Nifty's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Niftys interior

I’ve always had a rule that you could still wish someone Happy New Year all the way through January 31. After that, the trajectory of a person’s year is pretty much set and if it isn’t going well then you’re just taunting them.

But this year is an exception because today, February 1, is the beginning of Lunar New Year, the Asian holiday that celebrates the beginning of the year based on the lunisoar calendar with festivities lasting up to 16 days. The lunar year is designated by an animal. Last year was an ox and 2022 is the year of the tiger. I hope the ox got away in time.

Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and often called Chinese New Year, but other Asian countries, though not all, observe it too. In Vietnam it’s known as Têt and in Korea it’s Seollal.

So let’s celebrate Seollal with a quick visit to Nifty’s Korean BBQ & Ramen in downtown Orlando.

Soseki Modern Omakase

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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The Japanese dining experience known as omakase, wherein diners, not presented a menu, turn themselves over to the whim of the chef, is not new to Orlando. It has been an option at sushi restaurants for many years. (This concept isn’t exclusive to sushi restaurants, either – think a degustation or chef’s tasting menu, such as that at Victoria & Albert’s chef’s table.)

What is relatively new to the area is the omakase-only restaurant, offering an exclusive and intimate dining experience. Well, intimate in the sense that you’re among fewer than a dozen customers seated next to each other at a sushi counter but all having the same culinary adventure.

Kadence was the first to present this concept full time to Central Florida, and was awarded the Best Restaurant Overall Foodster Award in 2019. Soseki Modern Omakase came on the scene in March of ’21.

There are several similarities between the two. Both occupy indistinct buildings with little or no signage – walk-in diners aren’t allowed so there’s no need to try to draw people in; there’s also no published phone number. Each has an attractive interior decor and each has limited seating – nine for Kadence and 10 for Soseki – at a sushi-style bar (sans the see-through refrigerated container seen in typical sushi bars) with .

Also, you don’t make a reservation, you buy a ticket, a nonrefundable one. (And an expensive one, too, but more about that in a moment.)

One other similarity: Both are staffed by young, exuberant professionals who are passionate about the quality and creativity of what they present to their guests.

Chēba Hut

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I’m probably one of only a few people who went through college and grad school in the 1970s without ever smoking pot. I’ll probably be invited to be a keynote speaker someday.

It’s not like I was vice adverse. My dorm room had plenty of illicitness within. Just not pot.

So a lot of the insider-jokes and terminology on the menu at Chēba Hut, a marijuana-themed sandwich shop, might be lost on me. (Most, but not all – some of the potheads on my floor were my best friends, so I experienced it secondhand, so to speak.)

Oz Asian

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OzAsian counter

I came across Oz Asian in Lake Mary recently, a small quick-serve restaurant with a pan Asian menu. It’s an assemblage concept, so you’re asked to choose your protein (chicken, beef, shrimp, tofu or vegetables); a base (white rice, brown rice, pasta noodles, vermicelli or soba noodles); a sauce (sweet & sour), sweet oyster, Thai curry, garlic, teriyaki or soy and ginger); vegetables to add in (broccoli, onion, cabbage, bean sprouts, mushrooms, peppers, jalapeños, scallions, corn, carrots, celery, pineapple, tomatoes and snap peas); and any extras at extra cost: (fried egg, scrambled egg, or more chicken, tofu, beef or shrimp).

Very close by is a Fresh Market grocery store where you can buy most of those items and just put them together yourself, but don’t get me started on assemblage restaurants. Or maybe it’s too late for that.

Sazoncito Latin Food

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I was in the Conway area of the city recently on personal business, which I completed right around noon. So I set out to find a place for lunch and happened upon Sazoncito Latin Food, which has apparently been around for almost seven years.

It’s a small storefront in a strip mall with an impossible amount of food on display on a steam-table buffet behind the counter. As with other Latin food restaurants in the area, you choose a rice, a meat or protein and sides and move along the line as a server scoops your choices into a container.

