The Monroe

Written by Scott Joseph on .

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It’s been a long while since we’ve seen a restaurant the scale of The Monroe open up, at least outside of Disney Springs. The 4000-square-foot would be remarkable on its own just for the vastness of the space. But since this is the latest project from Good Salt Restaurant Group, the entity owned by Jason and Sue Chin who also have Reyes Mezcalaria, Osprey and Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, we expect more than decor, and it delivers.

The Monroe is closer in semblance to Reyes, the North Quarter restaurant that took over the space originally held by Citrus. Like Reyes, Monroe occupies the ground floor of an other-purposed building (offices for Reyes, an apartments for Monroe) with double-height ceilings and hard-surface floors decorated with the artistic stenciling that has become a signature of Sue Chin’s decorating skill. Wood paneling and furniture have a mid-century mien, though the wall of industrial grade windows bring it back to early 21st century. There is ample use of greenery, and in one particular dash of whimsy a graceful orchid sits in front of a large painted mural of swans that features silhouettes of the same flower.

Chicago Dog & Co.

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Chicagodog sign

Portillo’s, the Chicago hot dogger and beef sandwich chain currently in soft opening in the new O-Town West development, has been getting the attention of local frankfurter freaks. Even though the grand opening isn’t until the middle of June, people are waiting in line now just to get their wiener on. Portillo’s is next door to White Castle, which is also boasting long lines. I guess there’s just something exciting about a new chain in town.

But for those who don’t need their sausages to come with a corporate stamp, you can get a Windy City wienie at Chicago Dog & Co. in Altamonte Springs.

Frankly, frankfurters don’t do much for me, but I don’t ascribe any any Freudian facets to their aficionados. And the Chicago style dog I had at Chicago Dog & Co. provided some pleasant, if few, bites.

Maki Hibachi Downtown

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Maki tuna

The best thing I had at Maki Hibachi, a new sushi and Japanese restaurant uniquely situated in a self-storage complex in Downtown Orlando, was something called Drunken Tuna.

It featured loosely chopped raw tuna on wafers with a slice of avocado in between. Atop the tuna were dollops of spicy mayo and a bit of fish roe along with artistically placed micro greens. The tuna was cool and fresh and the wafers – menu called them crackers but these were less crispy – added a different texture. And although I couldn’t detect anything that would warrant the drunken designation, I liked the bit of spiritedness in the spicy mayo. It was a delicious appetizer.

Unfortunately, what followed was mostly mundane.


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Despite what I told you when the it opened, which was based on what a manager told me at the time, TajineXpress is not a full service restaurant but rather, as the name would imply, more of a quick-service operation. The Xpress sort of gave that away, but the gentleman I spoke to at the time, back in April, insisted that it merely conveyed a cooking technique the restaurant was using that allowed them to prepare tajine dishes faster than the usual two hours.

That said, the staff at TajineXpress was so friendly and accommodating. And the food, delivered to the table on basket trays and served on earthenware plates, all made it feel like a full dining experience.

Perla's Pizza

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Blame Wolfgang Puck.

It was Puck who in the eighties changed the notion of what a pizza could be, getting creative and moving beyond the basic trinity toppings – sausage, pepperoni and mushroom – and heavy sauce and cheese.

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Perhaps you can’t draw a straight line from Spago to Perla’s Pizza but a connection could definitely be argued. How else would you explain a pizza with bananas on it?

Perla’s is the project of Mike Collantes of Taglish, the Filipino-American food stall inside the Lotte Market on West Colonial Drive. Perla’s, in the Mills 50 district in an almost-shared space with the Thirsty Topher, does just pizzas (and one salad), offering a small collection of curated pies, most of them more mundane than the one called It’s Bananas.

That isn’t exactly the phrase I uttered when I first heard that Perla’s would offer a pizza with bananas. At the time I speculated that Collantes was just trying to tick off people who thought pineapple on a pizza was sacrilege. To that point, Perla’s also offers a selection called Everybody Hates Pineapple.

I include myself with everybody on that notion, even though Perla’s use of pineapple jam paired with pickled jalapenos sounded a tad intriguing. Just a tad.

But I really couldn’t ignore the bananas staring at me from the menu.

The Licking

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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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Ootoya sign

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.


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Japango sign

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.”