Sep 032015
 

Chef’s Night at Second Harvest returned with uber award-winning Chef de Cuisine Scott Hunnel and Master Pastry Chef Erich Herbitschek of Victoria & Albert’s at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Together they prepared an INCREDIBLE dinner at Second Harvest Food Bank’s Community Kitchen as part of the Chef’s Night series and Catering for Good program. All proceeds benefit Second Harvest’s Culinary Training Program, which provides students with the skills and inspiration they need to obtain an entry-level position in a food service establishment.

Under Hunnel, Victoria & Albert’s has been Central Florida’s only AAA Five-Diamond status restaurant for the last 15 consecutive years. Talk about an accomplishment. During our exquisite evening of wining and dining we were treated to a five-course dinner that mimicked a true Victoria & Albert’s experience.

From the champagne to the final box of chocolates, everything, and I mean everything we tasted and sipped was exquisite. If you haven’t attend a Chef’s Night you are seriously missing out one of Orlando’s most notable culinary events. Here’s what we tasted lasted week – and still dreaming of this week!

First Course: Alaskan King Crab Roulade with Siberian Caviar and English Stilton Cheesecake – The most delicate crustacean I’ve possible ever tasted, paired with this rich, decadent “cheesecake.” It was the most delightful miniature plate.

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Second Course: Gulf Shrimp with Crisp Prosciutto and Athena Melon – An artfully prepared course mimicking flavors you’d only find in Italy. My husband’s favorite dish of the night and one that melded sweet, salty and savory all in one course.

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Third Course: Poulet Rouge with Mushroom Ragoût and Summer Truffles – Truffles on top of truffles on top of chicken so delectable I’ll compare all other poultry to this plate. Yet another work of art almost too pretty to eat.

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Fourth Course: Grass-fed Beef with Potato-Turnip Gratin and Oxtail Jus – My favorite flavors of the evening, Australian beef served (mostly) rare and tender enough to slice with my dessert spoon. Paired with what can only be described as the “thousand layer potato,” this cheesy-potato tower is the classiest way to eat starches and dairy. Life goals include: tasting this potato tower again and then learning how to create it myself.

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Dessert: Peruvian Chocolate Timbale – Absolutely stunning. You could hear an audible roar of the room when this dish was served. Our entire table ceased existing conversation and turned all words to this amazing dish both in taste, texture and of course presentation. I’ve yet to taste something dense and light all in one spoonful.

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And now I’m off to make a reservation at Victoria & Albert’s…..let’s just hope they have a table open in 2015. The next calendar year is a long time to wait to taste this incredible cuisine.

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Sep 022015
 

Theme park snacks are taking a fun twist at Mama’s Pretzel Kitchen inside SeaWorld. Pretzel connoisseurs can now savor sweet and salty pretzel combinations while sipping on a variety of local and seasonal craft beers, frozen cocktails, wines and beverages.

We were recently treated to a day full of SeaWorld and pretzel goodness. Located adjacent to Shamu Stadium, these carb confections are a delightful twist on your standard theme park fare.

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After sampling a myriad of salty, carb goodness we headed to see Shamu in action. If you haven’t been to SeaWorld lately it’s worth a trip – even if just to see Shamu and his penguin friends in Antartica. Here’s a recap of our pretzel sampling and our recommendations!

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Cinnamon Sugar Nuggets: Bite-sized sugary-sweet bliss. I mean…..how can you not like cinnamon and sugar coating a soft pretzel bite? We can’t be friends if you’re adverse to sugary pretzels.

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Bacon Pretzel Twist: A braided pretzel with savory bacon and salty, fluffy bread. Dip in their spicy mustard for an added flavor bonus.

Mustard Pretzel Roll: Oh man. We went back for seconds with this one. If you’re adverse to mustard, I’d clearly avoid this item – but if you’re mustard obsessed like us, you better order this pretzel creation.
 
Pepperoni Pizza Pretzel: Imagine a personal-pan pizza crossing with a big, fat pretzel, and voila you have a pretzel pizza! Dip in their marinara sauce for an indulgent hybrid of flavors.
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As a pretzel-obsessed staff, we had so much fun sampling these creations. Put Mama’s Pretzel Kitchen on your SeaWorld list! Cheers to carbs. Lots of carbs.

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Sep 022015
 

Summer’s end is near, and that can only mean one thing—Magical Dining Month is here! With restaurants all over Orlando serving up their best dishes at magical prices, it’s a perfect excuse to re-energize your dining routine. .

Lake Buena Vista:

It’s all-you-can-eat, plus a little extra this month at American Q. Choose from a selection of three appetizers (we recommend their signature Swine Candy), then dig in to the Flatbed Buffet, stocked with scrumptious sides and get ready for tableside carvings of meat, smoked in-house on the rodizio. (Not up for all-you-can-eat-fare? Check out the Memphis Baby Back Ribs or Butter Poached & Blackened NY Strip!) Make sure you save some room for dessert—a slice of S’mores Pie will hit that sweet spot. American Q has some seriously fun eats. For more on our review, click here.

