Sticky Rice

Written by Scott Joseph on .

sticky rice

I love rice.

Even though I have limited real estate on my kitchen counter, my rice cooker has a permanent dedicated space. Food processor, mixer, slow cooker -- all relegated to the pantry or even the garage. But the rice cooker is used too often to put away. I've been known to make a full meal out of rice with just butter, salt and pepper.

So a new restaurant called Sticky Rice certainly got my attention. I'll admit, though, that I was a bit wary. That's because Sticky Rice moved into a small space on Colonial Drive in the Mills 50 district that in a very short span of time has been home to at least two (and I think three) really disappointing restaurants.

But those memories faded during my visit to SR. The food is good, the staff, though not especially warm or fuzzy, work hard, and the overall experience is positive.

Peppino's Organic Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Peppinos pizza

I've lost track of all of the restaurants that have tried to make a go of it in the little freestanding building at 2420 Curry Ford Road in Orlando. Little is the operative word there. The space is so small that it didn't provide enough seats to support most restaurant concepts. I don't think that most of the people considered the "butts in seats" calculation -- the number of customers that must be served each day -- that would be necessary to provide enough income to sustain a business.

And so there was a steady flow of hopeful new restaurants over the years, the majority of them Latino. When I started reviewing restaurants in Orlando, in 1988, it was International Cafe. That business moved -- to a larger space -- on Orange Avenue. It was called Cruzin' Crabs for a short time, and Señor Frogi even shorter (though that business may have complicated its chance for survival by choosing a name similar to a major chain's). La Fiesta Mexican Grill started there, too, before moving to a slightly larger space a couple of blocks down the road and then, last year, across the street to even larger digs. Butts in seats, people, butts in seats.

So when it was announced that the next business to move in would be a pizzeria, I thought brilliant, that's just the sort of restaurant that can work in such a space. Besides a potentially lower food cost, pizzerias are historically reliable for takeout business, which does not require a seat therein to put a butt.

But...

Peter's Kitchen Chinese Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Peters Chinese sign

The Lunar New Year celebration begins Friday when the Year of the Dog is ushered in. Dog years are my favorites, even though they seem longer than the others.

Sometimes called Chinese New Year, the event is celebrated by several Asian countries. It's never on the same day but rather is tied to the occurrence of the first new moon between January 1 and February 20. The moon will be newest on Feb. 16 this year.

So you might see some celebrations around town, especially in the area of Mills 50 where there is a high concentration of Asian businesses and restaurants. Look for lanterns, red ribbons and firecrackers. There might be dragons.

Cilantro's Taqueria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cilantros counter

It's Taco Tuesday. And also Fat Tuesday. So I was hoping for some Fat Tacos. Taco Gras, if you will.

So I headed over the the area of town that is still not officially designated the Hourglass District to try out a new place called Cilantro's Taqueria. It's in a small group of storefronts that also holds the oddly named businesses Hair Partners and Ambrose the Printer. The latter always makes me think of a medieval scribe.

Cilantro's is charming. I have no idea what was in this space before, even though I've passed by this corner several times a week for more than 25 years. It might have been a wonderful business, but even without knowing, I'd say Cilantro's is an improvement.

F&D Cantina Lake Mary

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FD Cantina bar

To understate it just a bit, I wasn't all that impressed with F&D Cantina when it opened in mid 2016 in Waterford Lakes. Besides being served food that was at a temperature lower than what could legally be considered warm, the service was lacking and the surroundings offered nothing to enhance the experience.

That location has closed.

But another F&D Cantina has popped up in Lake Mary, not far from F&D Kitchen and Bar, which causes a bit of a problem itself. I arranged to meet an associate at F&D Cantina, but Google Maps sent him to F&D Kitchen, which is not far away physically but is a logistical challenge. Thank God one of us wasn't in Lake Mary and the other in Waterford Lakes.

And thank God, or the chef, that the F&D Cantina in Lake Mary is good enough to put the Waterford Lakes location a distant memory.

