The Licking

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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I recently visited The Licking, a Southern/soul food franchise in the Millenia area. I thought I had ordered one thing but received something different. And even that wasn’t what I expected it to be. But I’ll come back to that.

The Licking, out of Miami, bills itself as “Soul Food to the Stars” and lists DJ Khaled as its brand ambassador and co-owner along with Elric "E-Class" Prince, the founder of Poe Boy Records. Most of the seven locations listed on the restaurant’s website are in South Florida although one is in Chicago’s far West Side.

The name is a reference to the action taken upon one’s fingers following the eating of saucy or greasy foods, as in Finger Lickin’ Good, although that’s a phrase that would unleash a certain colonel’s army of attorneys should another restaurant try to use it. The Licking does include a flavor for its chicken called Fingalickin, but I’m not trying to start trouble.

Ootoya Sushi Lounge

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Suddenly there’s a surge of new sushi joints popping up around town. One is Ootoya Sushi Lounge, which replaced Shari Sushi in Thornton Park, which closed in October of 2019. Much seems the same about the space, and Ootoya doesn’t present anything that would distinguish it above the other sushi restaurants that are opening or that have established themselves, though what I sampled on a recent visit was enjoyable.

The Bridge

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Bridge Bar

The Bridge is a New York restaurant. We know that because it says so in large letters, right beneath the name, on a big sign that, um, spans the backbar.

You’re probably wondering what makes it a New York restaurant, aren’t you, but you’re too embarrassed to ask. That’s OK; that’s what I’m here for. It’s my job to observe and scrutinize, to look for the subtle clues.

Perhaps the answer is in the menu where we find such things as hummus, guacamole and quesadillas. There is also menemen, a Turkish egg dish, as well as a few pastas, which for some reason are called macarna (probably after makarna, a Turkish word for pasta).

Burgers and steaks get us a little closer to New York, but also to just about any other city. Oh, hey – the Bridge has branzino on its menu, and for the last several years you couldn’t go into a restaurant in one of the five boroughs and not find branzino listed. It’s like the official fish of New York.

But branzino does not a New York restaurant make. So I did the only thing left to do: I asked my server.

Japango

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There are certainly more attractive restaurants than Japango, a new boxed sushi concept in Mills 50, but it offers a first-rate product for a fair price, although it does have one major but entirely fixable flaw. I’ll come back to that in a moment.

Japango operates out of the Chewy Boba space in a building that fronts Colonial Drive. It looks sort of like a converted one-car garage with black paint the major decor element, although the order counter is unstained piney wood that stands out in the darkness under bright track lighting.

Japango counter

Still classifying itself as in soft opening, Japango offers two sushi boxes, one for $19 and one for $29. Both include a sushi roll and chef’s nigirizushi assortment along with edamame, plantain chips, and a choice of seaweed salad, watermelon “ceviche” or sashimi ceviche. The $29 box gets you an extra roll.

Tabla Winter Park

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Now that vaccines are making it possible to return to indoor dining, I have a list of restaurants I’ve been aching to visit in person. Tabla’s Winter Park location has been at the top of that list.

Tabla, in its original location, was one of the very first restaurants I reviewed on this website – actually even before this website, in its earlier iteration, back in 2008. I was an immediate fan of the food, but the atmosphere – a rather soulless room off the lobby of an even soullesser hotel near Universal Orlando – left something to be desired. Improvements were made over the years, but when it was announced that Tabla’s owners would open a second location in the former Paris Bistro space in the Shops on Park arcade, I thought, “Finally, they’ve found the perfect home.”

Deli Desires

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On a shelf just below the counter at Deli Desires where customers place orders and pick up their food is a row of boxes of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt. I mention it because that may very well be the only kosher item in the place.

Not that Deli Desires is trying to pass itself off as a traditional kosher deli. How could they when the second item on the menu board, just beneath the Jewish staple latke, is a bacon sandwich?

Korean Gogi Grill

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I had a perfectly pleasant meal recently at Korean Gogi Grill on Sand Lake Road’s Restaurant Row. I enjoyed the surroundings, the graciousness and good humor of the staff, and the food (mostly).

Gogi occupies a building on an outparcel in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips. It’s a lovely space with a modern decor. Tables are wired for those wishing to cook their own meats and the comfy chairs – and plates and napkins and just about everything else in the restaurant are emblazoned with the restaurant’s name, which is Korean for meat.

BoVine

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BoVine, an upscale steakhouse that opened last year amid pandemic strictures and limitations, occupies the space that for many years had been the jewel of Winter Park’s poshest boulevard when it might have been considered the area’s first Restaurant Row: Park Plaza Gardens.

It would be difficult to come up with a more venerable and iconic restaurant than Park Plaza Gardens. It was a jewel of fine dining in an era when few special occasion restaurants existed in the area, back when its menu was described as continental cuisine (a term that has thankfully been eighty-sixed). Over the past several decades, its menu and ownership changed (Robert Earl had it at one time; Manny Garcia was on a management team) and at one point even the name was tweaked, known briefly as Chef Justin’s Park Plaza Gardens for Justin Plank, now the executive chef at Terralina Crafted Italian in Disney Springs.

But through it all, the decor and design of the restaurant remained, with the signature element of a main dining room under a glass ceiling with brick floor and lots of green plants. It had the effect of dining outside but without the vagaries of Florida’s weather.

All of that is gone. It had to go. The building had fallen into disrepair – it became harder to keep those Florida elements out – and a dispute between the last owner of the restaurant and the building’s landlord involving accusations of infestation had damaged any brand goodwill that might have remained.

But don’t lament the loss. The restaurant that has taken its place is arguably better than any iteration that preceded it.

Honest

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Almost inevitably, Honest, a vegetarian Indian restaurant, describes its cuisine as street food. How did we ever find things to eat that weren’t from the streets? But Honest comes to the term, um, honestly, having originated as a family-run food cart in 1975 in the city of Ahmedabad in the Gujarat state of western India. The street cart became a restaurant that expanded to Thailand and now is opening locations in the United States. The Orlando location joins one in Coral Springs.

It’s a quick-serve operation with orders taken at the counter. You may select from the menu board behind the counter with categories that include Bombay chaat, South Indian dishes, Indo Chinese foods and, almost as inevitable as street food, pizza.

You may find, however, a dearth of descriptions, so unless you’re well versed in the various Indian cuisines you may feel a bit at sea. But throw a dart, as it were, and you’re bound to find something enjoyable.

Tokyo Ramen Fusion Cuisine

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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Tokyo Ramen Fusion Cuisine is one of the newer tenants in the repurposed strip mall on the west side of Orlando known as Chinatown. Despite the name, the businesses there represent a panorama of Asian countries and even a few with no connection to the East (unless the Island Taste restaurant’s menu is eastern Jamaica).

Orlando’s Chinatown doesn’t have the allure of the neighborhoods in New York, San Francisco or even London. It isn’t a place to stroll about. But if you’re a fan of Asian cuisine, it is a place you need to visit. Several times.

You may want to include Tokyo Ramen Fusion Cuisine on one of your trips. There isn’t anything particularly fusionistic about the menu, although it does feature poke and a couple of Korean specialities. But that’s not what fusion means. However, I found the ramen part quite enjoyable.