David Ramirez chocolates sign

It’s been fun to watch David Ramirez Chocolates grow, both literally and figuratively. The business, by award-winning pastry chef Ramirez and his wife, Nicole, is kept busy making high-end confections for both retail sales and corporate clients. Recently, they broke through an adjoining wall in their small South Orlando strip mall — with the landlord’s permission — and just about tripled the size.

David Ramirez chocolates counter2

The added space now features an entrance that faces Central Florida Parkway; the old front door was down a side passage. There’s more retail space and a large, granite-topped bar where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee, maybe some gelato (a new offering) or watch a demonstration on the making of macarons or how Ramirez turns his chocolates into morsels that look like they should be displayed in a jewelry case.

You can walk into the chocolate factory and buy an assortment of candies or macarons. They’re also available in Plant Street Market in Winter Garden.

But you may also have tasted his wares without even knowing it. Enjoyed a colorful macaron sold by a large entertainment entity in town? It’s pretty likely it was made here in the Central Florida Parkway kitchen by Ramirez and his team for buyer to present as its own.

Lamerce interior

Why is it so difficult for people strolling Park Avenue in search of a restaurant to turn a corner?

Sure, there are plenty of restaurants with a bona fide Park Avenue address that are worth dining at. But there are other eateries every bit as worthy of attention just off the main thoroughfare. And I’m talking mere steps, not blocks away.

Consider the space at 155 E. Morse Blvd., the current home of La Merce, a cafe with a Spanish-leaning European menu. On a recent day at the height of the lunch hour while most of the Park Ave restaurants were brimming with diners, I walked into a La Merce so empty that my arrival seemed to startle someone who walked out of the kitchen while I waited at the front door.

I remained the sole diner the entire time I was there, the only one to listen to the mournful-sounding songs of a flamenco guitarist and singer, Diego el Cigala, that played over the sound system.

Tip Jar

I recently told you about Posto 9, a casually upscale Brazilian gastropub in the heart of Lakeland. In that review, I noted the restaurant’s no-tipping policy. Instead of guests leaving a gratuity based on the check amount, the prices on the menu were a bit higher so that management could pay a better wage to more of the restaurant’s employees. A notecard on each table explained the policy and stated that any tips left would be donated to a local charity.

Experiment over.

Orlando Dish

Oh my gosh, just look at the calendar. It appears we’ve cycled back into the “Orlando Needs a Signature Dish” epoch. This is a period that occurs every couple of decades or so, brought on by lamentations that Central Florida has no regional foodstuff that causes people around the world to tell each other, “Oh, when you go to Orlando you must have the [enter name of dish here]; they’re known for that.”

We’re not known for anything. It’s regrettable, but it’s true. And it isn’t likely to change.

But that isn’t stopping Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Visit Orlando from trying once again.

In her State of the County address earlier this month, Jacobs announced a new initiative launched with the help of local chefs. Here is how it was presented in the county’s recap of the address:

 Laurel sign

Paris-Bistro, the small French restaurant in a courtyard off Park Avenue, has closed. Laurel Latin Cuisine will open in its place. There are no details about when it will open.

Paris-Bistro had been sold recently but continued to operate under the same name and menu, much to the chagrin of the previous owner, Tatiana Cerruto. 

Cerruto moved the bistro to Park Avenue in 2009 from its original location on Aloma Avenue in the space currently occupied by Anna's Polish Restaurant (which was also the original location of Polonia, now in Longwood). Paris-Bistro was opened in 2005 by Jean-Marie and Roselyne Marlot, who owned Le Bon Appetit in Ocoee. 

On Park Avenue, Paris-Bistro was in the Shops on Park, a highly tiled enclosed space with koi ponds and an elaborate, full-sized fake tree. The space was small -- only about 50 seats -- but posh, a fine facsimile of, well, a Paris bistro.

More on Laurel soon.