La Fogata

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Lafogata exterior

La Fogata saved my Friday night recently.

My destination was another restaurant in the complex on the southwest corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and West Sand Lake Road, across from the Florida Mall. It was an obscure place, but when you write about restaurants you look for the obscure finds, listen for leads, go hunting on a hunch.

This time it didn’t work out. My companion and I walked into the intended restaurant and were greeted with a glare by a staff member holding a microphone and tending to a very large party just inside the front door. His look made it clear that if we weren’t part of this group we didn’t really belong there that night. Although another staff member offered to show us to a booth — just a few feet away from the party and its amplified host — we said we’d come back another time and left.

Just across the way, I saw the sign for La Fogata and said, Let’s give it a try. It was delightful.

De La Vega

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Delavega exterior

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to tell you about De La Vega — I visited it some time ago. I had a pleasant enough experience, and I was actually anxious to have a non-chain, non-quick-serve restaurant to recommend to Oviedoans (Oviedoers? Oviedites?). People who live in the Oviedo/Winter Springs area.

But for some reason after I visited, my review got delayed and pushed aside. So let me correct that now.

De La Vega is in a development called Oviedo on the Park that features a well-tailored green space surrounding a lake. The evening I visited there was a festival of some sort in the park with music and food and lots of happy people drinking beer.

There were happy people inside the restaurant, too. The presumed De La Vegas of the restaurant’s name are Mano, the general manager and “rum & tequila catador,” and Nora De La Vega, the chef.

Willie's Pinchos

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Willies exterior

You would expect the pinchos at a place called Willie's Pinchos to be good. And they are. The barbecue skewers are impressively large, even before you consider the ridiculously reasonable three dollar charge. And the pork version that I had had a nice smoky flavor and a bit of sweetness from the barbecue sauce coating.

Willies pincho

It was rather plainly presented -- just the skewer of meat and some toasted Cuban bread. Apparently one is meant to either gnaw the meat off the skewer or pull it off using a slice of bread as a sort of potholder.

The pincho was good, but the Jibarito I also had was so much better, at least once I was able to find a way to eat it.

Bocas Grill & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bocas ext

I clearly ordered poorly at Bocas Grill & Bar, a South American eatery out of South Florida that recently opened a location in South Orlando. (Restaurant Row, actually, but we were on a roll with the southern thing.)

In my defense, the menu is really elaborate, with 12 pages. There are breakfast items, rice dishes, noodles, arepas, tostones, burgers, steaks and seafood. I don’t know what made me choose the Pabellón Criollo Venezolano, but I did. It was essentially Ropa Vieja with a Venezuelan accent. It featured a crock of shredded meat next to a crock of black beans, a mound of white rice and sweet plantains that for some reason were topped with cheese.

It was OK.

Naguará K'arepas

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Naguara arepa

Are you an arepas fan? If so, you're going to want to get over to the intersection of Curry Ford Road and Chickasaw Trail and try Naguará K'arepas.

If you're not an arepas fan, you should also go here; you'll soon be a fan.

If you're not sure whether you're a fan or not, it might be that you just aren't familiar with them. Arepas are essentially little round corn cakes made with masarepa, a ground cornmeal. Think of a fatter type of tortilla or a South American version of a pita.

Laurel Latin Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Laurel cuban interior

There's something about the name Laurel Latin Cuisine that I find quite forgettable. And that's not good for a restaurant that's hidden off the main thoroughfare, tucked in the back of a building on Park Avenue. So when I arranged to meet a friend for lunch in Winter Park, I said, "Let's go to that new restaurant."

"Fine," she said, "what's the name?"

"I can't remember," I responded, "but it's where Paris-Bistro used to be."

"Paris Bistro is gone?" She was shocked, even though she works just a few blocks away. That might help to explain why Paris-Bistro is gone.

"Only since April," I told her.

We met at the designated time at whatsitsname.

Now that I've eaten there, I think I'll have an easier time remember Laurel Latin Cuisine.

Brooklyn Coffee Shop

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Brooklyn Coffee sandwich lede

For a place called Brooklyn Coffee Shop, there is quite an extensive food menu at this new Mills 50 spot.

Also, for a place named after a New York borough, there's a lot of South American influences. Seattle, too. Also Miami.

But that's all explained, at least partially, on the business's website. Owners Daniel and Patricia Carvalho lived in Seattle and New York but moved to Brazil, where, in 2010, they opened the first Brooklyn Coffee Shop as a paean to Seattle's favorite liquid and Brooklyn's neighborhood bistros. That location in Curitiba and a second one there continue, though its Facebook page makes a lot of references to Orlando.

The Orlando BCS takes the space most recently occupied by Restaurant Ash, which was also the original Funky Monkey Wine Co. So there's a kitchen to be put to use.

Marita's Fresh Latin Bites

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Maritas logo

I came across a little slip of a place on the east side of town that you might want to try the next time you’re peckish for some tacos or such.

Marita’s Fresh Latin Bites opened in November in a small storefront in a strip mall on Colonial Drive. There’s a counter for ordering your food and a couple of stools at the counter and two steps behind that at the window — think the original Black Bean Deli as far as size goes.

Meson Sandwiches

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Meson exterior

There is a reason there’s usually a long line at the Meson Sandwiches at Florida Mall and in Kissimmee. I mean besides the fact that it serves some pretty tasty sandwiches.

It’s because a lot of the people waiting to order already know Meson. Even though it is relatively new to that area and there are only two locations here — with three more coming soon — many know the brand from Puerto Rico, where there are 37 locations around the island.

 It was founded by Felipe Pérez Sr. and is now run by his son, whose name is Felipe Pérez Grajales. He spoke with me recently from his office in Mayaguez, P.R.

Pérez Grajales told me that the Meson Sandwiches stores that the company is opening in Central Florida — the first ones on the mainland — are exactly the same as the ones in Puerto Rico. That includes the menu, which has quite an extensive array of sandwiches, some with rather curious names.

Meson all pro

Take the All Pro, which was one of the sandwiches I sampled when I was invited to visit the newest restaurant in Kissimmee. It features Virginia ham and pastrami with sautéed onions and melted swiss cheese on criollo bread, pressed in the fashion of other Caribbean style sandwiches.

It was a delicious sandwich, the best of what I sampled. There was something quite familiar about it to me, even though I’ve not been to a Meson in Puerto Rico.

Itar Bistro Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Itar interior

Although the name sounds like it might be the name of a far off land, Itar is actually a portmanteaux of Italy and Argentina, the two cuisines represented on the menu. It also sounds a little like Ishtar, the infamous movie that starred Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty. But that was a bomb; Itar is a hit.

I first told you that Itar Bistro Market was being planned for a space in Metro West’s Veranda Park almost exactly two years ago, in July of 12014. But it didn’t actually open until August of last year.

Itar is the project of Mariana Moya, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu who serves as the chef. Quite ably, I might add. Everything that my companion and I sampled on a recent visit was top notch, both in quality of ingredients and their preparation.