Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

nile platter

I had the opportunity recently to join some people for a dinner at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant and found it to be just as wonderful as before.

I was also pleased to find it still doing well after 13 years.

We had other Ethiopian restaurants open in Central Florida before Nile, but for some reason they never lasted more than a year. I always assumed it was the location – one of the early Ethiopian restaurants was in a motel at 33d Street and I-4 and another was in a strip mall on South Orange Blossom Trail. Nile was smarter in choosing International Drive where a diverse clientele could find it.

It was even smarter to serve excellent food.

Paris Bahn Mi

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Paris bahn exterior

Paris Banh Mi Cafe Bakery has opened in a spacious corner spot in the Mills 50 District. And as its name suggests, it’s a combination French patisserie and Vietnamese eatery.

It was a banh mi – the distinctly Vietnamese sandwich – that brought me to the little shop. But it was the display of pastries that made the first impression.

The Boathouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Boathouse exterior

I don’t think I’d fully appreciated what a beautiful and elaborate space the Boathouse of Disney Springs is. From its expansive bar, the multiple dining rooms and the satellite open-air lounge that sits over the lagoon, it is a well-polished collection of woods, brass and early-nautical decor – even a full-size vintage Chris Craft boat – with the white tableclothed elegance of a yacht club.

I wish the food rose to the same level.

Vinia Wine Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Vinia bar

We restaurant critics love to talk about our “finds” – new or obscure, out of the way restaurants that haven’t been touted but deserve to be.

I’m not sure a place that has been open for more than a year and is in the heart of Winter Park’s Hannibal Square qualifies as new or out of the way, but I sure was happy to find Vinia Wine Bar.

It’s actually easy to miss, even if you frequent the stretch of New England Avenue where it is located. The other restaurants – Armando’s, Pepe’s Cantina, Chez Vincent, Hannibal’s – are more visible and grab the attention of passersby.

Vinia is on the other side of the street from those businesses and at the top of a stoop in a building that doesn’t look like it holds a wine bar and restaurant. Indeed, until Fabio and Paula Gamba took it over last year the space was a shoe store. (Actually, from the outside it doesn’t look like a shoe store, either.)

Thai Express

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Thai Express exterior

The little outparcel building in front of the Costco in the Millenia area is becoming quite the United Nations of fast fooders. There’s a Tijuana Flats representing Mexico (and the U.S. via Texas), a Sus Hi Eatstation for Japan, and now a Thai Express, representing Canada.

Well, yes, Thailand, too. But Thai Express is a Canadian-born franchise, which you might deduce from the Quebecois company’s Facebook page, which is in Frenchand the Millenia location is its first in Florida.

When I first walked into the compact space I was a bit concerned that this was going to be a Thai version of an assemblage restaurant. But it’s not. It simply offers basic Thai dishes quickly, just as the name suggests.

Don Julio's Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar (and Ceviche Bar)

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Don Julio dining room

It would seem that the place to be on a Friday night if you live in the area of Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road is Don Julio’s Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar. At least it seemed that way the Friday evening my companion and I stopped in. The restaurant in the aptly named Rio Pina Plaza was jumping like veritable frijoles saltarines.

It was so crowded that people waiting for tables were standing around on the sidewalk outside the strip plaza storefront. The only seats available, the young woman at the host stand told us, were at either of the bars, the tequila bar in the title or the ceviche bar on the other side of the room.

That suited us just fine because it was the ceviche bar that drew my attention to this particular D. Julio’s over the one in Lake Mary or the other location in Waterford Lakes. That’s because the ceviche bar is under the direction of chef Roberto Treviño, a former contestant on variations of the Iron Chef cooking competitions who previously owned El Buda, the Latin and Asian fusion restaurant in an ill-fated (and well hidden) Church Street Station space.

But even with Treviño’s credentials, his association with the Mexican restaurant is not touted very highly. In fact, I didn’t spot his name anywhere on the multipage menu.

Alex's Fresh Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

alexs top

Stopped by a pleasant little breakfast and lunch spot in Casselberry the other day called Alex’s Fresh Kitchen.

The Alex of Alex’s Fresh Kitchen is Alexander Diaz. His restaurant is a small storefront in the same compact group of businesses that also holds Palma Maria Italian restaurant and Aladdin’s Middle Eastern Cuisine.

The menu, like the restaurant, isn’t large but has an even balance of morning and noon items, including pancakes, granola and egg croissant for the former and salads and sandwiches for the latter.

10th Annual Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FWClassic19 band

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic has grown as large as its name. What once was contained to the causeway that links the two hotel properties now spreads out along the waterway and extends to themed areas around the pool and in various courtyards and even into the hotel, where the Bubble Lounge was festooned with champagne colored balloons as attendants poured high end sparkling wines.

All of the event was moved indoors for the Friday edition of the of the two-night festival because of rain. I can recall that happening at least once before, in 2011, so I know the hotel staff as a good contingency plan. But there’s no doubt that the Food & Wine Classic is at its best when its outdoors.

FWClassic19 tents

And it was on Saturday evening when I attended along with a few thousand other folks. Despite the high turnout, lines for food and drink were short and manageable. That could be because there were so many food and wine stations that it kept everyone spread out.

Mai Thai

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Maithai interior

Downtown Orlando's central business district now has three Thai restaurants, and two are within a block of each other.

Mai Thai recently took over the space at 22 E. Pine St. vacated when Artisan’s Table moved to Church Street. That puts it just a hop, skip and a tom kha gai away from Napasorn, at 56 E. Pine and close to Thai Cafe on Magnolia Avenue.

Mai Thai wants to be known as an Asian fusion restaurant, though like everything else in life wanting it doesn’t make it so. About the only thing fusionesque on the menu is the Duck Tacos, but I’ll come back to those in a moment.

MT apparently also wants to be both a restaurant and a nightclub. Apparently, after dinner service the tables and chairs are moved out of the dining room to clear way for a dance floor. That might make one wonder how serious a restaurant it wants to be, fusion or otherwise.

The Whiskey's Master Series Chef's Table

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Whiskey series room

The team down at the Whiskey, the Restaurant Row tavern and restaurant, hosted a Master Series Chef’s Table recently and proved why it’s known for so much more than burgers.

Whiskey series salad line

Executive chef Chastity Harvey started the multi-course dinner with a Ratatouille Napoleon, stylishly served in a rolled cucumber with fresh greens plumage. Bacon jam and elderflower dressing were also part of the cool package.