Da Sun Ramen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Dasun ramen

Perhaps it’s telling that the best thing I had at Da Sun Ramen, a Japanese restaurant that took over the Chinatown space previously held by Sapporo, was not ramen.

That’s not to denigrate the ramen in any way. The broth in the tonkotsu ramen was luscious and full, with tender slices of pork, mushrooms, peppers, scallions and of course noodles. It was a fine ramen.

Illume

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Illume orchid view

The nightly fireworks shows return to Walt Disney World on July 1, but if you can’t witness them at one of the parks, you should definitely try to see them at Illume, the gorgeous new rooftop venue at the JW Marriott Bonnet Creek. From the moment you step off the express elevator to the ninth-level restaurant and lounge, everything is a WOW.

Illume deck

Beginning with the view. Step out on the terrace and you can start identifying the Disney landmarks. Walk to the far end and you’ll have a full 180-degree vantage, east to north to west.

The wowness doesn’t end with the view; it’s extended through the inventive cocktails and Asian-inspired menu overseen by chef Myra Buerkle. David Tsan, formerly with Kabooki, is the sushi chef.

First Watch Summer Menu Specials

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FWsummer cooler

Summer doesn’t officially begin until next week, but it’s already summer-hot, so we may as well say it’s here.

Which is just fine because First Watch’s summer menu specials are also available now. And as I do every three months, I headed to First Watch to have a sample, humming a little Vivaldi along the way.

I started by sipping the Watermelon Wake-up, a cool and refreshing drink that also had pineapple and lime juice and a fragrant sprig of mint.

Grato of Winter Park

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Grato ext

(Sung to the tune of “Liza with a Z”)

It’s Grato with a G not Prato with a P ‘cause Prato with a P goes prah not grah...

There’s bound to be confusion for people strolling along Park Avenue starting at Aloma Avenue and heading north past Morse Boulevard. “Didn’t we just see this restaurant a few blocks ago?” Besides the similar name, both are Italian. But comparability must end there.

Papa Lozzi Italia

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Papalozzi ext

I don’t know how I’ve managed to miss Papa Lozzi Italia until now – apparently it’s been operating in Waterford Lakes for a couple of years – but I’m glad to have finally found it.

Then again, it has the comfortable mien of a mom-and-pop (or papa) operationt that makes it feel as though it’s been there forever.

The Monroe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Monroe ext

It’s been a long while since we’ve seen a restaurant the scale of The Monroe open up, at least outside of Disney Springs. The 4000-square-foot would be remarkable on its own just for the vastness of the space. But since this is the latest project from Good Salt Restaurant Group, the entity owned by Jason and Sue Chin who also have Reyes Mezcalaria, Osprey and Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, we expect more than decor, and it delivers.

The Monroe is closer in semblance to Reyes, the North Quarter restaurant that took over the space originally held by Citrus. Like Reyes, Monroe occupies the ground floor of an other-purposed building (offices for Reyes, an apartments for Monroe) with double-height ceilings and hard-surface floors decorated with the artistic stenciling that has become a signature of Sue Chin’s decorating skill. Wood paneling and furniture have a mid-century mien, though the wall of industrial grade windows bring it back to early 21st century. There is ample use of greenery, and in one particular dash of whimsy a graceful orchid sits in front of a large painted mural of swans that features silhouettes of the same flower.

Chicago Dog & Co.

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Chicagodog sign

Portillo’s, the Chicago hot dogger and beef sandwich chain currently in soft opening in the new O-Town West development, has been getting the attention of local frankfurter freaks. Even though the grand opening isn’t until the middle of June, people are waiting in line now just to get their wiener on. Portillo’s is next door to White Castle, which is also boasting long lines. I guess there’s just something exciting about a new chain in town.

But for those who don’t need their sausages to come with a corporate stamp, you can get a Windy City wienie at Chicago Dog & Co. in Altamonte Springs.

Frankly, frankfurters don’t do much for me, but I don’t ascribe any any Freudian facets to their aficionados. And the Chicago style dog I had at Chicago Dog & Co. provided some pleasant, if few, bites.

Maki Hibachi Downtown

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Maki tuna

The best thing I had at Maki Hibachi, a new sushi and Japanese restaurant uniquely situated in a self-storage complex in Downtown Orlando, was something called Drunken Tuna.

It featured loosely chopped raw tuna on wafers with a slice of avocado in between. Atop the tuna were dollops of spicy mayo and a bit of fish roe along with artistically placed micro greens. The tuna was cool and fresh and the wafers – menu called them crackers but these were less crispy – added a different texture. And although I couldn’t detect anything that would warrant the drunken designation, I liked the bit of spiritedness in the spicy mayo. It was a delicious appetizer.

Unfortunately, what followed was mostly mundane.

TajineXpress

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Despite what I told you when the it opened, which was based on what a manager told me at the time, TajineXpress is not a full service restaurant but rather, as the name would imply, more of a quick-service operation. The Xpress sort of gave that away, but the gentleman I spoke to at the time, back in April, insisted that it merely conveyed a cooking technique the restaurant was using that allowed them to prepare tajine dishes faster than the usual two hours.

That said, the staff at TajineXpress was so friendly and accommodating. And the food, delivered to the table on basket trays and served on earthenware plates, all made it feel like a full dining experience.

Perla's Pizza

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Blame Wolfgang Puck.

It was Puck who in the eighties changed the notion of what a pizza could be, getting creative and moving beyond the basic trinity toppings – sausage, pepperoni and mushroom – and heavy sauce and cheese.

Perlas ext

Perhaps you can’t draw a straight line from Spago to Perla’s Pizza but a connection could definitely be argued. How else would you explain a pizza with bananas on it?

Perla’s is the project of Mike Collantes of Taglish, the Filipino-American food stall inside the Lotte Market on West Colonial Drive. Perla’s, in the Mills 50 district in an almost-shared space with the Thirsty Topher, does just pizzas (and one salad), offering a small collection of curated pies, most of them more mundane than the one called It’s Bananas.

That isn’t exactly the phrase I uttered when I first heard that Perla’s would offer a pizza with bananas. At the time I speculated that Collantes was just trying to tick off people who thought pineapple on a pizza was sacrilege. To that point, Perla’s also offers a selection called Everybody Hates Pineapple.

I include myself with everybody on that notion, even though Perla’s use of pineapple jam paired with pickled jalapenos sounded a tad intriguing. Just a tad.

But I really couldn’t ignore the bananas staring at me from the menu.