Turci Pasta

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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I have a family recipe, one my mom cooked regularly when I was growing up, that I make from time to time. It’s noodle based and I’ve always just used store-bought dried egg noodles.

Then one day I decided to make fresh pasta and I used some in the recipe. And suddenly a mundane dish was a superior one. I’ll never go back to using dried pasta in that recipe again.

Vinicius Turci and his wife, Nathalia Kalil, understand that. Fresh pastas are the centerpiece of their College Park restaurant, Turci Pasta.


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Narcoossee’s, the Grand Floridian restaurant that sits apart – physically and experientially – from the more well known Victoria & Albert’s and Citricos in the “main house,” recently reopened after a renovation and menu refresh.

Like the other restaurants in the nearly 35-year-old hotel, Narcoossee’s has undergone renovations before – it was originally an oyster bar – but this one changed the physical layout and removed a sunken part of the room so that it is now all on one level. It still takes full advantage of its lagoonfront location and proximity to the Magic Kingdom. And while it is still a decidedly casual dining experience, the food is more elevated than I remember from past Narcoossee’ses (Narcoossi?)

Salt & the Cellar by Akira Back

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Salt and the Cellar by Akira Back Orlando

I seriously don’t know what to make of Salt & the Cellar by Akira Back in the lowercased ette hotel in Kissimmee. On one hand, the food is as well crafted as you would expect from an internationally known chef, and it shows proof of the promised sourcing of fresh ingredients.

On the other hand... Well, there are several other hands.

STK Brunch

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STK Orlando outside

I always associate STK, the vibrant restaurant at Disney Springs, with upscale dinners. The steakhouse, with its classy interior featuring impressive floral displays and elegant decorations, has always been a good choice for a special occasion dinner. But it turns out STK is a good choice for weekend brunch – yes, in full daylight – and I was invited recently to sample some of what it offers.

STK has a bottomless mimosa or bloody mary option for $30 but I chose to have the cocktail called French Love, which was a take on the popular French 75 with Hendrick’s Gin, a splash of Chandon sparkling wine and some lemon juice to tart it up. Very refreshing.

Rosa Mexicano

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RosaOrl divers up close

I guess I was just expecting too much.

I got excited when the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort announced, in September, that it was opening Rosa Mexicano in a space at the Dolphin hotel. Rosa Mexicano is a small chain – the Orlando location is the 11th – that started on Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 1984 and bills itself as serving “Mexican food in a fine dining atmosphere.”

What’s more, that atmosphere would be provided by the designer David Rockwell, whose portfolio includes Nobu restaurants worldwide, Union Square Cafe in New York and Gordon Ramsay’s Maze in London. His group also designs sets for Broadway shows and theaters. Locally, the Rockwell Group designed the Cirque du Soleil theater at Disney Springs and the interior of the now-closed Emeril Lagasse’s Tchoup Chop.

So, one of my favorite cuisines in a fine dining atmosphere inside a David Rockwell-designed restaurant? I’m there.

And by there I mean the Rosa Mexicano on the Upper West Side across the street from Lincoln Center for a pre-theater dinner.

Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe my feelings about that visit and the subsequent one I made to the new Rosa Mexicano in Orlando.


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Kaya front

I drove past the building twice, drove around the block thinking that I was mistaken which street it was on, then finally pulled over and entered “Kaya” into my Google Maps app.

I was sitting directly in front of it.

And if the transformation of the exterior of the building, an old house in the Mills 50 District that for the last couple of decades was Dandelion Community Cafe, is surprising – it helps that it is no longer painted kelly green – the changes to the interior are even more stunning.

Barnie's Coffee & Tea

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Barnie’s Coffee & Tea, the homegrown caffeinator, had big plans when it opened Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen in late 2011. Previously serving mainly the hot beverages stipulated in its name, the one-unspaced-word CoffeeKitchen featured a menu by Camilo Velasco, a chef who had previously cooked at Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton.

So the Barnie’s bunch was clearly serious about adding a food element, and the Park Avenue location became the prototype for what was planned to multiple locations.

But for some reason – certainly not Velasco’s food – the concept lagged and the CoffeeKitchen branding quietly went away. It was once again good ol’ Barnie’s Coffee & Tea, and the company focused on putting its products on to supermarket shelves. (Velasco moved on, first to 1921 by Norman Van Aken then to Ravenous Pig and currently chef de cuisine at Tiffins at Animal Kingdom.)

But food is back at the Winter Park Barnie’s, with a menu that perhaps is not as ambitious as before but more than just a few pastries as you might find at other coffee shops. And, no, CoffeeKitchen has not returned. Now it’s just referred to as the flagship cafe (flagship being a freighted word that implies others to follow, though I don’t know if that’s the case).

Park Avenue Tavern

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WINTER PARK/NEW YORK – There have been instances in the past of restaurants developed and established elsewhere have opened a location in Greater Orlando. I mean nonchain concepts, even if the second location is the beginning of a bigger expansion. I’m thinking of Il Mulino, a well-known Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village that opened a location at the Swan and Dolphin resort at Walt Disney World in 2007. In most cases, the version we get here isn’t as good as the one in, say, New York. I’m still thinking of Il Mulino.

But now consider Park Avenue Tavern, a Murray Hill bar and restaurant just steps from Grand Central Terminal, on Park Avenue, that has opened a second location in Winter Park’s Hannibal Square in the space that had been Dexter’s, not on Park Avenue, but close. I dined with friends at the Winter Park PAT, as it likes to be known, then, a few days later, ate at the original in New York. The experiences were quite disparate, but this time it was the WP PAT that was more pleasant.

Quick Bite: Dolce

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Dolce table

Dolce is a pleasant little cafe on Central Boulevard, across from an entrance to Lake Eola Park. It was a perfect place to meet a friend visiting from out of town. And surprisingly, we had the whole place to ourselves.

Although the name would suggest it specialized in sweets, it actually has an extensive menu of breakfast, lunch and brunch items, including crepes, pancakes, waffles and french toast. Yes, you can also get cinnamon rolls.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Normans exterior

Norman’s, the upscale dining restaurant from one of Florida’s most celebrated chefs, Norman Van Aken, has opened in its new location at Dellagio Town Center in the Restaurant Row District after an absence of nearly four years. Its return immediately widens the field for anyone conducting a search for Best Restaurant of Central Florida.

Norman’s had previously been at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando and in fact opened with the hotel in 2003. It was the first time the luxury hotel chain had partnered with an independent chef. (Here’s a fun bit of trivia: The Ritz-Carlton originally approached Wolfgang Puck to open a restaurant there, but Puck already had a restaurant at what was then Downtown Disney West Side and his noncompete clause with Walt Disney World prevented him from having another restaurant that close.)

When it opened, Norman’s was a second location for Van Aken’s popular Coral Gables restaurant (since closed) and was known originally as Norman’s at the Ritz-Carton. In 2019 the Ritz decided to end its relationship with Norman’s and the restaurant closed in September of that year. (The space is now occupied by Knife & Spoon, headed by another celebrity chef, John Tesar.)

Although Van Aken and his partner, Thomas D. Wood Jr., found a property to move to fairly quickly – selecting a vacated Bravo! Italian restaurant at the Dellagio – the soon-to-rear-its-ugly-head pandemic brought the process to a halt before it could begin.

But here it is. And as Norma (not Norman) Desmond sings in “Sunset Boulevard,” it’s as if we never said goodbye.