Thursday, October 30, 2014

What I Love about Yard House

I love the bar/ restaurant atmosphere at Yard House, including large silver pipes from the ceiling to the bar, carrying some of the 120+ brews on tap at this newer restaurant on International Drive in Orlando. Even though it is a Darden Restaurants brand, Yard House only came to Orlando earlier this year. I've heard people in other areas of Florida and the U.S. rave about this restaurant.

I can see why. The staff is well-trained and friendly. And I mentioned the atmosphere. Plus, the food and drinks are really good. We had the House Honey Blond Ale, and would definitely order it again. Yard House is known for their great burgers - including its Black Truffle Cheeseburger - but there are so many different dishes and flavors from all over the world. 

We tried the Fish and Chips and the Blackened Swordfish Tacos. The Fish was crispy and flavorful. We haven't really found Fish and Chips we like around Orlando, so it was great to find one that is perfect. The Blackened Swordfish Tacos had a lot of flavor, thanks to the addition of cilantro, cumin crema and a mango papaya chutney. The side of rice was also delicious.

One other note: our server and management went above and beyond to ensure that my meal did not contain any of the ingredients that I have intolerances to. It made for a relaxing, worry-free meal!

Where: 8367 International Dr., Orlando, Fla.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Get Your pre-Halloween Freak On

Orlando Zombie Ball
Where are you going to get your fright on? While many people love Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights, there are so many other smaller, not-as-flipping-crowded events where you can have a blast this month. 

Here are some of our favorites:

1. A Petrified Forest: this longtime Altamonte Springs favorite is back this year and features twice the trails. In addition to ghouls, goblins, and other scary creatures along this trail, food and entertainment is provided. There are even overnight camping options! This attraction is only available on weekends, so hurry and enjoy it.

2. Orlando Zombie Ball is THE place to be on October 22 at Firestone Live. Costumes are mandatory and the best costume wins $1,000! Phantasmagoria will be performing live, and VH1 celeb DJ Brian Dawe will be spinning.

3. Halloweenfest is back October 31 in downtown Winter Garden. The free event includes family activities, live entertainment, and several vendors.

If you have attended these events in past years or this year, leave your comments and suggestions below!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Delicious, Local Ice Cream at LuLu's

If you have never been, Lu Lu's Ice Cream Shop is a small, family-run hut next to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts shop in Winter Park. I love supporting Central Florida businesses and, in this case, it is not hard to do. I have been eating Lu Lu's ice creams and sorbets for years, and they are truly my favorite. And fresh. For heaven's sake: the Orlando creamery they buy from uses fresh strawberries (local, when in season) for its signature Strawberry Basil Sorbet.

The other day, I had the pleasure of trying some of their new flavors. Pumpkin Pie ice cream tastes exactly like it sounds: like the most flavorful homemade pumpkin pie, frozen into a smooth cream. They also had a new sorbet I had not tried - Blueberry - and again, it tastes like you are eating fresh blueberries. For those of us who have trouble with dairy, Lu Lu's sorbets are a great alternative to ice cream, but still have that smooth, creamy texture. 

We also love just the plain old Chocolate ice cream flavor, along with Chocolate Peanut Butter ice cream, Strawberry Basil Sorbet and Pineapple Sorbet. There are so many different flavors, you can always have something different. And the price is very reasonable, so bring a cooler and take some home.

Where: 1111 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, October 3, 2014

New fall flavors at Yum Yum Cupcake Truck

Oh Yum Yum Cupcake Truck. How I have missed you. I have been craving cupcakes, but you are rarely in my area of town. Finally, I found you at Food Truck Bazaar in Lake Mary on October 1, along with some other great trucks and vendors. Unlike some other food truck events, the monthly Lake Mary event features a handful of food trucks and tons of local artists, jewelry makers, and other neat vendors. The beautiful park by Lake Mary City Hall is a great, relaxing setting to enjoy the food and the art.

Now, back to the cupcakes: as usual with Yum Yum, there were some hits and misses with the new fall flavors and other cupcakes. While we couldn't get enough of the El Churro (with its crispy, cinnamony, sugar exterior and delicious frosting), the Pumpkin Gingy cupcake fell short. While it had a delicous cream cheese frosting, the cupcake batter had a hint of baking soda or something slightly off. Otherwise, it was moist. I had been craving pumpkin treats, and was looking forward to the perfect bite.

The new Hootenanny Harvest Apple cupcake is pretty good. You get a hint of sour apple with real apple filing in the middle. The Chocolate on Chocolate is good, but again the batter tastes slightly of baking soda. There were lots of other good food trucks to try - such as Baja Grill - but unfortunately, I have food allergies and didn't see items I could eat.

