Chuan Lu Gardens East

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chuan Lu exterior

Remember the Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”? Besides having music and lyrics by U2’s Bono and The Edge, it’s most known for the trouble it had opening. It was technically complex with special effects that included actors flying on harnesses over the heads of the audience.

It is also known for having the longest preview period in the history of Broadway, 182 performances. One of the reasons the previews went on for so long was to deal with the technical problems. But the producers also knew that as long as the show was in previews, the critics would consider it off limits. But after six months, the critics decided enough was enough and one by one started attending and reviewing.

Soft opening is the restaurant equivalent of a Broadway preview. Chuan Lu Gardens is having a soft opening almost as epic as Spider-Man.

I first visited the new eastside location for Chuan Lu Gardens, whose original restaurant is in downtown Orlando’s Mills 50 district, in mid March. Even then the restaurant had been open for about three weeks. But a handwritten note taped to the door said “Soft Opening.” I went in anyway, knowing that I wouldn’t be writing a review from that visit. Indeed, the restaurant was in need of more rehearsal time, and it didn’t even involve servers flying overhead.

I checked back after two weeks and the sign was still taped to the door. It was still there two weeks after that. And still there when I stopped by this week.

Enough, I thought, time for this show to open.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sushigami booths

Sushigami might be considered Japanese fast food.

How fast?

I’m guessing a couple of miles an hour.

Sushigami is a sushi bar with a twist. Or more precisely, a twirl. Guests sit at a sushi counter or at one of the booths and plates of sushi rolls roll by on a tiny conveyor belt that snakes along a winding path. If you see something that you like or that looks good to you, you lift the dome-covered plate from the belt and enjoy.

This is not a new concept. It’s not even new to Orlando, and Sushigami has been at its location in Florida Mall for a while.

La Merce

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Lamerce interior

Why is it so difficult for people strolling Park Avenue in search of a restaurant to turn a corner?

Sure, there are plenty of restaurants with a bona fide Park Avenue address that are worth dining at. But there are other eateries every bit as worthy of attention just off the main thoroughfare. And I’m talking mere steps, not blocks away.

Consider the space at 155 E. Morse Blvd., the current home of La Merce, a cafe with a Spanish-leaning European menu. On a recent day at the height of the lunch hour while most of the Park Ave restaurants were brimming with diners, I walked into a La Merce so empty that my arrival seemed to startle someone who walked out of the kitchen while I waited at the front door.

I remained the sole diner the entire time I was there, the only one to listen to the mournful-sounding songs of a flamenco guitarist and singer, Diego el Cigala, that played over the sound system.

Firefly Kitchen and Bar

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Firefly menu

When my order of Chicken & Dumplings eventually arrived, I immediately noticed something was missing. I mean other than a spoon with which to eat it. It seemed to be devoid of dumplings. So not chicken & dumplings. Chicken &.

This was at Firefly Kitchen and Bar, the business that has taken over the former Taps space in Winter Park Village.

I confirmed the dumpling deficit after I was given a spoon — a teaspoon instead of soup spoon — and fished through the thick and tepid broth. Although ordered as a first course, the soup was served simultaneously with the burger that I had ordered as an entree. So I pushed the bowl aside and concentrated on the burger.

Da Kine Poke

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Dakine counter

It only took me a year, but I finally tried Da Kine Poke, another food business that started as a food truck and then became mostly nonmobile. It celebrated its anniversary this week.

They’ve taken over part of the Meat House in Winter Park. Or maybe it’s the Local Butcher and Market. It’s a little confusing. The Meat House is a franchise butcherie that opened in Winter Park in 2011. Then some locals announced they were buying the business and changing the name to the Local.

That was in October. Of 2015.

It still says the Meat House on the outside of the building, but my receipt read “the Local.” So who knows?

But Da Kine Poke is still Da Kine Poke.

Posto 9

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Posto9 dining room

Update: Shortly following the publication of this review, Posto 9's management discontinued the "no tipping" policy described here.

Who knew Lakeland could have such a wonderful restaurant?

Not to demean Lakeland, but I’ve never thought of it as a dining destination, rather a place one passes through on the interstate on the way to the coast to check out a new restaurant in Tampa or St. Pete or somewhere down the coast. Lakeland, I’d surmised, was the sort of place you’d find Harry’s, the Florida chainlet “seafood bar and grille” that indeed sits on a corner across from downtown’s Munn Park.

But just around the corner, in the middle of a block on Main Street, you’ll find Posto 9, a destination-worthy restaurant with charm, atmosphere and very good food.

Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Reelfish exterior

When the owners of the Ravenous Pig announced, in October, that they would be moving the popular restaurant up the road, the original space was immediately snatched up by Fred Thimm for a new concept, Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen + Bar. That restaurant opened in February.

Thimm, former vice president and chief operating officer of Hard Rock International, said when we spoke in October that he had always been in love with coastal cuisine and that his intention was to create a coastal kitchen in an inland setting.

The idea was to create “a contemporary version of a classic fish camp,” which, the restaurant’s website explains, were simple, rustic eateries established during the Depression to provide workers and families “fuss-free fresh fish” (a phrase I will not attempt to utter when this review airs on WMFE-90.7).

Capsized Kitchen

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Capsized sign

Sometimes you find little gems in the oddest of places. And you won’t find too many places for a small take-out eatery than this one. It’s Capsized Kitchen, a small seafood-centric restaurant, tucked in a corner of a Sunoco gas station.

Let’s pause here while everyone gets the gas and grease jokes out of the way. Ready?

But there it is, past the shelves of the convenience store part of the station, a corner of the small structure with a professional grade kitchen operated, apparently, by a staff of two. As far as I could figure out, one is the main cook and the other helps out and takes the orders. Sometimes helping out takes precedence over taking orders.

Nonno's Italian Restaurant

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Nonno exterior

When it was announced, in December, that Stefano LaCommare would be coming out of retirement to help out at his son’s restaurant, Nonno’s, many people were excited at the prospect of having him back in a kitchen.

The reality is even better: he’s back in the dining room.

LaCommare and his wife, Marie, have owned and operated several restaurants in the area over the last few decades. Stefano’s Trattoria in Winter Springs was the most recent. A popular destination for families and lovers of uncomplicated cuisine, Stefano’s also became a workplace for the LaCommare’s children, including their son, Leonardo, or Leo.

So when they sold Stefano’s, in 2015, along with the name and the recipes, they declared themselves retired. Their daughter Antonella and her husband, Frank Paradiso, opened their own place, Antonella’s Pizzeria, in Winter Park.

Apparently Leo, who like his father is a cook, wanted his own restaurant, too, so he opened Nonno’s Italian Restaurant in Altamonte Springs. It is Stefano’s in almost every way except by name.

Tin & Taco

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tin and Taco ext

Now comes another player in the craft taco game: Tin & Taco, a downtown quick-server hawking “Craft Tacos. Craft Beers. Craft Soda” from a small storefront on Washington Street just west of Orange Avenue.

The Tin of the name apparently refers to the metal trays the food is served on, the sort of conveyance usually seen in George Raft prison movies.

The Taco part of the name refers, unstartlingly, to tacos, though not exclusively. You may also get your chosen ingredients wrapped within a burrito or in a bowl with rice or served in a bag of Doritos.

Most of the selections are $8, which gets you two “tacos.” It’s nice, however, that you’re allowed to get different varieties to make up your twosome. I chose the Taco Bomb and the Tacosaurus and went conventional taco with both, though I was tempted by the bag of Doritos gimmick (and if it had been 2:45 a.m. on a weekend there would have been no question).