Chef & I

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Chef and I chef

Last week I told you about Hall on the Yard, the new food market in Ivanhoe Village, and how it’s different from a typical food court because it has full table service and restaurant quality vendors.

One of those restaurants that is helping to make it special is Chef & I, from Nashville, which joins SJO this month as a sponsor.

Chef & I is owned by Chris and Erica Rains – he’s the Chef and she’s the I. C&I is only one of two of the restaurants in the complex with a food counter at its open kitchen. (The plant-based eatery Humbl is the other.)

As Chris Rains explains in the video below, Chef & I intends to take full advantage of the food counter and accentuate the ability of the diners to communicate directly with the chefs cooking in front of them. People sitting at Chef & I’s (Chef & My?) counter can technically order from any of the restaurants in the hall, but Rains said it’s his goal to make them want to order from him.

Hall on the Yard

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HOTY ext

“So, what’s up with all these food halls, Scott, aren’t they just like food courts without the mall attached?”

I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately since food halls and markets have been trending. At first glance, some of them do resemble a mall food court, with various stalls of food vendors with walkup counters where you place your order, pay for it, then carry it on a tray to a table, if you can find one.

The biggest difference with food halls and markets is that the food stalls are more likely to be operated by independent chefs and restaurateurs – you’re not likely to find an Auntie Ann’s Pretzel or Orange Julius – and offer a more complete dining experience of appetizers, entrees and desserts.

Now, the recently-opened Hall on the Yard in Ivanhoe Village takes the food hall concept to a different level. Like other food halls, HOTY features a variety of restaurant concepts and cuisines and also has two large bars, one inside and one outside. But it operates more like a conventional restaurant, including host seating, with waiter service and customers ordering from as many of the vendors as they wish from one spot. You can even make a reservation.

There were a couple of things I found surprising on my three visits. First, the place is huge. The food stalls – nine of them – are strewn throughout the first level; there is ample private function space upstairs. You may be seated at a freestanding table, one of the bars or at the food counter of one of two open kitchens – Humbl, the plant-based concept, or the Chef & I (I’ll have a focus on Chef & I Tuesday). Wherever you sit, a server will greet you to explain things and to take your orders, even if you select items that are from two or more far-flung vendors. This operation model allows the chefs to cook without having to worry about the “front of the house,” even when the front of the house is surrounding them.

But the most surprising thing of all was that it seemed to work.

F&D Cantina Thornton Park

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FandD CantinaTP ext

F&D, the food and drink restaurant group, has opened its second, or maybe third, Mexican/Tex-Mex brand, F&D Cantina, in Thornton Park. The restaurant moved in to the space that was Jax Thornton Park since 2017. Prior to that in was Baoery and more famously Cityfish. It began its life, in the early 2000s, as Central City Market when the mixed-use building was new.

I reviewed the other existing F&D Cantina, in Lake Mary, in 2018 and liked it. If there was some surprise in my tone it was because the original Cantina, in Waterford Lakes, was a jumbled mess. It no longer exists because apparently there is a god. At least one who rules over Mexican restaurants.

1921 Mount Dora

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1921MD ext

The Mount Dora Art Festival seemed like a good time to take a road trip and check out how 1920 Mount Dora is doing.

I hadn’t visited the restaurant since it was known as 1921 by Norman Van Aken. Van Aken, the popular award-winning chef based in South Florida, was instrumental in developing and opening the restaurant in 2016. He ended his involvement in 2018 and the restaurant was renamed 1921 Mount Dora.

In the ensuing years, I missed a couple of chefs who took up residency there, figuratively more than literally, including Josh Oakley, who cooked there between his Smiling Bison days and his current position as executive chef at The Monroe in downtown Orlando’s Creative Village.

Now in the executive chef chair at 1921 is Chris Edwards, who previously held that position at King + Duke in Atlanta.

Financier Bistro & Bar

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Financier interior

Is it Financier or Financier? That is, should we pronounce the name of Financier Bistro & Bar in Winter Park fih-nan-see-AY or fih-nan-SEER? The former is the French word for a classic almond cake that is shaped sort of like a gold bar. The latter is, um, a French word with an American pronunciation that means someone who manages money (and may be of various shapes).

Actually, it can be either or both, according to the restaurant’s website. The name was chosen as a double entendre (doo-bluh ahn-TAHN-druh) for a patisserie that opened in 2002 in Manhattan’s Financial District (usual pronunciation) and is now permanently closed.

