Thursday, August 28, 2014

Where to Find Real French Pastries in Orlando

Oh, Chez Jaqueline. Why did it take me so long to find you?! You have the best croissants, macaroons, and other pastries in Orlando, and you are only a few minutes from my house! 

At least I finally discovered this real French bakery across from City Hall in Lake Mary, Fla., which is apparently loved by many others. It was voted Best French Restaurant in Seminole County for the second year in a row! Chez Jaqueline is operated by French baker Jacqueline, who bakes most of the Delicious treats herself. The shop carries a broad range of pastries, as well as refrigerated desserts such as creme brulee, crepes, candies from France, and other food and drinks.

I have enjoyed every dessert I have tried, but my favorites are the almond croissants, plain croissants, macaroons (several different flavors to choose from), and coconut macaroons. If you like coconut macaroons, you need to try these. The crispy exterior and moist interior make this such a treat. The regular macaroons, baked fresh daily, are the perfect texture and the fillings are very flavorful. These are also much more affordable than Le Macaron and other bakeries in town at $1.50 each.


The croissants are perfect. The best thing to do is to get to Chez Jacqueline first thing in the morning, bring the croissants back home, and make the best Croissant, Egg and Cheese Sandwich you have had. That is what we did on one recent morning!

I haven't tried Chez Jacqueline's baguettes and desserts such as cheesecake and chocolate mousse yet. But that just leaves more deliciousness for me to discover. 

If you have any questions or comments on this bakery, please let me know below.

Where: 101 North Country Club Rd., Ste. 106, Lake Mary, Fla.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Christner's Old-School Portions, Atmosphere Lacking

I am still having trouble making up my mind about Christner's Prime Steak and Lobster
(formerly Del Frisco's) after dining there last week. It's not that the food and service weren't great; they were. I just think the atmosphere and food did not match my expectations of a great steakhouse.

The decor of the restaurant threw me off; the old-school 80s style leather booths, red rug, and dark surroundings are just not what I'm used to seeing in the current restaurant environment. Also, the oversized portions - and prices to match - are not what is happening in leading independent and chain restaurants across America. Guests are now more interested in trying a variety of small plates for $5 to $12 each, rather than the huge portions given at traditional steakhouses.

For example, the Shanghai Style Fried Calamari appetizer was a huge portion - enough for two or three people - and was $16. We couldn't have tried other apps because of the price. Still, the appetizer was drizzled with an unique sweet and spicy sauce as well as hot peppers and cilantro, that made this a really tasty dish. I would definitely recommend it.

The entrees are also overpriced, for their quality, at between $35 and $57. I understand that these prices are not out-of-line for an upscale steakhouse, the dishes just need to be perfect to match the prices. My husband had the 16 ounce Prime Strip steak ($47), which was large enough for two people. The waiter did not ask how he would like his steak cooked, so it needed to be sent back. The pepper crust on the steak was overpowering, so we could not enjoy the taste of the meat as much. Don't get me wrong: the steak was delicious, just not nearly the best steak we have had.

I ordered the seafood of the day - grouper - which was delicious. However, like the steak, the Cajun rub on the steak was overpowering. I love when restaurants honor the fish and the seasoning complements the seafood. Again, the portion was enough for two people. We really loved the mashed potatoes (with flakes of peel, they tasted so real!) and the asparagus.

I would also recommend the desserts at Christner's. The Mandarin Orange Cake, which is very popular there, had a great flavor. The orange sauce that you drizzle over the cake is just right. However, since it is a pound cake with heavy filling between the layers, it is definitely a heavy dessert to end a steak meal with. Again, it is a dish for two, three or four people to share!

While the food at Christner's was pretty good, the prices may limit some to visit just on special occasions once or twice a year. Also, the outdated decor doesn't make someone my age (Generation X) or younger customers such as millennials feel comfortable. Do you agree? Please post your comments below.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Salty Spam Fries & More at Hawaiian Grindz

by Guest Blogger Sarah Eberwein Hawthorne

Hawaiian Grindz features a cozy and inviting atmosphere, reminding one of a Hawaiian hut with relaxing music in the background. I was greeted by a friendly cashier and noticed the lunch specials. For a mere $6.99, I could choose two meat entrees along with a scoop of white rice, macaroni salad, and a drink. I opted for the Kalua Pig and the Mochiko Chicken. 

Of course, I needed to try the Spam Fries, one of Hawaiian Grindz's specialties. I mean, who has heard of Spam Fries?! Since i am a spam virgin, I went into this experience with open taste buds. The presentation is cute: the Spam Fries are displayed in an empty Spam can and are accompanied by four sauce options.

