P's VietMí Café

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Maybe it’s just me, but when I see a place called P’s VietMí Café I have questions. First, who or what is P? And what is VietMí? The café part I was able to figure out on my own.

But the other two questions remain a mystery. A young man who answered the phone at the south Orlando restaurant, which opened earlier this year, seemed perplexed that I would even ask such questions, as though no one had ever inquired before. P? It’s just the name of the restaurant. Nope, not someone’s initial; it’s just P’s.

As for my other Q, it’s called VietMí because it’s a Vietnamese restaurant. I could almost here the silent “duh!” in his response.

The Strand

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The Strand, the small cafe in the Mills 50 district, is approaching its seventh anniversary, long enough for most people to forget that it is in the space that for many years was Chuck’s Diner. So I thought it might be time to stop by and see how it’s doing.

I found it looking warm and inviting on a midweek evening, shaded lights giving a soft glow to the tables with formica tops and metal banding, the sort of table that was in my family’s kitchen when I was growing up. More eclectic work lights hang over an L-shaped bar that leads to the in-full-view kitchen.

KCuvée aims to elevate the wine-tasting experience

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Cuvee tables

KCuvée is aiming to elevate the wine tasting experience in Central Florida.

KCuvée is a wine education and consulting company established by Katie Bean and Carolina Marin (their first initials are the K and the C of KCuvée). Their tasting classes differ from others in that they’re not social gatherings disguised as wine tastings – the two are serious about providing an educational experience.

Which is not to say they don’t have fun doing it. The two young women are amiable and take a good-humored approach to the topic at hand. But they’re determined that even well-seasoned wine lovers leave one of their classes with some new knowledge.

Orlando Classic: Cecil's Texas-Style Barbecue

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I first wrote about Cecil’s Texas-Style Barbecue in 1992, the year that it opened on South Orange Avenue. It was in my weekly Chow Hound column in the Orlando Sentinel and I included it in a roundup of new barbecue joints that had recently opened.

I also mentioned Ream & Co. in Bayhill Plaza; Buz-moz Barbeque & Grill in Apopka; and Lazy Pig BBQ and Tavern just a few blocks south of Cecil’s. I also noted in the same column that there was a new College Park location for Carolina BBQ, a popular Eastern North Carolina barbecue restaurant on Curry Ford Road, and a second location on Primrose Drive for B’s Bar-B-Que Diner, which was near the corner of Mills Avenue and Nebraska Street.

You may have noticed that all of those restaurants have closed – B’s original spot has been a vacant lot for years, though the last time I looked its sign was still there. Heck, even the Chow Hound is gone. (Cecil’s also opened a second location in the Casselberry area that closed in late ’99.)

Island Fin Poké Company Windermere

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Island Fin package

There was a time when the only place in Central Florida you could find sushi was in a Japanese restaurant. Then – I don’t know, maybe 15 years ago – it started to show up on the menus of Thai, Chinese and even American restaurants. Sushi was suddenly hot.

At first I took a purist view. Sushi, I argued, was an art that should only be performed by those who had painstakingly studied the craft. Then, a well-known restaurant consultant whose opinion I respected told me to get over myself. Sushi, he argued, was a good way to introduce fresh fish to a menu and in doing offer a healthful dining option.

That’s how I feel about today’s growing poke market. There are some people who still would not deign to try sushi, but put many of the same ingredients into a bowl and they’ll gladly partake.

One of the area’s newest poke purveyors is Island Fin Poké Company in Windermere. It’s a small storefront in the Grove shopping complex, and at first glance you might think the menu is rather small. But with three bases, eight protein options, and over 30 mix-ins, toppings and sauces, the variations are infinite. (Well, technically they’re finite but I can’t do the math.)

Bolay

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Bolay, a quick-server from South Florida, is another assemblage restaurant, though I’m not quite sure what the assembly is based on – I mean besides the rice, noodles or greens that you’d find in other assemblage concepts. It’s sort of American meets Asian meets Cuban. The name, according to the website – which currently features a popup pushing holiday gift cards every time one navigates to a different page; hugely annoying – the name is a portmanteau of bol, the Spanish word for bowl, and olay, which is either an alternative spelling of olé or refers to “oil of”; I’m assuming the former. (And wouldn’t it be Bololay?)

It came into the Central Florida market a couple of years ago with a restaurant in Lake Nona, then spread to Oviedo and Winter Park. I found myself nearby the Winter Park store recently, so I figured it was time to give it a try.

Papa Llama

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Papallama dining room

If you were to compare Papa Llama to other area Peruvian restaurants based solely on their menus, you might conclude the new Curry Ford West restaurant was a little meagre in its offerings. Three small plates, or appetizers, and four main dishes isn’t exactly an abundancia of selections.

But just taste the avocado anticuchero with its sulky chili sauce or the arroz chaufa with chicken and overweight kernels of corn and you’ll wonder why the other restaurants bother with any other menu items.

Even the lomo saltado, which is something of a national dish and found on every Peruvian restaurant’s menu, is somehow more special here. Perhaps it’s because the menu is so uncluttered that the kitchen can give more attention to the quality of the few items it offers.

Whatever the reason, Papa Llama is a restaurant worth visiting, regardless of the specialized cuisine.

Taqueria Las Cazuelas

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Ever since I first ate at Las Cazuelas, a small market and cafe on South Conway Road, it has been one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. Authentic food served in a cozy, spotless setting by people who seem genuinely happy that you’re there.

Now comes Taqueria Las Cazuelas, a storefront offshoot on Orlando’s east side. As the name indicates, it’s a taco-centric eatery, though there is no attempt to put a cazuela, or casserole, into a tortilla. Thank goodness.

FK Your Diet

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FK exterior

If you can get past the name, you’ll find some pretty good food at FK Your Diet, a Fort Myers/Cape Coral restaurant that recently opened an Orlando location in SoSoDo. It’s a breakfast and lunch eatery that features conventional dishes with creative twists served in copious portions.

But there is that name.

Technically, the F and K are meant to stand for Foster Kid. The concept’s owner, Doug Miller, grew up as a foster child and has dedicated his business to help children in similar situations, pledging a portion of the restaurants’ proceeds to the cause. Admirable.

But Foster Kid Your Diet doesn’t make any sense. FK Your Diet does as crude shorthand. This restaurant isn’t the only nor the first to resort to tongue-in-cheek uncouthness. The popular sandwich shop Bad As’s apparently thinks a well-placed apostrophe makes it more G-rated. And it’s not just independently owned local restaurants, either. The British owner of French Connection clothing retailer boldly uses FCUK as its logo. Not very subtle.

But I’m guessing it’s only those of us of a certain age, those who remember when television was scandalized the first time Johnny Carson said hell on The Tonight Show, will raise a prudish eyebrow.

And like I said, get past it and enjoy some good food.

Swine & Sons and Da Kine Poke

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I got a two-fer when I ordered a meal from Swine & Sons, the gourmet sandwich shop inside the Local Butcher & Market on Orange Avenue in Winter Park. I also picked up a poke bowl from Da Kine, which also shares space in the market.

And I could easily have scored a hat trick if I had chosen one of the smash burgers from S&S’s menu, which specifies it uses meat from the Local Butcher’s butchers.

But instead I was drawn to the Chicken Cordon Bleu and a Southernized Cuban sandwiches.