Stone's Throw Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Don’t you find it a little strange that there are two restaurants in Sanford that once were homes to a newspaper publisher? Stone's Throw Bistrow

One of those restaurants is Two Blondes and a Shrimp, which once held the offices of the Sanford Herald. But the original home for that newspaper is just a stone’s throw away. Fittingly enough, that’s where you’ll find Stone’s Throw Bistro.

It isn’t hard to imagine that this structure is the oldest in town or that its initial purpose was other than as a restaurant. Its interior is rustic and rough, and some of the infrastructure appears jury-rigged. The tile floor is an obvious update, but the tin ceiling appears to be original.

My guest and I started our dinner with a bowl of the soup of the day ($4) , fashioned out of smoked yellow tomatoes with corn and crab, a thick and bisquey broth that had both smokey and spicy notes. Very nice.

Planet Hollywood London

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The new Planet Hollywood is a different world

This is the new Planet Hollywood. Call it PH.Plaent Hollywood Haymarket

Those are the letters on the outside of the London Planet Hollywood, which recently relocated from Trocadero to Haymarket. The PH follows a logo branding scheme that started when the Orlando-based company opened the Planet Hollywood Casino and Resort in Las Vegas.

But more has changed here than a mere logo.

The look and feel of the place is different, too. It’s more industrial and decidedly more casual. Yes, the old Planet Hollywood was casual, too, but the London version is casual almost to the point of being clinical. Part of that might have to do with this particular location, which appears to be a converted office or retail spot. It has a certain industrial look.

But it also seems to be a change in direction for the putatively movie themed restaurant chain. A manager told me the goal was to make the new Planet Hollywood more modern, more “adult.” Some of the changes make good sense.

Eastern Pearl Orlando

Written by Scott Joseph on .

I’ve always been a fan of Eastern Pearl, the casually upscale Chinese restaurant in Altamonte Springs. In fact, I awarded it numerous Foodie Awards for best Chinese while  I was the critic at the Orlando Sentinel. And plenty of readers agreed with me. One of the things that impressed me was that there wEastern Pearl logoas a window into the kitchen. I usually follow a don’t ask/don’t look policy when it comes to Chinese restaurant kitchens. It was refreshing to see Eastern Pearl’s so spotless.

O'Charley's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Oh, brother.

When people talk about chain restaurants in a negative way, I think they’re talking about chains like O’Charley’s. The restaurant, one of more than 230 O'Charleyacross the country, opened recently in the center directly behind the Whole Foods store at the corner of Sand Lake Road and Turkey Lake Road. It’s the first Central Florida O’Charley’s from the Nashville-based company. If they’re all like this one, let’s hope it’s the last.

Virgin Olive Market

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Virgin Olive MarketI had a perfectly delightful lunch experience at Virgin Olive Market, which categorizes itself as a neighborhood noshery. Sort of makes you wonder if there's such a thing as a global noshery.

VOM is in the NoDo area (north of downtown) in the buidling that also holds Citrus restaurant. most recently, this space was taken by a coffee bar. here the offerings are mainly the three esses: soups, salads and sandwiches. I didn't try the salads, but I can attest that the soup and sandwich categories are executed nicely.

 

 

Venetian Room

Written by Scott Joseph on .

It's getting harder and harder to find an upscale restaurant of the old school type. The Venetian Room, however, is one very nice holdover.

The Venetian Room is a re-imagined space in the six-year-old Caribe Royale resort in extreme south Orlando. The previous restaurant was a standard breakfast, lunch and dinner eatery, but the hoteliers believed there was a market for something a little finer.

The menu is under the supervision of chef de cuisine Khalid Benghallem (cq), a former sous chef at Emeril’s and the opening chef at Shula’s Steakhouse in the Dolphin hotel. The fare features all the standards you would expect to find in such a place – foie gras, crab cake, lamb rack, veal chop, etc. But the preparations are anything but standard, and some are downright inspired creations.

We may as well get this bit of business out the way right now: this place isn’t cheap. Appetizers range from $14 to $17, and six of the seven entrees are over $30 (there’s a $28 chicken item). Is it worth it? Good god no; what is? But that said, the food is very good.

The lump crab cake ($16), for example, was perhaps 99 percent crab meat binded with just a bit of mustard and pan-fried perfectly. With such a pure specimen of crab cake, it was a shame that it was served sandwiched between a slaw made with black sesame and savoy cabbage. Eating the slaw with the crab was the same as having more filler. I simply dusted the cabbage off and feasted on only the meat.

I enjoyed the appetizer of foie gras ($17), which had two seared lobes layered in an alternating stack with cakes made with smoked polenta. A bit of balsamic syrup added to the overall enjoyment, but the mango fan would have been better if it hadn’t been so unripe.

For a soup course I tried the lobster bisque ($12), a creamy concoction tempered with just the right touch of sherry and served in a marmite under a dome of puffed pastry.

My favorite among the entrees was the tenderloin of beef ($34), two thick slabs of seared meat served with marrow, barley rhubarb chard, fennel strudel and red wine reduction sauce tinged with black truffles.

My guest’s confit of duck ($31) was an interesting presentation that had the leg quarter in a pastry tartlet along with caramelized guava choucroute (cq). The meat was appropriately moist and tender, and the dark cherry and port wine sauce was a nice accompaniment. However, the dish also included rare duck breast meat, fanned across the plate, that was as tough as jerky.

