Is the Empress Room Sailing Back to Downtown Disney?

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Is the Empress Room coming back?

Many folks will remember when the well-grounded paddlewheeler now known as Fulton’s Crab House was called the Empress Lilly, named for Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian. It held within its decks one of the few fine-dining options available in Central Florida at the time: the Empress Room. I think the fultonsDisney culinears decided the resort needed only one fine dining restaurant, and Victoria & Albert’s was it. Fulton’s, which is operated by Levy Restaurants out of Chicago, debuted around 1996.

Now comes word that the Empress Room might reappear -- at least for one evening. Fulton’s executive chef Ron Cope and crew are planning a signature dinner during the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival that some are saying will evoke the bygone days of the Empress Room. No one is saying officially that the dinner will be touted that way, but it seems to me they’d be missing out on a terrific marketing scheme.

No other details right now, other than it will be an exclusive dinner for about 50 guests on November 11th.

There’s also no official word on when tickets for the Epcot F & W events will go on sale, but if I were you I’d keep Tuesday, July 20, open if being first in line to buy is important to you.

Also, the events being billed as 3D -- Disney Dessert Discovery -- will take place on Friday evenings during the fest, except one week when it will be held on Thursday, Oct. 21. That’s because another event is planned for the World Showplace for Friday the 22nd. Someone else booked the hall?

3D, which will be an all-sweets version of Party for the Senses, I hear, does not yet have a ticket price, but planners are trying to keep it under 50 bucks a head. That plus admission to the park, of course.

Pianos Will Duel Again on Church Street at Baby Grands

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Folks may remember when Howl at the Moon was a mainstay at Church Street Market, until that complex was demolished to make way for the much-anticipated (and now mostly empty) 55 West condominium tower. Howl at the Moon was a dueling piano bar where two pianists would get the crowd rolling and singing along. Now comes word that a dueling piano bar called Baby Grands has signed a lease for space at 55 West.

Aaron Gray, associate at Grubb & Ellis|Commercial Florida, who negotiated the transaction for the landlord, FFWO LLC of Amsterdam, said in a statement, “Howl at the Moon was very successful in this center prior to the 55 West tower being built, and we feel that this type of performance based entertainment venue is right in line with the spirit of Church Street moving forward."

When finished -- and no details were given regarding that -- Baby Grands will occupy 6600 square feet and accommodate 300 patrons.

It had previously been announced that a restaurant called Blend had also signed a lease. That report gave the impression that the owner of Pranna, a New York restaurant, would be one of the operators of Blend. In fact, the owner of Pranna is not involved -- some former associates will be the owners -- and was rather surprised to read that he would be opening a new restaurant in Orlando. He will not.

Blend is the restaurant that plans to use high-tech tables, which reportedly will cost in the neighborhood of $10K each, that will allow guests to order food and drink interactively through a computerized interface. We used to call them waiters.

New York Restaurants to Begin Posting Health Inspection Grades

Written by Scott Joseph on .

At the end of July, restaurants in New York City must begin posting their health inspection grades -- A, B or C. I guess we're to assume that a D or F rating will get the place closed, so there's no reason to bother putting one of those grades out front. And besides, who would choose to eat in a restaurant that receives a failing health inspection?

Which of course is the point of having the restaurant post even the average and above ratings. The thought is that if a restaurant has to be upfront about its rating, it will strive to acheive the highest grade possible. Here's a story from Food Safety News with more details.

I'm of two minds on this (there's a surprise, huh?). On one hand, I like the idea of transparency. And an informed diner can make choices based on all the information available.

But there's also the issue, at least with Florida restaurants, of the grading system itself. In Florida, the violations are categorized as critical and noncritical. The very word "critical" implies a crisis. But an example of a noncritical violation is not displaying a sign in the restroom that employees must wash hands. I think a missing sign is noncritical. Employees not washing their hands after using the restroom? Now that's a critical violation.

Would it harm a restaurant if it had to display a notice that they've received a critical violation, even if that violation isn't so critical? But on the other hand (two minds, remember?), wouldn't that make the restaurant strive to do a better job, even if it's something as mundane as posting a new sign?

Have a thought? Join me in the SJO Forum where I've started a discussion thread.

Mitchell's Fish Market is Open; Some Vow Never to Return

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mitchell’s Fish House officially opened today, June 14, at Winter Park Village, but some diners have already been left with a bad taste in their mouths.

The seafood restaurant, which is owned by the Ruth’s Chris corporation, conducted a couple of nights of VIP invitation-only dinners over the weekend. That’s a standard practice, especially among corporate brands of higher quality restaurants. The guest list for the Friday and Saturday evening dinners included many of the area’s political and social leaders (which is probably why I wasn’t invited!).

I got an earful from one of them today. And it should be noted that the people who were invited to Mitchell’s opening are seasoned veterans of these dinners. That makes sense: if you’re a new restaurant in town, these are the people you want to impress from the get-go. You want them telling their other influential friends what a great time they had. You want them to come back - often - and bring business associates to entertain. Standard procedure for these dinners, which are also used as practice sessions -- dress rehearsals, if you will -- for the kitchen and serving crews, is to comp the meals. The VIPs get a free meal and the restaurant gets free publicity via word of mouth. Most of the people attending these dinners know that they are expected to leave a gratuity for the servers.

But my source, who asked that I not use her name, tells me she doesn’t know of any party of four that got out for under $100.

Here’s what happened.