10th Annual Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FWClassic19 band

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic has grown as large as its name. What once was contained to the causeway that links the two hotel properties now spreads out along the waterway and extends to themed areas around the pool and in various courtyards and even into the hotel, where the Bubble Lounge was festooned with champagne colored balloons as attendants poured high end sparkling wines.

All of the event was moved indoors for the Friday edition of the of the two-night festival because of rain. I can recall that happening at least once before, in 2011, so I know the hotel staff as a good contingency plan. But there’s no doubt that the Food & Wine Classic is at its best when its outdoors.

FWClassic19 tents

And it was on Saturday evening when I attended along with a few thousand other folks. Despite the high turnout, lines for food and drink were short and manageable. That could be because there were so many food and wine stations that it kept everyone spread out.

Mai Thai

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Maithai interior

Downtown Orlando's central business district now has three Thai restaurants, and two are within a block of each other.

Mai Thai recently took over the space at 22 E. Pine St. vacated when Artisan’s Table moved to Church Street. That puts it just a hop, skip and a tom kha gai away from Napasorn, at 56 E. Pine and close to Thai Cafe on Magnolia Avenue.

Mai Thai wants to be known as an Asian fusion restaurant, though like everything else in life wanting it doesn’t make it so. About the only thing fusionesque on the menu is the Duck Tacos, but I’ll come back to those in a moment.

MT apparently also wants to be both a restaurant and a nightclub. Apparently, after dinner service the tables and chairs are moved out of the dining room to clear way for a dance floor. That might make one wonder how serious a restaurant it wants to be, fusion or otherwise.

The Whiskey's Master Series Chef's Table

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Whiskey series room

The team down at the Whiskey, the Restaurant Row tavern and restaurant, hosted a Master Series Chef’s Table recently and proved why it’s known for so much more than burgers.

Whiskey series salad line

Executive chef Chastity Harvey started the multi-course dinner with a Ratatouille Napoleon, stylishly served in a rolled cucumber with fresh greens plumage. Bacon jam and elderflower dressing were also part of the cool package.

Cuba 1800's

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Cuba 1800s top

I was motoring along Colonial Drive the other day when I spotted a new restaurant, Cuba 1800’s, so I decided to take a step back in time and have lunch.

Actually, I can’t really see the difference between this place and similar restaurants specializing in Cuban cuisine. But I can tell you I liked the food very much. And the casual picnic-style atmosphere. And especially the way I was welcomed by the staff of Cuba 1800’s.

And before my copy editor friends come after me, yes, I know that the apostrophe in the name is mechanically incorrect, but that’s the way the restaurant has it so that’s what I’m going with.

And besides, with food this good I’m willing to forgive them for being too possessive.

Delaney's Tavern

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Delaneys table view

It always seemed like a good idea to me, a full-service restaurant in the culinary desert between downtown and Sodo. It made especially good sense to locate one across the street from the massive Orlando Health medical complex as a hospital-food alternative, not to mention adult beverage opportunity, for staff and visiting family members.

But Doc’s, the first restaurant to give it a try, couldn’t quite make a go of it, not even with an estimable chef like Neil Connolly, who was formerly the private chef for the Kennedy family compund in Massachusetts. And it didn’t do any better when it tried, after Connolly’s death, to go sports bar-ish as the casual Doc’s Streetside Grille.

But something feels different about Delaney’s Tavern. It essentially occupies the same space, though it was somewhat altered when a boutique hotel was added to the upper floors (something that was planned even back in the early Doc’s days). I hesitate to use a cliché and call it Cheers like, even though that’s what the owners Dr. Tom Winters, an orthopedic surgeon, and his wife, Dr. Becky Moroose, were going for. But it does have that mien, and not just because John Ratzenberger, the actor who played Cliff, a regular at the bar of the old television series, could be spotted sitting on one of its stools recently.

It’s comfortable, it’s relaxed, and it feels like a place you might want to visit regularly. And I can only imagine the food served here is better than you’d find at Melville's Hungry Heiferthe restaurant upstairs from the fictional bar.

A lot better.

