Buster's Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Busters interior

It was a photo on the website for Buster’s Bistro that threw me. I had heard of the Sanford restaurant and had gone online to do some preliminary research. I was meeting some friends for dinner and wanted something a little more upscale. On one of Buster’s web pages was a photo of a dining room with the tables covered in crisp white cloths. Just what I was looking for.

Buster’s Bistro is a bar. A Belgian bar, to be precise.

And the tables are not covered with cloths, white or otherwise. (The photo that hooked me was from a special event, apparently.)

But BB’s menu is more ambitious than most bars, with such selections as Short Rib Carbonnade, Vol-au-Vent, and Tikka Masala Curry. The results are as varied as the selections.

La Boucherie

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Boucherie exterior

In the 15 or so times I’ve been to France, I’ve never once come across La Boucherie, which, on the website for the chain’s first U.S. location, now open in Orlando, claims to be “France’s most popular steakhouse.”

So I can’t attest to how the experience of the Orlando restaurant compares to one in Paris. Or Morocco, Russia or Thailand for that matter. I wonder if they use the same ridiculously flimsy napkins, and if so why. Or if their menus have garish photographs like you’d see in a 24-hour diner. Or trite phrases in menu descriptions like “Need ‘oui’ say more?”, which doesn’t really make sense.

DoveCote Revisited

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.

Cafe 906

Written by Scott Joseph on .

cafe 906 interior

Exactly one month from today I will step off a plane in Paris, beginning a week of food, wine and more food and wine as part of a tour I'm co-leading with Kevin Fonzo and Art in Voyage - Beyond Travel. I can't wait -- it's been almost five months since my last visit to Paris. Luckily, I'll only have to wait three months after this trip to return.

I sort of like Paris.

One of the great comforts of Paris is waking up and strolling to one of the neighborhood boulangeries for freshly baked croissants, sitting in the flat on the balcony as the sun streams in, sipping coffee and nibbling on the croissant with just a smear of butter or jam.

I don't know why it should be so difficult to find suitable croissants stateside. But I found a pretty good one at Cafe 906 in Baldwin Park. In fact, with the exception of the atmosphere, which is a little too industrial, Cafe 906 is a very nice French cafe.

Tartine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Tartine interior

How could I not order something called a Tallow Candle? Tallow is a more lyrical name for lard, and the very thought of it whisked me back to a bar in Firenze that listed lardo as one its bar snacks. And it was just what it promised: little chunks of lard to put on a cracker or slice of bread. With each bite it was like saying, "Here it comes, arteries; deal with it."

Tartine tallow

A Tallow Candle, as presented at Tartine in College Park, sounded like a more inventive presentation. And it was. Essentially, the tallow was in the form of a tea candle with a lighted wick that was to melt the lard into a spreadable goo. Unfortunately, unless you're willing to wait a long time, the flame is insufficient to melt the lard. And it wasn't really worth the wait. But I appreciated the effort.

Le Cirque Pops Up Over Downtown Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Le Cirque tabletop

A bit of New York iconicity came to town recently when famed Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque staged a pop-up restaurant at Orlando’s Citrus Club. The dinner, part of a traveling series in partnership with ClubCorp, operators of the private club, was a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. It was a reprise, of sorts, of the pop-up restaurant Le Cirque staged in 2012, though it seemed to be carried out better this time.

I was invited to attend the dinner, which was hosted in part by Carlo Mantica, co-managing member of Maccioni Group, owners of Le Cirque, Sirio and Circo. I was a guest at the table of Andrew Gross, who is bringing Circo to Orlando next year.

The dinner was also a chance to try certain Le Cirque menu selections under the direction of Massimo Bebber, who was hired as the restaurant’s executive chef in 2014. The kitchens of Le Cirque have been a springboard to such chefs as Daniel Boulud, David Bouley, Terrance Brennan, Rick Moonen and Sottha Khun. A dinner I experienced at Le Cirque 2000 when it was housed at New York’s Palace Hotel and with Kuhn at the helm is still one of the top meals I’ve had.

DoveCote

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

Dovecote walls

 I’ve now been to DoveCote, the new brasserie in downtown Orlando, a half dozen times. I’m pretty sure that’s a pre-review record, especially considering it opened just over a month ago. The previous record was five visits, to a forgotten restaurant many years ago that required the extra scrutiny to break the tie between good experiences and not-so-good. (Ultimately, it tipped in the not-so-good category, which is probably why the restaurant is forgotten.)

That wasn’t the case with DoveCote, and to be clear, not all of the visits were purpose-driven with this review in mind. Some were a matter of convenience, needing a convenient downtown venue for a meeting, and at least one visit was from an invitation from friends.

And no tie-breaker was needed because in fact I liked DoveCote. There were a few missteps along the way, but nothing too unusual for a new restaurant or anything that portends trouble in the longterm. DoveCote is a welcome addition not only to downtown Orlando but to the Central Florida dining scene at large.

Much has already been said about the impressive pedigrees of the partners in the venture. They include executive chef Clay Miller, whose resume includes stints at the estimable French Laundry and who was the opening executive chef and pastry chef at Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton; and Gene Zimmerman, owner of the downtown craft cocktail lounge The Courtesy, who oversees the front of the house operations for DoveCote, including its beverage program. The two of them are the co-owners, but Ravenous Pig’s James and Julie Petrakis are involved as advisers and investors.