The Glass Knife

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Glass Knife rendering

The Glass Knife is a little cakebox of a bakery and cafe. The pink walls don't appear to have been painted but frosted instead.

Indeed, cakes are the ostensible raison d'être of the Glass Knife. The name is a reference to cake slicers popular during the Great Depression. Glass didn't tarnish or impart an off taste as metallic slicers could.

The mother of the restaurant's owner, Steve Brown, collected glass knives, so the theme of his cafe was set with an ample stock of the delicate doodads to decorate. (My mother collected elephants; I will not be opening a restaurant.)

While cakes, pastries and other assorted baked sweets are a focus, chef Stuart Whitfield's menu makes a few forays into savory territory, mainly with soups, salads and sandwiches. A chicken pot pie is offered daily. Well, nightly, only after 4:30 p.m. All of the food I sampled was of high quality and expertly prepared.

However, the experience of eating there is less enjoyable, at least when there is a full house, as when I visited for lunch with a friend. And the process is a bit confusing, even with someone at the front door attempting to explain it.

Chela Tequila & Tacos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chela interior

This week's review of a taco restaurant is Chela Tequila & Tacos in downtown Orlando.

Until very recently, this restaurant was known as Kasa, which did not focus on tacos. It did, however, specialize in small plates, but there wasn't anything about the experience I could recommend.

I can recommend Chela. The food is good, the service is personable, and while the atmosphere is a bit cold and institutional it at least reflects the urban environment in which it is located.

Grills Lakeside Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar

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Grills exterior

I've lost track of all the businesses that have occupied the space at 4315 N. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. I'm pretty sure my first encounter with the massive property on the shore of Lake Fairview was with Shooters Waterfront, an Orlando version of the Intracoastal Waterway hot spot from Ft. Lauderdale that opened here in 1990.

I know that it was a nightclub called Park Avenue, and I seem to remember that it was also known as Empire at one point.

Tim Webber, who operated a popular catering business for years in Orlando took over the space in 1996. Tim Webber's Pavilion by the Lake was a catering commissary as well as a place for private functions and parties. When I wrote in the Orlando Sentinel in November 1996 about a Sunday brunch he offered at his new place, I began the review, "What a smart thing Tim Webber has done." Two months later he filed for bankruptcy.

So to say that the property has had a troubled past is perhaps an understatement.

Tacos el Rancho: Part of Central Florida's Taco Takeover

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Taco Ranchos wide

The tacofication of Central Florida continues.

No food trend has held quite as strongly as tacos. Not that tacos are new. The taco as it's known from its roots predates the arrival to Mexico of Spaniards, who apparently were able to just walk in because there was no wall to keep them out. And some of those early tacos were just as creative in their fillings as some of our tonier craft tacomongers, with such things as whole, small fish in a tortilla wrapper.

There are few rules involving tacos. As long as you have a tortilla as your base, what you put inside is up to you. Corn tortillas are a bit more traditional, but you're more likely to find white flour tortillas in today's taquerias. I am thankful that few have taken to using the godawful hard-shell variety. Those have no place in the discussion.

Just look at the proliferation of taco vendors in the recent past. We've seen places like Black Rooster, Hunger Street, Tin & Tacos, bartaco, Four Rebels, Rocco's Tacos, not to mention a fleet of food trucks that specialize in tacos.

Recently, Kasa, a restaurant in downtown Orlando, rebranded itself as Chela Tequila & Tacos. Tin & Tacos announced that it will open a second location in SoDo, not far from where Gringo's Locos just opened a new restaurant. Garp & Fuss, which opened recently in the former Bistro on Park Avenue space in Winter Park, posted a taco special on its Facebook page recently.

Blue Jacket Grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Blue Jacket sign

The little building at 745 Bennett Road has been home to a number of food and beverage businesses over the years. It was the original location of Redlight Redlight before that popular beer bar moved to Corrine Drive. I believe there was a barbecue restaurant at one point, and in the 1990s it was a gay bar.

More recently it served as the first location for the Smiling Bison, which opened a second location in Sanford in 2015 then last year made that its only location by leaving Bennett Road.