Buster's Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Busters interior

It was a photo on the website for Buster’s Bistro that threw me. I had heard of the Sanford restaurant and had gone online to do some preliminary research. I was meeting some friends for dinner and wanted something a little more upscale. On one of Buster’s web pages was a photo of a dining room with the tables covered in crisp white cloths. Just what I was looking for.

Buster’s Bistro is a bar. A Belgian bar, to be precise.

And the tables are not covered with cloths, white or otherwise. (The photo that hooked me was from a special event, apparently.)

But BB’s menu is more ambitious than most bars, with such selections as Short Rib Carbonnade, Vol-au-Vent, and Tikka Masala Curry. The results are as varied as the selections.

Tasting Table: Tapa Toro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

This is the first of a new series of video reviews in partnership with WFTV and Inside Central Florida. Vidoegraphy by Zack Schwartz; still photos by Shelly Caran. For more, visit icFlorida.com.

Tapatoro video shoot

Tapa Toro, the Spanish restaurant under ICON Orlando, or whatever the Ferris wheel is being called these days, is now three years old. Wendy Lopez, who opened the restaurant as its executive chef, left late last year to accept a job to lead the kitchen at Reyes Mezcalaria. Frank Galeano was named to replace her. I returned to Tapa Toro recently to see what changes Galeano has put in place.

His menu tweaks include lighter and more healthful entries and a focus on more regional Spanish dishes. Watch the video or continue reading.

 

Roque Pub

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Roque bar

Pub food is hard to do right. Most pubs recognize the need to offer some food, some sustenance beyond chips or peanuts and an olive garnish to prevent patrons from sloshing out of the bar. Food can act as a (temporary) sponge.

But most pubs don’t have a proper kitchen or the necessary equipment to do more than a rudimentary menu. And that’s fine. Sandwiches with big doughy buns are appropriate fare. But when a bar tries to overreach and offer more than it’s capable of delivering, the results are usually disappointing.

That seems to be the issue with Roque Pub, an otherwise fun neighborhood bar in the emerging Curry Ford West district.

Frontera Cocina by (and with) Rick Bayless

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Frontera interior

I was surprised when I was told that Frontera Cocina, the Disney Springs restaurant from chef Rick Bayless was celebrating its third year.

I was even more surprised that the man who told me was Bayless himself.

It seemed like no more than a year ago that Bayless, the well-known Chicago based chef and restaurateur, was on hand to open the Disney Springs venue. I figured that would be the last we’d see of him in Central Florida. Certain celebrity chefs are known for putting their names on restaurants and then practically forgetting where they are.

But Bayless, I’m told, is at Frontera Cocina at least once a quarter, usually to help roll out a seasonal menu. That was why he was there talking to me last month as part of a media preview of the winter menu.

Sus Hi Eatstation

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Sus Hi bowl

Something’s getting lost in the translation. Or at least in the expansion.

When I first reviewed Sus Hi, in July of 2012, it was a nascent fast-fooder on Alafaya Trail near UCF, attempting to do for sushi what Moe’s did for Tex-Mex. It had an exuberant staff that called out “Welcome, Ninja” to each new guest, and they seemed excited about their food and genuinely happy to be serving it.

Now called Sus Hi Eatstation, it has four locations and another opening soon. One of the newer locations is in the Millenia area, and I stopped in there not long ago to see how the concept has fared over the past seven years.

Mi Casa Tequila Taqueria

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Mi Casa guac

So I had a friend visiting from New York, staying at Rosen Shingle Creek, and I suggested we get together for a drink and a bite to eat. More for a drink. I quickly went through the options at Shingle Creek and decided I’d visited them all and would rather try something new. I said I’d pick him up and we’d go elsewhere.

We drove a few miles over to the Orange Blossom Trail area and went to a little restaurant I’d heard about. We sat down in a booth and a young woman handed us a menu. I asked about the beer and wine selection. She said they did not serve alcohol, so we left.

The same thing happened at the next two places we stopped at. Then my friend just casually mentioned that he’d had a good meal at the Mexican restaurant at Shingle Creek.

