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Tolla's in Winter Park

I went with a couple of friends to Tolla's for dinner the other night. I was surprised that one of my companions, a longtime Winter Park resident, had never heard of it, even though I first reviewed it back in early 2004. I was further surprised that Tolla's was still open, not that I didn't think it should be. I liTollasked it well  enough back then, but its location -- on upper pennsylvania Avenue a couple of blocks away from the more bustling Park Avenue -- and the apparent lack of knowledge in how to run a restaurant seemed to be working against the owner, Gary Tolla.

But good food often wins out over lack of experience and lackadaisical service. Our dinner at Tolla's was very good, and in one aspect, excellent.

Tolla and his staff apparently still don't know how to properly run a restaurant. When we arrived and were led to the patio -- most of the seating is outside under an awning -- we discovered our choice of tables was rather limited. It wasn't because all the others were occupied but rather because they had been occupied and vacated but had not been cleared. There really is no reason for that. Every time the server headed back to the kitchen, she could have grabbed some dishes and glasses to take with her.

But we overlooked that shortcoming once the food started to arrive. Say what you will about his skills as a restaurateur, Tolla knows how to cook.

We started with an appetizer of Italian sausage ($3.95), spicy and seared and smothered in a thick, pulpy tomato sauce. Another companion chose the fresh buffalo mozzarella ($7.25) served alla Caprese with thick slices of tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt for flavor.

The only disappointment of the evening -- at least in terms of food -- was the pasta e fagioli ($3.95), which had a thin watery broth and precious few beans, which, given that beans are the fagioli in pasta e fagioli, is a big oversight.

But the entrees were all winners, and none better than the veal marsala ($13.95). What made it so good was not that the veal was perfectly tender, though it was, or that it had been sauteed just right, because it had. It was the sauce, a pitch-perfect blend of sweet marsala wine and butter, converted to a singular substance that lovingly accentuated the meat. Can you tell I liked the veal marsala?

Well, I liked the stuffed shells ($10.25), too. The large pasta shells were filled with a creamy ricottoa concoction and smothered with more of Tolla's wonderful red sauce. Simple as that. And by the way, in case you haven't noticed, the prices here are way below standard Winter Park fare.

There was no live entertainment on the evening I visited, though Tolla's has featured it in the past. It was early in the week, so maybe that's reserved for weekends. And it would be nice if Tolla's could stock some better wines on the list. I think the Winter Park clientele would welcome more variety, or at least better quality.

That is, if they can find it. Of course, it may be that many have found it and discovered the detritus among the tables that my friends and I saw. Many people would see such conditions and just walk away. I can understand that; I've done it a number of times myself. But I knew better about Tolla's and I was pretty sure the food would be worth putting up with the surroundings.

But I would urge Tolla to peek out of the kitchen when he can to manage the dining area a little more. Or else, hire someone who can.

Tolla's is at 240 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Winter Park. Lunch is served Tuesday through Friday and dinner is served Tuesday through Sunday. The phone number is 407-628-0068. Click here for more info and to read Tolla's menu.

Fiorella's Restaurant

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at the Westin Imagine: Imagine it getting better

I had a chance to dine at Fiorella's in the new Westin Imagine hotel last night. The Imagine sits behind the Orange County Convention Center on Universal Boulevard, not far from the Rosen College of Fiorella's Hospitality Management. Do you think we could get the hotel's staff signed up for some refresher courses on basic service?

The event was a media dinner to unveil a new work by local glass artist Charles Kiela, although the artwork wasn't veiled so it wasn't much of an unveiling, so never mind about that.

