Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Seemingly out of nowhere, a big new JW Marriott has appeared and along with it a pretty darned good restaurant, Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill.

The hotel is a new neighbor of other large hotels like the Waldorf Astoria, Hilton and Wyndham in the area known as Bonnet Creek. In fact, if you sit on the restaurant’s comfortably spacious veranda, as I did on my recent visit, you’ll have a view of the actual creek and its woody banks just below.

As you might deduce from the clever name, Sear + Sea is a steak and seafood restaurant, which might sound a bit ho-hum at first. But the menu, under the direction of chef de cuisine Alex Pyser, is creative and appealing.

Cavo's Kitchen & Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Cavo’s Bar & Kitchen was another of those restaurants I had visited just before the shutdown in March and was waiting for things to calm down before telling you about. In mid March, we were expecting a lockdown of maybe a few weeks. Seven months later, I’m clearing out the files and figured I’d go ahead and give you my impressions from those early days.

Which were generally positive, I should mention. Cavo’s doesn’t pretend to be any more than it is, which is basically a bar with a food menu – something alcohol-only bars have recently been struggling to become, even though the governor has given the go-ahead for bars to reopen, regardless of food menus. (Just a thought here, but if you’re a bar owner who decided to drop the idea of serving food once Phase 3 was announced, you may want to reconsider; winter is coming.)

Knife & Spoon

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Knife & Spoon, the much anticipated restaurant that replaced the estimable Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, opened on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, its delayed debut was not caused by construction slowdowns but rather the pandemic that has affected so many restaurants. The upside, if pandemics are allowed to have an upside, is that the developers were able to engineer the space to meet safety protocols rather than having to retool, as so many other restaurants have done.

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The knife of the name is an actual knife, a rather impressive Sambonet in this case, and signifies the steak specialty of the menu. Given the quality of the meat, however, an instrument with such a honed blade might be considered – you should pardon the expression – overkill. But we’ll come back to that.

The spoon of the name is not a spoon, or at least not a spoon found on polite tables. Instead, it references a fishing lure known as a spoon, which then leads to the seafood offerings. (More ancient mariners would tell you to look for largemouth bass, salmon or trout on a list of spoon-caught fish, but I saw none; it’s a clever name nonetheless.)

The Knife is also a nod to John Tesar, the Dallas chef and restaurateur, who owns Knife-named restaurants there. His accomplishments, as listed on the Knife & Spoon webpage, include being the pseudonymous Jimmy Sears in Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”; appearances on the Today Show and Top Chef; and being “famously entangled in a feud with Dallas food critic Leslie Brenner.” That feud, which included a negative review from Brenner and Tesar’s two-word response, happened in 2014, so maybe it’s time to let it go.

JJ's Fresh from Scratch

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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JJ’s Fresh from Scratch is celebrating its sixth anniversary. But technically it’s only been JJ’s Fresh from Scratch for a fraction of that time, three or four months. When it opened, in 2014, it was JJ’s Grille. And when, in 2017, it won a Best Tex-Mex Foodster Award, it was going by the name JJ’s Fusion Grille.

The mainstay has been JJ – full name JJ Paredes – who started the quick-serve assemblage concept on Curry Ford Road at the age of 24. The quick popularity of the restaurant prompted Paredes to open two other locations, but they have closed. So Paredes said that he decided to go ahead with the rebranding, which had been planned before the pandemic, and focus on the Curry Ford West flagship.

Also a constant, as I wrote in my original review in Dec. 2014: ‘The people are friendly because they want to be, and the food is better than average.”

Estefan Kitchen

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Beat the drums, this ain’t Bongos.

Estefan Kitchen has opened its first location outside of Miami, one of several restaurants at the new Promenade at Sunset Walk near Walt Disney World.

Gloria and Emilio are the Estefans of the name, she the renowned Cuban-American singer who along with Miami Sound Machine gave us the effervescently zingy “Conga” and other classics.

The couple were also the owners of Bongos, the Cuban restaurant that opened in 1997 at what was then known as Downtown Disney West Side, now Disney Springs. It was in a distinctive pineapple-shaped building and served food that, well, let’s just say that when it was announced Bongos would close and the structure would be razed to make room for something else, I offered to push the plunger to detonate the explosives. No one returned my calls.

And so it was with hesitancy that I visited Estefan Kitchen, an offshoot of their Miami Design District restaurant, which remains closed at this time. (The Estefans also own Larios on the Beach on Ocean Drive in South Beach.)

Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine

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I always gravitate to the same dishes when I order from an Indian restaurant. Part of it is the comfort of familiarity and knowing that it’s something I’ll probably enjoy. It’s also partly to have a benchmark that allows for comparisons.

But when I ordered recently from Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine in Winter Park, I decided to focus on dishes I haven’t had before.

Mason Jar Provisions

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When I first moved to Orlando, in 1988, and was still becoming familiar with the dining scene, I often found myself in conversations with locals about favorite restaurants. And one name that kept coming up as a favorite special occasion restaurant was the Mason Jar.

I couldn’t imagine how a place named Mason Jar could be a fine dining restaurant. And it would be some time before I realized that Mason Jar was a tongue-in-cheek reference for a restaurant whose real name was Maison et Jardin. (It’s possible that people just didn’t know how to pronounce it correctly and anglicized it, much in the same way that l’Enfant Castille in London came to be known, officially, as Elephant & Castle.)

Now there is a restaurant in Orlando whose actual name is Mason Jar, Mason Jar Provisions, to be precise, and no one will be referring to is as Maison et Jardin.

Taste of Chengdu Baldwin Park

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Taste of Chengdu, the Sichuan restaurant that opened in west Orlando two years ago and quickly established itself as arguably serving the best Chinese food in town, has opened a second location in Baldwin Park.

It is technically in a soft-opening phase and the menu is currently limited – call it a taste of Taste of Chengdu – but the quality is every bit as good as the original.

True to its namesake province, Taste of Chengdu features dishes that use Sichuan peppercornss, the boa constrictor of seasonings. Take a bite of something with the pepper, perhaps dan dan noodles with a chili oil sauce, and you at first feel a warm embrace of your tongue, then a tingling effect, just before the real heat comes in for the kill.

But it’s a pleasant demise. And even people who find western chilies overwhelming might be pleasantly surprised at how tolerable the spiciness is. It isn’t heat for heat’s sake, it is a logical component of the dish as a whole.

Bosphorous Winter Park

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I wasn’t at all sure how it would travel, but I knew I had to have the lavas when I got takeout from Bosphorous, the Turkish restaurant on Park Avenue (and other locations).

Lavas, as anyone who has dined at Bosphorous knows, is the signature “hollow bread,” also sometimes called balloon bread because it poofs up with steam when it’s baked. The first time I saw it I called it Jiffy Pop bread because that’s what it reminded me of.

The reason I had to have the bread was because instead of two entrees, my companion and I decided to get just one main dish and then order the mixed appetizer platter. And because the meze includes such things as hummus, babaganoush and other dippy things, the bread was a must-have-too.

Osphere

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The space on Lake Eola now occupied by the curiously named Osphere – previously the home of Spice Modern and, more famously, Lake Eola Yacht Club – has one of the best patios in town, an even more covetous feature in these days of outdoor-preferred dining.

And even the interior seems suited to distancing. At least from what I remember – I visited the restaurant in early March.