Z Asian Vietnamese Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Zasian pho cu 2

Z Aisan Vietnamese Kitchen is one of the latest to join the Mills 50 lineup of eateries in what is historically the center of the city’s Asian community. For a long time, each new Vietnamese restaurant that opened in the area seemed no different than those that had come before. The menus were the same, which is to say voluminous and repetitive, and even the decors seemed cookie cutter and stereotypical.

But that’s started to change in the past few years. Menus are more thoughtful and aren’t intent on presenting every possible combination of ingredients. And even the restaurants themselves seem more modern and up to date.

One restaurant that I thought did a nice job of modernizing the Vietnamese dining experience was Mai Bistro, which opened in late 2017 and unfortunately closed in early 2018.

Now Z Asian has moved into the same space and it, too, offers a more modernistic approach to the Vietnamese dining experience while still paying homage to the traditional recipes.

Supper Club Redux: Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster and Chalk Hill Estate Wines

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Christners sc steak and mush

Scott Joseph’s Supper Club convened recently at Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster for a sold-out evening of fine food, stellar service and exceptional wines from Chalk Hill Estate.

Supper Clubbers were greeted by Alice Christner, who curated the seating chart for the tables in our private dining room. Christner was giddy about leaving the following day on a vacation — the first that she and her husband, David, had taken, she said, since they joined David’s mother, Carol, in running the restaurant following Russ Christner’s death in 2005. (Those of you who are thinking about owning a restaurant, take note of the committment.)

First Watch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

First Watch dining

Until last week, I couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a First Watch, but I could tell you the first time.

That was in 1988, in Phoenix, and my erstwhile colleagues at the newspaper I had recently been laid off from wanted to take me out to a goodbye lunch before I headed to Orlando and a new job. One of my friends suggested we go to a place that had opened near the newspaper’s offices. It was new to town, open only for breakfast and lunch and was called First Watch.

Inasmuch as that was 31 years ago, I can’t remember a whole lot about the experience. But I can tell you a lot about the brunch I had recently at the First Watch in the Waterford Lakes area. I was invited to join FW’s regional marketing manager to see what’s new at First Watch, both in the restaurant’s ambiance and its menu. And to try something unique to this Central Florida location: alcohol.

The Waterford Lakes location is among the first to experiment with adding a bar, something you might not expect in a restaurant that’s open only until 2:30 p.m. daily. But when you consider the popularity of brunch cocktails — and this location’s proximity to UCF — it makes sense.

And you should know that this is not a name-your-drink bar; there isn’t even a bartender. Instead, First Watch features an array of premixed cocktails made with juices juiced in house daily.

Terroir and the Part it Plays in Wine

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

 

Vineyard France

This is the second in a series of columns by wine expert Brittney Coutts.

What is Terroir? It’s a simple yet so complex and so controversial idea. To understand the basics of it, you have to think all the way back to freshman year Biology class, and try to remember learning about Phenotype and Genotype.

The genotype is the genetic characteristics that the plant or animal carries from its parents responsible for one particular trait. Phenotype is all of the other observable characteristics, which are affected by both environment and those genetic characteristics.
According to Webster, the exact definition of terroir (pronounced Ter-Waar) is the completely natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. The characteristic taste and flavor imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced. So again, affecting the phenotype of the plant. Honestly, this is where it gets controversial. Why? Well, many wine scholars believe this theory of terroir to be true, but as much as they want to shun the non-believers, they make some pretty solid arguments.

Before we get into their arguments let's breakdown what Terroir is as a whole. Terroir is four main components that interact with each other to create a sense of place.

Toledo -- Tapas, Steak & Seafood

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Toledo interior

So it turns out that Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí were good friends. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

In 1945 the two began a collaboration on an animated short film called Destino. It went unfinished until Disney’s nephew, Roy, completed and released it in 2003. It’s a little over six minutes and can be viewed on YouTube.

It’s phantasmagorical and classically surreal with plenty of Dalí trademarks, including several things that melt. At one point, a hole opens in the palm of the main character and ants crawl out, then the ants morph into men riding bicycles with baguettes on their heads. Disney and Dalí must have had a lot of fun planning the film. Or at least, ahem, getting in the mood for it.

