cocina 214 patio

Cocina 214 is the winner of the Best Outdoor Dining Foodster Award for Independent Restaurants. Second place goes to the Tap Room at Dubsdread and Yellow Dog Eats takes third.

Cocina 214, the Tex-Mex restaurant on E. Welbourne Avenue in Winter Park, is a first time Foodster nominee and winner. "I love Cocina's outdoor dining - great way to enjoy Park Avenue while also eating the best food!" wrote Catriona Harris after placing her vote.

Ali Baba ext

I'm pretty sure the first puppet show I ever saw, and most likely the first theatrical production of any type, was "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves," performed by a professional traveling troupe that had set up in the gymnasium of Garfield Elementary School in Moline, Ill. I was probably 8 or 9. I think we were told it was the Bil Baird Marionettes, but I doubt that was true.

I don't remember much about it except the Open Sesame line and the horribly gruesome deaths of the thieves who had boiling oil poured over them as they hid in large pottery jars. I still have nightmares. And I'm fairly certain that some of the other grisly plot lines were omitted, such as Ali's brother being quartered and the chunks left outside the thieves' den as a warning. And Ali Baba still gets top billing even though it was the slave girl Morgiana who saved the day; it was she who poured the boiling oil into the jars. (Hey, Disney: next animated princess alert!)

None of this has anything to do with Ali Baba's Deli, but you try coming up with an opening for a review after you've written more than four thousand of them.

Pulapaka rise

Central Florida's chefs aren't worthy of James Beard Awards -- or, this year, even nominations -- but apparently they're good enough to cook for the ones who are.

Hari Pulapaka, chef and co-owner of Cress restaurant in DeLand, has been invited to cook at the reception following the James Beard Awards presentation in Chicago on May 7.

This year's theme for the gala is Rise, which I assumed had something to do with baking bread. But no. According to a release from the organization, Rise "celebrates the community of chefs who rise to the occasion—whether to feed those in need, to stand up for what they believe in, to support their local communities, or to express their personal stories through their cooking."

Pulapaka certainly qualifies. He and his wife and co-owner, Jenneffer, hosted the Solidarity Sunday dinner that was held on the street in front of the restaurant and featured foods from nations that had earlier been designated shithole countries.

He will be cooking alongside other chefs from around the country who have participated in the Beard Foundation sponsored Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change. Pulapaka's theme is I Rise for Humanity. His dish is Lionfish Bhel Puri, inspired by his hometown of Mumbai.

Central Florida had no nominees for this year's Beard Awards, although Pulapaka has been nominated four times in the past.

Others cooking at the gala include:

Hideaway interior

In terms of splashiness and go-for-the-awe design and decor, Enzo's Hideaway, from Patina Restaurant Group, offers much less than its sister restaurants at Disney Springs. Morimoto Asia has an opulent two-story dining room with elegant chandeliers; The Edison resides in what was supposed to have been an abandoned power producing facility, and Maria & Enzo's has the dramatic effect of a grand old airline terminal with large windows overlooking the lagoon.

Enzo's Hideaway has no windows and no double-height ceilings. It's dark and slightly dank and several of the walls are covered in graffiti. I enjoyed myself here more than at the others.

Which is not to say that I don't like the other restaurants; I do. But I think the absence of splash and distractions allows one to focus more on the food here. And the food here is really quite good.

Chefgala jared

If you're a culinarian and like food and wine events and supporting good causes, you were torn in multiple directions this past weekend. There was the Chef's Gala for Heart of Florida United Way at Epcot; Cattle Baron's Ball benefitting American Cancer Society at Rosen Shingle Creek; Beard in Baldwin raising funds for culinary scholarships in Baldwin Park; and Dinner on the Avenue, which apparently doesn't support a charity and requires participants to supply their own food but gives them a chance to dress in costumes and take over Park Avenue for an evening.

I've been to all of them in past years, and all are fun and support worthy causes -- well, three out of four, at least.

I attended Chef's Gala and had a good time, as usual.