Seven seas sign

Sea World Orlando is stepping up its culinary event game with this year’s Seven Seas Food Festival, going on now through May 13. It still doesn’t approach the scope of the several food festivii of that other theme park down the road, but for Sea World it’s quite a big step.

One of the biggest changes is that executive Hector Colon and his team have increased the number of food-vending kiosks to 11 and moved them beyond the confines of the area around the Ports of Call event space. Now you’ll find Food Festival kiosks not only at Ports of Call but all around Sea World’s main walkway.

And even though it’s called the Seven Seas Food Festival, the food opportunities include items not necessarily found in water — barbecue ribs and pork dumplings, for instance. Also despite the name, not all seven seas are represented (you’d think they’d find some Arctic Char just to round things out).

Some notes on the dining adventures during some recent visits to New York.

Coucou taper

Le Coucou


 

Classic French cuisine has come to New York’s Lower East Side from an American, via Paris. Daniel Rose, whose Spring restaurant has wooed hard-to-impress Parisians, has opened Le Coucou, and it, in turn, has New Yorkers clambering to get into what is arguably the hottest restaurant in town. And unlike others that have held that title in the past (think Per Se), Le Coucou is worth it.

Rose has partnered with Stephen Starr, whose group of Starr Restaurants dominate the Philadelphia dining scene. (You can read about some of them here.)

coucou interior

Le Coucou, designed by Manhattan’s Roman and Williams, is rustically elegant. High ceilings with no effort to hide the beams or ductwork and brick walls, not to mention an open kitchen, are offset by tables lavishly draped with white linens. And each table is graced by a single, slender and tall tapered candle.

Coucou tete

The menu is unapologetically ultra French. Even in a city full of diners who would categorize themselves as adventurous, veal head isn’t found on many menus, even with its more lyrical name, Tête de Veau. The meat, which was boiled from the calf’s head, was fashioned into the small disk and fried, then plated with a sort of egg salad seasoned with chervil and tarragon and draped with an anchovy.

Pardiso PizzaThe winner of the 2017 Foodster Award for Best Pizza goes to Paradiso Pizza. Papa Joe’s got the second most votes for its pies and third place is awarded to Tornatore’s.

Paradiso Pizza has two Orlando locations, one at 707 N. Goldenrod Road and a newer one at 1502 N. Semoran Blvd. I reviewed the latter last year and I have no problem with the readers choice.

Although Paradiso got the most votes, Papa Joe’s received the most passionate comments from its fans. Massimo Vincenzo Brown was torn between two of the nominees but eventually “Papa Joe’s won my stomach.”

And Victor Montalvo wrote, “Papa Joe's is the most authentic New York Pizza in town! It's perfectly thin, crispy, with a flavorful sauce. I'm a pizza snob, these guys won me over!”

Of the third place winner, Benjamin Barbosa wrote with his vote, “Tornatore's Pizza Hands Down! Have had their pizza for many years and highly recommed it to anyone who wants a piece of heaven!”

Scott Joseph’s Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants celebrate culinary excellence among Central Florida restaurants with three or fewer locations. (Papa Joe’s eked by with the maximum number.)

Foodster categories are introduced throughout the year. Votes are currently being taken for Best Irish Pub, Best Sushi and Best Breakfast. This link will take you to the Foodster Awards page.

Magic Kingdom map menu

The Walt Disney World Resort culinary team reignited Delicious Disney: A Chef Series in a spectacular way last month with an exclusive after-hours dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table.

While many special events end with fireworks, the Delicious Disney dinner started with them, with guests gathered on the raised platform at the top of Main Street with a clear view of the castle at the other end. And we sipped cocktails during the show. Yes, real cocktails with actual alcohol in them. Very civilized.

MK DD fireworks

After the show, we were led to the castle through a backstage side passageway — no need to “salmon” our way upstream through the exiting throng. We gathered for a reception where we sipped on Dom Perignon and Ruinart Rose.

And what goes best with Dom Perignon? Why Spam of course.

Kathleen BlakeKathleen Blake and Brandon McGlamery are Central Florida’s only nominees for a Best Chef award from the James Beard Foundation in the South region. The two were named with 18 others on the preliminary ballot mailed to chefs Wednesday.

Blake, the chef and owner of the Rusty Spoon in downtown, has been nominated 4 times. No Central Florida chef has ever advanced to the final ballot. McGlamery, who has also been nominated previously, is the executive chef for Luma on Park, Prato in Winter Park and the newly opened Luke’s Kitchen + Bar in Maitland. He is nominated for his work at Luma.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Blake about her fourth nomination. “It’s a great honor.”

Florida chefs in the South region compete with chefs from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Puerto Rico. Historically, Louisiana — and New Orleans specifically — dominates the region.

“We’re in stiff competition with New Orleans,” Blake said. “I’m in downtown Orlando and I don’t campaign [for the Beard Award] and I don’t have a marketing team.” She said it’s a privilege to be nominated.

Judges, primarily food journalists and critics from around the country, will select up to five names from each category. Judges may vote for any chef whose food they have eaten or any restaurant they’ve visited regardless of their geographic designation. The final ballot, whittled down to five finalists in each category, will be announced March 15. The winners will be named in a black-tie gala ceremony on May 1.

Other nominees in the South region are: