Don Julio's Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar (and Ceviche Bar)

Written by Scott Joseph on .

Don Julio dining room

It would seem that the place to be on a Friday night if you live in the area of Chickasaw Trail and Lake Underhill Road is Don Julio’s Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar. At least it seemed that way the Friday evening my companion and I stopped in. The restaurant in the aptly named Rio Pina Plaza was jumping like veritable frijoles saltarines.

It was so crowded that people waiting for tables were standing around on the sidewalk outside the strip plaza storefront. The only seats available, the young woman at the host stand told us, were at either of the bars, the tequila bar in the title or the ceviche bar on the other side of the room.

That suited us just fine because it was the ceviche bar that drew my attention to this particular D. Julio’s over the one in Lake Mary or the other location in Waterford Lakes. That’s because the ceviche bar is under the direction of chef Roberto Treviño, a former contestant on variations of the Iron Chef cooking competitions who previously owned El Buda, the Latin and Asian fusion restaurant in an ill-fated (and well hidden) Church Street Station space.

But even with Treviño’s credentials, his association with the Mexican restaurant is not touted very highly. In fact, I didn’t spot his name anywhere on the multipage menu.

Alex's Fresh Kitchen

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alexs top

Stopped by a pleasant little breakfast and lunch spot in Casselberry the other day called Alex’s Fresh Kitchen.

The Alex of Alex’s Fresh Kitchen is Alexander Diaz. His restaurant is a small storefront in the same compact group of businesses that also holds Palma Maria Italian restaurant and Aladdin’s Middle Eastern Cuisine.

The menu, like the restaurant, isn’t large but has an even balance of morning and noon items, including pancakes, granola and egg croissant for the former and salads and sandwiches for the latter.

10th Annual Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic

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FWClassic19 band

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Food & Wine Classic has grown as large as its name. What once was contained to the causeway that links the two hotel properties now spreads out along the waterway and extends to themed areas around the pool and in various courtyards and even into the hotel, where the Bubble Lounge was festooned with champagne colored balloons as attendants poured high end sparkling wines.

All of the event was moved indoors for the Friday edition of the of the two-night festival because of rain. I can recall that happening at least once before, in 2011, so I know the hotel staff as a good contingency plan. But there’s no doubt that the Food & Wine Classic is at its best when its outdoors.

FWClassic19 tents

And it was on Saturday evening when I attended along with a few thousand other folks. Despite the high turnout, lines for food and drink were short and manageable. That could be because there were so many food and wine stations that it kept everyone spread out.

Mai Thai

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Maithai interior

Downtown Orlando's central business district now has three Thai restaurants, and two are within a block of each other.

Mai Thai recently took over the space at 22 E. Pine St. vacated when Artisan’s Table moved to Church Street. That puts it just a hop, skip and a tom kha gai away from Napasorn, at 56 E. Pine and close to Thai Cafe on Magnolia Avenue.

Mai Thai wants to be known as an Asian fusion restaurant, though like everything else in life wanting it doesn’t make it so. About the only thing fusionesque on the menu is the Duck Tacos, but I’ll come back to those in a moment.

MT apparently also wants to be both a restaurant and a nightclub. Apparently, after dinner service the tables and chairs are moved out of the dining room to clear way for a dance floor. That might make one wonder how serious a restaurant it wants to be, fusion or otherwise.

The Whiskey's Master Series Chef's Table

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Whiskey series room

The team down at the Whiskey, the Restaurant Row tavern and restaurant, hosted a Master Series Chef’s Table recently and proved why it’s known for so much more than burgers.

Whiskey series salad line

Executive chef Chastity Harvey started the multi-course dinner with a Ratatouille Napoleon, stylishly served in a rolled cucumber with fresh greens plumage. Bacon jam and elderflower dressing were also part of the cool package.

Cuba 1800's

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Cuba 1800s top

I was motoring along Colonial Drive the other day when I spotted a new restaurant, Cuba 1800’s, so I decided to take a step back in time and have lunch.

Actually, I can’t really see the difference between this place and similar restaurants specializing in Cuban cuisine. But I can tell you I liked the food very much. And the casual picnic-style atmosphere. And especially the way I was welcomed by the staff of Cuba 1800’s.