Since it was a media dinner the menu, under the direction of executive chef Richard Mendoza, was set. The evening started with a reception in the rather unattractive portico outside the restaurant (think bright halogen lighting and a space with all the charm of a typical patio in a tract housing subdivision). While guests sipped wine -- all wines for the evening were supplied by Antinori Winery -- serves passed hors d'oeuvres. No, that's not quite right; servers passed through the area holding a plateful of crostini but never offered them to anyone. I guess if we wanted one we were meant to flag someone down and ask politely.
We moved inside into the smallish but pleasant dining area. There is a lot of warm wood tones and mottled walls a la Tuscan-style plaster. Keila's glassworks decorate the walls and offer splashes of color.
Fiorella's It would be nice if the restaurant used tablecloths to add a touch of classiness (and absorb some of the noise). Hotel restaurants have the advantage of having an onsite laundry facility, so linens shouldn't be that big a deal.
The antipasta course was a platter of fresh mozzarella, wonderful hunks of pecorino romano, little balls of ricotta, soppresata, bresaola and salami. The course was paired with Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva 2003, a blend of 90% sangiovese and 10% cabernet sauvignon. It had wonderful well-rounded tones.
The fish course featured two shrimp wrapped in prosciutto and intertwined in something of a shellfish death grip -- it took a little coaxing to separate them, but they were delicious. The prosciutto lent a decidedly salty note that was not unpleasant. What was unpleasant was the Chianti butter sauce that was spread on the plate. It was a most unattractive grayish brown. Another Chianti Classico Riserva, the 2003 Badia a Passignano, which is 100% sangiovese, was just right with the seasonings.
The roasted veal tenderloin was superb. It was a beautiful medium-rare and was as tender as you'd expect veal to be. It was accompanied by a glop of polenta and assorted roasted vegetables. A 2006 Bolgheri Tenuta Guado al Tasso was the course's selected wine.
The mascarpone-filled poached pear covered with chocolate made the chianti butter sauce look pretty. But even with my eyes closed, the taste and texture didn't save this one for me.
There were plenty of staff members moving about but few seemed to know the basics of good service. I don't think they've had the training because I saw management making some of the same errors, such as back-handed pouring, reaching across guests to pour wine, picking up glasses to fill them and other stuff that are usually dismissed as rookie mistakes. A company like Westin, part of Starwood Hotels, should know better. Indeed, some of the finest service I've had has been at other Starwood properties.
Dust off those training manuals and this could turn into a destination restaurant for locals.

Rocco's Italian Grille

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Rocco's Italian Grille offers monthly menus featuring regions of Italy

I met some friends for dinner at Rocco's recently and was stunned by the lack of business the place had. There were three, maybe four occupied tables, and the restaurant was very quiet. It was 7:30 on a Friday night.

Now, I know that times are tough and a lot of restaurants are hurting for business. But I also know a lot of people are still going out to eat. And, quite amazingly, many of those people choose to eat at restaurants of questionable quality and spotty consistency.
Rocco's quality is excellent, and the consistency is reliable. So I'm stumped as to why it was so empty.

But Rocco's is trying to drum up business by offering monthly menus featuring the regions of Italy. This month it's Campania, the home of Naples.So you've got braised calamari and other seafood specialties of the seaside area.

Rocco's was my choice for Best Italian restaurant in last year's Foodie Awards. It's still award worthy. And if you're looking for good quality Italian food, you should think about dining at Rocco's. At least you'll have a nice quiet meal.

Here's the November menu:

Rocco’s Italian Grille & Bar-Winter Park



Regional Menu-Nov. 2008






Braised calamari in a white wine tomato sauce in the style of beautiful





Mini calzone filled with ricotta cheese, Italian style ham and fresh basil served with marinara sauce $7.00





          Rigatoni pasta tossed with mussels in a light tomato wine sauce $19.00





Fresh fillet of grouper braised with fresh tomatoes, herbs, garlic, distilled water and white wine $26.00


Veal scaloppini sautéed with a garlic, oregano and parsley light tomato sauce $24.00   


IL Dolce



Traditional dessert from the region of



La Abundancia Bakery & Restaurant

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La Abundancia Bakery & Restaurant

I recently aimed the Houndmobile towards Winter Park to check out the former Chef Henry's Cafe, which is now called Chef Hans Cafe -- without an apostrophe and without the Brestowski family that had operated the Eastern European restaurant for many years at a couple of locations. They recently sold the cafe and returned to Eastern Europe.

