Orlando Chefs Tap Mickey D’s at Upscale Fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House

You kind of feel humbled on their behalf. At Appetite for the Arches, Orlando chefs prepare bite-size foods–elegant hors d’oeuvres–using McDonald’s ingredients. It’s a playful yet upscale fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House.

Upscale Fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House

Here’s a snapshot from last year’s Appetite for the Arches. The event is a culinary fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House.

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Radishes with Smoked Crème Fraiche: A Tale of Capa, Orlando’s New Spanish Steakhouse

Look at this. Just look at this. It’s four types of radishes on top of smoked crème fraiche–ya! smoked crème frache!–with a bit of pomegranate laced in. Hint: We’re talking about Capa, Orlando’s new Spanish steakhouse.

Rábano: four types of radishes over smoked crème fraiche with pomegranate. Capa, Orlando's new Spanish steakhouse

Rábano: four types of radishes over smoked crème fraiche with pomegranate.

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Steak with a Florida Twist at A Land Remembered

Every upscale steakhouse has a shtick to set it apart from competitors. In Orlando,  A Land Remembered embraces Old Florida. The name comes from Patrick Smith‘s novel, which I happen to adore. And some menu items reflect the state’s old ways. Let’s call the offerings steak with a Florida twist.

Steak with a Florida Twist at A Land Remembered

The butter patties at A Land Remembered are shaped like alligators.

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Yet Another Superb Vegetarian Entree at Disney World

Disney World is a vegetarian’s dream vacation destination, since even quick-service counters have at least one meat-free, and often delicious, offering. What that megapark complex can do with fast-food quinoa or salmon, and with table-service tofu (mint-coconut chutney!) … . At the brand new Italian restaurant Trattoria al Forno, I found yet another superb vegetarian entree at Disney World.

Campanelle with green beans, roasted pototes and Genovese pesto, a vegetarian entree at Disney World

Campanelle with green beans, roasted potatoes, and Genovese pesto

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A Spicy Fruit Plate at the Charlotte Airport

Tropical fruit with a zesty, spicy mix on top–now that’s an airport snack I can respect.

The "plato de frutas" at Tequileria

The “plato de frutas” at Tequileria

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Zaza-The Only Way to Eat at Orlando Airport

Trapped in Terminal B for two hours, I could buy lunch from national chains or other national chains. Manchu Wok. Ruby Tuesday. Ick. Then I spotted Zaza. Zaza Modern Cuban Diner is a frill-free local place with two restaurants in addition to its modest airport counter.

The mojo chicken sandwich from Zaza.

The mojo chicken sandwich from Zaza.

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Have an Interactive Animal Experience at Giraffe Ranch

I’ve written extensively about Giraffe Ranch for magazines, and I still can’t get enough of this place. It’s not a zoo, really. Visits are more interactive than that. Guests take jeep or camel “safaris” to get close to animals. The owners share incredibly rich detail about the animals, their habits, and their environment. For extra fees–and most are worth it–folks also get to feed grapes to ring-tailed lemurs and sweet potato to rhinos. All visitors are invited to share lettuce and leaves with giraffes.

Some of the friendly animals at Giraffe Ranch

Some of the friendly animals at Giraffe Ranch

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Authentic New York Pizza at Corelli

We search and search for “real” pizza in Orlando. We plummet with disappointment, time and again. Not so last night–in Clermont, Florida, of all places. In an L-shaped strip mall anchored by a Kmart, we were bounced back to our roots for an hour at Corelli, a glorified pizza place owned by folks from the Bronx. Yes, neighbors, you can find authentic New York pizza Corelli.

Authentic New York Pizza at Corelli

Authentic New York Pizza at Corelli

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A Chinese Lobster Dinner for $14 at Ming’s Bistro

What a find! Last night, I happened into Ming’s Bistro and discovered the restaurant is having a “seasonal promotion”: a Chinese lobster dinner for $14 (well, $13.99).

At Ming's Bistro, this seaonal Chinese lobster dinner costs only $14.

At Ming’s Bistro, this seasonal lobster dinner costs only $14.

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Sample the Superb Gelato at Rome’s Flavours

I’d essentially given up on gelato. Here in Orlando, even the so-called artisan vendors serve unsatisfactory Italian ice cream. The textures and flavors are uninspiring–not nearly as creamy and deep as what I recall from glorious afternoon treats in Florence. Yesterday, I happened up on the superb gelato at Rome’s Flavours.

