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.)

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

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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.