But despite the Web site's assertion that Chef Hans was open for lunch, it was closed up tight when I arrived. So, I headed back down Howell Branch Road, turned left on Semoran and spotted a little place called La Abundancia. Why not? I thought.

La Abundancia is a little slip of a place on the far corner of a small strip mall. I had been to this very strip mall just before I left the Sentinel. I wrote about a charming little place called Golden Chicken. Ironically, I had stumbled upon Golden Chicken because the place I had intended to dine -- Sazon 436 on the other corner of this same strip mall -- treated me so shabbily that I up and left before I even made it into the dining room. Golden Chicken turned out to be delightful -- and a huge bargain.

La Abundancia is, too.

It's a Colombian restaurant owned by Milder Alzate and Eddy Gonzalez. The menu is on a board on the wall behind the counter, which holds various Latin American baked goods. I wasn't getting a lot of information from the Spanish language menu, so Milder approached and asked if she could offer some help. I asked her what the specialty of the house was, but she misunderstood and told me what the special of the day was -- a plantain soup and a serving of yellow rice and chicken for $7.

I was intrigued by the plantain soup, so I ordered the special.

I couldn't believe how much food I got for seven bucks. The soup was a full bowl, not just a measly cup, and it featured a hearty chicken broth with lots of vegetables and slices of green plantains. The soup could easily have been an entree.

The chicken and rice was also delicious. The yellow rice had lots of chicken meat and a few vegetables, including yummy peas, presented in a molded mound. It had just the right amount of greasiness to add flavor without being, well, greasy.

On the table was a small crock with a pepper sauce. Milder cautioned that it was hot, but the Hound is not afraid of hot.

This stuff was HOT!!! Somehow they found a way to turn fire into a liquid. Hot sauce lovers, you've got to try this one.

There are only a few tables in the place, but there are also a couple outside, though I wouldn't call it patio dining, more like some tables and chairs on the sidewalk. So you might have to be prepared to take the food home with you.

Actually, with the size of the portions, you should at least plan on taking home leftovers.

La Abundancia is at 1555 N. Semoran Boulveard, Winter Park. The phone number is 407-671-0511. Lunch and dinner are served daily. There is no Web site.

Oh, and apparently Chef Hans Cafe is still open. Call first.


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Journeys Restaurant celebrates 1/20th Century

Journey's Journeys, the little restaurant that could -- and still can -- celebrated it's fifth anniversary with a special dinner this week.
Actually, Bram Fowler, who owns and operates the restaurant with his wife, Geraldine, and serves as the chef, says they prefer to refer to the milestone as the restaurant's half-decade anniversary. I suppose that shows some optimism for continued success -- a sort of glass-half-full philosophy.
To be honest, I never thought Journeys would see a first anniversary, let alone a fiver. I certainly had no qualms with the food -- it was all delicious, well-prepared and of high quality. But I worried about the location. It took over a spot in Longwood Village Shoppes down a short lane of storefronts, out of view of anyone driving by even in the parking lot. Other restaurants had tried their hand in that spot, the most recent at the time was a very nice Italian restaurant called Figaro's. And the Fowlers had never owned a restaurant before. It's a tough business for people who have been in it for a long time; tougher for neophytes, and even worse for neophytes in a lousy location.
But against the odds, Journeys has prevailed.

Journey's anniversary dinner was a reservations-only closed event held Wednesday at the Longwood restaurant with guests paying $125 for the seven-course meal with wine pairings.

The evening started on the patio with smoked salmon and American caviar served on blinis, and fresh oysters on the half-shell, paired with L'Aubry Fils nonvintaged brut sparkling wine.

Guests were then invited into the dining room where tables had been assembled into four or five long tables for 8-10 diners each. Someone at my table commented that it was a little like dining on a cruise ship where you're seated with people you don't know.