I took refuge at the Park Avenue cafe, which was previously home to Rustic Table, Park Station and, coincidentally, a place called Frenchy’s, on a recent evening when my original destination proved too crowded. I took a small table on the sidewalk and felt like I was once again sitting at a cafe in Paris. The host even seemed insulted when I tried to order a glass of wine from him instead of waiting for my actual server, so it felt even more authentic.


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Hemisphere22 overhead

It seems inconceivable that Hemisphere, the restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency hotel in the main terminal of Orlando International Airport, is nearly 30 years old. My first review ran in the Orlando Sentinel’s Florida magazine in November of 1992 shortly after it opened.

Three decades later, I still remember the impression of stepping off the elevator on the 10th floor and taking in the expansive view from the two-story high windows as I descended a curving stairway to the dining room below. It was quite grand.

It still is, though there have been changes over the years, most notably in 2016 when the space underwent a three million dollar renovation. But even before that the restaurant had gone through evolutions. For one thing, the elevator stop had changed from the 10th floor to the ninth, eliminating the Scarlett O’Hara at Tara entrance. (Then, as now, accessing the restaurant does not require stepping foot inside the airport’s terminal; more on that in a moment.)

Four Flamingos: A Richard Blais Florida Kitchen

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fourflamingos sign

There was a time when the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress was a dining destination for special occasions. La Coquina was one of the top fine dining restaurants in the area with an incomparable Sunday brunch. Hemingway’s had a casual elegance that made guests feel as though they were dining in an elite Key West house.

La Coquina regularly took a summer hiatus, but in the fall of 2012 it simply did not reopen, a casualty of changing dining preferences; the gorgeous space now used for special events. Hemingway’s closed at the beginning of the pandemic shortly after it underwent a remodel. But it didn’t reopen either, though it wasn’t missed much – its panache had paled in its last years.

Now the hotel has opened a new restaurant in the Hemingway’s space called Four Flamingos. And the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress may once again see locals booking tables.

Bites & Bubbles

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Bites exterior

I recently attended a reception held on the rooftop space of Bites & Bubbles, the Mills 50 restaurant that last year moved from its original address on Mills Avenue near Marks Street to its current location in Mills Park. There was little to eat at the reception, so as my companion and I were leaving, we spotted two seats at the bar downstairs and decided to stay for dinner. It was a perfectly delightful experience.


Written by Scott Joseph on .

Niftys interior

I’ve always had a rule that you could still wish someone Happy New Year all the way through January 31. After that, the trajectory of a person’s year is pretty much set and if it isn’t going well then you’re just taunting them.

But this year is an exception because today, February 1, is the beginning of Lunar New Year, the Asian holiday that celebrates the beginning of the year based on the lunisoar calendar with festivities lasting up to 16 days. The lunar year is designated by an animal. Last year was an ox and 2022 is the year of the tiger. I hope the ox got away in time.

Lunar New Year is also known as the Spring Festival and often called Chinese New Year, but other Asian countries, though not all, observe it too. In Vietnam it’s known as Têt and in Korea it’s Seollal.

So let’s celebrate Seollal with a quick visit to Nifty’s Korean BBQ & Ramen in downtown Orlando.

Soseki Modern Omakase

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Soseki collantes

The Japanese dining experience known as omakase, wherein diners, not presented a menu, turn themselves over to the whim of the chef, is not new to Orlando. It has been an option at sushi restaurants for many years. (This concept isn’t exclusive to sushi restaurants, either – think a degustation or chef’s tasting menu, such as that at Victoria & Albert’s chef’s table.)

What is relatively new to the area is the omakase-only restaurant, offering an exclusive and intimate dining experience. Well, intimate in the sense that you’re among fewer than a dozen customers seated next to each other at a sushi counter but all having the same culinary adventure.

Kadence was the first to present this concept full time to Central Florida, and was awarded the Best Restaurant Overall Foodster Award in 2019. Soseki Modern Omakase came on the scene in March of ’21.

There are several similarities between the two. Both occupy indistinct buildings with little or no signage – walk-in diners aren’t allowed so there’s no need to try to draw people in; there’s also no published phone number. Each has an attractive interior decor and each has limited seating – nine for Kadence and 10 for Soseki – at a sushi-style bar (sans the see-through refrigerated container seen in typical sushi bars) with .

Also, you don’t make a reservation, you buy a ticket, a nonrefundable one. (And an expensive one, too, but more about that in a moment.)

One other similarity: Both are staffed by young, exuberant professionals who are passionate about the quality and creativity of what they present to their guests.