At first bite, they tasted like cheap fish sticks, but I think that's because they were so salty. I tried the sauces and that helped bring out the flavor. The options were spicy mayo, sweet 'n sour sauce, ranch, and soy sauce. I found myself slightly repulsed by the fact that I was eating spam fries, but the breading was so good that I dipped in and ate a few more while waiting for my entree. After a few, the salt was getting to me. And my tea, which tasted more like water, wasn't helping. 

The entree came quickly, though, and she brought me two bottles of sauces along with them. They looked similar but one was labeled sweet and the other spicy. I put a little of the sweet on my plain white rice and it tasted like the soy sauce and sweet 'n sour sauce had been mixed together. It was actually quite tasty. 

I delved into the Kalua Pig first and my mouth was filled with a salty, greasy mush. You could not taste the pork behind the massive amount of salt...even saltier than the spam. Moving on to the Mochiko Chicken, I was happy to find that they used the same light but
crunchy breading as on the spam fries, even though this breading was obviously mixed with a very sweet add-on. It tasted like a breaded bourbon chicken. It was just a little too sweet for my taste (and I have a major sweet tooth), but it was a nice contrast to the salt. 

The highlight of my meal was the macaroni salad. I will be probably be back just to buy this tasty little side. It was perfectly creamy, with carrots adding a nice crunch and lightly seasoned with pepper. After I put the last macaroni in my mouth, I wanted to lick the plate. 

As I was leaving, I noticed a large white board that had 12 Chef Special dishes. I wish I had seen that or been offered those options prior to ordering, as there were several dishes that looked quite interesting. I also noticed the Spam Fries clearly advertised on the board for $4, despite not being on the menu. 

While the food was not my cup of tea, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere, the good service, and the speed in which I could eat and be back on my way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Guide to New BJ's Restaurant - Oviedo

Avocado Egg Rolls
I recognize that it was kind of silly to visit BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in Oviedo this past weekend, after it had only been open a week. However, I have been wanting to try BJ's after friends raved about the Sand Lake Rd. location.

The wait was crazy. It was a Friday night and there was a line out the door. As a result, the bar area was crowded with people as well, standing around with their drinks while they waited for tables. Despite the crowds, I really enjoyed the atmosphere at BJ's: high ceilings and a light, clean feel. Plus, the happy hour specials from 3:00 to 6:00, were great: $4 craft beers and $4 calls. 

Speaking of BJ's craft beers, the menu of the restaurant's own beers on tap and others is so extensive, it's hard to choose just one. Our friends really liked the Jeremiah Red and BJ's Oasis Amber but the Harvest Hefeweizen was just okay. I ordered one of BJ's signature cocktails, the Strawberry Smash. I was disappointed because all the ice in the glass left only a small drink, plus it had a slight medicine taste. Next time, I will order the Strawberry Mojito, which was highly recommended by my friend. Plus, all of BJ's mojitos and martinis are only $5 each, all day, every Monday.

Harvest Ale
Now to the menu. It is pages and pages, similar to Cheesecake Factory, but not as bad as that. I like that BJ's provide a bit of something for everyone, for whatever mood you are in. BJ's has a lot of bar food, including wings and potato skins, but typically provides a different twist on the appetizers and entrees that would normally be served at a restaurant/ bar. Plus, there are some healthy items like salads that looked gerat.

The potato skins were good, and the Avocado Egg Rolls were even better. I also wanted to try the Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps and the Chicken Pot Stickers, but couldn't fit everything in. For entrees, I would definitely recommend BJ's pizzas, which reminded me of Pizza Hut's personal pan pizzas, but bigger, crispier, and not as covered with greasy cheese. Both the Pepperoni and Cheese pizzas were delicious! On the lighter side, we loved the flavor of the Lemon Thyme Chicken, which featured perfectly-cooked chicken breasts, a light lemon thyme sauce, and was served with brown rice and vegetables. 

We didn't have room for dessert, but next time, I will order the beignets or one of the many other desserts there! What are your favorites here? Let me know in the comments section below.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Save Money, Eat Great at Carmel Cafe

One of the reasons that I always recommend Carmel Cafe & Wine Bar in Winter Park and Altamonte Springs to friends is that I can get a good deal on my meal and drinks here. Plus, every time I have visited, I have had excellent service in a relaxing, classy atmosphere.

Braised Short Ribs
I was reminded of the feasibility of dining at the restaurants recently when I ate there on a Sunday and a Monday. On these two evenings, a three-course Prix Fixe menu is available with a few different entrees features. For $14, one can choose from two different apps (including my favorite - Chickpea Fries!), soup or salad, and from four entrees. On the nights I went, the Steak Frites, Moroccan Lemon Chicken, Spinach Gnocchi, and Basil Grilled Salmon were all available. The entrees alone are typically $12-$13 for the small size so the Prix Fixe menu is a great deal!

