Kaizen Izakaya

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Kaizen interior

Amura, the sushi restaurant on Church Street in downtown Orlando, is now Kaizen Izakaya, and it’s not the first time this restaurant has changed names under the same owner.

When it first opened, more than 20 years ago, it was called Samurai. But, not surprisingly, another restaurant in the state already had claim to that name. So, perhaps to save on signage costs, the owner dropped the first and last letters from the word Samurai and came up with Amura.

What prompted the latest change I can’t say. An izakaya is basically the Japanese equivalent of a pub or tavern where the focus is more on the drinking and mingling with friends – the word means stay sake shop – and the food consists of small bites and nibbles.

Kaizen’s menu is just as robust as before with a full array of sushi and sashimi as well as noodle and rice dishes and other kitchen foods. And the surroundings here don’t exactly inspire one to linger, but I’ll come back to that.

Due Amici

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Due Amici exterior

The first time I visited Due Amici, a new Italian restaurant in College Park, it didn’t quite have all of its stuff together. It also didn’t have its beer and wine license. So one of my dining companions hiked over to Publix and brought back something for us to sip on. In fairness to DA, it had softly opened only a week earlier.

Two months later, its stuff is still a bit disarrayed, though the beer and wine issue has been resolved. But I was a tad flummoxed when I arrived at noon ahead of my lunch companion to find the doors locked, even though it clearly stated out front that the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. What’s more, I could see someone inside with her back to the door, and she did not respond to my knocking.

So I called, and the person who answered (the same one who didn’t answer my knock) was startled to learn that the doors were locked. (That might have something to do with a complete lack of business the first hour.) The music was a tad loud, which might have been why she couldn’t hear me knocking.

But even if the operation seems a bit scattered, the food is good. That was true even on that first visit in the early days.

Hook & Reel

Written by Scott Joseph on .

HookReel exterior

Hook & Reel has set up shop in a former Logan’s Roadhouse on the west side of town. It’s a restaurant company that started in Lanham, Maryland, but is now based out of Flushing, N.Y. Any restaurant based in a place called Flushing is just asking for it if it doesn’t serve good food.

Luckily, H&R does serve good food – seafood, in case you hadn’t already deduced – in a casual and relaxed atmosphere.

The menu is Louisiana accented. In fact, the sign out front declares “Cajun Seafood & Bar.” The highlight of the menu is a seafood combo that is served in a poofy, clear plastic bag that sort of looks like a transparent Jiffy Pop. I had to order one after seeing several go by my table. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Carrie's Winter Park Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Carries exterior

I had arranged to meet a friend at a Winter Park restaurant for lunch, but when we got there we discovered it was closed. Apparently its experimental lunch concept is no more, though no one felt the need to change the information on the website.

Luckily, I remembered a place I’d driven by a few weeks ago, so we hopped into my car and drove to Carrie’s Winter Park Cafe.

Carrie’s serves only breakfast and lunch, closing each day at 2 p.m. My friend and I made it in under the wire, and luckily one of us was in the mood for breakfast and the other wanted lunch.

Signature India

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Signature exterior

As we await the results of the 2019 Best Indian Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants, let me tell you about a new Indian cafe in South Orlando that you may want to give a try.

It’s called Signature India and it opened in April in a strip mall at 11352 S. Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando. The place isn’t heavy on decor. There are tomato red walls and oxblood red booth backs and pendant lights over the booth tables. The place is neat and tidy for the most part.


American Social

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Amso exterior

American Social Bar & Kitchen has set up shop in the former Bar Louis space at the Rialto plaza on Sand Lake Road. Amso, as it would like you to call it (though I think Ameri-Sosh has a nicer ring), is out of south Florida where it has two locations, the original, on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale, and in Miami overlooking the Miami River. There is another location in Tampa.

Amso – why does that make me think of cleaning products? – is a sports bar with a boisterous atmosphere. Think loud. No, louder. It features an “all-American” menu, so of course you’ll find hummus, Ropa Vieja Tacos and Steak Frites. That the Steak Frites is topped with chimichurri only makes it all the more American.

Notes on Magical Dining: Soco Thornton Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco magdine sign

As I mentioned the other day, Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining restaurant promotion that was to end on Sept. 30 has been extended a week, through Oct. 7. The extension was ostensibly to make up for lost momentum – and revenue – from the threat of hurricane Dorian.

So quick, before Humberto becomes a thing, get out and dine magically some more.

One restaurant you may want to consider is Soco in downtown’s Thornton Park.

I stopped in to try chef Greg Richie’s Magical Dining menu and enjoyed what I tasted.

The Steer

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Steer exterior

Take a look at the menu offered at the Steer, a new steakhouse on South Orange Avenue, and you’ll realize this is not a restaurant gunning after the likes of Christner’s, Ruth’s Chris or even Linda’s La Cantina. When you can get a 12 ounce New York strip for $15, you’re probably not in the realm of fine dining.

The restaurant’s subtitle – Pioneer Steakhouse – might lend a clue, as well. Pioneers weren't historically known for refinement. The Steer occupies a former Pizza Hut hut that most recently, and for decades, was home to Bauern-Stube, a German restaurant noted for its eclectic and cluttered decor. Perhaps the best that can be said for the Steer is that its owner successfully un-Stubed the place.

But go back to the price point and you’ll find it easier to find other kind words.

The Hammered Lamb

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Hammered logo

For more than six and a half years, the Hammered Lamb has occupied a space on North Orange Avenue across from Lake Ivanhoe. Previous occupants included Ethos, the vegan restaurant that moved to Winter Park, and various gay bars.

Most people who patronize the business today are arguably there to mimic the lamb, that is, get hammered. In other words, most people still think of it primarily as a bar.

But in recent months, HL has been striving to up its food game, offering a variety of appetizers and sandwiches. So I stopped by with a colleague to check out the menu. And, not incidentally, have a drink.

The Attic Door

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Attic Door counter top

I just returned from New Orleans and I don’t think I had a bowl of gumbo there any better than the one I had at the Attic Door in Winter Garden just before I left.

But I’m not surprised, given that the Attic Door’s menu is under the direction of Kevin Tarter, the talent behind Chef’s Table at the Edgewater and the adjacent Tasting Room. Now Tarter and his wife, Laurie, have taken over JR’s Attic Door, a wine bar and music room on the main downtown strip, upping its food game along with tweaking the decor.