And before my copy editor friends come after me, yes, I know that the apostrophe in the name is mechanically incorrect, but that’s the way the restaurant has it so that’s what I’m going with.

And besides, with food this good I’m willing to forgive them for being too possessive.

Delaney's Tavern

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Delaneys table view

It always seemed like a good idea to me, a full-service restaurant in the culinary desert between downtown and Sodo. It made especially good sense to locate one across the street from the massive Orlando Health medical complex as a hospital-food alternative, not to mention adult beverage opportunity, for staff and visiting family members.

But Doc’s, the first restaurant to give it a try, couldn’t quite make a go of it, not even with an estimable chef like Neil Connolly, who was formerly the private chef for the Kennedy family compund in Massachusetts. And it didn’t do any better when it tried, after Connolly’s death, to go sports bar-ish as the casual Doc’s Streetside Grille.

But something feels different about Delaney’s Tavern. It essentially occupies the same space, though it was somewhat altered when a boutique hotel was added to the upper floors (something that was planned even back in the early Doc’s days). I hesitate to use a cliché and call it Cheers like, even though that’s what the owners Dr. Tom Winters, an orthopedic surgeon, and his wife, Dr. Becky Moroose, were going for. But it does have that mien, and not just because John Ratzenberger, the actor who played Cliff, a regular at the bar of the old television series, could be spotted sitting on one of its stools recently.

It’s comfortable, it’s relaxed, and it feels like a place you might want to visit regularly. And I can only imagine the food served here is better than you’d find at Melville's Hungry Heiferthe restaurant upstairs from the fictional bar.

A lot better.

Supper Club Redux: Harvest Dinner at Raglan Road

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RaglanSC table

I’m delighted to inform you that Raglan Road, the Disney Springs Irish pub and restaurant, is in excellent hands with its executive chef, Mark O’Neill. Raglan Road was the setting for our recent meeting of Scott Joseph’s Supper Club and O’Neill put together a Harvest Dinner menu that had us all over the moon.

RaglanSC shepherd

Following a welcome cocktail, we began our dinner with O’Neill’s version of Shepherd’s Pie. That classic dish has always been stylized at Raglan but this version elevated it to something wonderful. It had the usual beer and lamb along with root vegetables in a red wine based gravy. But the mashed potatoes that were piped on top had been smoked in Irish peat. That gave it a moody grace note. It was paired with King of Shoals IPA from Crooked Can Brewing. I could have been happy with that as the only dish of the evening.

But that was just the beginning.

Enchanted Rose

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Enchanted sign

Wonderful news: The drabbest bar on Disney property, the miserable Mizner’s Lounge, is no more, and Enchanted Rose has taken its place – and then some.

Mizner’s was on the second floor of the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, tucked behind the bandstand of the orchestra that plays for the guests in the lobby below. Mizner’s was a step down from the entryway, it was dark and cramped, and perhaps that affected the mood of the cast members who worked there because they were uncharacteristically surly.

That space is now is all lounge – the bar for Enchanted Rose is next door in what used to be a gift shop where racks of t-shirts blocked the windows. A three-sided bar now occupies that space, and the windows offer an unobscured view of the lagoon (or at least they will once the trees are trimmed back a bit.

Enchanted bar

A chandelier of golden rods hangs overhead. It’s meant, I’m told, to represent the gown Belle wears in Beauty and the Beast, the Disney property that inspires the Enchanted Rose.

Chef's Table at the Edgewater

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Chefstable bucket

I just spent a perfectly lovely evening at an old favorite I hadn’t visited in too long a time, Chef’s Table at the Edgewater.

Owners Kevin and Laurie Tarter were ahead of the Winter Garden renaissance when they opened their intimate restaurant in the historic Edgewater Hotel there in May of 2008. Eleven years later, the West Orange County hamlet is a hopping with good restaurants and evening entertainment. And the Tarters have expanded their domain with the addition of the Tasting Room, which occupies a space in front of the Chef’s Table’s dining room, and, earlier this year, the acquisition of the Attic Door.

But the Chef’s Table remains the jewel, a leisurely evening of three courses, with wine pairings if you like, served by a friendly and attentive staff.