As I said, it’s a little over six minutes but that’s enough to inspire the Gran Destino Tower, a 16 story, 545 room addition to the Coronado Springs Resort, and to provide the backstory for the new top-floor restaurant, Toledo, and the adjacent Dahlia Lounge. Pronounce the name of the restaurant like the city in Spain, toh-LAY-doh, and not the one in Ohio. Otherwise the lounge would be called Dayton.

La Fogata

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Lafogata exterior

La Fogata saved my Friday night recently.

My destination was another restaurant in the complex on the southwest corner of South Orange Blossom Trail and West Sand Lake Road, across from the Florida Mall. It was an obscure place, but when you write about restaurants you look for the obscure finds, listen for leads, go hunting on a hunch.

This time it didn’t work out. My companion and I walked into the intended restaurant and were greeted with a glare by a staff member holding a microphone and tending to a very large party just inside the front door. His look made it clear that if we weren’t part of this group we didn’t really belong there that night. Although another staff member offered to show us to a booth — just a few feet away from the party and its amplified host — we said we’d come back another time and left.

Just across the way, I saw the sign for La Fogata and said, Let’s give it a try. It was delightful.

Soco 2019

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Soco Patio

It hardly seems possible that Soco Thornton Park is approaching its fifth anniversary. The upscale casual restaurant, whose name means Southern contemporary, opened in fall of 2014 in the space that for many years had been Hue restaurant.

Much has happened with restaurants in the Thornton Park area in those years. Soco opened under the aegis of the then newly formed Thornton Park Restaurant Group, which had incorporated its existing Cityfish a few doors down into the group. In that time, Cityfish closed, TPRG opened and closed Baoery in that space, and Jax Thornton Park has moved in.

Around the corner, the Tijuana Flats became Verde Cantina and is now Jinya Ramen Bar. A block away, Mucho Tequila and Tacos became Muddy Waters and is now Menagerie. That’s a lot of change and turnover in a relatively short amount of time.

But Soco has remained a constant.

Orlando Classic: Shakers American Cafe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Shakers wide soup

It’s official: Shakers American Cafe is a bonafide Orlando Classic. The College Park breakfast and lunch diner will celebrate its 26th anniversary next month.

But there’s more to Shakers than just longevity; it’s become a local institution for being a go-to place for friends and business associates to meet, but with a more casual agenda in mind.

What’s the opposite of a power lunch? It certainly isn’t powerless. Look around the room during a busy lunch hour (which is to say just about daily) and you’ll spot community and business leaders at several tables.

But here the agenda is less about the deal and more about the meal.

Venture Into the Unknown

Written by Brittney Coutts on .

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of wine columns by Brittney Coutts, wine expert at Viines + Forks, the Wine Barn in Winter Park.

Brittney Coutts

As a very young person in the wine industry here in Orlando, I feel the demographics of most areas in Orlando follow the same trend. We have various subcultures that blend well together, but there is always the “pedestrian palate,” or so we call it on the sales side of things. People are attracted to what they know, and persuading them to venture out is not for the faint of heart. Being a twenty-five year old in this industry is difficult. I’m the youngest in every group and it’s just assumed by looking at me that I know absolutely nothing. I am well aware I am nowhere close to done with my learning, in this industry fads come and go like seasons and everyone is constantly learning, even your friendly neighborhood master sommelier and master of wine.

Saporito Italian Restaurant & Bakery

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Saporito interior

For some reason the name Saporito sounds like it would be Japanese takeout place.

But, no, it’s an Italian restaurant, and a very pleasant one at that.

Or should I say a tasty one, for tasty is the translation of Saporito.

Remember the Slow Food Movement? It was buzzphrase about a dozen years ago. I wrote about it becoming a trend in Central Florida in 2007, though its origins can be traced back to 1986. In Italy, to be exact.

There is still a Slow Food organization and an Orlando convivium, or chapter, though the last entry on its Facebook page was in 2016. My guess is that people embraced the farm-to-table as their preferred buzzphrase.

But Saporito proudly embraces the Slow Food philosophy. And it’s not like we’re comparing organic apples to locally-grown oranges. A well-crafted red sauce by any other name would taste as luscious.