MX Taco

Written by Scott Joseph on .

MX Taco top

Ryan Manning knows his way around Mexico. Even better, he knows his way around Mexico’s taco regions.

Some who have jumped on the taco-slinger bandwagon would have you believe that a taco is a taco is a taco. But Manning, who has lived and worked in Mexico as a chef with Ritz-Carlton, will tell you that each region has its own style, with distinguishing salsas, moles and meats.

I came back from a recent visit to Mexico where I had one outstanding taco and the next day visited Manning’s new Milk District restaurant, MX Taco, where I had seven. The restaurant was still in soft opening mode, but Manning offered me a tour of the menu — and of the Mexican regions represented on it.

La Boucherie

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Boucherie exterior

In the 15 or so times I’ve been to France, I’ve never once come across La Boucherie, which, on the website for the chain’s first U.S. location, now open in Orlando, claims to be “France’s most popular steakhouse.”

So I can’t attest to how the experience of the Orlando restaurant compares to one in Paris. Or Morocco, Russia or Thailand for that matter. I wonder if they use the same ridiculously flimsy napkins, and if so why. Or if their menus have garish photographs like you’d see in a 24-hour diner. Or trite phrases in menu descriptions like “Need ‘oui’ say more?”, which doesn’t really make sense.

Pier 36 Fish Camp

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pier 36 interior

Casselberry has a new seafood restaurant called Pier 36 Fish Camp. Why it’s called Pier 36 is unclear. Maybe a shortening of 436 in reference to the State Road that it’s on? Except that it’s actually on Cassel Creek Boulevard. So why not Cassel Creek Fish Camp?

Try not to overthink this one. It’s just a simple, old-style seafood restaurant with a wharfian decor. You know: oars, anchors, starfish, nets. It occupies a building that apparently was formerly a Hooters, so maybe the fishnets are just left over.

It’s an old style sort of menu, too. Judging from a quick-stop lunch recently, it takes its seafood seriously.

Blended Cafe Bar

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Blended interior

Blended Cafe Bar is an intimate little eatery in a massively large space. It’s funny, Juliana’s Fine Tuscan Cuisine, which held this space previously, never struck me as occupying an airplane hangar-sized room. Perhaps the owners plan on holding line-dancing lessons or renting the extra space out for corporate meetings.

It’s distractingly large is what I’m trying to say.

Blended bench

But it’s bright and tidy —though oddly there’s a plastic carpet protector on the bench that serves as a banquette along the wall — and there’s no reason you can’t have a private conversation without being overheard by the people at the next table, which may or may not be in a different zip code.

Four Guys Pho

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Four Guys pho

I don’t supposed it’s absolutely necessary to know who the four guys of Four Guys Pho in Casselberry are but it does beg the question. Though as far as I know, no one loses any sleep over not knowing who the five guys of Five Guys Burgers are. (They are the Murrell brothers from Washington, D.C., though the fifth one wasn’t born yet when his older brothers started the business, posing another question that will go begging for now.)

The website for Four Guys Pho says that the Vietnamese restaurant is also the project of brothers, though no names are offered. And when I called the restaurant to ask, the gentleman who answered the phone said that if I wanted to know their names I would have to come to the restaurant because he wasn’t authorized to give that information out over the phone.

Maybe it should be called the Soup of the Secretive Siblings.

Whatever. The food, especially the pho, was quite good when I visited recently.

Pisces Rising

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Pisces patio

Apparently, I haven’t dined at Pisces Rising in Mount Dora since the middle of 2004. At least that’s the date on a yellowed framed copy of a review I wrote in June of that year. Since then, I’ve learned, there have been at least a couple of ownership changes, so I figured it was time to check it out again.

Not only ownership changes, the concept is different, too. Originally a seafood centric restaurant — Pisces, after all — its menu is decidedly less fishy in its current iteration.

Actually, I’d be hard pressed to put my finger on a central menu theme. Dishes jump from region to region and even to different countries. But a general goal, it seems, is to Floridate them with a local twist using ingredients from nearby farms.

