903 Mills Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

903 front

I first wrote about 903 Mills Market in 2003 when original owners Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over what had previously been known as Max’s Market and made it a Lake Davis neighborhood hangout.

Since then, I’ve conservatively driven past the corner cafe more than 2000 times — I live nearby, but given the vagaries of a restaurant critic’s life, casual, nonprofessional meals are something of a rarity.

But on a recent Sunday morning, not wanting to make breakfast or drive far away, I grabbed the other half and the dog (the other quarter?) and we took a stroll to the corner of Mills Avenue and Gore Street.

Tasting Notes: 2014 Mad Violets Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

Mad Violets label

Tasting Notes for 2014 Mad Violets Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir.

Mad Violets was started by Sterling Fox and Kelly Kidneigh in Oregon. They are a family team, Sterling grows the grapes, and Kelly makes the wine. They have created these wines that are so illustrious of Oregon. They created Mantis reserve using their favorite barrels from vintage selection and bled them together. 2014 was a six barrel blend, and those six barrels came from two vineyard sites. They used Buttonfield vineyard Pinot Noir (which is one they own) and Trout Lilly Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir. All Pinot Noir used in the blends are two types of clones the first being Pommard clones, and the second being 777 clones. The wine is blended and made to age.

How I have been taught to taste wine is as follows:

Bull & Bear

Written by Scott Joseph on .

BullandBear dining room

While so many fine dining restaurants and high-end steakhouses are pulling back and reconfiguring themselves to be more casual — Shula’s Steakhouse at the Dolphin comes to mind — Bull & Bear maintains its commitment to elegance and high quality. It’s one of the reasons it was voted Best Restaurant Overall in our 2018 Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

The restaurant opened almost exactly 10 years ago, in September 2009, in what was then the first Waldorf Astoria outside of Manhattan, and it was named for the iconic steakhouse located inside the original hotel. Other Waldorf Astorias have opened since, but none has a restaurant called Bull & Bear. And with the original Waldorf Astoria closed for renovations, the restaurants along with it, Orlando’s is now the only Bull & Bear. Word is that when the New York Waldorf reopens as a combination hotel and condominium complex, Bull & Bear may not reopen with it. So the Orlando restaurant truly does offer a unique dining experience.

Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Zasian pho cu 2

Z Aisan Vietnamese Kitchen is one of the latest to join the Mills 50 lineup of eateries in what is historically the center of the city’s Asian community. For a long time, each new Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the area seemed no different than those that had come before. The menus were the same, which is to say voluminous and repetitive, and even the decors seemed cookie cutter and stereotypical.

But that’s started to change in the past few years. Menus are more thoughtful and aren’t intent on presenting every possible combination of ingredients. And even the restaurants themselves seem more modern and up to date.

One restaurant that I thought did a nice job of modernizing the Vietnamese dining experience was Mai Bistro, which opened in late 2017 and unfortunately closed in early 2018.

Now Z Asian has moved into the same space and it, too, offers a more modernistic approach to the Vietnamese dining experience while still paying homage to the traditional recipes.

Supper Club Redux: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster and Chalk Hill Estate Wines

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners sc steak and mush

Scott Joseph’s Supper Club convened recently at Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster for a sold-out evening of fine food, stellar service and exceptional wines from Chalk Hill Estate.

Supper Clubbers were greeted by Alice Christner, who curated the seating chart for the tables in our private dining room. Christner was giddy about leaving the following day on a vacation — the first that she and her husband, David, had taken, she said, since they joined David’s mother, Carol, in running the restaurant following Russ Christner’s death in 2005. (Those of you who are thinking about owning a restaurant, take note of the committment.)

First Watch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

First Watch dining

Until last week, I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a First Watch, but I could tell you the first time.

That was in 1988, in Phoenix, and my erstwhile colleagues at the newspaper I had recently been laid off from wanted to take me out to a goodbye lunch before I headed to Orlando and a new job. One of my friends suggested we go to a place that had opened near the newspaper’s offices. It was new to town, open only for breakfast and lunch and was called First Watch.

Inasmuch as that was 31 years ago, I can’t remember a whole lot about the experience. But I can tell you a lot about the brunch I had recently at the First Watch in the Waterford Lakes area. I was invited to join FW’s regional marketing manager to see what’s new at First Watch, both in the restaurant’s ambiance and its menu. And to try something unique to this Central Florida location: alcohol.

The Waterford Lakes location is among the first to experiment with adding a bar, something you might not expect in a restaurant that’s open only until 2:30 p.m. daily. But when you consider the popularity of brunch cocktails — and this location’s proximity to UCF — it makes sense.

And you should know that this is not a name-your-drink bar; there isn’t even a bartender. Instead, First Watch features an array of premixed cocktails made with juices juiced in house daily.

Terroir and the Part it Plays in Wine

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

 

Vineyard France

This is the second in a series of columns by wine expert Brittney Coutts.

What is Terroir? It’s a simple yet so complex and so controversial idea. To understand the basics of it, you have to think all the way back to freshman year Biology class, and try to remember learning about Phenotype and Genotype.

The genotype is the genetic characteristics that the plant or animal carries from its parents responsible for one particular trait. Phenotype is all of the other observable characteristics, which are affected by both environment and those genetic characteristics.
According to Webster, the exact definition of terroir (pronounced Ter-Waar) is the completely natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. The characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced. So again, affecting the phenotype of the plant. Honestly, this is where it gets controversial. Why? Well, many wine scholars believe this theory of terroir to be true, but as much as they want to shun the non-believers, they make some pretty solid arguments.

Before we get into their arguments let's breakdown what Terroir is as a whole. Terroir is four main components that interact with each other to create a sense of place.

Toledo -- Tapas, Steak & Seafood

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Toledo interior

So it turns out that Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí were good friends. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

In 1945 the two began a collaboration on an animated short film called Destino. It went unfinished until Disney’s nephew, Roy, completed and released it in 2003. It’s a little over six minutes and can be viewed on YouTube.

It’s phantasmagorical and classically surreal with plenty of Dalí trademarks, including several things that melt. At one point, a hole opens in the palm of the main character and ants crawl out, then the ants morph into men riding bicycles with baguettes on their heads. Disney and Dalí must have had a lot of fun planning the film. Or at least, ahem, getting in the mood for it.

As I said, it’s a little over six minutes but that’s enough to inspire the Gran Destino Tower, a 16 story, 545 room addition to the Coronado Springs Resort, and to provide the backstory for the new top-floor restaurant, Toledo, and the adjacent Dahlia Lounge. Pronounce the name of the restaurant like the city in Spain, toh-LAY-doh, and not the one in Ohio. Otherwise the lounge would be called Dayton.

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.

Soco 2019

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco Patio

It hardly seems possible that Soco Thornton Park is approaching its fifth anniversary. The upscale casual restaurant, whose name means Southern contemporary, opened in fall of 2014 in the space that for many years had been Hue restaurant.

Much has happened with restaurants in the Thornton Park area in those years. Soco opened under the aegis of the then newly formed Thornton Park Restaurant Group, which had incorporated its existing Cityfish a few doors down into the group. In that time, Cityfish closed, TPRG opened and closed Baoery in that space, and Jax Thornton Park has moved in.

Around the corner, the Tijuana Flats became Verde Cantina and is now Jinya Ramen Bar. A block away, Mucho Tequila and Tacos became Muddy Waters and is now Menagerie. That’s a lot of change and turnover in a relatively short amount of time.

But Soco has remained a constant.