Chai Thai Orange Avenue

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Restaurant Review: Chai Thai Orange Avenue

A year and a half ago I told you about a new little Thai restaurant called Chai Thai. Now that little restaurant has another little location. One more and it will qualify as a chain -- and it would only have to add an n to the end of its name.

The two locations couldn’t be more different in style -- one has some, the other doesn’t.

Well, maybe that’s a little harsh, but the original Chai Thai occupies a space that has been a number of restaurants, most recently -- and for a good long time -- a Chinese eatery and various other cuisines, including Spanish. The place is well-worn and frankly a bit drab.

But the new location, on Orange Avenue across from the SoDo complex, has a fresh newness about it, from its slatelike flooring to the highly polished dark wood tabletops.

Both locations, however, share the same sincere friendliness of the staffers and, most importantly, fine food.


Timpano Martini Bar & Chophouse

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Restaurant Review: Timpano Martini Bar & Chophouse on Restaurant Row Orlando

timpano-photo2Timpano was one of the first to set up along what I would eventually dub Restaurant Row Orlando. It seems longer than just seven years ago, doesn’t it? So much has changed along that strip of road.

And luckily a lot has changed with Timpano, as well.

When it first opened, the restaurant was called Timpano Italian Chophouse and was a new venture, along with Samba Room next door, from the parent company of TGI Friday’s, Carlson Restaurants Worldwide. The restaurant had no identity -- it was ostensibly Italian, but there was little about the menu that evoked Italy. And the chophouse designation was a mystery -- the menu was practically chopless. For everything the kitchen did right, it also did something horribly wrong. Wisely, Carlson dumped the concept and went back to concentrating of Friday’s.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

I really need only five words to adequately describe Nelore: meat, meat, meat, meat, meat.


But perhaps a few more are in order.

Nelore is a churrascaria, a Brazilian steakhouse that features grilled meats served tableside. We’ve had churrascarias in Central Florida for years, but they’ve all been located in the International Drive tourist corridor. Indeed, Nelore was on I-Drive until a few months ago. But in a first for the area, Nelore has left Tourist World and moved to Winter Park, in the Park Avenue dining district, of all places.

The churrascaria concept is a tough sell for the sophisticated gourmet crowd. It is, after all, an all-you-can-eat scheme. And even though it features servers who bring the main courses to your table, it starts with a salad bar that requires diners to queue up and serve themselves. A salad bar hasn’t been associated with fine dining for quite some time.

But Nelore is definitely fine dining. And what makes it so is the quality of the food, beginning with that salad bar.

Actually it goes far beyond mere salads. Yes, there are myriad greens to pile on your plate, and most of the usual accouterments to pile on top of the greens. But you’ll also find taboule, asparagus and grilled portobello mushrooms, as well as an assortment of cheeses, salmon, and shrimp. And roasted peppers and hearts of palm. And hot items, such as black beans and rice, ground yuca, pasta and mashed potatoes.

You can go back to the salad bar as often as you like, but you’re crazy to do so. You’re going to want room for the parade of meats that is about to begin.

Shula's 347 Grill

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Dave Shula is quick to point out that neither he nor his father is an actual restaurateur, even though the family name adorns a couple of dozen restaurants around the country, most notably the highend steakhouse called Shula’s.Dave and Don Shula

But from the beginning, with the first Shula’s in Miami Lakes and subsequent openings, including the estimable Shula’s Steak House in the Dolphin hotel at Walt Disney World, the restaurants have operated as licensed franchises approved to use the famous name. None is owned or operated by anyone associated with the Shula family.

But that doesn’t mean that the Shula’s, pictured at right, are detached from the operations. While Dave Shula doesn’t consider himself a restaurateur he very much is a franchisor and keeper of the name as president of the Shula’s company. His more famous dad? The Shula’s Web site lists him as “successful restaurateur” as well as “writer, speaker, motivator.” But it’s fairly safe to say that Don Shula’s role in the operation is more as figurehead. And what a figure, with a lionlike visage that surely could have earned him a career as a matinee idol or at least as a stand-in for Kirk Douglas, that is if he had ever needed something to fall back on. You know, if it didn’t work out for him to become one of the winningest coaches in NFL history.