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Downtown:

Southern classics get a contemporary spin at Soco. Chef Greg Richie is serving up the finest in comfort cuisine this Magical Dining Month, with a menu selection of house favorites such as Slow Roasted Barbeque-Glazed Pork Belly Biscuits andGrilled Meatloaf on Lobster Mashed Potatoes. Come dessert time, it’s a toss-up between the Southern Belle, warm apple & oatmeal spice cake, coconut, pink peppercorn whiskey syrup; or the Bourbon Banana Pudding, a vanilla wafer waffle with caramelized banana and toasted meringue. And have you seen our latest Soco review? Read all about it here.

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Restaurant Row:

You’ll want to save room for everything from the robata at Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi, where the Magical Dining menu is a three-course immersion in the Japanese dining experience. Start the journey with a bowl of Katsuobushi Miso Soup, then see where the night takes you with entrée selections such as Braised Short Ribs and Robata-Grilled Chickens Thighs.

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International Drive:

The Capital Grille. Done. Enough said, right? Read our latest review here.

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Bonus! While these spots aren’t participating in Magical Dining Month, they’re serving up sweet specials and with prix fixes you won’t want to miss!

Join Tapa Toro, Orlando’s newest tapas bar and paella pit, where they’re serving up a prix fixe of Spanish classics in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. With a menu for lunch ($18) and dinner ($33) available September 1-October 15, there’s plenty of time to give it all a try!

Itta Bena brings Memphis’ finest dining to Orlando with a Summer Celebration Menu ($35) stocked with house favorites such as the Signature She-Crab Soup, Blackened Gulf Red Snapper and the White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

Sep 012015
 

A team of Central Florida food and beverage visionaries are partnering to create DoveCote, an innovative twist on the classic French brassiere that will occupy the site of the former Harvey’s Bistro at the Bank of America Center in downtown Orlando.

“We’re bringing an elevated approach to all-day dining at a key Orlando location,” says James Petrakis, chef/owner of Swine Family Restaurant Group (The Ravenous Pig, Cask & Larder, Swine & Sons.) “DoveCote will add new energy to downtown, along with culinary offerings not found elsewhere in Central Florida. We couldn’t be more excited about what lies ahead.”

Petrakis and his wife, Julie, are teaming up with a pair of notable players to launch DoveCote. Chef/partner Clayton Miller, a past winner of a “Best New Chef” award from Food & Wine Magazine, who also worked under Thomas Keller at French Laundry, will oversee culinary efforts at the restaurant. Miller is returning to Orlando after serving as culinary director for 50 Eggs Inc. in Miami for several years. Gene Zimmerman, a wine industry veteran and owner of The Courtesy, the popular craft cocktail lounge in downtown Orlando, will spearhead DoveCote’s beverage program.

“We knew this iconic building with the private courtyard, would be the perfect setting for an exciting and innovative restaurant,” said Shipley Hall, Managing Director of Parkway Properties, the real estate investment trust that owns the Bank of America building. “It was important for us to be patient until we found the right team who not only shared our vision for the space but could also execute at a level which would make the space a downtown staple again. DoveCote will not just be an amenity to our building, but will be an amenity to the city as well.”

While DoveCote’s menu is still in development, Miller said morning service would start at 7 o’clock with a barista station featuring grab-and-go breakfasts. French-inspired lunch and dinner menus “will be approachable with an emphasis on comfort food.” The restaurant will also feature a raw bar and regular happy hour specials.

“We want DoveCote to be a place where you can either get in and get out or get in and stay all night,” said Miller.

Zimmerman, who is creating DoveCote’s beverage program, said he is in the process of “taking a very long list of potential signature cocktails and shrinking it down to size.” The restaurant’s wine list, he said, “will lean toward boutique, family-owned vineyards that are domestic but French in style.”

Cask & Larder head brewer Larry Foor will collaborate with Zimmerman on DoveCote’s craft beer program. The rotating selection will fall heavily into French and Belgian-style varieties, including several Cask & Larder beers available exclusively at DoveCote, such as Foor’s farmhouse saison.

Plans call for a crisp, cool redesign of the 6,051-square-foot dining room, which will accommodate about 120 guests, including space for special events and corporate meetings. Drew White, whose firm lot1433 designed The Courtesy, will oversee the look of DoveCote’s interior. Galvin Design Group will direct design of the kitchen. And Gomez Construction Company is the general contractor.

In addition, DoveCote will feature tables in the center’s lobby and the private, street-side terrace. It was while sitting outside talking over ideas for the restaurant that the partners came up with its name, which is derived from the medieval term for a structure that provides shelter for game pigeons.

“Some of the building’s architectural features, like the parapets, reminded me of ancient dovecotes that I’d seen in Europe,” said Zimmerman. “We started tossing it around and it grew on us.”

Beyond its reference to a place of shelter, the name has further significance, Zimmerman said, since it offers a nod to the French term côte, which in the viniculture world means a hillside where grapes are grown.

DoveCote is slated to open in late-Spring 2016.