All in all, I had a wonderful experience at the Food Truck Bazaar, and can't wait for the next big one: October 12 at Fashion Square Mall!


Monday, September 29, 2014

The Ups and Downs of Magical Dining Month

The great thing about Orlando's Magical Dining Month is that you get to try upscale restaurants that you normally wouldn't even be aware of. This past weekend, I had the pleasure of dining at Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse, inside the Hyatt Regency Orlando on International Drive. I won the dinner for two from Visit Orlando on Twitter! I really appreciate all that Visit Orlando did to promote Magical Dining Month and make my experience wonderful.

While we loved some of the dishes on Fiorenzo's Italian Steakhouse Magical Dining menu, we were underwhelmed by others. For an appetizer, we chose the Calamari Fritti, which unfortunately was oversalted and unimaginative. However, the Cinnamon & Orange-Scented Lamb Ragout with ricotta and chocolate parpadelle was so delicious, we made sure to take leftovers so we wouldn't miss a bite. The lamb was cooked well, and the chocolate flavor was subtle.

Dessert was also delicious, particularly the Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich. The Vanilla Gelato with Berries tasted great, but was a bit boring. Unfortunately, this restaurant's Magical Dining menu was more limited than other Magical Dining menus we have seen, so there were not "safe staples" to choose from if one didn't like the two entree offerings. However, the presentation of the plates was beautiful.

I may try the regular menu at Fiorenzo sometime, and determine how I like the restaurant's food overall. I'm so happy that Magical Dining Month introduced me to a new Orlando restaurant - at least for me!


Friday, September 26, 2014

Don't Miss New Events at Epcot Food & Wine

In addition to my favorite activity - "eating around the world" - during the annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival, I love all the special dinners and culinary classes that go on during the festival. The average person can see cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, or taste food they never would have tried.

This year, the Festival added many fun new events. Here are my favorites:

* Italian White Truffle & Wine Pairing Dinner: Enjoy a luxurious, five-course meal featuring truffles, set in an Italian summer villa atmosphere.

* Party for the Senses: The biggest Food and Wine Festival event every year, this upscale dinner features Disney chefs from all over the world, preparing dishes from their country. Get tickets now for the October 25 dinner.

* Dining Through the Decades - A Tribute to Walt Disney: Honoring Walt Disney's creative genius, this dinner is served with a side of fantasy and magic. I can't wait to see the unique dishes - and wine pairings - the chefs come up with.

* Mediterranean Food & Wine Pairing: The menu is inspired by the spice trades of Africa and Europe and is held in the restaurant at Morocco. I love the atmosphere at this restaurant!

* Late Nights Live: this year, you can stay after the regular park hours and take part in a street party with dancing, food and drinks! I love this addition for Orlando residents who want to enjoy the festival in the evening.

* Food for Thought: Join celebrity chefs for cooking tips, their personal stories, and tastes of their delicious food. Featured chefs this year: Robert Irvine, Andrew Zimmern, Rick Bayless, Cat Cora, and others!

To obtain reservations for these special events, call 407-939-3378.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Excellent Seafood, Fun Atmosphere at Salt Life

Salt Life Food Shack has been a mainstay of Jacksonville Beach for years, and just recently
expanded to St. Augustine. Right on the pier, the two-story restaurant with bar and a deck gives Central Florida seafood lovers yet another opportunity to try the company's excellent food.

However, for this visit, we went back to the Salt Life Food Shack we love in Jacksonville Beach. We had a great meal there a year ago, and wanted to see if the food was still up to snuff. The restaurant surpassed our expectations in regard to quality food and friendliness of the servers and management. And the fun, surfing atmosphere is still in place!

For an appetizer, we tried the Grilled Garlic Parmesan Oysters ($10.99 for six huge oysters). The oysters were grilled perfectly and smothered in cheese, which surprisingly did not detract from the great flavor.

For lunch, the Soft Shell Crab BLT ($9.99) was truly delicous. The crab is fried perfectly, and we like the "Shake Sauce" that is drizzled overtop. This is all sandwiched in ciabatta bread. Our other lunch entree was the catch of the day, which happened to be wahoo. I appreciated that the fish was cooked perfectly, and liked the real grill flavor. This was accompanied by fried plantains, which were cooked perfectly, and other yummy sides.

The menu is so extensive at Salt Life, but you will probably love whatever you order. The fish or shrimp tacos are delicious, and the poke bowls are some of the most popular dishes there.

Where: 1018 3rd St. N., Jacksonville Beach, Fla.