I have tried all of the dishes except the Spinach Gnocchi, and was very pleased with all of them. The Moroccan Lemon Chicken is accompanied by a light, delicious sauce and the chicken is tender. I would suggest ordering a different side than the roasted vegetables, though, since some of them are not cooked that well. The Basil Grilled Salmon was also cooked perfectly and very flavorful. If you order the Steak Frites, the steak is pretty good - not the highest cut of meat or anything - but the crispy fries are to die for.

Moroccan Lemon Chicken
We also tried the Braised Short Ribs entree and were impressed with how tender the meat was and how delicious the accompanying sauce was. While the Poached Pear is the most popular dessert at Carmel, I wanted to try a new dessert. I would recommend the Pound Cake and Strawberries, which reminds me of a shortcake. While the strawberries were not that great, the cake was simply delicious.

Let me know your favorite dishes at Carmel in the comments section below.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Loving the Unique Flavors at Spice Thai

Soft Shell Crab Curry
It is not often that I recommend a restaurant that has poor service. That is because, in this case, the eatery had excellent food that I want to go back and get more of. Perhaps they were just having a busy Friday night at Spice Thai on Semoran Blvd. in Orlando. While servers were not that attentive, food for a table of six was brought out piping hot.

Now let me tell you about the excellent food. Spice Thai does not feature your average curry dishes. Instead, it has several signature dishes that are different from any other Thai restaurant I have visited. I had the Soft Shell Crab and Curry, and was impressed at the crispiness of the crab, even with the curry sauce and vegetables. Plus, the flavor of the yellow curry sauce was excellent.

Tiger's Tear Steak
We also loved the Spice's Lemongrass Fried Rice, which includes shrimp, squid, mussels and scallops with eggs, onions, bell pepper and basil in a spicy house sauce. Mmm...we savored every bite. We were also impressed by the Tiger's Tear Steak, which was brought out on a steaming hot plate, which always makes for great entertainment and aroma! The grilled New York Strip streak, which was cooked perfectly, was accompanied by sauteed onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, and served with two sauces.

The apps were okay. My favorite was the Chicken Wontons, but the Pork Dumplings were pretty greasy inside and burnt on the outside. The other thing we were not impressed with was the Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Kha), which was watered down and lacked flavor. Unfortunately, it was not like the authentic dish from Thailand.

Where: 6125 S. Semoran Blvd., Orlando

Friday, August 8, 2014

How Cost-Effective, Healthy Meal Delivery Service Came to Be

After you hear this inspiring story, you will want to start eating healthy yourself. A few years ago, Marc Elkman, who was a certified personal trainer at a high-end country club in Boca Raton and a competitive weightlifter, used a meal delivery service so he could keep his diet on track. Unfortunately, the "healthy meals" tasted awful. Marc talked to his friend at the club - executive chef Patrick Delaney - about the problem with the meals, and Patrick developed ways to make the lackluster delivered meals taste better.

And so, a great idea was born. Marc and Patrick teamed up and founded Fresh Meal Plan, the healthy meal delivery service that I told you about earlier this week. What I was so impressed by the meals I ordered - the paleo diet in this case - was their freshness, amazing flavor, and unique recipes that always kept me excited about sticking with the plan. 

Many more people are shifting to a paleo diet - which also happens to be gluten-free - thanks to the crossfit phenomenon. "The paleo diet was initially adopted by the crossfit community, so the paleo program is growing as crossfit grows," Marc told Flavorful Excursions. 

To help paleo dieters feel like they are eating the same type of foods as traditional meals, Patrick and team developed paleo bread and dessert recipes that taste incredibly close the real thing. They utilize fruits and vegetables in sauces to mimic traditional, processed sauces such as caramel sauce on a dessert and sweet and sour sauce on chicken. 



However, Fresh Meal Plan does not stop there. Customers can choose from a variety of different plans - including "traditional" meals and regimes for vegetarians and high-performance athletes. Athletes can customize their meal plans to include a certain number of calories, carbs, and protein content. This concept is so successful, that Fresh Meal Plan provides all the pre-game meals for the Miami Dolphins, as well as customized plans for individual Dolphins' players.

But the program is also for "regular" people, who simply want to eat tasty, healthy meals and are too busy to prepare them. Fresh Meal Plan is so successful, that it has 2,500 subscribers and will be expanding to Tampa soon. Already, the delivery service is available in South Florida, the Keys, and Orlando. 

The cost is extremely reasonable as well - particularly when you consider that Fresh meal Plan is using high quality ingredients such as free-range chicken and grass-fed beef. The average cost is $25 a day for three meals, or $16 for two. That is less than I can prepare healthy meals at home for!

What are you waiting for? Visit www.freshmealplan today to sign up!