Sus Hi Eatstation

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Sus Hi bowl

Something’s getting lost in the translation. Or at least in the expansion.

When I first reviewed Sus Hi, in July of 2012, it was a nascent fast-fooder on Alafaya Trail near UCF, attempting to do for sushi what Moe’s did for Tex-Mex. It had an exuberant staff that called out “Welcome, Ninja” to each new guest, and they seemed excited about their food and genuinely happy to be serving it.

Now called Sus Hi Eatstation, it has four locations and another opening soon. One of the newer locations is in the Millenia area, and I stopped in there not long ago to see how the concept has fared over the past seven years.

Mi Casa Tequila Taqueria

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Mi Casa guac

So I had a friend visiting from New York, staying at Rosen Shingle Creek, and I suggested we get together for a drink and a bite to eat. More for a drink. I quickly went through the options at Shingle Creek and decided I’d visited them all and would rather try something new. I said I’d pick him up and we’d go elsewhere.

We drove a few miles over to the Orange Blossom Trail area and went to a little restaurant I’d heard about. We sat down in a booth and a young woman handed us a menu. I asked about the beer and wine selection. She said they did not serve alcohol, so we left.

The same thing happened at the next two places we stopped at. Then my friend just casually mentioned that he’d had a good meal at the Mexican restaurant at Shingle Creek.

Shingle Creek has a Mexican restaurant? That somehow eluded me. So we got in the car and drove back to the resort we had left a half hour earlier, hungrier and definitely thirstier.

Domu Chibi

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Domu cjhibi ramen room

Domu, the popular East End Market ramenerie, has opened a new concept, Domu Chibi Ramen, in Waterford Lakes. It’s meant to be a quick-serve operation, but they’ve managed to make it quicker serve in at least one aspect.

Instead of giving an order to someone at the counter, customers are prompted to use electronic tablets in front of it to place and pay for an order. Heck, you might even want to leave yourself a tip as you pay, because unlike other quick-serve restaurants, you must go back up to the pick-up counter to fetch your own food. I’m guessing if they could, they’d find away for a non-human to call the names.

Domu cjhibi order

Indeed, the staff behind the counter, just a few feet away from the ordering kiosk, avoid looking at or otherwise acknowledging the arrival of new customers. This seems to be one carryover from the Audubon Park Domu, which, though full service, also has a staff that doesn’t seem to feel the need to be accommodating to its guests.

City Pub

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Citypub interior

City Pub is the new restaurant and bar that replaced North Quarter Tavern. The bones of the place are the same, with the central bar and surrounding dining tables. But some decorating touches have been added — royal blue paint, wood wainscoting over a tufted banquette along the back wall — that give it a traditional pub mien.

And the food is still above average, though not as creative as when NQT first opened. But then, in retrospect, that menu was probably too ambitious (and costly).

Yet there’s something about City Pub that just doesn’t seem to congeal. It lacks focus, and the staff don’t seem to have guidance to help them in finding the center. On both of my visits, I felt like everyone there would rather be somewhere else.

De La Vega

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Delavega exterior

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to tell you about De La Vega — I visited it some time ago. I had a pleasant enough experience, and I was actually anxious to have a non-chain, non-quick-serve restaurant to recommend to Oviedoans (Oviedoers? Oviedites?). People who live in the Oviedo/Winter Springs area.

But for some reason after I visited, my review got delayed and pushed aside. So let me correct that now.

De La Vega is in a development called Oviedo on the Park that features a well-tailored green space surrounding a lake. The evening I visited there was a festival of some sort in the park with music and food and lots of happy people drinking beer.

There were happy people inside the restaurant, too. The presumed De La Vegas of the restaurant’s name are Mano, the general manager and “rum & tequila catador,” and Nora De La Vega, the chef.

Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Puck exterior

Wolfgang Puck is back in town after a very long absence.

And by that I mean a lot longer than just the closing of the former Wolfgang Puck Cafe. That was the big, two-story restaurant that opened in 1996 in Downtown Disney’s then-called West Side, about the same time as House of Blues and Bongos. Puck was one of the first celebrity chefs to have a presence in Central Florida, and the first iteration of his cafe was quite good, especially the dining room on the second level that was supposed to be an approximation of his Beverly Hills hangout Spago, although it couldn’t be called that because of licensing restrictions.

