a mother or grandmother – or any parent – who makes something you love to eat, you’re crazy if you don’t pull out your ubiquitous smartphone and record the process next time. You’ll cherish that video someday.)

With Mother’s Day this past weekend, I decided to make the soup myself in her memory. I’d share the recipe with you but there isn’t one. But this is how it’s done.


Tempura Avocado

Laurent Hollaender has left his job as executive chef for the Grand Bohemian in downtown Orlando to assume that role at a soon-to-open hotel in Washington, D.C. Taking over the executive chef position at the Bohemian is Venoy Rogers III, who was previously with B Resort near Walt Disney World.

Hollaender will be part of the opening team of the Kimpton Banneker near Dupont Circle. He will oversee a ground-floor French bistro called Le Sel as well as a rooftop lounge and restaurant called Lady Bird. Not sure if there’s any relation to the former First Lady or Lyndon Johnson but Hollaender does include a stint as executive chef for the National Democratic Club on his resume.

Hollaender, a native of Strasbourg, France, joined the Grand Bohemian staff nine years ago.

At B Resort, which he joined in 2016, Rogers oversaw the critically acclaimed American Kitchen Bar & Grill (and shared his recipe for tempura avocado with us in a Compliments of the Chef episode, pictured at top).

His new venue will be the Boheme, the tony restaurant off the boutique hotel’s elegant Bösendorfer Lounge. The restaurant, which opened with the hotel in 2007, has undergone a few changes over the years, but Rogers said Friday that he accepted the job under the precept from the general manager that a menu change shouldn’t be his first priority. “People love what’s going on there and what chef Laurent has created,” he said. And he’s fine with that: “There’s plenty of other things to do.”

David Roldan, a former executive sous chef at B Resort who left to work at JW Marriott Bonnet Creek and then Kabooki Sushi, will return to the property to assume the role of executive chef.


Japango sign

There are certainly more attractive restaurants than Japango, a new boxed sushi concept in Mills 50, but it offers a first-rate product for a fair price, although it does have one major but entirely fixable flaw. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Japango operates out of the Chewy Boba space in a building that fronts Colonial Drive. It looks sort of like a converted one-car garage with black paint the major decor element, although the order counter is unstained piney wood that stands out in the darkness under bright track lighting.

Japango counter

Still classifying itself as in soft opening, Japango offers two sushi boxes, one for $19 and one for $29. Both include a sushi roll and chef’s nigirizushi assortment along with edamame, plantain chips, and a choice of seaweed salad, watermelon “ceviche” or sashimi ceviche. The $29 box gets you an extra roll.


White Castle Rendering

You spend more than three decades trying to convince the world that Orlando has a vibrant and creative culinary scene with award-worthy chefs who focus on local ingredients, you push back against those who derisively call us the restaurant chain capital of the world, and you feel that finally people are starting to see us as more than the largest purveyor of fried turkey legs. Then White Castle announces a new location, people camp out the night before it opens to be first in line and traffic stretches more than half a mile from people who will wait hours for the chance to eat a slider. A slider!

In case you missed the news, White Castle, the Ohio-based fast fooder, opened what it is billing as the world’s largest free-standing White Castle Monday at the Village at O-town West. It begs the question: Is there a larger non-free-standing White Castle somewhere in the world?

News about the attendant commotion trended all day on Twitter, where one person responded to an aerial photo of the line of cars by saying, “This is the most Florida thing to come out of Florida today. But it’s still early.”

Three local restaurants – not a chain among them – were named to OpenTable’s list of Top Brunch Spots for Mother’s Day, including Flog favorite Tap Room at Dubsdread. The other two were Disney Springs neighbors Wine Bar George and the Boathouse. The list includes more than a hundred restaurants across the country that have received top reviews from OpenTable diners. If you need other MD dining options, check out our Holiday Dining listings.


Tablawp ext 1

Now that vaccines are making it possible to return to indoor dining, I have a list of restaurants I’ve been aching to visit in person. Tabla’s Winter Park location has been at the top of that list.

Tabla, in its original location, was one of the very first restaurants I reviewed on this website – actually even before this website, in its earlier iteration, back in 2008. I was an immediate fan of the food, but the atmosphere – a rather soulless room off the lobby of an even soullesser hotel near Universal Orlando – left something to be desired. Improvements were made over the years, but when it was announced that Tabla’s owners would open a second location in the former Paris Bistro space in the Shops on Park arcade, I thought, “Finally, they’ve found the perfect home.”