The first seated course featured Boston bibb and arugula lettuce dressed in mandarin vinaigrette topped with half of a small Maine lobster. It was a little awkward coaxing the meat out of the shell, and a little messy, too, but it was a substantial salad. A Star Lane sauvignon blanc (2006) accompanied the salad.

The next course was supposed to have featured black grouper wrapped in cellophane. Instead, Fowler said he decided to just bake the fish sans cellophane because unwrapping the fish would have been too messy for the guests. Those of us who had struggled with the lobster were relieved by that. A 2005 Dierberg chardonnay that was too big and buttery on its own mellowed with the fish sauce of lemongrass and coconut milk.

The pulled duck confit in a cannelloni fashioned out of puffed pastry was my favorite. The meat was tender and juicy and the pastry had a nice crispiness. It was topped with a small lobe of seared Hudson Valley foie gras and graced with a sauce of pomegranate seeds and orange cauliflower. Dierberg's 2005 pinot noir, a chewy, fruit-forward wine, was the perfect match.

Medallions of buffalo tenderloin dotted with four peppercorns followed, matched by the Star Lane cabernet sauvignon (2005). I preferred to stick with the pinot, which also went well with the cognac cream sauce.

Pumpkin creme brulee, served in tiny, hollowed pumpkins, was a whimsical dessert. It ws followed by a cheese course, back on the patio, with Port and Madiera for those who wished to linger.

The sold-out dinner was populated mostly by regulars, which is the way it should be. Judging from the reaction of the guests, they will help see the Journeys through the second half of the decade.

Paddy Murphy's

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Paddy Murphy's in Baldwin Park

Boy, have my ears been ringing. And it's not because people have been talking about me. It's because I ate at Paddy Murphy's, a newish Irish pub in Baldwin Park, and they had a band that was so loud I couldn't hear myself chew.Paddy Murphy's
The hostess couldn't hear me ask for a table, either, so I motioned beyond the indoor seating toward the outside patio. Using sign language, my guest and I were able to communicate to her that we preferred a table as far away from the band as possible without having to pay an extra charge for delivery of the food.

Even outside the sound resonated, and was even worse whenever someone opened the door to the pub, which was often.

A pleasant young man greeted us and then brought us the wrong beers. Turns out the door had opened just as we placed our orders and the waiter didn't hear us correctly.

But from that point on everything mostly went fine.
I started out with a cup of the potato & leek soup ($2.50), which startled my by its thickness: I was able to stand a spoon up in it. The taste was OK, but I think all the cornstarch or whatever thickener was used started to blossom in my stomach as I sipped my pint of Guinness.

My friend had the Irish stew ($8.99), a big serving of beef with carrots, onions and potatoes in a nice gravylike broth tinged with Irish whiskey.
I had the shepherd's pie ($8.99), which was mostly mashed potatoes (but real mashed potatoes) piped over a brown gravy with ground beef and vegetables. On another visit I had the corned beef with colcannon. The corned beef was sufficiently chewy, as most corned beef is destined to be, but the flavor was good. So, too, the colcannon, a traditional dish of mashed potatoes blended with cabbage.

Paddy Murphy's is in a newly constructed building overlooking the lake. It's been designed to look like a tradtional Irish pub, but only as far as the walls. The high ceilings have the exposed ducts and beams of the structure, with some Tiffanylike chandeliers hanging down. So the effect is like being on a movie set for a film about an Irish pub.

I might watch the movie again, but I am definitely not buying the soundtrack.

Paddy Murphy's is at 4982 New Broad St. in Orlando's Baldwin Park. The phone number is 407-622-4700. For other information, visit the Web site.

Enzian's Eden Bar

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Enzian's Eden Bar opens; Turns out the fabled garden was in Florida. Or is that Austria?