Shingle Creek has a Mexican restaurant? That somehow eluded me. So we got in the car and drove back to the resort we had left a half hour earlier, hungrier and definitely thirstier.

Domu Chibi

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Domu cjhibi ramen room

Domu, the popular East End Market ramenerie, has opened a new concept, Domu Chibi Ramen, in Waterford Lakes. It’s meant to be a quick-serve operation, but they’ve managed to make it quicker serve in at least one aspect.

Instead of giving an order to someone at the counter, customers are prompted to use electronic tablets in front of it to place and pay for an order. Heck, you might even want to leave yourself a tip as you pay, because unlike other quick-serve restaurants, you must go back up to the pick-up counter to fetch your own food. I’m guessing if they could, they’d find away for a non-human to call the names.

Domu cjhibi order

Indeed, the staff behind the counter, just a few feet away from the ordering kiosk, avoid looking at or otherwise acknowledging the arrival of new customers. This seems to be one carryover from the Audubon Park Domu, which, though full service, also has a staff that doesn’t seem to feel the need to be accommodating to its guests.

City Pub

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Citypub interior

City Pub is the new restaurant and bar that replaced North Quarter Tavern. The bones of the place are the same, with the central bar and surrounding dining tables. But some decorating touches have been added — royal blue paint, wood wainscoting over a tufted banquette along the back wall — that give it a traditional pub mien.

And the food is still above average, though not as creative as when NQT first opened. But then, in retrospect, that menu was probably too ambitious (and costly).

Yet there’s something about City Pub that just doesn’t seem to congeal. It lacks focus, and the staff don’t seem to have guidance to help them in finding the center. On both of my visits, I felt like everyone there would rather be somewhere else.

De La Vega

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Delavega exterior

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to tell you about De La Vega — I visited it some time ago. I had a pleasant enough experience, and I was actually anxious to have a non-chain, non-quick-serve restaurant to recommend to Oviedoans (Oviedoers? Oviedites?). People who live in the Oviedo/Winter Springs area.

But for some reason after I visited, my review got delayed and pushed aside. So let me correct that now.

De La Vega is in a development called Oviedo on the Park that features a well-tailored green space surrounding a lake. The evening I visited there was a festival of some sort in the park with music and food and lots of happy people drinking beer.

There were happy people inside the restaurant, too. The presumed De La Vegas of the restaurant’s name are Mano, the general manager and “rum & tequila catador,” and Nora De La Vega, the chef.

Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill

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Puck exterior

Wolfgang Puck is back in town after a very long absence.

And by that I mean a lot longer than just the closing of the former Wolfgang Puck Cafe. That was the big, two-story restaurant that opened in 1996 in Downtown Disney’s then-called West Side, about the same time as House of Blues and Bongos. Puck was one of the first celebrity chefs to have a presence in Central Florida, and the first iteration of his cafe was quite good, especially the dining room on the second level that was supposed to be an approximation of his Beverly Hills hangout Spago, although it couldn’t be called that because of licensing restrictions.

Oh, here’s a fun bit of trivia: When the Ritz-Carlton was in development to open at Grande Lakes, it approached Puck to open a restaurant there. But because of a noncompete clause in his agreement with Walt Disney World Resort he was unable to consider it. So instead, the Ritz pursued a Miami chef who had recently won a James Beard Award to recreate his popular Coconut Grove restaurant. Norman Van Aken accepted, and that’s how Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton came to be. (The Coconut Grove restaurant closed many years ago.)

At the height of Puck’s popularity, he sold the cafe concept to Chicago’s Levy Restaurants, and the quality of the Disney restaurant plummeted dramatically. After I wrote an updated and largely negative review of Wolfgang Puck Cafe in 2004, I had occasion to speak to Puck by phone on another topic, but I brought up the quality of the local restaurant. He was aware of it and told me that at one point he considered asking the owners to remove his name.

Which brings us now to Disney Springs, the dining, entertainment and retail project that subsumed Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island, Disney Village and the former West Side, and one of the newest restaurants to open there, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. It does not stand on the old site — scorched earth, perhaps — and it’s removed in another substantial way: The food and ambiance are as good and enjoyable as when his old restaurant first opened in ’96.