Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fresh, Seasonal Fare at Luma on Park

A recent dinner out at Luma on Park in Winter Park, Fla, reminded me of just how different the sophisticated eatery is from other restaurants in town, and how tasty and inventive the food is. First, make sure to reserve a chef's table. I had not done that before, and it is really a great experience to see up-close how the smoothly the kitchen runs. You also get to talk to the chefs and sous-chefs, and truly feel a part of your meal, from start to finish.

On this night out, we opted to order off the tasting menu, and Chef de Cuisine Derek Perez brought us plates he thought we wold enjoy. The Florida Grouper-Crab Fritter, served with house-smoked chorizo aioli and pickled beans was one of my favorite starters - so light and flavorful. It was paired with a delicious Anne Amie Vineyards "Cuvee A" Riesling, which has notes of peach and citrus. The Warm-Haricot Vert Salad is one of my favorite apps on the menu. A suveed, lightly poached egg sits atop radicchio, green beans and hazelnuts, and is served with a pancetta vinaigrette. The combination seems strange at first, but once you eat everything together the flavors make so much sense.

Still, I was lucky enough to find something even tastier: Nantucket Bay Scallops "Mi-Cuit", which is beautifully cooked scallops served with suveed radishes, fresh crunchy passion fruit, and a lemongrass and ginger puree. The plate presentation on this dish - and all of the dishes - make me feel like I am eating at a high-end New York restaurant. I also love how each dish tastes so fresh, because the restaurant buys its meat, seafood, produce, and other items from local farms as much as possible. The Fort Pierce Speared Flounder, served with a ginger butter broth, quinoa, broccolini, and Florida datil pepper relish, was cooked perfectly. The fish was flavorful and I loved the crispy skin. The broccolini didn't serve much purpose in this dish, though.

We were so full, but of course we made room for dessert! Luma on Park's chefs prepare unique desserts and I love the plate presentation. I highly recommend the Dulce de Leche Pot de Creme, which is somewhat like a creme brulee, but has a nice, thick custard texture and light flavor. It is served with delicious Passion Fruit Sorbet. I also loved the Creme Fraiche Cake with Brown Sugar Crumble and Strawberry Ice Cream.

These dishes may not be on the menu next time you visit, though. Luma on Park is committed to using local, seasonal ingredients, so the menu changes very frequently. Still, the restaurant always carries its guests favorites, such as Rigatoni Bolognese and Margherita Pizza.

Where: 290 South Park Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Win the Best Cupcakes in Orlando

After sampling cupcakes from various shops and food trucks in Orlando, I am convinced that Sweet! by Holly in Oviedo has the best cupcakes - and some of the most unique flavors - in town. That is why Flavorful Excursions is featuring Sweet! cupcakes in our Facebook contest this week. Enter by midnight on Feb. 28 at to win a dozen mini-cupcakes from Sweet! 

Here are the reasons I like Sweet! cupcakes so much. First, you can choose from more than 30 different flavors, including three delicious gluten-free options: Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream, Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream and Red Velvet with White Chocolate Buttercream. Some of the other delicious flavors are: S'mores (with graham crackers crust!), Tiramisu, Heath Bar, White Raspberry, and Carrot. Many of the cupcakes include special fillings and crusts, so they offer a nice surprise when you bite into them.

One of my favorite Sweet! cupcakes is the Dulce de Leche, which is made with spiced cake, dulce buttercream, and a dulce caramel filling. If you are a caramel lover like myself, then this is the one for you. The Toasted Coconut also sports a delicious frosting and coconut filling inside the moist coconut cake. The Black Out (dark chocolate cake and frosting) and the Creamsicle cupcakes are also almong the favorites I have tried there so far. There are so many more for me to try! What is your favorite flavor?

Tip: Every Monday, Sweet!'s mini-cupcakes are only $1 each!

Where: 711 North Alafaya Trail, Orlando

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fun New Drinks, Food at Bahama Breeze Happy Hour

Jumbo Lump Crab Stack 
Photo by Shad Bookout
It amazes me that, every time I visit a Bahama Breeze, there is something new to eat or drink. In fact, the menu is so extensive now, that Bahama Breeze has switched to a book menu, like the one Cheesecake Factory uses. The restaurant has added a number of entrees - including four different Rice Bowls - along with small plates and snacks for sharing.

We went to Bahama Breeze's Altamonte Springs, Fla., location recently to check out new dishes and drinks, since the chain recently launched Late Night Happy Hour. During the happy hours (Mon.-Fri., 4-6 p.m. and Sun.-Thurs., 10 p.m.-close) there are several apps at half price and amazing drink specials. draft beers are $2, wine is $2 off, certain specialty drinks are $4 and certain classic cocktails are only $3. This is a great deal!

Daisy de Santiago
We tried two new drinks: the Yaka Hula Hickey Dula (I dare you to say that five times in a row) and the Daisy de Santiago. We loved them both. The Yaka Hula, made with pineapple juice, dark rum and Riesling, is very flavorful but may be too sweet for some. The Daisy de Santiago, made with Barcadi rum, lime juice, and mint leaves, is so light and refreshing. If you like a sweeter drink, though, this may not be the one for you.

Now on to small plates. We tried some new ones as well as old favorites. My new favorite app there is the Skillet Simmered Jerk Shrimp, which is tender, large shrimp in a thyme butter sauce. It comes with a big bread baguette to soak up the sauce. This is a perfect marriage, and is enough for an entree. The Jump Lump Crab Stack is definitely beautiful to look at, but I would like more flavor or citrus with it. The Jamaican Chicken Wings, marinated in jerk seasoning, always have an excellent flavor and are cooked perfectly. The onion rings are huge, with a light and crispy breading and yummy dipping sauce.

