deep blu seafood grille

Written by Scott Joseph on .

deep blu mussels

One of the best things about Visit Orlando's Magical Dining Month -- at least it was when it was first instituted -- is that it allows you to experience a restaurant that perhaps might be beyond your financial comfort zone. At some of the featured restaurants, you couldn't even afford an appetizer from the regular menu let alone a full three-course meal.

Magical Dining Month made those restaurants -- Ruth's Chris, Eddie V's and Morton's among them -- approachable. The smart restaurants knew that it was an opportunity to woo new customers, even if it was just for special occasion dining, by showcasing the best of their regular menus on the specially priced three-course Magical menu

Then some restaurants started changing what they would offer. In many cases today, the MagDinMo menu doesn't feature any items from the regular menu. What's the point of that? Others make subtle changes, such as offering smaller portions of changing the ingredients used in a dish.

When I put together my "How to Do Magical Dining Month" video last year, which emphasizes comparing the MagDinMo menu to the restaurant's regular menu, found on most of their websites, I dinged deep blu seafood grille for changing the makeup of its Bouillabaisse (the regular menu had lobster, the Magical menu did not). I had previously dinged it for its inability to use capital letters and misspellings.

So I made a point of checking deep blu's Magical menu this year, and boy howdy, is it a bargain. At least on paper -- the three entrees on the MagDinMo menu range from $35 to $42. And since the three course special menu is $35, there's no need to pull out a calculator.

Winter Park Fish Company

Written by Scott Joseph on .

WP Fishco ext

I hadn't visited the Winter Park Fish Company since it opened more than eight and a half years ago. Opening chef George Vogelbacher left the business a few years ago to cook at Maxine's on Shine. There have been lots of other changes, here and around the neighborhood (who remembers that O'boys was just up the block in the building where Ravenous Pig is now -- and where Vogelbacher's Le Cordon Bleu restaurant was for many years?).

I figured it was time to go back and check it out.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Big Fin dining room

Things have changed at Big Fin Seafood Kitchen. Then again, not so much.

What has changed is that Bobby Moore, the original owner of the restaurant in Dellagio Town Center, has retired and turned over ownership to a group that includes James Slattery, who has been the executive chef since Big Fin opened in late 2009. And because Slattery remains in the role of chef, what hasn't changed is the quality of the food. It's still first rate with some of the best seafood in Central Florida.

Grills Lakeside Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar

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Grills exterior

I've lost track of all the businesses that have occupied the space at 4315 N. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. I'm pretty sure my first encounter with the massive property on the shore of Lake Fairview was with Shooters Waterfront, an Orlando version of the Intracoastal Waterway hot spot from Ft. Lauderdale that opened here in 1990.

I know that it was a nightclub called Park Avenue, and I seem to remember that it was also known as Empire at one point.

Tim Webber, who operated a popular catering business for years in Orlando took over the space in 1996. Tim Webber's Pavilion by the Lake was a catering commissary as well as a place for private functions and parties. When I wrote in the Orlando Sentinel in November 1996 about a Sunday brunch he offered at his new place, I began the review, "What a smart thing Tim Webber has done." Two months later he filed for bankruptcy.

So to say that the property has had a troubled past is perhaps an understatement.

Something Fishy

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Fishy int

Naming restaurants is hard work. Unless you go for the obvious and default to something like Joe's Diner, it's difficult to come up with something clever, catchy and memorable that also conveys the concept. Hawkers is one that clicks on all levels. On the other hand, just about any restaurant with a number in its name is a head scratcher. I know there's a Tex-Mex restaurant in Winter Park called Cocina something or other, but I can never remember the number part of the name. It's the area code for Dallas, which would count as clever for a Tex-Mex restaurant, but memorable? No.

Like I said, it's hard work.

So what to make of Something Fishy, a seafood restaurant in Apopka? Clever? Sort of. Memorable? Yes, it is. Advisable? Ehhhhh. Should the Black Bean Deli rename itself the Musical Fruit Cafe?

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.

Progressive Dinner at Swan & Dolphin's Kimonos, Il Mulino and bluezoo

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Progressive Dinner at Walt Disney Swan Dolphin

I had a fun time recently taking part in a progressive dinner of sorts that had me and some other media members visiting the premium restaurants at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. We had been invited by the two hotels' PR team as a way of reacquainting ourselves with some restaurants we may not have visited in a while.

It had been a long while since I had been in Kimonos, the elegant sushi bar in the Swan where we started our evening. In fact, it occurred to me that the last time I did a full review of Kimonos I liked the food but I took management to task for not offering a nonsmoking section.

LemonShark Poke

Written by Scott Joseph on .

lemonshark exterior

Sometimes when a food fad starts trending, we scratch our heads in befuddlement of what all the fuss is about. (I'm looking at you, cupcakes.)

But occasionally, you'll happen upon someone who is doing the current food a la mode in such a way as to produce an aha moment, where you say, "OK, now I get it."

If you've been wondering about the surge in restaurants offering the Hawaiian raw fish bowls, your eureka! is waiting for you at LemonShark Poke on Restaurant Row.

Big Kahuna's Island Style Bowls

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Big Kahuna bowl

Things started out really well at Big Kahuna’s Island Style Bowls. And let me hasten to say that things ended nicely, too.

The middle part was frustrating.

Let’s start with the beginning. I entered the small storefront on Tuskawilla Road and was greeted by a man sitting in a large comfy chair just inside the front door. I’ll assume he was the owner — Mr. Kahuna, perhaps — and I thought is was nice that he said hello — if he had wanted to he could have pretended to just be another customer.

And I was also greeted quite genuinely by a young man behind the counter, who bade me welcome and said something along the lines of, “What can I start building for you today?”

That’s when things started to get frustrating.

Da Kine Poke

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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.