How many wins? Three hundred forty seven to be exact. And that’s the number that is referenced in the company’s newer line of restaurants, Shula’s 347 Grill. A Shula’s 347 has opened recently at the also-new Westin Lake Mary Orlando North hotel, and both father and son are in town to promote it. I joined them Monday for a media luncheon in one of the restaurant’s two private dining rooms.

Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

big fin seafood kitchenBig Fin Seafood Kitchen, a highly anticipated eatery on Restaurant Row Orlando, finally opened a couple of weeks ago. You may recall that I wrote briefly about stumbling into Big Fin only to learn they had officially opened only a few hours earlier.

I usually try to put some time between a restaurant’s opening and my visit. There are a lot of issues with opening a restaurant, and things often go wrong in the first weeks as the staff becomes familiar with everything from the menu to the physical plant.

But I figured as long as I was there I’d go ahead and have a bite to eat at Big Fin, opening night or no. And I was visiting with an old friend who was in town, so paying attention to the restaurant was really secondary.

But I have to tell you, things went pretty well and there were a lot of things I liked about Big Fin, not the least of which was the food I sampled. And the problems that did exist had nothing to do with opening night jitters but rather were poor judgement calls.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

First, let’s start with the question most people have when they see the name: What the hell is an Olv?olv

The answer is it’s anything you want it to be because, in fact, it isn’t anything. It is not a real word, it is not short for anything, it isn’t an acronym and it doesn’t translate to another language.

For reasons of full disclosure and to give further explanation, I was invited to take part in a menu tasting while this concept was still in development. The tasting was held during the afternoon in the now defunct Manuel’s on the 28th, to give you an idea of how long ago that was. (Manny Garcia and company were consulting on the Olv project.)

Olv’s owner, Humberto Perez, was very excited about his new restaurant and was very particular about what he wanted it to be. When he told me the name he intended to put on the restaurant, I told him, in the nicest way I could, that the name stinks. He explained he wanted a word that didn’t have any prior meaning so that his cafe would not be hampered by preconceived notions. He wanted people to eventually associate the experience they had at the cafe with the name, perhaps creating something new for the lexicon along with a cafe. His argument was that no one knew what a Starbuck’s was until it became associated with a coffee bar. I told him that millions of people named Starbuck might disagree.

(I didn’t tell him that a better argument could be found in Haagen-Dazs, which is also a made-up name that has come to be associated with premium ice cream. But Haagen-Dazs is fun to say; Olv is not.)

Paris Bistro

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paris bistro interiorI had one initial reaction when I visited the new location of Paris Bistro, the little Frencherie that moved recently from its Aloma Avenue locale.

That reaction was: Wow!

Of course, part of that is because I was familiar with the old place. The decor and overall ambience of the bistro’s Aloma location was, how you say?, crummy. It was always neat and clean, to be sure, but it was small, cramped, and a barebones renovation of what started out as office space. Indeed, the restaurant’s neighbors there included a urologist with a rather large sign announcing that specialty. Charmed, I’m sure.


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everglades restaurant

For some time now -- almost 14 years to be exact -- I’ve been saying that Everglades is one of the area’s most under-appreciated restaurants. Back when it opened, in late 1995, Everglades was the signature restaurant of the Omni Rosen Hotel. Now its location is simply called the Rosen Centre Hotel, but it is still the top restaurant.

I last reviewed Everglades in 2003 and declared then that it was one of our hidden gems. But a lot can happen in six years, so I figured it was time to take another look. So I returned recently with a couple of guest reviewers to see how the restaurant is fairing in its second decade. Joining me were Mike and Marian Peters, who purchased the dinner with me at the annual gala for Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF. Many of you will be familiar with Mike’s name as a syndicated political cartoonist and author of the Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip. The Peterses are relative newcomers to the area, and they had not been aware of Everglades. The restaurant, I mean; they had heard of the national park.