Oh, here’s a fun bit of trivia: When the Ritz-Carlton was in development to open at Grande Lakes, it approached Puck to open a restaurant there. But because of a noncompete clause in his agreement with Walt Disney World Resort he was unable to consider it. So instead, the Ritz pursued a Miami chef who had recently won a James Beard Award to recreate his popular Coconut Grove restaurant. Norman Van Aken accepted, and that’s how Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton came to be. (The Coconut Grove restaurant closed many years ago.)

At the height of Puck’s popularity, he sold the cafe concept to Chicago’s Levy Restaurants, and the quality of the Disney restaurant plummeted dramatically. After I wrote an updated and largely negative review of Wolfgang Puck Cafe in 2004, I had occasion to speak to Puck by phone on another topic, but I brought up the quality of the local restaurant. He was aware of it and told me that at one point he considered asking the owners to remove his name.

Which brings us now to Disney Springs, the dining, entertainment and retail project that subsumed Downtown Disney, Pleasure Island, Disney Village and the former West Side, and one of the newest restaurants to open there, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill. It does not stand on the old site — scorched earth, perhaps — and it’s removed in another substantial way: The food and ambiance are as good and enjoyable as when his old restaurant first opened in ’96.

Pizza Ponte

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Ponte sandwiches

It’s fun to have a place like Disney Springs to take visitors to, just to walk around and gawk.

There’s the majestic expansiveness of Morimoto Asia and Maria & Enzo’s, the jaw-dropping emersiveness of Planet Hollywood’s observatory-like projections, and the amusement of watching cars drive into the lagoon next to the Boathouse. The Edison has all sorts of distractions, Raglan Road is always a foot-stomping good time and Wine Bar George is great for a sip and a nosh.

And all are good places to dine, too.

But following a quiet cocktail in the underground lair of Enzo’s Hideaway (plus a nosh of some delicious Meatball Sliders), my visitors and I thought we’d just get a quick bite for dinner at Pizza Ponte just upstairs. I had never eaten at the little quick-serve next to the entrance to Maria & Enzo’s, and a slice of pizza sounded just right.

I was surprised to find that while one can indeed get a slice of pie — and delicious pie at that — one may also find some really good sandwiches.

Naroodle Noodle Shop

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Naroodle noodle top

Central Florida certainly has a lot of dingy strip malls, but I can’t imagine there are too many that are dingier than the one on the southeastern corner of Dean Road and University Boulevard in East Orlando. It always has the look and

feel of a place that is run down and neglected. Ironic then that it seems to attract independent restaurateurs.

Luckily, the interior of one of the newest tenants, Naroodle Noodle shop, a Japanese restaurant specializing in ramen and other noodle-centric dishes, doesn’t reflect the exterior.

Victoria & Albert's

Written by Scott Joseph on .

vanda19 kitchen

Over the past 30 years and on several occasions I’ve had the pleasure — and it was always a pleasure — of dining at Victoria & Albert’s, the ultra fine dining restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Sometimes I’ve been in the sumptuous dining room and other times I’ve been at the chef’s table, overlooking the kitchen. Over the years I’ve seen some changes (including the hotel’s name, which was originally the Grand Floridian Beach Resort).

One of the first big changes was to correct a design flaw that allowed guests sitting under a central dome in the dining room to hear intimate conversations of other guests sitting across the room.

There have been operational changes, moving from two seatings a night to just one every evening; adding Queen Victoria’s Room, which offered a degustation menu, with most courses served from a gueridon, in a more intimate room; doing away with that room’s separate menu, and the gueridons; and at least one major renovation of the chef’s table alcove, one of the most sought-after dining experiences in the Southeastern United States.

Oh, and the best change of all: Allowing the serving staff to wear tags with their given names rather than Victoria or Albert (gender specific).

But through all of my visits there remained one welcome constant: Scott Hunnel was always at the helm in the kitchen. My most recent visit, a return to the chef’s table, marked the first time in my three decades of dining there that Hunnel was not in the kitchen.

To be sure, Hunnel is still there and technically still in charge — he’s still listed as the executive chef on the printed menu — but he also has a higher helm. He now is the executive chef for all of the hotel’s restaurants, which include Citricos, Narcoossee’s and various other venues.

Supper Club Redux: Big Fin Seafood Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

BigFinSC table

For our first Supper Club of 2019, the chefs of Big Fin Seafood Kitchen at the Dellagio Town Center created a feast that delighted our intimate group with each course.

Executive chef James Slattery traded in his whites for a suit and served as front-of-the-house host for our gathering. (He’s learning some managerial ropes because his restaurant group has acquired Arrabellas restaurant in Winter Haven, and he’s letting his associate chefs — Darlene Christeleit, Brie Austin and Paulo Santos — shine.)