Maitland's Enzian Theater premieres its new bar/eatery tonight. Eden Bar occupies a 2000 square-foot outdoor space with seating for 70. The entire area is open-air, but the bar and much of the seating is under a sturdy roof allowing for continuous service even in a downpour. It was a beautiful evening when the Hound stopped by for a preview, so added protection wasn't needed.

Eden Bar It's a beautiful space; the circular bar has a rich deep wood tone that is complimented by the swooping ceiling. Colored pendant lights over the bar and recessed can lights throughout the rest of the space add just enough glow to allow the surrounding greenery to be seen. All along the wall the bar shares with the actual theater building is an elaborate mural painted by Oscar-nominated animator Bill Plympton. The mural is a whimsical depiction of a Floridian version of the Garden of Eden, which explains how the bar/restaurant got its name. It doesn't explain the Austrian items on the dinner menu.

It turns out, according to a note on the menu, that "Enzian Theater was conceived by Tina Tiedtke in the spirit of Friedstein Castle, home to her grandmother, Princess Felicitas Hohenlohe." The menu note continues: "The Eden Bar is offering a few selections from the kitchen, including recipes from the houses of Hapsburg and Rothschild."

Those offering include a salad, and cheese spread, one soup, a main course of brook trout smoked with pine needles, and an almond and hazelnut torte. Turn the page and you have a vast variety of other options, including other salads, sandwiches, steak tacos, bento box nachos, flatbread pizzas and other uncomplicated fare that won't overstretch the limitations of Enzian's small kitchens.

Old-timers will remember that the Enzian grounds used to have a separate building, an old house, that was converted into a restaurant. For many years it was the well-received Jordan's Grove, but when that business closed, as steady parade of other eateries took up residence with varying rates of success. The house was razed several years ago.

The Hound sampled the libtauer cheese spread, described on the menu as delightfully tart and smoky, served with pita bread. But instead of pita, the spread was served with dark bread from Yalaha Bakery. I didn't get tart or smoky from the taste, but I did get caraway. I couldn't tell, however, if the seeds were in the spread or in the bread.

My friend and I also sampled one of the pizzas, the Yukon Gold potato ($14), which had roasted garlic, house-cured bacon, parmigiano-reggiano  and mozzarella cheeses, and slices of potatoes. It was a pretty good pie, but I question the cost of $14 for such a small serving.

True to its name, Eden Bar features a full line of liquor and some nice wines. As I said in yesterday's post, one of the gimmicks of the bar is the offering of very old liquor, including pre-Prohibition bourbon and pre-Castro rum, at prices ranging from $75-$250 a shot.

Take that gimmick, the Floridian Garden of Eden theme and throw in an Austrian castle and you have a bit too much going on at once.

But I like the bar, it's a comfortable place to sit and chat, especially this time of year when outside is the place to be. I can see people coming to Eden Bar even if they don't have plans to see a movie.

J. Alexander's

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J. Alexander's on Restaurant Row; good food from the dark side

A couple of weeks ago I gave you a First Bite impression of the new J. Alexander's, the upscale chain restaurant in the new Rialto strip on Sand Lake Road's Restaurant Row. I went back for a closer look and a second bite, and I liked what I tasted. I'd say I liked what I saw, but that wasn't so easy (I'll come back to that in a moment). Suffice to say that J. Alex serves fine, basic food, and it's a welcome addition to the Row's roster of good restaurants.

I don't think it's any secret that J. Alexander's is going after the Houston's market. Or at least the sort of person who likes Houston's food and atmosphere. I doubt that a restaurant in South Orlando will draw many of Houston's Winter Park regulars, but it may prevent some Bay Hillers and Windermerians from trekking up I-4 for a Houston's fix.

Just like Houston's, J. Alexander's doesn't accept reservations. But when I called, the chipper young woman who answered the phone said that guests can call ahead and get on the wait list before they leave home. That's better than nothing.
But there was not wait the evening my companion and I dined. We were greeted warmly by at least three hostesses -- one even stepped forward to open the door for us, a nice touch -- and were led into the dining room.