Instead of a tableside preparation, the Dover sole ($32) was brought to the table already filleted. I don’t take umbrage with that, but I thought it a bit silly to serve it with the fish bones arranged just so, only to be plucked away by the server as soon as the silver cloche was removed. The fish itself was sufficiently firm albeit a bit dry, even with the white wine, vermouth and butter sauce.

For dessert, the Grand Marnier souffle ($12) was nicely done, but the spiced roasted pear ($9) was as hard as the mango was earlier. Black magic dome ($11) had a bittersweet chocolate mousse cake on top of a chocolate platform with a hazelnut butterfly. The design elements of that one escaped me, but it was a satisfying dessert.

The staff was well-trained if not completely polished. One fellow felt the need to describe various dishes to us and went into such great detail on the preparations that I almost expected him to tell us what the chef preheated the oven to. The servers all had ear pieces that made them look as though they were with the secret service.

The wine list was well thought out and there are even some relatively moderate priced selections, although the wines by the glass were poured rather stingily.

The dining room is quiet and tastefully decorated. There are semi-secluded banquets with etched glass dividers. Tables are done up in the requisite finery. Entrees are delivered on a cart under silver domes, but other courses are served and cleared on chintzy plastic trays.

Perhaps the only thing Venicelike about the restaurant is that it sits at the foot of a staircase that is reminiscent of the Rialto Bridge.
The Venetian Room will no doubt appeal to business travelers on an expense account looking to impress clients with a big ticket meal. But the owners are making a concerted effort to market the restaurant to locals. Those who have grown weary of the usual special occasion dining rooms may well want to consider the Venetian Room for their next splurge.

The Venetian Room is at the Caribe Royale Resort, 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando. It is open for  dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Here is a link to TheVenetianRoom.com. The phone number is 407-238-8060.

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The Black Olive

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 

the_black_olive

 

These days, a new restaurant is a rare occasion. Plans for the Black Olive have been underway since before anyone whispered the word recession, so the fact that it opened at all is cause for celebration.

Situated in the Plaza complex, the Black Olive has a decor that fits the Downtown Arts District. The dining room is casually upscale. Tables have stone-look tops and plastic weave placemats. Boothback fabrics have a patina that is reminiscent of an antiqued mirror; chairs are upholstered in white leather.

It’s the sort of atmosphere that makes you want to don your best toga.

 

Pizza Fusion; pies for a small planet

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pizza fusion logoHave you noticed the quality of pizza getting better around here? It still has a long way to go, but I’d say we’re definitely headed in the right direction.

So is Pizza Fusion, a franchise operation on Restaurant Row Orlando that’s doing a lot of things right -- and in the right way.

 

Emeril's Tchoup Chop

Written by Scott Joseph on .

It took a while, but Lagasse's restaurant is now worth visiting

For the first time since it opened six years ago I can finally recommend Emeril’s Tchoup Chop. That’s thanks in no small part to the restaurant’s new chef, Gregory Richie, who joined on at the beginning of the year.

Greg RichieRichie’s name will be familiar to many. He opened the Roy’s on Sand Lake Road in 2001 as its chef and operating partner, following a stint at Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurant in Hawaii.

So it would make sense that Emeril Lagasse would tap Richie to head up Tchoup Chop, which is themed as an Asian / Polynesian restaurant to complement the Royal Pacific hotel’s motif.

But part of the reason that Tchoup Chop now works is that, ironically, Richie’s menu doesn’t try to overemphasize the Hawaiian theme, which previously was strained and artificial. The menu now is more subtly pan Asian, more in the list of ingredients than in the dishes themselves.

But it wasn’t just a strained menu and theme that prevented me from endorsing Tchoup Chop in the past.

Relax Grill at Lake Eola

Written by Scott Joseph on .

I suppose the name of the place should have been my first clue that things wouldn’t move apace here. But even with a name like Relax Grill, one shouldn’t expect a lunch to last over an hour.Relax_Grill

Especially one in downtown, where a good deal of the clientele are likely to be workers from surrounding businesses who have to get back to the office to deal with their own clientele.

Or, if they didn’t walk to the lakeside location, parked in a metered space and put in only enough quarters to cover a reasonable time for lunch, then have to race back to their cars to try to beat the parking enforcement officer. (I swear those ticket-writers have brain implants that receive a signal from the parking meter the second it expires.)

It’s not like Relax Grill isn’t the kind of place you’d like to enjoy a leisurely meal. It occupies the space -- as so many have before -- of the glorified concession stand next to the swan boats at Lake Eola. All seating is outdoors under umbrellas and leafy trees at metal patio tables with plastic (and comfortable) deck chairs.

On a recent weekday, I arrived for a lunch meeting ahead of my friend. I stood waiting at the entrance to the patio. Although several servers passed by, no one greeted me or acknowledged my presence. Eventually, another party arrived behind me and one of them said I could just sit wherever I wanted. “How would I know that?” I asked her. She shrugged and said, “I come here a lot.” “But how would a new person know that?” I demanded, forgetting that she was just another customer and not the owner. Frightened, she and her friends hurried off to grab a table, and I did the same.

My friend eventually arrived and we sat and waited a while longer to be acknowledged and receive menus.

Wait a minute. All of this has started to sound very familiar. So I just went to check what I wrote about the last tenant here, Erik’s on the lake. This is from the June 22, 2007, Chow Hound column: