Sapporo Ramen exterior

Ramenphiles are bemoaning the imminent closing of Sapporo Ramen, one of the area’s earliest purveyors of what is now a popular Japanese noodle trends. In a sign posted on the door of the restaurant, which is in the repurposed west Orlando shopping center known as Chinatown, the owners announced they are retiring and will permanently close on Dec. 28.

An image of the sign has been posted and reposted on Facebook by shocked fans. “I saw this in my feed and didn’t want to believe it. So I went there today to see for myself,” wrote one heartbroken customer. “Nooooooooooooo!!” wrote two or three others.

Sapporo, which I reviewed in 2013, preceded the likes of Domu, Jinya and downtown’s The Ramen and was notable for its more traditional approach to the noodle and broth delicacy.

The owners of the restaurant had also owned Sapporo Japanese Steak House in Daytona Beach, but that hibachi-style eatery closed in 2017.


Boathouse exterior

I don’t think I’d fully appreciated what a beautiful and elaborate space the Boathouse of Disney Springs is. From its expansive bar, the multiple dining rooms and the satellite open-air lounge that sits over the lagoon, it is a well-polished collection of woods, brass and early-nautical decor – even a full-size vintage Chris Craft boat – with the white tableclothed elegance of a yacht club.

I wish the food rose to the same level.



OK, procrastinators, time’s up. If you still haven’t made your reservations for Thanksgiving Day dining, it’s officially the last minute.

If you’re just now starting to think about where to go for your turkey outing, don’t be surprised that most prime seating times have been snatched up already. You may find yourself sitting down to your feast before Santa rolls up at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (I hope I didn’t spoil the parade ending for anyone.)

The good news is there are plenty of good restaurants that will be open on Thursday. So take a look at the listings and get to work. Here are some of the highlights from our sponsors.


Chef Gala 2020

  • The date has been set for next year’s Chef’s Gala, the food and wine event that has been held at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Showcase for years and years. Next year, however, the gala, which benefits Heart of Florida United Way, will be held at the Contemporary Resort. That might be good news for the folks who didn’t care for the bus ride from the Epcot parking lot through the backstage area. Put May 16, 2020, on your calendar and watch for ticket information soon.
  • The following month, in June 2020, there will be a wizard-themed beer event. A press release calling it a “mystical beer festival” doesn’t give much information other than that it will be June 14 and dry ice will be involved to “set the mood.” Attendees will be encouraged to wear appropriate wizard attire (it’s bring your own wand, I assume). No location, no cost info. So I don’t know what to tell you – most of the people I know that are into dressing up like wizards aren’t old enough to drink beer.
  • Kudos to 4R Restaurant Group for donating $75,000 to World Central Kitchen to aid in relief to the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian. World Central Kitchen is the nonprofit organization headed by José Andrés that provides meals to disaster victims.
  • Speaking of José Andrés, his Disney Springs restaurant, Jaleo, will host its first wine dinner on Tuesday, Dec. 10, featuring a five course meal paired with five wines from Ontañón, a fifth-generation winery from Spain’s Rioja Baja region. Tickets are $115 per person and can be purchased here.
  • Word came last week that Robbin Haas had died. Haas was one of the South Florida chefs dubbed the Mango Gang that elevated Miami’s culinary scene in the early ‘90s. The gang also included Mark Militello, Allen Susser and Norman Van Aken. In a memoriam on his website, Van Aken wrote of his friend: “He worked hard and he played hard. But what joy he found in both.” I reviewed Haas’s Coconut Grove restaurant Baleen in 2002 and wrote, “...it’s safe to say that even plankton in the hands of chef Robbin Haas would be transformed into something tasty.” Haas was 66.


Vinia bar

We restaurant critics love to talk about our “finds” – new or obscure, out of the way restaurants that haven’t been touted but deserve to be.

I’m not sure a place that has been open for more than a year and is in the heart of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square qualifies as new or out of the way, but I sure was happy to find Vinia Wine Bar.

It’s actually easy to miss, even if you frequent the stretch of New England Avenue where it is located. The other restaurants – Armando’s, Pepe’s Cantina, Chez Vincent, Hannibal’s – are more visible and grab the attention of passersby.

Vinia is on the other side of the street from those businesses and at the top of a stoop in a building that doesn’t look like it holds a wine bar and restaurant. Indeed, until Fabio and Paula Gamba took it over last year the space was a shoe store. (Actually, from the outside it doesn’t look like a shoe store, either.)