Superb gelato at Rome's Flavours

Dark chocolate and hazelnut gelatos at Rome’s Flavours

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A Spud-tastic Meal at Ellie Lou’s

It’s nuthin’ fancy, Ellie Lou’s Brews & BBQ, so I overlooked it for months. Down-home decor, counter service … . Then I took home a turkey sandwich. It was a solid, flavorful, textured mass of turkey, not that processed pseudo-poultry trash most Orlando restaurants proffer. That was lunch. A few weeks later, I went back for dinner. Guess what? I had a spud-tastic meal at Ellie Lou’s.

The BBQ Baker at Ellie Lou's

The BBQ Baker at Ellie Lou’s

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Dig Into British Pub Fare at Leaky Cauldron

“The Codfather.” That’s what fellow fisherman call the single guy who hauls in fresh cod for Leaky Cauldron’s fish and chips every day. Universal Orlando‘s relationship with this one man represents the restaurant’s commitment to serving commendable food: The fish is caught and shipped daily, meaning the battered filet on your plate is, as one foodservice manager says, “never more than 36 hours old.” I think you’ll like the British pub fare at Leaky Cauldron.

British Pub Fare at Leaky Cauldron

The Ploughman’s Platter can be created for groups from two to eight.

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Have a Ritzy, Glitzy New Year’s Eve in Orlando

Break out the sparkly cocktail attire, the glittering jewelry, and those extra high heels. New Year’s Eve warrants a big-time celebration. On Sunday morning, December 21, I shared on Fox 35’s Good Day details on where to have a ritzy, glitzy New Year’s Eve in Orlando. Chefs of three top-tier restaurants were with me, each showing off one especially tempting dish that will be served.

Bull & Bear Steakhouse Have a Ritzy, Glitzy New Year's Eve in Orlando

The Bull & Bear Steakhouse is hosting a ritzy, glitzy New Year’s Eve event .

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Join Top Disney Chefs at a Field-to-Feast Dinner

Burger-and-fries, my tuckus. Disney World has truly good meals at its parks and hotels–if you’re willing to bypass the beef patties. Customers in the know seek out the complex’s better meals, those prepared by “real” chefs–the types who might otherwise be cooking in renowned big-city restaurants. Here’s your opportunity to join top Disney chefs at a field-to-feast dinner.

Join Disney's Top Chefs at a Field-to-Feast Dinner

Field to Feast, an alfresco culinary event

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Try Arepas El Cacao for Venezuelan Street Foods in Orlando

A Venezuelan family just moved in next door. Within 15 minutes, I had the well-heeled woman with an impressive corporate career bubbling enthusiastically about where she finds the flavors of home. Her choice: Arepas El Cacao for Venezuelan street foods in Orlando.

It’s no fancy spot–just a spiffy, upbeat self-service joint turning out abundantly stuffed, flavorful versions of snacks one would pick up for a quick bite in this South American country. So yesterday I tried Arepas El Cacao. The restaurant near Universal Orlando is a one-time food truck vendor that’s now part of a local four-unit enterprise.

Arepas El Cacao for Venezuelan street foods in Orlando

Self-serve sauces at Arepas El Cacao, a Venezuelan restaurant. The flavors are (L-R) German, pink, and garlic.

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Why Is Mamak So Much Like Hawkers?

Mamak is a terrific new place to eat Asian street food. It’s a handsome spot with an expansive menu of small dishes meant to share, from pad Thai to coconut shrimp. Yet I’m stumped. The menu–not just the offerings, but also the execution–is nearly a duplicate of the one at Hawkers, a nearby establishment. Why is Mamak so much like Hawkers?

Korean bulgogi beef skewers at Mamak, a restaurant featuring Asian street food. Why is Mamak so much like Hawkers?

Korean bulgogi beef skewers at Mamak, a restaurant featuring Asian street food. Why is Mamak so much like Hawkers?

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See the Sweet Gingerbread Village at Caribe Royale

Orlando’s hotels tend to go all-out with their gingerbread houses every year. This winter, be sure to see the creative gingerbread village at Caribe Royale, a hotel near Disney World.

gingerbread village at Caribe Royal

The nine-house gingerbread village at Caribe Royale. Photo by Brian Minnich.

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A New Seasonal Menu at Paris Bistro

With its girly upholstered banquettes and intimate setting, Winter Park’s Paris Bistro is a surprising, almost sensual, retreat tucked away from the busy shopping district. Now the restaurant has revamped its menu, keeping the classics, slashing off several entrees, and adding at least half a dozen autumn items. Welcome to thew new seasonal menu at Paris Bistro.

