Knife & Spoon

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Knife & Spoon, the much anticipated restaurant that replaced the estimable Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, opened on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, its delayed debut was not caused by construction slowdowns but rather the pandemic that has affected so many restaurants. The upside, if pandemics are allowed to have an upside, is that the developers were able to engineer the space to meet safety protocols rather than having to retool, as so many other restaurants have done.

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The knife of the name is an actual knife, a rather impressive Sambonet in this case, and signifies the steak specialty of the menu. Given the quality of the meat, however, an instrument with such a honed blade might be considered – you should pardon the expression – overkill. But we’ll come back to that.

The spoon of the name is not a spoon, or at least not a spoon found on polite tables. Instead, it references a fishing lure known as a spoon, which then leads to the seafood offerings. (More ancient mariners would tell you to look for largemouth bass, salmon or trout on a list of spoon-caught fish, but I saw none; it’s a clever name nonetheless.)

The Knife is also a nod to John Tesar, the Dallas chef and restaurateur, who owns Knife-named restaurants there. His accomplishments, as listed on the Knife & Spoon webpage, include being the pseudonymous Jimmy Sears in Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”; appearances on the Today Show and Top Chef; and being “famously entangled in a feud with Dallas food critic Leslie Brenner.” That feud, which included a negative review from Brenner and Tesar’s two-word response, happened in 2014, so maybe it’s time to let it go.

JJ's Fresh from Scratch

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JJ’s Fresh from Scratch is celebrating its sixth anniversary. But technically it’s only been JJ’s Fresh from Scratch for a fraction of that time, three or four months. When it opened, in 2014, it was JJ’s Grille. And when, in 2017, it won a Best Tex-Mex Foodster Award, it was going by the name JJ’s Fusion Grille.

The mainstay has been JJ – full name JJ Paredes – who started the quick-serve assemblage concept on Curry Ford Road at the age of 24. The quick popularity of the restaurant prompted Paredes to open two other locations, but they have closed. So Paredes said that he decided to go ahead with the rebranding, which had been planned before the pandemic, and focus on the Curry Ford West flagship.

Also a constant, as I wrote in my original review in Dec. 2014: ‘The people are friendly because they want to be, and the food is better than average.”

Estefan Kitchen

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Beat the drums, this ain’t Bongos.

Estefan Kitchen has opened its first location outside of Miami, one of several restaurants at the new Promenade at Sunset Walk near Walt Disney World.

Gloria and Emilio are the Estefans of the name, she the renowned Cuban-American singer who along with Miami Sound Machine gave us the effervescently zingy “Conga” and other classics.

The couple were also the owners of Bongos, the Cuban restaurant that opened in 1997 at what was then known as Downtown Disney West Side, now Disney Springs. It was in a distinctive pineapple-shaped building and served food that, well, let’s just say that when it was announced Bongos would close and the structure would be razed to make room for something else, I offered to push the plunger to detonate the explosives. No one returned my calls.

And so it was with hesitancy that I visited Estefan Kitchen, an offshoot of their Miami Design District restaurant, which remains closed at this time. (The Estefans also own Larios on the Beach on Ocean Drive in South Beach.)

Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine

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I always gravitate to the same dishes when I order from an Indian restaurant. Part of it is the comfort of familiarity and knowing that it’s something I’ll probably enjoy. It’s also partly to have a benchmark that allows for comparisons.

But when I ordered recently from Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine in Winter Park, I decided to focus on dishes I haven’t had before.

Mason Jar Provisions

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When I first moved to Orlando, in 1988, and was still becoming familiar with the dining scene, I often found myself in conversations with locals about favorite restaurants. And one name that kept coming up as a favorite special occasion restaurant was the Mason Jar.

I couldn’t imagine how a place named Mason Jar could be a fine dining restaurant. And it would be some time before I realized that Mason Jar was a tongue-in-cheek reference for a restaurant whose real name was Maison et Jardin. (It’s possible that people just didn’t know how to pronounce it correctly and anglicized it, much in the same way that l’Enfant Castille in London came to be known, officially, as Elephant & Castle.)

Now there is a restaurant in Orlando whose actual name is Mason Jar, Mason Jar Provisions, to be precise, and no one will be referring to is as Maison et Jardin.

Taste of Chengdu Baldwin Park

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Taste of Chengdu, the Sichuan restaurant that opened in west Orlando two years ago and quickly established itself as arguably serving the best Chinese food in town, has opened a second location in Baldwin Park.

It is technically in a soft-opening phase and the menu is currently limited – call it a taste of Taste of Chengdu – but the quality is every bit as good as the original.

True to its namesake province, Taste of Chengdu features dishes that use Sichuan peppercornss, the boa constrictor of seasonings. Take a bite of something with the pepper, perhaps dan dan noodles with a chili oil sauce, and you at first feel a warm embrace of your tongue, then a tingling effect, just before the real heat comes in for the kill.

But it’s a pleasant demise. And even people who find western chilies overwhelming might be pleasantly surprised at how tolerable the spiciness is. It isn’t heat for heat’s sake, it is a logical component of the dish as a whole.

Bosphorous Winter Park

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I wasn’t at all sure how it would travel, but I knew I had to have the lavas when I got takeout from Bosphorous, the Turkish restaurant on Park Avenue (and other locations).

Lavas, as anyone who has dined at Bosphorous knows, is the signature “hollow bread,” also sometimes called balloon bread because it poofs up with steam when it’s baked. The first time I saw it I called it Jiffy Pop bread because that’s what it reminded me of.

The reason I had to have the bread was because instead of two entrees, my companion and I decided to get just one main dish and then order the mixed appetizer platter. And because the meze includes such things as hummus, babaganoush and other dippy things, the bread was a must-have-too.

Osphere

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The space on Lake Eola now occupied by the curiously named Osphere – previously the home of Spice Modern and, more famously, Lake Eola Yacht Club – has one of the best patios in town, an even more covetous feature in these days of outdoor-preferred dining.

And even the interior seems suited to distancing. At least from what I remember – I visited the restaurant in early March.

Pio Pio Latin Cuisine

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I first visited Pio Pio Latin Cuisine on Semoran Boulevard in the middle of March and, as irony would have it, I ordered takeout thinking that I’d return in a week or two for an in-house visit. And we all know what happened next.

But seeing as I had a good takeout experience, I figured I might as well go ahead and tell you about it.

There are other Pio Pios (Piae Piae?) in the area and although it doesn’t say so on any of the restaurants’ websites, they are all related via ownership. The menus are similar, but, as a pleasant young man at the Semoran Boulevard restaurant explained, “We all serve the same food, but there might be subtle differences like in a sauce.”

Antonio's Maitland

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Antonio’s in Maitland, the two-story Italian venue, has always offered two distinct dining experiences – a casual cafe and market on the ground floor and an upscale ristorante above.

It continues to offer separate experiences in today’s restrictive dining atmosphere. The cafe is promoting its takeout menu while the upstairs dining room is open to limited-capacity dining in.

The two almost act as separate businesses: visit the parent website and you’ll be asked to choose between the two venues. The cafe, available for takeout only, has an online ordering form but the upstairs restaurant does not. After looking over both menus, I really wanted to order my takeout from the upstairs restaurant, and I was delighted to learn when I called that that would be just fine and that my order could be taken over the phone.

Side note: Antonio’s is participating in Magical Dining and even though its listing on Visit Orlando’s official website says the special menu is available only only for dine in, the young man who answered the phone told me it could be gotten for takeout.