We were greeted warmly and shown to a table in the front of the restaurant next to a large aquarium, which gave a luminous glow to the setting. Fred Vlachos, executive chef Michael Rumplik’s sous chef, sent out an amuse bouche of foie gras on a crostini with a small cordial of 2000 DeLoach Gewurtztraminer. This was an inspired pairing. Too often chefs try to offset the earthiness of the liver taste with a sweetish fruit sauce, resulting in a cloying clash. Here, the sweetness of the wine was the perfect complement to the foie gras, and we were tasked with sipping it to the appropriate balance.

What did the Peterses think? “This is orgasmic,” declared Marian. I would say our bouches were properly amused.

Four Rivers Smokehouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .


four rivers

Open a barbecue joint and the world will beat a path to your door.

And in the case of Four Rivers Smokehouse in Winter Park, they’ll line up outside the door and wait up to 20 minutes to be served.

Owner John Rivers had a much longer wait to see his barbecue joint open to the public. Rivers started producing barbecue in 2005 as part of a fundraising effort to help a local family with high medical bills. A business producing barbecue sauces and such resulted, and Rivers started catering.

(By the way, John Rivers is not be be confused with Johnny Rivers, who also has a smokehouse. Read about that -- and how I missed my flight to New York -- here.)

A restaurant, or at least a retail outlet where people could eat his ‘cue whenever they wanted, seemed like the next logical step. But as with so many other first-time restaurant owners, Rivers learned the path to getting a restaurant open is loaded with pitfalls. Licensing, permitting and code inspections delayed the opening of Four Rivers for the better part of a year. First references to an imminent opening were in June; I reported in August that September would see the new smokehouse open.

It finally started serving customers on November 11.

Johnny River's Smokehouse

Written by Scott Joseph on .

So Im waiting on my flight to New York, sitting across from the assigned Jet Blue gate working on my laptop while keeping an eye on what's happening across the aisle. The previous plane, to Cancun, left late, and the space was still unoccupied. I figured I had plenty of time to finish my article and publish it online. (Thank you Orlando International Airport for the free wi-fi, which most other airports charge for.)

Anyway, the scheduled time for departure has approached, and still no plane. So I get up and go to the gate to see what's going on. Turns out my plane was switched to another gate. How could I not hear the announcement? I heard everything else. The woman at the gate told my it was now at Gate 12 and I should hurry over there while she called. I suddenly became one of those frantic people you see dashing through the corridor, my laptop under one arm and my roll-on suitcase wobbling behind.

I got to Gate 12 and the door was closed. But the plane was still sitting there, the jetway up against the door and various tubes still in place. But there was no one outside the gate, so I paced back and forth for a few minutes, then I grabbed the white paging phone to see if someone could help me.

The woman at my original gate was mistaken -- it had been switched to Gate 10, which, by some strange quirk of design engineering, was nowhere near Gate 12. And it didn’t matter: the plane was on its way to New York without me.

So there I sat in OIA for the next three hours while I waited for the next flight to Newark.

Eventually hunger set in, and figuring that a package of Blue Chips on the plane weren’t going to cut it, I looked around the terminal for my dining options.

And there, not far from my original gate, was Johnny River’s Smokehouse. I stepped up and ordered Johnny’s pulled pork sandwich.

The pork is served on a hoagie-style roll rather than a round hamburger-style bun. And the meat was piled on so high that grabbing the roll to eat as a sandwich was not easy, and it could not be accomplished without some spillage. I was glad I was eating it while still in the terminal and not in the close confines of the plane. A fork was useful to finish all the meat, which was dressed with Johnny’s signature sweetish mango sauce. A fairly skimpish portion of coleslaw was also included with the sandwich.

So a potentially miserable situation turned out OK. I got a lot of work done while sitting in the terminal -- more than I would have on the plane or at the hotel in New York. And I got a chance to taste Johnny River’s sandwich again. I should miss more flights. Not!

Johnny River's Smokehouse is in the Jet Blue airside terminal at Orlando International Airport.

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