Skillet Jerk Shrimp
Bahama Breeze has also introduced a few new Rice Bowls recently. We tried the Carnitas, which is slow roasted pork (which is very tender), along with corn, garbanzo beans and plantains. I really liked this one, but also would like to see a little more flavor or kick. The Chipotle Beef Rice Bowl was also one of the favorites at our table and the Shrimp Creole is really good (just don't expect the spice that you normally get from a "Creole" dish).

It is hard to save room for dessert, but we forced ourselves, since Bahama Breeze has such great made-in-house desserts. The Key Lime Pie is one of the best I have had. I love the thick graham crust that is undoubtedly made from scratch and the lime flavor that is not too tart. Besides Bahama Breeze's fun atmosphere, I always go there for quality, affordable Caribbean food and truly, some of the best specialty drinks in town.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Delicious Food & Drinks, Upscale Ambiance Await at The Fifth

Southern Fried Chicken n Waffles
Photo by Shad Bookout
The moment you walk into The Fifth Restaurant & Lounge in downtown Orlando, you know you are not in the typical Orlando bar. The onyx-covered bar and lights on the ceiling and in beautiful columns in the middle of the room remind me of an upscale Manhattan-style club. The 80s remix music, friendly bartenders and wait staff, and the throng of regulars, also gives this place a fun, neighborhood atmosphere.

While you can stand at the bar or at tables, we chose to sit at the alligator-skin booth and order dinner and drinks. After reading several positive reviews about The Fifth, I knew that its food would be just as good as its beverages. Still, we had to try a few of The Fifth's signature drinks, which are different than those I have seen on the menus at any other Orlando bar or restaurant.

First, The Greenhouse, made with cucumber vodka and triple sec: I didn't have high hopes for this one, but it truly is light and flavorful and was probably our favorite drink. We also tried the CoCo Palm, made with coconut vodka, melon, and pineapple juice. This blue drink tastes like a pina colada without the heavy cream. I love it. I also recommend the yummy Pear Martini. The Ice Ice Baby - with Moet champagne, elderberry flower, and peach - is good, but just tastes like champagne to me.

The V Steak Burger
Photo by Shad Bookout
Now on to the food. There are so many appetizers, burgers, comfort foods, and desserts to choose from. We started with The Spicy European Flatbread, which has pepperoni, arugula, goat cheese and fig balsamic glaze. It is very, very good and I like the kick to it. The only minor point: the balsamic glaze is slightly too much; I want to taste all the flavors and not as much balsamic. The house-made V Potato Chips with Sea Salt are to die for; everyone at the table loved them. The grilled Haas avocado was okay. The avocado is served with Black Bean Pico de Gallo and spicy tomato sauce. Those flavors help spice up the avocado, but something is still missing. I like that this app is unique to The Fifth, though.

I would say the entrees were the best part of The Fifth experience, and it is surprising to find such good food in a lounge atmosphere. My new favorite entree is Southern Fried Chicken n Waffles: house made Belgian waffles with candied bacon, maple syrup, and creme anglaise. The breading on the chicken was light and crispy, as were the waffles. If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will love this dish. The V Steak Burger, which is served with caramelized onions, arugula and ale-oli sauce, was very flavorful and cooked perfectly. The delicious flavor comes from The Fifth's use of high quality ground brisket and short ribs.  

Fried Oreos       Photo by Shad Bookout
The V Salsa Meatloaf is also perfect comfort food - and surprisingly light - and we really liked the accompanying buttery mashed potatoes. The Country Style Chicken Grilled Cheese was not our favorite. Even though it had yummy grilled chicken, bacon, and guacamole, it lacked the melty cheese you would think of. Perhaps it should not be called a grilled cheese sandwich.

You definitely must save room for dessert, especially the Fried Oreos. The warm oreos inside a light breading kind of melt in your mouth. The accompanying chocolate sauce is delicious as well. We also had the Cream Puff, which is served with a chocolate sauce, and the Hazelnut Torte. We really enjoyed the Cream Puff, but the Hazelnut Torte is good, but was not our favorite.

While the atmosphere is upscale and attracts people in their 30s and 40s, The Fifth doesn't break the bank. Entrees are reasonably priced around $12. However, you could rack up a bill with the delicious signature drinks at $12 a pop. The service was my other favorite part of The Fifth experience. The manager, Matt, is so welcoming and helpful, and our server, Gaby, was very knowledgeable and friendly. You definitely need to check this place our - for lunch, dinner, nighttime, or Sunday brunch!

Where: 112 South Orange Ave., Orlando

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Big Wheel Pig Roast a Success

I love how Big Wheel Truck always serves unique, gourmet food using local ingredients. On Monday night, at the Audubon Park Community Market in downtown Orlando, Big Wheel outdid themselves with a Pig Oyster Shrimp Roast, using shellfish from Cape Canaveral.

The pork - literally hot off the grill - was so tender, it was surprising. Even before adding sauce, it was very flavorful. The pork came with a side of oysters or shrimp - I chose the oysters, and was delighted with their flavor. Big Wheel also served up a plethora of delicious sides, including Potato Salad made with sour cream and cheese, collards, green beans, and roasted sweet potatoes. All were top notch. 

Big Wheel went to the trouble of a hosting this huge roast to raise money for its broken-down truck, which could cost $5,000 to fix. Chef/ Owner Tony told Flavorful Excursions that he really appreciates the line of customers who came out to take part in the Roast, which sold out. "The Audubon Market is our best stop every week - they always support us," Chef Tony said. Tony hopes Big Wheel won't have to do another fundraiser, but the truck may put on a Pork Roast again in the future!

Big Wheel also makes other stops around town. Follow the truck at