Mrs. Potato

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mrs Potato rosti

I wonder what Mrs. Potato's maiden name was. And is she related the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head? Do they call their kids tots?

I'm also wondering if Mrs. Potato is Brazilian or Swiss?

Bates New England Seafood & Steakhouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

bates ext

I drove out to Ocoee the other day and found myself back in 1988.

Well, not really, but as I had dinner at Bates New England Seafood & Steakhouse, I couldn't help thinking of when Boston's Fish House opened in Winter Park. That was when good seafood restaurants were hard to come by in Central Florida, which is odd to think of today considering we're essentially surrounded by seawater.

It's even odder that one of the best new seafood restaurants in town was flying its fish in from New England.

So does Bates. And just like Boston's before it, it features New England specialities like Ipswich or whole belly clams and seafood platters of breaded and deep-fried fish, shrimp, scallops and other things from the sea.

And it's all done very well.

What to Have at Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, and a New Party for the Senses

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Epcot FW 2017 cover

There's still over a month left to go in the 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which began on the last day of August this year and runs through Nov. 13. Not only is the festival longer than in years past, it's also bigger, spreading out farther into Future World West than before.

Like other businesses in Central Florida, Walt Disney World was affected by Hurricane Irma when it hit the area in September. There was little damage, according to Epcot executive chef Gregg Hannon, but the storm did have an affect on attendance. Not only leading up to the projected landfall and the ultimate closing of the park while Irma was passing through, but also afterwards, especially with locals who were busy dealing with cleanup and facing unexpected repair costs. It's difficult to justify the expense of visiting the Food & Wine Festival -- and it is a costly affair that includes required admission fee to the park -- when you have to repair a roof or pay someone to remove fallen limbs.

And, of course, there's the heat, which makes some people want to wait for cooler times.

I was lucky enough to be invited to experience some of the festival's food items in the cool comfort of a media event inside the World Showplace. And I was invited to experience a Party for the Senses, which has some major changes this year. More about that in a moment. (Click on the video below.)

Pho 4 U

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pho4u pho cu

I've never quite had a challenge like the one I faced with the noodles at Pho 4 U, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Longwood apparently aimed at the texting segment.

There was something immediately recognizable as different with the noodles in my pho -- number 41 on the menu, with eye round steak, flank and meatball chunks. They were flatter and wider than the noodles you usually see, more like fettuccine than the usual vermicelli-like noodles. And they were quite unchopstickable.

Orlando Meats

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Orlando Meats burger

You could expect a boutique butcher that also sells prepared foods to have a good burger, but good doughnuts?

I pretty much knew what I wanted as soon as I scanned the small menu board over the ordering counter at Orlando Meats, a small butchery on Virginia Drive. As someone who always orders his burgers medium rare, I couldn't pass up one whose entry on the menu actually reads "Medium-rare Burger."

It was either the burger or the item called the Heartbreaker, which features fried pig heart. Tough sell. Maybe if they were called something else. Perhaps Orlando Meats should take a cue from the marketers who turned assorted glands into sweetbreads or bull testicles into Rocky Mountain oysters. Maybe Pig Beaters? Just a thought.

But where was I? Oh yeah, standing at the counter and ordering my Medium Rare Burger that I did not have to specify be cooked medium rare from a patient young man, who I later learned is the owner.

The Halal Guys

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Halal guys plate

If you've ever been to New York City and wandered around the area of 6th Avenue and West 53d Street -- and as a tourist, there's a pretty good chance you have since it's in the area of Rockefeller Center and the corner that the New York Hilton is on -- you've undoubtedly seen an omnipresent food stand there where meats and onions are cooked on a griddle day and night and mounded in a corner of the hot surface awaiting customers.

You may have even ordered a pita sandwich there. I did, many, many years ago, on one of my early visits to the city, while attending a convention, at the Hilton, in fact, in the days before I became a food writer. It was convenient, and cheap, especially for New York, and for someone unfamiliar with the city an easy and unintimidating choice.

I'm sure at the time I thought I was experiencing real New York food.

Kona Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kona plate

Silly me, I was expecting Hawaiian, or at least Polynesian. I mean, what else should one infer from a name like Kona Grill?

And there are a lot of Asian and Pacific Rimmy kinds of dishes on the menu. There are sushi offerings and the requisite poke bowls, some egg rolls and some stir-frys.

But of course the first thing I spot on the large menu is Jambalaya. The second thing is a Cuban Sandwich. So immediately I'm thinking WTF, which stands for What's the Theme?

Umi Makes Magical Dining Month a Little More Magical

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Umi two rolls

How's your Magical Dining Month going? Mine's going great, thanks for asking. If yours needs a boost, I have a suggestion for you: Umi Japanese Restaurant on Park Avenue.

I was invited to sample their MagDinMo menu and I was really impressed. For one thing, Umi offers four courses instead of the usual three that other participating restaurants have. At one point I had to ask to make sure they weren't doing something special for me -- I was assured that everyone gets the same treatment, which includes impressive portions.

A Progressive Meal with a Moderate Congresswoman

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Murphy dinner cupcakes

Earlier in the summer I received an intriguing invitation from an assistant to U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy: "Congresswoman Murphy would like to offer an invitation for you to tour downtown Sanford's exciting restaurants," the note read. "She would be honored if you would join her on this food tour." The honor would be mine, I replied, and we set up a date.

Murphy, a Democrat representing Florida's 7th Congressional District, is the first Vietnamese-American woman -- and only the second Vietnamese-American -- elected to Congress. Her family fled Communist-controlled Vietnam when she was six months old. She, her parents and brother were rescued by the U.S. Navy when the boat they were on lost power. She defeated the 23-year Republican incumbent, John Mica, in the 2016 election.

Murphy, 39, lives in Winter Park with her husband, Sean, and two children. But she wanted to showcase the burgeoning restaurant scene in Sanford, so we arranged to meet at The Corner Cafe near her Sanford office.

Urbain 40

Written by Scott Joseph on .

urbain40 fountain

I took the occasion of Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month to revisit Urbain 40, which recently changed chefs. I needn't have waited because I ended up setting the MagDinMo menu aside and ordering from the regular menu anyway.

Urbain 40 opened in late 2015 at the Dellagio plaza on Restaurant Row. Despite some issues with service, I liked the restaurant very much, especially the decor and atmosphere, which is classic French brasserie on a par with Bofinger or Le Procope in Paris, and the food, which was under the direction of French native Jean-Stephane Poinard. Poinard's menu reflected his Central France and Lyon upbringing, classic French fare.

But Urbain 40 and Poinard parted ways.

Just a few months after Urbain 40 opened, Tim Keating and Flying Fish Cafe also parted ways when the Disney restaurant closed for the months-long renovations that would rename it Flying Fish.

Keating is now overseeing Urbain 40 and has instituted a menu that is less classically French and more reflective of an American brasserie (which he told me was always the direction the restaurant had meant to go).