Aug 272015
 

As a native Orlando resident it’s always nice to see average areas turn into something exceptional. While uber-touristy, the countless I-Drive improvements are giving locals a reason to trek out to fanny pack central. New to I-Drive’s dining scene is Lafayette’s, located on the second level of Pointe Orlando. This Memphis-based restaurant has expanded outside of Tennessee, bringing their love of live music and Southern cooking to The Sunshine State.

In this expansive space, music lovers will enjoy Southern fare while listening to a variety of Country, Rock and Roll, Blues Rock, Bluegrass, and Jazz music.  Historically, Lafayette’s is known for showcasing legendary musicians such as Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Kiss and more. (Come back to Orlando Billy!)

Lafayette’s dishes are crafted by Executive Chef, Paul Wisler. He pulls influence from the Mississippi Delta to New Orleans with dishes ranging from Shrimp and Grits to Beignets and oysters and crab claws when in season. It’s a true Southern feast for the eyes and palate, featuring genuine, no frills food. Plus they serve brunch, which I’d like to believe originated in the South.

We were recently treated to a variety of flavors and sounds at Layfayette’s. Here’s what we enjoyed and recommend trying during your visit!

  • Waffle Cheese Fries: Topped with smoked cheddar cheese, bacon, sour cream and green onions. A unique take on cheese fries and every fry was greased to perfection.

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  • Fried Green Tomato and Bacon Sliders: Perfectly breaded tomatoes pilled high with a solid contrast of textures and flavors. And of course, you can’t go wrong with that bacon addition.

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  • Lafayette’s Glazed Salmon: BBQ glazed grilled salmon and shrimp on a bed of andouille corn chowder topped with tobacco fried onions. The sauce was a star here as it covered a flaky, tender salmon perfectly. The andouille added an unexpected hint of spice that meshed with the sweetness of the corn and BBQ glaze.

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  • Chicken and Waffles: Southern boneless fried chicken, homemade cheddar waffle and hot sauce honey. The honey spice added a unique flavor and the chicken was perfectly crisp. All atop some fluffy waffles drizzled with sweet syrup. An overall “wicked combination” (quoting my husband here) with the perfect melding of spices.

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  • Bananas Foster Mason Jars: A glorious mash of bananas, caramel sauce and sugar.

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  • Atlas Road Crew: A perfect accompaniment to Southern bites? Good ‘ole music. Named for the road in front of their original practice space in Columbia, South Carolina, Atlas Road Crew has perfected a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound with southern soul accents. With bands rotating nightly, you’re sure to hear some beats to suit your fancy.

So get off the sofa and go experience some Southern tunes and bites! We promise you won’t be disappointed.

Aug 252015
 

There’s just six days left to enjoy The Capital Grille’s Generous Pour. For a mere $28 you can enjoy all-you-care-to-drink wine from some of the most influential women in the wine world.

Seven of California’s great female winemakers and collaborators, including award-winning actress Drew Barrymore, have come together to celebrate women and wine as part of the restaurant’s seventh annual Generous Pour event.

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The Generous Pour will celebrate the unique role women play in winemaking with this year’s offerings. Now through August 30, for $28 per person with dinner, The Capital Grille will offer eight remarkable wines crafted, designed or owned by women from some of California’s most acclaimed vineyards.

We recently sat down for dinner at The Capital Grille, here’s what we enjoyed and recommend tasting before The Generous Pour comes to a close. And PS it’s MAGICAL DINING MONTH (insert happy dance here). So yes, that means you can enjoy this fabulous wine for $28 and a three course meal for $33. Why are you not making a reservation right now? Okay, back to the food and wine, here are some must taste dishes and drinks!

Stoli Doli: The Capital Grille signature martini. Stolichnaya Vodka infused with fresh pineapple, chilled and served straight up. Ever see those large pineapple jars in the bar? It’s not just for show, they are used to create the most fantastic cocktail.

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Lobster and Crab Cakes: A delightful crab cake filled with large chunks of yes…lobster AND crab. It’s seaside heaven on a plate.

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Pan-Fried Calamari with Hot Cherry Peppers: I’m usually not a calamari connoisseur, but this steaming plate of battered goodness was enough to change my mind. A signature Capital Grille dish and one that pairs perfectly with Drew Barrymore’s Pinot Grigio which is part of The Generous Pour lineup.

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Filet Mignon: The best filet in town. Nobody else compares. I’ll let the imagery speak for itself with this plate.

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Bone-In Kona Crusted Dry Aged NY Strip with Shallot Butter  +
Porcini Rubbed Bone-In Ribeye with 15-Year Aged Balsamic: Two dry aged steaks that are tender, juicy and layered with impeccable flavor.

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Lobster Mac ‘N’ Cheese: Also known as my new BFF. It’s the perfect accompaniment to, well, everything. This is a must order dish.

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Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake + Coconut Cream Pie + Cheesecake with Seasonal Berries: All housemade and baked to perfection. It doesn’t matter how full you are, there’s always room for dessert, especially this dessert.

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Okay, that’s enough of my Capital Grille gushing. Now go make a reservation!

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Photo Credits: Wine Bottles, Stoli by Jimmy Deflippo. Calamari photo by The Capital Grille.