Supper Club Redux: Harvest Dinner at Raglan Road

Written by Scott Joseph on .

RaglanSC table

I’m delighted to inform you that Raglan Road, the Disney Springs Irish pub and restaurant, is in excellent hands with its executive chef, Mark O’Neill. Raglan Road was the setting for our recent meeting of Scott Joseph’s Supper Club and O’Neill put together a Harvest Dinner menu that had us all over the moon.

RaglanSC shepherd

Following a welcome cocktail, we began our dinner with O’Neill’s version of Shepherd’s Pie. That classic dish has always been stylized at Raglan but this version elevated it to something wonderful. It had the usual beer and lamb along with root vegetables in a red wine based gravy. But the mashed potatoes that were piped on top had been smoked in Irish peat. That gave it a moody grace note. It was paired with King of Shoals IPA from Crooked Can Brewing. I could have been happy with that as the only dish of the evening.

But that was just the beginning.

Enchanted Rose

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Enchanted sign

Wonderful news: The drabbest bar on Disney property, the miserable Mizner’s Lounge, is no more, and Enchanted Rose has taken its place – and then some.

Mizner’s was on the second floor of the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, tucked behind the bandstand of the orchestra that plays for the guests in the lobby below. Mizner’s was a step down from the entryway, it was dark and cramped, and perhaps that affected the mood of the cast members who worked there because they were uncharacteristically surly.

That space is now is all lounge – the bar for Enchanted Rose is next door in what used to be a gift shop where racks of t-shirts blocked the windows. A three-sided bar now occupies that space, and the windows offer an unobscured view of the lagoon (or at least they will once the trees are trimmed back a bit.

Enchanted bar

A chandelier of golden rods hangs overhead. It’s meant, I’m told, to represent the gown Belle wears in Beauty and the Beast, the Disney property that inspires the Enchanted Rose.

Chef's Table at the Edgewater

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chefstable bucket

I just spent a perfectly lovely evening at an old favorite I hadn’t visited in too long a time, Chef’s Table at the Edgewater.

Owners Kevin and Laurie Tarter were ahead of the Winter Garden renaissance when they opened their intimate restaurant in the historic Edgewater Hotel there in May of 2008. Eleven years later, the West Orange County hamlet is a hopping with good restaurants and evening entertainment. And the Tarters have expanded their domain with the addition of the Tasting Room, which occupies a space in front of the Chef’s Table’s dining room, and, earlier this year, the acquisition of the Attic Door.

But the Chef’s Table remains the jewel, a leisurely evening of three courses, with wine pairings if you like, served by a friendly and attentive staff.

Tako Cheena

Written by Scott Joseph on .

tako cheena interior

I can’t remember any restaurant taking as much time between announcing it would be moving into a new space and the actual move as Tako Cheena did. It was in July of 2015 that I first told you the popular fusion concept would take over the former Forbidden City Chinese restaurant space just a few doors away from its original Mills 50 location. Even the recently opened Delaney’s Tavern only took three years, and it included building a boutique hotel on top of the restaurant.

I suppose Kobe Japanese Steak House is still the “any minute now” champion – it has entered its second decade with a sign on the property where Barney’s Steak & Seafood once stood announcing that it is “coming soon.”

But anyway, Tako Cheena.

Guru

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Guru exterior

When I called for nominations a couple of months ago for Best Indian in our Foodster Awards for Independent Restaurants, Guru, a Clermont restaurant, kept popping up as a write-in candidate.

I wasn’t familiar with the restaurant, so I headed west to check it out. And when I got there I was surprised to learn that I’ve known the owner for nearly 30 years.

His name is Uday Kadam, and I first reviewed his restaurant in May of 1990. That restaurant was Passage to India, on International Drive in Orlando, and it was very good. Kadam liked my review so much that he had it blown up and hung it in the front window where is stayed for years. In 2008, I revisited the restaurant and in my followup review I asked that the poster-sized, decades-old reprint be removed from the window. Not because it was yellowed and faded but because it was no longer valid. The quality of the experience – food, service, atmosphere – had deteriorated so much that it was no longer valid.