Scoops isn’t quite the correct word – it’s more like shovels. I recall thinking as I watched the young woman serving me that she was going to need a bigger container. But somehow she got all of it inside.

Krazy Greek Kitchen

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I’m not at all sure what makes Krazy Greek Kitchen krazy. It all seemed rather normal to me. Or maybe spelling it with a K is similar to calling the sushi ingredent surimi krab. Maybe it’s just a imitation crazy.

Whatever. Krazy Greek Kitchen sits across from Central Park in what is the de facto downtown Lake Mary. It has a wraparound terrace for outdoor dining and on the night I visited there was live music in the park, which itself was still aglow with colorful holiday lights.

The menu features most of your classic Greek dishes, or maybe that should be klassic.

Las Lomas Mexican Grill

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I think the last time I was inside this building, the vast, freestanding structure at 800 E. Altamonte Drive, it was a restaurant called Sam Seltzer’s Steakhouse and the year was 1998. Seltzer’s was a low-end steakhouse that served a pretty good product. But it didn’t last long – its greatest claim to fame was taking on city hall over some fiberglass steers and cows that were set up in front of the restaurant. The city claimed they were attention-getting devices subject to the same rules as signage; Harold Seltzer, the owner, countered they were “amusing lawn ornaments.” Never mind that there wasn’t an actual lawn or that they weren’t particularly amusing.

I don’t remember how it was resolved, but the the cattle of discontentment were eventually driven away when Seltzer’s finally fizzled.

I’m sure there must have been other food businesses in the building in the past 24 years but none caught my attention. Not until Las Lomas Mexican Grill, and really only then because it was the end of the year and I was actively seeking Mexican food to fulfill a seasonal craving.

Black Rooster Curry Ford

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Black Rooster, the popular taqueria from the Mills 50 district, has opened a second location in Curry Ford West. It occupies an end unit in a repurposed and redesigned building that used to house an ABC Fine Wine and Spirits store (and onetime lounge) at the corner of Crystal Lake Drive and Curry Ford Road (but not West Curry Ford Road because such a designation does not exist).

I had enjoyed the original Black Rooster – indeed, it is a previous winner of the Best Craft Tacos Foodster Award for Independent Restaurants – so I was anxious to try the new location. Although it opened the second week in November, the Curry Ford location is still claiming soft opening status with limited hours (lunch is not currently offered and it’s closed both Sunday and Monday whereas Mills 50 is closed only Mondays and offers lunch each day it’s open).

It was offering a limited menu to begin, too, but it now seems as though the menu is the same at both locations. I clicked on the menu for the Curry Ford West store and proceeded to make an online order for pickup a couple of hours later. The online ordering form was easy to use and allowed for detailed changes – deletions, additions, sauce notations – but after I had entered my payment information and clicked to finalize the order, I received an email confirming that it would be ready for pickup – at the Mills 50 location.

No, no, no. That wasn’t convenient. And besides, I wanted to check out the new place.

Tabla Lake Nona

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Tabla, the independently-owned Indian restaurant with locations in Orlando and Winter Park, has opened a third location in Lake Nona with a modern decor and a show kitchen design that allows you to see the exceptionally good food being prepared.

The open kitchen is a change from the original Tabla, which opened near Universal Orlando in 2008 and in Winter Park in the Shops on Park arcade last year.

But all three offer the same menu of Indian specialties as well as some Thai and Chinese dishes.

Ziggie's Pizza

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Ziggie’s Pizza has replaced Perla’s Pizza. Actually, it’s less a replacement than it is a transformation. Christian Ziegler took over the business when he and pizza partner Mike Collantes dissolved the business, but it continues mostly the same.

Well, there’s one big difference: it no longer offers the pizza with bananas on it.

But it does offer some interesting and non-run-of-the-mill pies, such as the Ziggie’s Stardust, which has as its base a pistachio pesto instead of the red sauce that most mills have the run of, so to speak.