Elize

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Elize tuna

I’ll admit that I mourned a little bit when I first heard the news that Rusty Spoon had been sold. I considered it to be one of Orlando’s true gems and its chef/owner, Kathleen Blake, one of our culinary stars. Losing it and K Restaurant seemed like a double punch to the literal and figurative gut.

And hearing that Rusty Spoon’s name would change to Elize with a menu featuring cuisine from the Netherlands didn’t inspire bated anticipation.

But the food at Elize, though decidedly different from that of Rusty Spoon, is every bit as wonderful, and the dining experience is exceptional enough to place it not only on the list of downtown Orlando’s must-visit restaurants but all of Central Florida’s as well.

Twisted Root Burger Co.

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Twisted Root burger view

Twisted Root Burger Co. is an odd name for a burger joint, so you’d think there might be a logical explanation for it. But I’ll address that later. TRBC is a youngish chain out of the Dallas area with a hefty handful of locations. The one that opened recently on Aloma Avenue in Winter Park is one of 17.

Owners Jason Boso and Quincy Hart started the concept in 2006 after meeting in culinary school, where they both were seeking new careers after jobs in stock brokerages and telephone line repair. That first Twisted, in Deep Ellum, a Dallas neighborhood, caught the attention of Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” television program, and, as has happened so many times before, it took off.

The newest Twisted is in the Grove at Winter Park shopping mall on Aloma Avenue at Old Howell Branch Road. The entrance sits under a marquee-like sign. You can spot the front door because it says “Get you buns in here” right next to it.

Stefano's Trattoria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Stefano20 interior

I’ll admit to having some trepidation about a Stefano’s Trattoria without Stefano. The LaCommares sold the popular Winter Springs restaurant about five years ago to F. Alejandro Martinez and I worried that it was Stefano, his wife, Marie, and their children who added an extra ingredient that made it all so delicious and delightful.

But after a recent visit my qualms have been calmed. Stefano’s Trattoria is every bit as good as it was in the early days, the food is still expertly crafted with a satisfying homeyness and served by a staff that treats every guest like a member of the family.

Chi-Kin

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chi Kin bowl

Menus don’t get much more succinct – succincter? – than the one at Chi-Kin, a new quick-server in the Mills 50 district.

It’s basically chicken, as you probably phonetically guessed, and Korean fried chicken to be more precise. (Preciser?)

Korean fried chicken, KFC, if you will, is known for being extra crispy and usually extra spicy. It’s been a popular breakout item on many Korean menus for the past several years and has even made its way on to otherwise American menus. For all its Southern contemporaneousness, Soco in Thornton Park has had KFC on its menu since its first day.

Streetwise Urban Food

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Streetwise exterior

I stopped in the other day at Streetwise Urban Food, a small quick-serve on Hoffner Avenue that, despite listing its opening date as April, 2019, seems as though it’s just moved in.

There’s a temporary sign hanging in front of the strip mall space, and inside a clear-glass Pepsi cooler had only one lone bottle in it. Perhaps they were anticipating a delivery following a run on soda?

Not sure. When I entered the space it was eerily quiet and there was no one out front. But a young woman soon appeared from the kitchen space and greeted me, asking me what she could get me. I explained that I had only just arrived and needed to consider the menu.

Takumi-tei

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 Takumi exterior

After so many years of a trend leading away from fine dining and toward more casual, even quick-service, restaurants, it’s nice to see some more upscale restaurants come online recently. And Walt Disney World is responsible for a few of them, notably Toledo at the Gran Destino Tower at Coronado Springs Resort and the just-opened Topolino at the Riviera Resort.

Add Takumi-tei to that list. Opened in July, this elegant dinner-only occupies a previously under utilized space at the Japan pavilion in Epcot. As with the other restaurants at the pavilion, Takumi-tei is operated by Mitsukoshi, the Tokyo-based department store.

El Vic's Kitchen

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ElVics interior

Every now and then another restaurant will come up with the idea to serve a menu featuring “global cuisine,” with dishes cherry picked and compiled from cuisines from around the world. A little Italian, a little Latin, maybe some French.

It never works. No less a restaurant Midas than Manny Garcia tried it in 1988 with a concept called Latitudes, which had an airport lounge decor to suggest the diner could travel to faraway places through the menu. It didn’t work, and Garcia converted the restaurant into the Winter Park location of his already successful Pebbles.

Restaurants need cohesion and focus. It’s admirable to want to be all things to all people, but it’s better to be one thing to the people who want that thing, and to do it well enough that they’ll come back often.

El Vic’s Kitchen in College Park is the latest to make the “we are the world” mistake. (The name of the restaurant is another misstep, but I’ll come back to that.) And it’s unfortunate because the path the restaurant should take is obvious. And it would offer a much more satisfying dining experience.

Dexter's New Standard

Written by Scott Joseph on .

New Standard room

Is anyone accepting wagers on when Dexter’s New Standard will officially drop the first word in its name?

The name, of course, is homage to Dexter’s of Winter Park, one of what was once a quadruple of restaurants. The Winter Park location was the original, though it did not start out in the Hannibal Square space that it recently vacated. It began as a wine bar and retail shop, owned by Dexter Richardson, and expanded to become more of a restaurant. As other locations opened, Winter Park’s took on the identity of also being a venue for live music.

A little more than a year ago, all of the Dexter’s were sold to different entities. Only Dexter’s of Lake Mary remains, if you don’t count Dexter’s New Standard.

And I don’t. I suppose it made sense initially to keep the Dexter’s name as a connection to its roots, a tribute to the beginnings of what once was a beloved bôite. But the new moniker that was attached when the restaurant was moved to its current home in Winter Park’s Ravaudage plaza more than suggests a breakaway from the past – you can’t get any more succinct than New Standard.

But while there are certain echos of a Dexter’s past – popular menu items, though reimagined; a continued dedication to live music; and a renewed commitment to an ambitious wine program – this clearly is a new restaurant.

Babbi Babbi Korean Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Babbi exterior

Babbi Babbi Korean Kitchen wasn’t exactly what I was expecting it to be. In fact, I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed when I walked into the new eatery at Phillips Crossing and discovered it was a quick-serve (order at the counter) operation. Even more annoyed to discover that the classic dish Bibimbap was offered as an assemblage item, with the diner tasked with choosing type of rice, which meat and what toppings to enhance or possibly ruin this traditional rice dish.

But I found plenty of other dishes on the menu that didn’t require me to act as an inexperienced chef, and I soon learned that even though one orders the food at the counter, service is supplied throughout the meal. And even better, the food was quite good.

First Watch Unveils Seasonal Menu

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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FWseasonal bowl wide

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Our friends at First Watch have a new seasonal menu and I stopped by the Mills Park location recently to give them a try.

Oh, before I go any further I wanted to let you know that First Watch will be taking over the former Cinco Tacos + Tequila building in Winter Park. And it will be one of the few First Watches to serve alcohol – not a full bar but with specialty cocktails for those in a brunching mood. Also good news: they’ll be removing the gaudy fake grass from the side of the building.

But back to Mills Park.