Parmesan-crusted chicken Dijon is a star on the new seasonal menu at Paris Bistro

Parmesan-crusted chicken Dijon is a star on the new seasonal menu at Paris Bistro

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Introducing an iPhone App for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

I’m smitten with Orlando’s new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, with its two magnificent, and distinct, theaters. Now the state-of-the-art facility has introduced its own iPhone app. That sounds dull and self-serving, I know, but read on. This free download may become a true helpmate.

iPhone App for the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

This is the iPhone app’s homepage. Note how clean the layout is.

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Artegon Marketplace – Riches, Curiosities and Rubbish

It’s an intriguing place, Orlando’s new Artegon Marketplace, and I hope it works. For now, the artisan-oriented destination area looks promising but iffy.

The massive mall, as it develops, will be circled with huge business like the existing Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, mammoth restaurants like Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, and cavernous experiential areas such as, if I’m reading the website correctly, a Sky Zone indoor trampoline park.

Artegon Marketplace

This is the entrance to Artegon Marketplace.

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American Gymkhana – Orlando Indian Food Goes Upscale

It’s not fair to write about American Gymkhana, really. The upscale Indian restaurant on Orlando’s Restaurant Row is brand new, which means it has kinks not yet untangled. I’d never report back so quickly for a full-on print magazine review.

American Gymkhana logo

American Gymkhana Orlando modern Indian restaurant

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Simple Venezuelan Meals at Orlando’s Q’Kenan Restaurant

Here’s an intriguing new Orlando discovery:  Q’Kenan, a Venezuelan restaurant I really like.

Pork arepa at Q'Kenan Venezuelan restaurant

Pork arepa

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Grande Lakes’ Eggs-cellent Adventure

The chefs at Orlando’s Grande Lakes hotel complex have aggressively sought out fresh local ingredients for years. Now they’re collecting eggs laid by their own chickens.

Primo Chef-Owner Melissa Kelly and Lake Meadow Naturals' Dale Volkert welcome the chickens that lay eggs

Primo Chef-Owner Melissa Kelly and Lake Meadow Naturals’ Dale Volkert

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Steak Frites, American-Style

Steak frites basically means steak-and-fries, and it’s a homey dish served in French bistros. In this country, as in France, the steak is usually a thin, tougher though flavorful cut of beef — far different than American-style meat-‘n’-taters.

Hamilton’s Kitchen upgrades an already fine classic. Here, the steak is a thick 8-ounce top sirloin “coulotte”–tender and wonderful tasting.

steak frites american style

Steak frites with truffle fries, roasted garlic herb aioli, and charred broccolini

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Red Pasta, Another Prato Masterpiece

They surprise me every visit, those chefs at Prato, Winter Park’s progressive-Italian restaurant. Last night’s menu listed rosmary “tonnarelli.” The description: brown butter, amaretti crumb, parsnip passata. I figured it would be some tender gnocchi-like white globs with a buttery rosemary flavor. Nuh-uh. The pasta was red, maybe magenta. And the flavor was kind of sweet, though those white shavings of what I believe were cheese grounded the sweetness so it was intriguing, not overbearing.

Red pasta Prato

Prato’s rosemary tonnarelli

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What a Way to Dine with Disney – Through the Decades

With Disney, at Disney, about Disney. It was one and the same at Dining through the Decades, a Tribute to Walt, one of the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival‘s many special food events in 2014.

Dining with Disney through the Decades

Jell-O cups

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It’s as Easy as ABC to Find Heavenly Flan

When Marisel Fernandez founded Heavenly Flan four years ago, she sold a single flavor from farmers market stalls.

Heavenly Flan

The original Heavenly Flan

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Here Is a Dessert that You Must Eat

It’s potato chip-crusted chocolate cake with peanut brittle and salted caramel. Need I say more?

potato chip crusted chocolate cake

Soco’s potato chip-crusted chocolate cake

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Soco Serves Orlando’s Best Vegetarian Entree

I got to try Soco last night a so-called “Southern Contemporary Cuisine” restaurant in Orlando’s Thornton Park neighborhood. The food is promising, and I’ll review it for Orlando Life soon, but meanwhile I want to share this vegetarian dish with you. It’s an entree that looks so appealing, and tastes so fine, that meat-shunners will feel as if they’re being treated with respect.

Soco's chicken-fried cauliflower steak which, to me, is Orlando's best vegetarian entree

Soco’s chicken-fried cauliflower steak which, to me, is Orlando’s best vegetarian entree

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Bubble Tea Bonanza at Chewy Boba Company

I’ve been searching for jasmine milk bubble tea since this fab place called something like Q Time closed a few years ago. It was near Orlando’s 1st Oriental Supermarket. Bingo!  A small local chain called Chewy Boba Company sells that and way more.

Peach tea with boba at Chewy Boba Company

Peach tea with boba at Chewy Boba Company

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