Yummy House beef with teapot

I miss Eastern Pearl. The Chinese restaurant in Altamonte Springs, in my estimation, did some of the best Asian dishes in the area. At least back in 2000 when it first opened. The success of the Altamonte restaurant prompted the owners to open another, in 2009, near Orlando International Airport. But that one was merely OK, and perhaps the vagaries of operating two restaurants eventually brought down both.

Now in the place of the original Eastern Pearl is another Chinese restaurant, Yummy House, a small chain out of Tampa with six locations, all within Florida. According to its website, YH has won awards for its cuisine at its Tampa and Gainesville locations. But I don’t see any accolades coming to the Altamonte Springs restaurant any time soon.

Perhaps my visit was destined to be troublesome when I was greeted — a word that doesn’t quite describe the unsmiling acknowledgement from the person who came from around the bar when I came in — and was directed to sit at the table next to the front door. When I said I didn’t care to sit there, he gestured to any of the other dozen or so empty tables and told me, grudgingly, to sit wherever I wanted.

Scott PizzoFIRST ON SJO -- The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, has announced that local chef Scott Pizzo will take over as chef de cuisine at the critically acclaimed Highball & Harvest. Pizzo replaces Nathan Hardin who left the company to join a restaurant goup in the Tampa area.

Pizzo began his culinary career just one flight up, at Norman's, after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando. After rising to the rank of chef tournant, he joined Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi on Sand Lake Road.

James Petrakis then brought him on as executive sous chef at the Ravenous Pig in Winter Park, and eventually he was named chef de cuisine for the Petrakises' Cask & Larder.

According to Grande Lakes' chef Peter Zampaglione, Pizzo will join the resort on Wednesday and will work with the H&H team to "talke the Southern cuisine of HIghabll & Harvest to a whole new level." Considering the level the food there has been, I can't wait to see where it goes. 

Gaylord Palms Atrium

The restaurants listed here are nominated in the Best Hotel Restaurant category. They represent the best of independent restaurants found in hotels and resorts around Central Florida. 

Please note that while many of the hotels are indeed chain brands, the restaurants that are nominated fit the Foodster Awards' definition of independent with three or fewer locations. Indeed, most are unique to Central Florida.

To vote, click the box next to your favorite and then click the VOTE button. You may vote for only one candidate. If you have already voted, the VOTE button will no longer appear.

You are welcome to write in the name of a hotel restaurant you'd like to vote for by clicking the Write In button. But double check to verify that your candidate's name doesn't already appear in the list -- duplicates, and businesses that don't fit the definition of independent, will be deleted.

Voting in this category will continue through midnight on April 5, 2017. The winner will be announced in the April 6 edition of Scott's e-letter.

Leave a comment telling us why you voted for your selection -- Scott might quote you when the winner is announced (be sure to say which restaurant you voted for in your comment or we won't know who you're talking about).

Nova interior walls

When Nova opened almost a year ago in a redesigned space on North Orange Avenue at Virginia Drive, the crossroads that give it its name, I found the decor delightfully adult and sophisticated but the food was disappointing. I also said at the time that I wasn’t ready to give up on Nova because we need more restaurants like this in the downtown sector.

I’m glad I didn’t give up because I returned to Nova recently and found that the menu — a different one from the opening — is now more appropriately varied and with more interesting offerings. Even better: it’s being cooked properly.

I’m pleased now to recommend Nova.

Luigino’s, the Heathrow Italian restaurant, is closing. In a letter sent to regulars, the restaurants said it would be selling its inventory of wines “and other valued items” on Monday, January 16. A man who answered at the restaurant and identified himself as a manager said that “it was just time to close.” He abruptly ended the call after he told someone who he was talking to and they told him not to speak to me. (My most recent review of Luigino’s wasn’t exactly stellar.)

Before hanging up, the young man said that the owners would continue with an ongoing catering business that specializes in Indian cuisine. So there you go.

Luigino’s was originally opened by Jeno Paulucci, who made his fortune with Jeno’s frozen pizzas. Paulucci’s first restaurant in the space at 120 International Parkway was called Pasta Lovers and was a perceived attempt to out Olive Garden Olive Garden. Didn’t work. It later transitioned, in 1997, to Luigino's Pasta Lovers and Steakhouse (you could order steak on the pasta side of the restaurant but you couldn't order pasta on the steakhouse side). The Pasta Lovers and Steakhouse names were eventually dropped.

There is nothing about the closing on the restaurant’s website, and the last entry on Luigino’s Heathrow’s Facebook page was in October. But if you'd like one last visit, you may want to get there before the 16th.