But one of the most impressive things about the new restaurant is the space itself. It has undergone a transformation that is, well, transformative. Occupying a corner of the imposing Bank of America building, the restaurant space has held many tenants over the years, all of which kept the same basic decor dominated by the cold, gray sandstone walls. That look and feel is fine for the bank across the lobby but hardly made for a comfortable dining atmosphere.

(For history buffs, other restaurants that occupied the space have included Bakerstreet, Ettore’s, and Harvey’s Bistro, which stayed for the longest stretch, from 1992 to 2009. Then came a handful of failed ventures, including Terrace 390 and Terrace 390 Bistro. As for the structure itself, it has been known as the DuPont building, the First F.A. Tower and the Barnett Bank building before B of A came in.)

With the reimagined interior, designer Drew White of Lot 1433 has covered all of the sandstone and created a post-modern brasserie. On one of the larger walls is a splashy mural, by Brigan Gresh, in deep blues and gold leaf that seems a mashup of Klimpt, Chagall and Miro styles. False frames have been added to the large windows to add a bit of quaintness and white-glass globe light fixtures offer an iconic note.

Dovecote kitchen

The bar has been expanded, mostly to allow more room behind it, and the kitchen is now open and visible from the side dining area, known as the Livingston Room. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of all of the design choices, though I love that someone was daring enough to make them — not sure what the white steel girders are doing there, other than to bring down the feel of the voluminous ceiling and to allow a perch for a fake bird. Dovecote is a French word for a pigeon sanctuary, so I guess we should be grateful that chicken wire wasn’t employed in the decor.

And before you ask, no, squab is not on the menu.

Looking for Vacation Restaurant Recommendations? There are No Guarantees

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Cognac front

As a restaurant critic, I’m used to being asked by locals and visitors for recommendations on where to dine, whether in my home area of Central Florida or in the various cities I’ve visited on my own travels.

(And no, to answer a question I’m often posed, I don’t mind being asked for recommendations. In fact, I’ll mind it very much when people stop asking.)

Especially when we travel, we want to know that a restaurant will be as close to a “sure thing” as possible. I’m no different. Yes, I enjoy the thrill of finding an out of the way place that no one else has written much about that delivers an extraordinary dining experience. But if I’m vacationing in, say, France, I don’t want to waste a meal on mediocre food. I want all of my meals to be exceptional.

So then, how does a restaurant critic find new places to visit when traveling? Well, sometimes I do the same thing others do: consult my counterparts in the cities I’m visiting. I also do other research, reading online reviews, though being careful to take extreme praises and condemnations with the proverbial grain of salt, and looking through articles and comments.

I also look for more oblique clues.

Such an indirect clue led me to Brasserie Cognac in New York recently. I cancelled a reservation I had for an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side and made one at Cognac all because of an interview with Eric Ripert that was published in the New York Times earlier in the month.

Ripert is the celebrated chef of the much lauded Le Bernadin just a few blocks away. (I also revisited Le Bernadin on the recent visit and will share my experience there with you soon.) In the opening sentences of the interview, by reporter Jeff Gordinier, Ripert is described as sliding into a banquette and ordering without even opening a menu. If Ripert, a native of France, finds the restaurant so classically French, and an exceptional place to be interviewed in, I’m there.

What a huge disappointment it was.

Bistro Le Coq Au Vin Dr. Phillips

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

Bistro Le Coq croque

Well, isn’t Restaurant Row getting all Frenchy?

I recently told you about Urbain 40, a newcomer to the Dellagio Plaza. Now here’s a version of a local favorite with a name that is really a bouche full: (deep breath) Bistro Le Coq Au Vin Dr. Phillips.

Chef and owner Reimund Pitz took over the space in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips that had been briefly occupied by Bistro CloClo. It’s not a replica of the popular South of Downtown Le Coq Au Vin. Whereas the main restaurant is more of a full restaurant experience, the new place is bistro-ier, hence the name.

Urbain 40

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Urbain 40 Interior

Orlando has a new contender for best new restaurant, and the list of Central Florida chefs vying for national recognition and awards is almost certainly to add another name.

The restaurant is Urbain 40, a chic and classy brasserie that opened last month at Dellagio Plaza in the Restaurant Row district, and the chef is Jean-Stephane Poinard, a French native who of late has been holding forth at St. Augustine’s Bistro de Leon.

Before we go any further, I need to mention that although I made my reservation anonymously, I was recognized when I arrived. Subsequently, I was served a chef’s degustation and was not presented a check. (In such situations, I always leave money on the table.) That said, I must also point out that although I liked Urbain 40 and Poinard’s food very much, the experience was not a perfect one. The service staff is unpolished and lacks training, and even rudimentary knowledge of the menu and food preparations was missing. That will need to be addressed if the restaurant is to join any Best Of list.

But in terms of atmosphere and food, Urbain 40 is already there. The former Cantina Laredo space has been transformed — at a cost of $2.5 million, I was told — into a brasserie as Parisian as any you’d find on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Wood paneled walls, crisp white table linens, stylish banquettes and upholstered chairs add a touch of elegance. Proper attention was given to lighting, including specially designed fixtures that angle by the dozens from the walls over the tables, and golden chandeliers with a pantograph design overhead. Even the black-and-white small format tile floor so typical of French bistros is there, though I think I would have discouraged the tiled spelling of “Bon Appetit” on one edge. One design element came without extra charge: The massive Dellagio fountain in the center courtyard fills the window and gives the setting a bit of majesty.