Written by Scott Joseph on .

Normans exterior

Norman’s, the upscale dining restaurant from one of Florida’s most celebrated chefs, Norman Van Aken, has opened in its new location at Dellagio Town Center in the Restaurant Row District after an absence of nearly four years. Its return immediately widens the field for anyone conducting a search for Best Restaurant of Central Florida.

Norman’s had previously been at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando and in fact opened with the hotel in 2003. It was the first time the luxury hotel chain had partnered with an independent chef. (Here’s a fun bit of trivia: The Ritz-Carlton originally approached Wolfgang Puck to open a restaurant there, but Puck already had a restaurant at what was then Downtown Disney West Side and his noncompete clause with Walt Disney World prevented him from having another restaurant that close.)

When it opened, Norman’s was a second location for Van Aken’s popular Coral Gables restaurant (since closed) and was known originally as Norman’s at the Ritz-Carton. In 2019 the Ritz decided to end its relationship with Norman’s and the restaurant closed in September of that year. (The space is now occupied by Knife & Spoon, headed by another celebrity chef, John Tesar.)

Although Van Aken and his partner, Thomas D. Wood Jr., found a property to move to fairly quickly – selecting a vacated Bravo! Italian restaurant at the Dellagio – the soon-to-rear-its-ugly-head pandemic brought the process to a halt before it could begin.

But here it is. And as Norma (not Norman) Desmond sings in “Sunset Boulevard,” it’s as if we never said goodbye.

Enzo's on the Lake

Written by Scott Joseph on .

 Enzo sign

I like to revisit a restaurant, especially a long-established one like Enzo’s on the Lake, whenever there is a major change. The recent sale of the business by original owner Jo Anne Perlini, who opened it in 1980 with her then-husband, Enzo, to Orlando dentist John Khalil is about as major as changes get.

So it’s time to take another look. But for this one I asked for help.

The opportunity for two diners to join me on a visit to Enzo’s was a silent auction item at last month’s Orlando Shakes gala. Ellen Prague was the successful bidder, but Winter Park couple Steve Goldman and Melanie Love said they wanted in on it, too. So they agreed to match Pragues bid and I made reservations at Enzo’s on the Lake for two nights exactly one week apart.

Token Ramen

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Token ext

Perhaps there is some obscure meaning to the word token that I don’t know about, but I’m at a loss as to why someone would name a restaurant Token Ramen. But that’s what has taken over the Mills Park space that was previously occupied by Too Much Sauce. But now that I think about it, I don’t know why anyone would name a place Too Much Sauce, either, so let’s just move beyond the name.

Token Ramen, which shares the address with Kung Fu Tea, is a quick-serve concept out of Largo. The Orlando store is its 10th, with all others within the Sunshine State. Another Orlando location is planned for Lake Nona.

The Moderne

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Moderne bar

The Mills 50 District has always been one of the city’s more vibrant dining areas, even before it was named Mills 50. Before that it was unofficially called Little Saigon because of the many Vietnamese-owned restaurants and businesses.

There have, at times, been some exceptional food to be found in this area, named for the cross section of Mills Avenue and U.S. Highway 50. But for the most part, the dining experiences have historically been decidedly downscale – not drab but seldom anything above casual.

That has begun to change. Tori Tori brought a more urban chic feel to the neighborhood when it opened a few years ago. And now The Moderne has moved in with a fresh, new stylishness of its own.

Honolulu Harry's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

HonolululHarry sign

The menu at Honolulu Harry’s, a Hawaiian bar and restaurant in College Park, includes “a note from the owners,” a rather lengthy, stream-of-consciousy address with a basic theme that we should spend more time taking care of ourselves. It concludes by telling the reader, “You’re good enough.”

If only the restaurant aimed so high.

But maybe that’s the main issue. Maybe Honolulu Harry’s wants to be more of a bar than a restaurant.

Tawa Modern Indo-Pak Cuisine

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Tawa ext

Usually, if I walk into a restaurant during peak lunchtime and find it mostly empty, alarm bells start going off in my head. True, the bells help drown out the voices, but generally it’s a negative thing.

But for some reason when I walked into Tawa Modern Indo-Pak Cuisine in the Dr. Phillips/Restaurant Row district just after noon and found only one other table occupied, I didn’t turn and run.

Maybe it was the pleasant interior, cool and quiet, or the warm smile and welcome from the young woman who bade me to sit wherever I wanted. Or maybe it was that I had limited time and no other options and just wanted to have lunch. The voices in my head told me to stay.

And they were right for a change. The food was delicious and plentiful – even the item ordered from the lunch-specials menu.

Knife & Spoon

Written by Scott Joseph on .

KnifeSpoon23 dining

As we await the announcement of this year’s Florida Michelin Guide winners – they could come at any time within the next couple of months – I took the opportunity to revisit one of Central Florida’s starred restaurants, Knife & Spoon, to do an inspection of my own. Based on my visit, I expect the Ritz-Carton headliner will hold on to its star or even gain an additional one.

There have been a couple of changes since last year. Tyler Kineman took over the position of chef de cuisine from opening cdc Gerald Sombright. Kineman, who previously was Knife & Spoon’s sous chef, serves as the permanently-on-site head of the kitchen when Dallas-based John Tesar isn’t in town.

Italian House Pizza & Restaurant

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Italianhouse int

“This is why I don’t come here anymore.”

The woman was harrumphing herself out of her booth just as I was passing to sit in the one next to it. As near as I could tell, she was unhappy about something concerning her order and even unhappier about having to get up to find her server so she could complain to him.

This was at the generically named Italian House Pizza & Restaurant on South Crystal Lake Drive in the Curry Ford West District. I was tempted to point out to the woman that she apparently does still “come here,” but I let it go. Eventually, I, too, would learn that service here wasn’t exactly trained and professional. “I’m a really lousy waiter,” my server would say at one point in the meal. And I would also have to get up at one point to hunt him down.

Otto's High Dive

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Ottos ext

I have no idea why it’s called Otto’s High Dive, but the new “neighborhood rum bar” with a Cuban food menu is eminently likable.

There are no clues as to who Otto is or was at the restaurant or on its website (which has precious little information besides its location and hours of operation). And the decor is not swimming pool-themed; one presumes the name is suggesting a tonier type of divey bar, oxymoronic as that might be.

And there is nothing divey about the place – especially the prices, but we’ll come back to that.

Tabla Oviedo

Written by Scott Joseph on .

TablaOviedo door

I feel a certain connection with Tabla, the Indian restaurant, because it was the first restaurant I reviewed for this website after leaving the Orlando Sentinel in 2008. Back then, it called itself Tabla Bar & Grill and was located in a nondescript space in a motel or timeshare (I could never figure which one) near Universal Studios Orlando.

Fifteen years later, that first location still exists. But in the past few years owner Nora Jain and family have grown the business to four locations. The Winter Park Tabla opened in 2020 in the off-Park space that had been Paris Bistro. Then Lake Nona got a version in late 2021.

Now, Tabla has opened in Oviedo in Center Lake Park overlooking the quiet lake and fountain. To maintain bragging rights that I’ve visited all four Tablas, I headed to Oviedo recently. And I had to smile at how far Tabla has come.