deep blu seafood grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

deep blu mussels

One of the best things about Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month -- at least it was when it was first instituted -- is that it allows you to experience a restaurant that perhaps might be beyond your financial comfort zone. At some of the featured restaurants, you couldn't even afford an appetizer from the regular menu let alone a full three-course meal.

Magical Dining Month made those restaurants -- Ruth's Chris, Eddie V's and Morton's among them -- approachable. The smart restaurants knew that it was an opportunity to woo new customers, even if it was just for special occasion dining, by showcasing the best of their regular menus on the specially priced three-course Magical menu

Then some restaurants started changing what they would offer. In many cases today, the MagDinMo menu doesn't feature any items from the regular menu. What's the point of that? Others make subtle changes, such as offering smaller portions of changing the ingredients used in a dish.

When I put together my "How to Do Magical Dining Month" video last year, which emphasizes comparing the MagDinMo menu to the restaurant's regular menu, found on most of their websites, I dinged deep blu seafood grille for changing the makeup of its Bouillabaisse (the regular menu had lobster, the Magical menu did not). I had previously dinged it for its inability to use capital letters and misspellings.

So I made a point of checking deep blu's Magical menu this year, and boy howdy, is it a bargain. At least on paper -- the three entrees on the MagDinMo menu range from $35 to $42. And since the three course special menu is $35, there's no need to pull out a calculator.

The Noble Smokesman

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Noble ext

This is certainly an unusual location for any restaurant let alone a barbecue joint. The Noble Smokesman occupies a space in a compound of offices and nonfood businesses on Lake Ellenor Drive, about a block off of South Orange Blossom Trail. (The street name sounded familiar to me and it wasn't until I found the smokehouse that I realized it was across from the former Darden Restaurants headquarters.) The complex looks more like a place you'd find an accountant's office or maybe a dentist.

Also unlike other barbecue restaurants, Noble has a polished and spiffy look inside, but that's probably more because of its newness. It has clean wood-look floors and a white subway-tile wall in the area behind the counter. For some reason there are logs on some of the tables.

Tin & Taco SoDo

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Tin and Taco case

When it opened in downtown Orlando, in early 2017, Tin & Taco did little to elevate the "things in a tortilla" category. I wasn't overwhelmed by what I tasted; I wasn't underwhelmed, either. I was just whelmed.

So I was a bit bemused to learn that T&T would be opening a second location, in the SoDo district less than three miles away. What could they possibly have learned in a short time to warrant a second location?

A lot, it would seem.

DoveCote Revisited

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Dovecote 2018 flatware

It doesn't quite seem possible that DoveCote, the postmodern French brasserie in downtown Orlando, has been open just over two years. It started out well enough, though a few faux pas warranted a more cautious recommendation.

All caution is hereby removed. I returned to DoveCote one evening last month and found that the restaurant has settled into a quiet thrum of efficiency, and the kitchen, still under the direction of chef and co-owner Clay Miller, is producing more reliably fine recreations of French classics. And, not incidentally, at a price point that is reasonable and affordable.

Kai Asian Street Fare

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kai ext

Today we visit Kai Asian Street Fare in Winter Park.

Oh goodie, another "street fare" restaurant. How did eating foods sold on the street become the hot trend for off-street restaurants? And, more importantly, when will it finally fizzle?

I suppose it won't as long as there are restaurants that do the street thing as well as Kai does.

Terralina Crafted Italian

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Terralina exterior

When we talk about the top chefs in the Central Florida culinary community, the name Justin Plank rarely comes up, and I don't know why. I may be as much to blame as anyone.

It's not that he hasn't been around a long time or that his cooking hasn't been critically received. And it isn't that his name hasn't been bandied about. You may recall that in the early 2000s, Park Plaza Gardens actually changed its name to Chef Justin's Park Plaza Gardens to celebrate the hiring of Plank as its new head chef.

Following a stint at Lake Port Square in Leesburg, Plank joined the Levy Restaurants team as the executive chef at Disney Springs' Portobello, handpicked for the position by Tony Mantuano, the Chicago chef who advises and directs the Disney restaurant. Portobello then promptly closed so that it could be remodeled and rebranded.

It's now Terralina Crafted Italian and Plank has stayed on at the helm. While much of the menu was initially developed by Mantuano, Plank says that his suggestions for changes have all been given the go ahead. I stopped in to sample some of the menu recently and to see how the restaurant has developed. Everything I tasted -- some of which was offered to me and my guest to try -- was really quite good.

Watch the video version of this review:

The Hangry Bison

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hangry Bison exterior

Hangry Bison, the new non-Italian restaurant from longtime pizzeria owner Joe Liguori, is doing a lot of things right with its burgers, bourbon and beer, the items that it lists as its specialties under that name.

That name.

Hangry is a portmanteau of the words hungry and angry and represents a condition wherein the need for food without any food foreseeable can cause a precipitous change in mood. It's a real thing. I myself am among the sufferers. We don't have a telethon.

But we have Hangry Bison to alleviate the symptoms.

Click below to see a video version of this review

Supper (Brunch) Club Redux: Ravenous Pig

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ravpig brunch cover

Our first meeting of Scott Joseph's Supper Club/Brunch Branch convened on Sunday, Aug. 5, at the estimable Ravenous Pig in Winter Park. Our group took over the bar and lounge in tables, booths and hightops under the old Cask & Larder sign. (You'll recall that C&L occupied this part of the building briefly before that restaurant moved to Orlando International Airport, but the brewing facility that remains is still technically under the Cask & Larder brandage.)

Chef de cuisine Nick Sierputowski greeted us and gave a rundown of the food and beverages that were to come. Some of the clubbers opted for the cocktail pairings with a different concoction with each course. Others were satisfied to sip their welcome drink of Broker's Gin, coconut tea, orange-lemon oleo and milk wash.

Agave Azul Winter Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Agave Azul sign

I like Agave Azul in Winter Park. And if I sound slightly surprised when I say that, it's only because I never cared very much for the original in Orlando.

Then again it's been over seven years since I visited the Kirkman Road location. And I rather liked its sister restaurant, Saint Anejo Mexican Kitchen + Tequileria when it opened a year and a half ago in Winter Springs.

Like Saint Anejo, the newer Agave leans a tad more to the Mexico side of the border in the Tex or Mex question, though a full section of Fajitas, an American invention, has it straddling the wall.

But everything I tasted was good. Though in the case of the Taco Shooters it was good taste in an odd presentation. But how could I pass up something called Taco Shooters?

NEW: Watch a video version of this review. Click the image below.

Kings Pizza

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kings Pizza box

I suppose it wasn’t very sporting of me to visit a pizzeria that claims to serve New York style pizzas on the day I was scheduled to fly to New York.

Actually, it was my second visit to Kings Pizza on Curry Ford Road, a second location for the business, which also operates a restaurant on International Drive. The first time I visited the Curry Ford location was back in June and I remembered thinking they didn’t really seem completely set up yet.

Kings Pizza interior

It was quiet, no noise from the two people in the open kitchen area and certainly none from diners, because there were none. The black wall across from the cooking and ordering station was painted black and had graffiti-like scrawls in chalk that looked temporary. And there was a refrigerated counter, the type you might expect to have grab-and-go selections that need to be cooled but also want to be nicely displayed, that was empty and unplugged.

Kings Pizza meat

The pizza on that visit was just OK. The pepperoni slice had good coverage but the Meat Lovers was pathetically topped with scrawny bits of tiny ham cubes and half moons of thinly sliced sausage as well as a few of the same pepperoni. Not really a meat lovers pizza, more of a platonic pie.