The dining room is not quite pitch black, but when you first enter, even at night, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust. There are bright pin spots that illuminate each of the bare wood tabletops in the room, as well as some artwork, but little of the light spills over so you can actually see other people, including those at your own table. My dinner guest was in the shadows all evening. I felt like I was dining in a spy movie.

No sooner had we been seated than a voice came through the dark asking us if we'd like to order a drink. It was, we could tell from the sound of the voice, a young woman. We told her we would like to order a glass of wine but hadn't had a chance to look at the list yet. She then started asking what type of wine we wanted, if we liked dry or sweet, etc. She was, of course, trying to be helpful, but in too forceful a way. We asked if she could possibly give us a moment to look the list over and come back.

She left, and it would be five minutes before anyone else came back to take our order. (Were we being punished?) The next voice we heard belonged to an exuberant young man. He explained that he would be our server and that he knew someone had already taken our drink order. We explained that the mix-up and he apologized and quickly fetched our wines. In the meantime, we looked the menu over and commented about the meager offering of appetizers, which, now that I think about it, is another way J. Alexander's is like Houston's. We ordered the spinach con queso ($9) because neither egg rolls nor gigantic onion rings appealed to us. We ended up wishing we'd skipped the starter course altogether. The pot of dip was quite unexciting.

For our entrees, my friend ordered prime rib ($21) and I selected the cilantro shrimp ($17). 
J. Alexander'sThe prime rib (left) was a pretty impressive slab for supposedly only 12 ounces. But more impressive than the portion was the tenderness -- exactly the buttery texture you expect from good prime rib, which in this case was more likely USDA choice. The plate included a cup of jus for dipping -- I preferred the creamy horseradish sauce that was served on the side -- and a massive mountain of loosely mashed potatoes that were more like a pile of potato lumps. They were, however, quite tasty.

The only complaint I had with the  cilantro shrimp was that the "black tigers" were a bit on the shrimpy side. And there were only 11 of them. My friend and I wondered what's the opposite of a baker's dozen? A stock broker's dozen? The shrimp were dusted with hot Cajun spices that overwhelmed the coolnessJ. Alexander's of the cilantro, but I liked the flavor a lot. They were served on rice that had speckles of cilantro and was a bit al dente in texture, whether intended or not. An overflowing cup of MBC cole slaw was included, MBC standing for Maytag blue cheese, which gave the chunky slaw a wonderful salty note.

That was the kind of saltiness that was welcome, as opposed to the steak and fries ($19) I had discussed in a previous post where the meat was salty almost to the point of being inedible. Desserts, like most of the other items on the menu, are made in-house. We decided to share a slice of carrot cake ($6), which was a large, flat square that had been heated (nuked, perhaps, but it doesn't matter) and the cream cheese icing slathered on top. Big hunks of carrot were evidence that it was the real thing.

Service was excellent and showed good training. The manager was present in the dining room and greeted most tables.
The wine list is not huge but hits all the right bases. I again enjoyed the Santa Ema Reserve merlot from Maipo Valley, Chile; my guest had the Pine Ridge (CA) blend of chenin blanc and viognier.
By the end of the meal our eyes had adjusted to the surroundings and we were able to find our way out of the restaurant without a guide. I'm sure we'll find our way back again.


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Ember, downtown Orlando: Is it a restaurant with drinks or a bar with food?

The short answer is a bar with food, but from the first taste I had the other night the food is encouraging. Ember takes over the space where Kate O'Brien's resided for many years. The facility has been redone quite lavishly in the style of a Mediterranean villa. There's a sizeable bar inside with a few feet-on-the-floor tables for dining; Outside is an even larger area -- (you sort of expect the outside to be larger than the indoors, don't you? That's why they call it the great outdoors, but you know what I mean.)

