Magical Dining Preview: Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Big Fin dining room

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining promotion begins Friday, Aug. 23, but I stopped by Big Fin Seafood Kitchen for a sneak preview.

Big Fin always offers quality seafood at price commensurate with its quality, but its MagDine menu represents a real bargain.

For the uninitiated, restaurants participating in Magical Dining (formerly known as Magical Dining Month, or MagDinMo) offer special three-course, prix fixe menus for $35, excluding tax, gratuity and beverages. One dollar from each meal sold goes to local charities. (As of publication or this article, this year’s charities had not yet been announced.)

Some restaurants, shall we say, cheat a bit. They sign up to participate – restaurants pay a fee to Visit Orlando to be a part of the promotion – but instead of offering dishes that are representative of their regular menus, they feature items that aren’t even on their menus, presumably dishes with lower food costs so they don’t lose money on the $35 charge. Or $34, since the restaurants have to send in the dollar-per-sale collections. Others might present regular menu items but in smaller portions.

Ming's Bistro

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mings interior

Some new friends, new to town, invited us to join them for Chinese food, but, naturally, asked me to select the restaurant. Based on its location, and the fact that it had been years since I reviewed it, favorably, I chose Ming’s Bistro in the Mills 50 district.

Why, right there on the front window was a banner with a quote and my name. As we passed it on our way inside, I thought my new friends must think I really know what I’m talking about.

By the end of the dinner they were probably thinking I don’t know a thing. The meal was largely a disappointment.

Kadence

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Kadence Painting

I would say that Kadence is one of the best restaurants in Central Florida but I’m not sure that it is. A restaurant, I mean.

Sure, it meets most of the criteria: It prepares and serves food for which customers pay; beverages are available; full service is provided.

But those components are applied in such a way as to produce something unique.

For starters, you don’t so much as make a reservation to dine here as you do buy a ticket. You essentially pay for your meal in advance and your purchase is nonrefundable, just as it would be if you were buying a ticket to a performance, which in a way you are. The policy helps to cut down on the number of no-shows and lessens the pain if a booked seat goes empty.

Because there are only nine seats in the place.

903 Mills Market

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903 front

I first wrote about 903 Mills Market in 2003 when original owners Jim Ellis and Nick Massoni took over what had previously been known as Max’s Market and made it a Lake Davis neighborhood hangout.

Since then, I’ve conservatively driven past the corner cafe more than 2000 times — I live nearby, but given the vagaries of a restaurant critic’s life, casual, nonprofessional meals are something of a rarity.

But on a recent Sunday morning, not wanting to make breakfast or drive far away, I grabbed the other half and the dog (the other quarter?) and we took a stroll to the corner of Mills Avenue and Gore Street.

Tasting Notes: 2014 Mad Violets Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

Mad Violets label

Tasting Notes for 2014 Mad Violets Mantis Reserve Pinot Noir.

Mad Violets was started by Sterling Fox and Kelly Kidneigh in Oregon. They are a family team, Sterling grows the grapes, and Kelly makes the wine. They have created these wines that are so illustrious of Oregon. They created Mantis reserve using their favorite barrels from vintage selection and bled them together. 2014 was a six barrel blend, and those six barrels came from two vineyard sites. They used Buttonfield vineyard Pinot Noir (which is one they own) and Trout Lilly Ranch Vineyard Pinot Noir. All Pinot Noir used in the blends are two types of clones the first being Pommard clones, and the second being 777 clones. The wine is blended and made to age.

How I have been taught to taste wine is as follows:

Bull & Bear

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BullandBear dining room

While so many fine dining restaurants and high-end steakhouses are pulling back and reconfiguring themselves to be more casual — Shula’s Steakhouse at the Dolphin comes to mind — Bull & Bear maintains its commitment to elegance and high quality. It’s one of the reasons it was voted Best Restaurant Overall in our 2018 Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants.

