Ava MediterrAgean

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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It’s certainly the most atmospheric restaurant around.

Ava MediterrAegean, the new Park Avenue restaurant from Miami’s Mila Group, didn’t just take over the Luma On Park space, it transformed it. The design, by Olya Volkova of OV & Co., features massive archways of sunwashed Venetian plaster, geometric wall sculptures, wood slats over the still-open kitchen, and upholstered furniture and table lamps that invoke a homey feeling.

Tartini Pizza & Spaghetteria

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Tartini, the “Pizza & Spaghetteria” in the unofficially designated SoSoDo district, near Belle Isle on South Orange Avenue, has gone through several changes in its nine years, including ownership and, at one point in 2016, a closing.

But today, Tartini is back and serving some of the best Italian food around, and not just in this culinarily starved part of town but in all of Orlando.

The Pizza & Spaghetteria part of its name doesn’t quite give a full accounting of the menu here, though pizza is still a forte, as it always was, thanks to its unique oven that rotates and lifts the pies through the wood-fired heat to create a perfect pizza in under two minutes.

Häos

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Recently, I attended the opening night of Orlando Ballet’s elaborate production of “The Great Gatsby” in the Walt Disney Theater at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Next door, in the new world-class Steinmetz Hall, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma was playing to a sold-out audience. The night before that, Elton John returned to Amway Center for another stop on his “I really mean it this time” farewell tour. And two nights later I was at the old Cheyenne Saloon on Church Street for a riveting production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.”

The arts and entertainment are back in force and bringing audiences to downtown Orlando.

So where should we eat?

Chronic Tacos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Tacos and Tuesdays have become ingrained in our alliterative psyche. You might say it’s a chronic condition. So it’s fitting that on this Tuesday I tell you about Chronic Tacos, a franchise with locations across the U.S. as well as Canada and, for some reason, Japan.

In Orlando, Chronic Tacos are slung from a location on Sand Lake Road’s Restaurant Row, an area that also has several Japanese restaurants but none from Canada, as far as I know.

It’s a fairly simple experience and the food I sampled was good, though nothing stood out.

Takumi Ramen

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Takumi ramen

I wonder if the landlord of the building at 486 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando has a stipulation in the lease that the corner unit must be occupied by a ramen shop. Previously, it was the home of not just a ramen restaurant but The Ramen.

And now is it Takumi Ramen, which opened only a few weeks ago but is already serving delicious food even while finishing touches to the decor continue. Even more impressive than the food was the warm and gracious greeting the staff gave me when I walked in to place an order. Granted, there were no other customers in sight so they may have just been delighted to see anyone.

Three Birds Cafe

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I arrived in Winter Garden 45 minutes ahead of my appointment, so I thought I would stop by Three Birds Cafe for a quick bite. I was almost late for my meeting.

Three Birds is an attractive eatery in the heart of Winter Garden’s downtown district. Its corner location allows for lots of window light and the interior is rustic exposed brick, hardwood floors and touches of foliage, including vines that hang from the walls behind the counter and the video monitors that display the menu. (Interesting side note: Despite its name, Three Birds does not seem to have a Twitter account.)

Sushi Pop Winter Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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This isn’t my first time visiting Sushi Pop in Winter Park, an off-Park offshoot of the original Oviedo restaurant that opened in 2019. For myriad reasons – please check events from the past two years – that review was never published. But I remember thinking at the time that the Winter Park restaurant was a mere shadow of its Oviedo self, both in terms of the quality of the food and the overall experience.

I still feel that way.

When it opened, in 2011, Sushi Pop really did pop. It was fun, not only for the diners who were enjoying having good quality sushi in a part of town that was still inundated with bland American chain restaurants, but also for the staff, who seemed to delight in wearing costumes and sporting wildly colored hair, all while still offering good service.

There is none of that at the Winter Park SP, and maybe it’s no longer the case in Oviedo, either, but I missed it.

Fish On Fire

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

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Fish On Fire has been operating on the lonely corner of Daetwyler Drive and McCoy Road since 2004, though not consistently, and not just because of pandemically forced shutdowns.

In April of 2010, a fire all but destroyed the structure, proving that the gods have a taste for irony. But owners Jay Herrington and John Mitchell rebuilt the restaurant, which sits in front of a motel across from the elevated Beachline Highway, and reopened it in 2011.

Except for the lack of a nearby body of water – Lake Conway Chain of Lakes is about a tenth of a mile away but that doesn’t count – FOF has all the trappings of a classic fish camp, especially in its overt rusticity. I did notice on my recent trip that the floors that were once bare concrete are now tiled, and galvanized buckets have been fashioned into overhead light fixtures, a bit of whimsy that might be considered too precious for an actual fish camp.

Lale

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I don’t know why but whenever I consider places to dine on Park Avenue I usually begin my mental restaurant roll call at Lyman Avenue and head north from there. But of course that means I miss some others worth recommending that are on the lower end of the street, such as Cafe de France, which is one of the oldest restaurants on the avenue, Umi Japanese and Grato, a newcomer Italian.

Now add an even newercomer to the list, Lale a Mediterranean/Turkish restaurant that has moved into the compact space next to Umi (they’re so close to each other that it’s difficult to distinguish which sidewalk tables belong to which restaurant).

Amare

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin opened its new companion hotel, the Swan Reserve, in November. It’s distinguished from the two larger resorts – it sits separated across Epcot Resort Boulevard – with a more modern glass-and-steel design and the absence of frighteningly large creatures on its roof.

With the new hotel comes another signature restaurant, Amare, to join the likes Todd English’s bluezoo, Kimonos and Shula’s Steak House.

Amare is a Mediterranean restaurant whose name means to love. (It’s the verb form of the word as opposed to the noun. That’s amore.) However, the succinct menu has more of a Greek accent. The restaurant is described on the hotel’s website as casual upscale. I can agree with that. The decor is tastefully casual – it’s a breakfast, lunch and dinner venue – with bare blond wood tables set with blue and white chargers with a spirographic motif, cloth napkins, basket light fixtures, wood flooring and an open kitchen. Large windows from the second floor restaurant look out toward the other hotels.