Most of the tables in the patio area are bar height, so I just chose to sit at the bar. One of the two unoccupied barkeeps took my drink order while I looked the menu over. It's mostly noshables, and there isn't anything over $13 -- in fact, most items are under $10. The menu, which was developed by the chef at Kres, although the two restaurants are owned by different entities, features soups and salads; flatbreads (to compete with Urban Flats, I suppose); pastas for the people who must have their carbs; and sliders and folds, the former being tiny burgers and the latter being wrap sandwiches.

I chose the choice burger ($9), which got me three of the little gut bombs, as we used to call the White Castle sliders. They were dense patties on Lilliputian sized buns, served with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and a small sweet pickle. The burgers were topped with cheese and they were pretty good.
They came with a handful of thick-cut fries, a more than ample amount. I'm torn whether to say they were worth nine bucks -- remember when we used to rail that the burgers and fries at Hard Rock Cafe were $7.50? I suppose for bar food they were priced accordingly, and one order should fill up the average person. Share? No, I don't think so.

Ember was quiet on the weeknight I visited, but I can imagine the place getting packed on the weekends, especially as we head into the best time of year for outdoor dining -- or outdoor drinking at a bar that also serves food.


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Paxia is fine Mexican in College Park

Paxia is what Colibri wants to be. Or what it should want to be. Colibri, you'll recall, unless you're lucky enough to erase unpleasantries from your memory, is the ill-guided Mexican restaurant in Baldwin Park. Nice atmosphere, but no follow through on the food. And don't get me started on the service.Paxia
Paxia has the atmosphere and good food and pleasant service to go with it. It doesn't do everything right -- in fact there was one really annoying thing that happened during my dinner -- but it hits the mark on enough points to warrant a recommendation.

Paxia touts itself as "alta cocina," which is Spanish for haute cuisine. The food is a little more upscale than the average Mexican restaurant, at least in presentation, but we're talking fine dining in relative terms.

For appetizers my guest and I chose the queso fundido ($9) and the "traditional" Mexican nachos ($4.50). The queso was a plate of melted cheese that was beginning to reharden. It was topped with cubes of spicy chorizo sausage and served with warm flour tortillas wrapped in a crisp white napkin. We scooped the deliciously greasy cheese and sausage into the tortillas and gobbled the whole thing down.
The nachos were small triangles of tortilla chips topped with a bit of refried beans, melted cheese and jalapenos -- different from the mound of chips and the globs of cheese seen in Tex-Mex restaurants. It was a fairly boring presentation with a flavor to match.

(By the way, did you know that in Mexico the International Day of the Nacho is celebrated every year on September 11? Something tells me that we'll never see that one co-opted as an American celebration the way Cinco de Mayo has been. Just a guess.)

For my entree I selected the tamales ($10.50), which are available with beef, chicken or cheese, but, curiously, not pork. I chose the beef version, which featured a large "cake" of steamed corn dough topped with shredded beef and a bit of cheese. It was good, but nothing like the usual tamale.

My friend selected the skirt steak fajitas ($13.50), your basic sizzling platter of tender strips of steak with onions and peppers. It was accompanied by a dollop of guacamole and sour cream and a few flour tortillas, presented as before in a white napkin.

We requested some more guac, which I expected would add a charge to the bill (it did: $1.50). But when the few flour tortillas proved not enough for all the fajita fixings and we asked for more, I was stunned to hear there would be an additional charge.

"For tortillas?" I asked with the right amount of incredulity? The young woman must have heard it before because her reply, something about the price of the entree being so low, blah, blah, blah, sounded rehearsed. We said no thanks -- I'm not paying extra for bread, and if the restaurant feels the need to charge more, add it to the cost of the entree.

But that was the only negative to the experience. The restaurant has brightly painted walls of burnt orange and yellow, though they are Spartanly decorated. Tables are topped with white cloths and annoying white butcher paper. The lounge area is stylish and moody.

Speaking of the lounge, the bar serves a delicious margarita ($6). And they don't charge extra for salt on the rim