The Pie College Park

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Thepie interior

It’s been nearly two years since we first visted The Pie, the plainly named pizza seller in College Park, and nearly one year since word came that the original owner was closing and a new owner was taking over. I’m not sure when the new management moved in — recently a young fellow working there said it had only been a few months — but it still has the feel of a place that hasn’t quite found its niche.

And I don’t know why that should be because the food is actually quite good, though the pies of The Pie might not be the pizzas most people imagine when the topic comes up.

The Ramen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

The Ramen ramen

 Why do I think of Edgar Allen Poe every time I hear that name?

Quoth The Ramen “Never pho.”

It wasn’t quite a midnight dreary that I walked downtown blocks so dreary. Though it definitely was in bleak December. And I had to walk past the even bleaker desolation of the deserted Orlando Sentinel parking lot. But The Ramen is anything but a dark and musty chamber. It’s actually quite bright and pristine.

The new restaurant sits on the corner of North Orange Avenue and Amelia Street. Something new in the wave of ramen restaurants that we’ve seen lately, The Ramen is quick-serve: Place your order and pay for it at the counter then take a number stand to a table of your choice. Someone will bring your food to you when it’s ready.

After considering the menu that one of the cheerful greeters gave me, I selected the Shoyu Ramen, which had Shoyu broth, chashu, aji tamago, naruto, menma, green onions and nori.

Translation:

Wine Bar George Revisited

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Wine Bar George Ext

Now that Wine Bar George has been open for seven months or so, I thought it would be interesting to revisit and see how it is settling in to the Disney Springs community.

Actually, there was another reason to make another trip there. A Wine Bar George dining experience with me was offered as a silent auction item at this year’s gala for Orlando Shakes in Partnership with UCF. The dinner, donated by Rick Schell, was for two people to join me and Schell for an updated review. After a fierce bidding war in which two parties battled for the two seats, Schell graciously expanded the invitation to both couples.

Joining us for the evening were John and Rita Lowndes, Dr. Ann McGee and Chuck Kovaleski.

Winebargeorge digby

Owner George Miliotes greeted us with an interesting sparkling wine, Digby Fine English, from Sussex. I know what you’re thinking: English wine? And a sparkling wine at that? This was a delightful surprise. The nonvintaged blended wine — pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier — could hold its own next to many Champagnes. And why was there even a question: It’s been clear since the beginning that Miliotes doesn’t stock swill in his joint. (The Digby goes for $88 on the wine list, so that’s another indicator that it isn’t a second-rate wine.)

F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen

Written by Scott Joseph on .

FD Italian bar

I counted myself among the skeptics when it was announced that a developer planned to revitalize the area at Curry Ford Road and Bumby Avenue with new restaurants, brewpubs and other boutique businesses, unofficially dubbing it the Hourglass District. There was encouragement when Claddagh Cottage relocated the popular Irish Pub to one of the blocks. And a Foxtail Coffee bar moved into a small strip mall, but heck, Foxtail seems to be following a Starbuckian business model with plans to put them everywhere.

And there were initial signs of hope when a pizza restaurant, Peppino’s Organic Italian Pizzeria & Kitchen moved into a freestanding building that had been home to a long line of short-lived culinary concepts, most of them Latin American focused, that couldn’t make the inexpensive menu and low number of seats a successful combination. A pizzeria made sense because it supplement its dine-in business with takeout or even delivery.

But Peppino’s closed faster than many of those Latin restaurants — less than six months — due, I’m told, to the owner’s health (though mediocre food and stunningly dismissive service didn’t bode well for its longevity).

Then the people at F&D Kitchen in Lake Mary announced they would take it over, also with a pizza concept. I was skeptical again. My experiences with F&D have been mixed. The original F&D Kitchen brought only a shrug. I had a wholly unpleasant experience at its Mexican concept, F&D Cantina, when it first opened in Waterford Lakes, but then quite enjoyed the food, service and surroundings of its second location, also in Lake Mary. (The original Cantina closed.)

So what would I find at F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen? A cozy atmosphere, an exuberant staff, and a well-thought-out Italian menu that goes beyond basic pizza with pastas and even full entrees.