The restaurant opened almost exactly 10 years ago, in September 2009, in what was then the first Waldorf Astoria outside of Manhattan, and it was named for the iconic steakhouse located inside the original hotel. Other Waldorf Astorias have opened since, but none has a restaurant called Bull & Bear. And with the original Waldorf Astoria closed for renovations, the restaurants along with it, Orlando’s is now the only Bull & Bear. Word is that when the New York Waldorf reopens as a combination hotel and condominium complex, Bull & Bear may not reopen with it. So the Orlando restaurant truly does offer a unique dining experience.

Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Zasian pho cu 2

Z Aisan Vietnamese Kitchen is one of the latest to join the Mills 50 lineup of eateries in what is historically the center of the city’s Asian community. For a long time, each new Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the area seemed no different than those that had come before. The menus were the same, which is to say voluminous and repetitive, and even the decors seemed cookie cutter and stereotypical.

But that’s started to change in the past few years. Menus are more thoughtful and aren’t intent on presenting every possible combination of ingredients. And even the restaurants themselves seem more modern and up to date.

One restaurant that I thought did a nice job of modernizing the Vietnamese dining experience was Mai Bistro, which opened in late 2017 and unfortunately closed in early 2018.

Now Z Asian has moved into the same space and it, too, offers a more modernistic approach to the Vietnamese dining experience while still paying homage to the traditional recipes.

Supper Club Redux: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster and Chalk Hill Estate Wines

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners sc steak and mush

Scott Joseph’s Supper Club convened recently at Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster for a sold-out evening of fine food, stellar service and exceptional wines from Chalk Hill Estate.

Supper Clubbers were greeted by Alice Christner, who curated the seating chart for the tables in our private dining room. Christner was giddy about leaving the following day on a vacation — the first that she and her husband, David, had taken, she said, since they joined David’s mother, Carol, in running the restaurant following Russ Christner’s death in 2005. (Those of you who are thinking about owning a restaurant, take note of the committment.)

First Watch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

First Watch dining

Until last week, I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a First Watch, but I could tell you the first time.

That was in 1988, in Phoenix, and my erstwhile colleagues at the newspaper I had recently been laid off from wanted to take me out to a goodbye lunch before I headed to Orlando and a new job. One of my friends suggested we go to a place that had opened near the newspaper’s offices. It was new to town, open only for breakfast and lunch and was called First Watch.

Inasmuch as that was 31 years ago, I can’t remember a whole lot about the experience. But I can tell you a lot about the brunch I had recently at the First Watch in the Waterford Lakes area. I was invited to join FW’s regional marketing manager to see what’s new at First Watch, both in the restaurant’s ambiance and its menu. And to try something unique to this Central Florida location: alcohol.

The Waterford Lakes location is among the first to experiment with adding a bar, something you might not expect in a restaurant that’s open only until 2:30 p.m. daily. But when you consider the popularity of brunch cocktails — and this location’s proximity to UCF — it makes sense.

And you should know that this is not a name-your-drink bar; there isn’t even a bartender. Instead, First Watch features an array of premixed cocktails made with juices juiced in house daily.

Terroir and the Part it Plays in Wine

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

 

Vineyard France

This is the second in a series of columns by wine expert Brittney Coutts.

What is Terroir? It’s a simple yet so complex and so controversial idea. To understand the basics of it, you have to think all the way back to freshman year Biology class, and try to remember learning about Phenotype and Genotype.

The genotype is the genetic characteristics that the plant or animal carries from its parents responsible for one particular trait. Phenotype is all of the other observable characteristics, which are affected by both environment and those genetic characteristics.
According to Webster, the exact definition of terroir (pronounced Ter-Waar) is the completely natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. The characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced. So again, affecting the phenotype of the plant. Honestly, this is where it gets controversial. Why? Well, many wine scholars believe this theory of terroir to be true, but as much as they want to shun the non-believers, they make some pretty solid arguments.

Before we get into their arguments let's breakdown what Terroir is as a whole. Terroir is four main components that interact with each other to create a sense of place.