Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Amura: Does Good Value & Food Offset Horrible Customer Service?

For Sunday brunch at Amura in Lake Mary, you can enjoy pretty good sushi and other Japanese-style dishes for a reasonable price. You can choose from a long list of the restaurant's high quality rolls at $12.99 for two rolls. And, $12.99 can get you a variety of entrees such as Spicy Garlic Shrimp, Chicken Cashew and Top Sirloin Delight. When I arrived, seeing all the choices on the menu made me happy. I enjoy Amura's sushi but find that it is over-priced and not as good as Fuji Sushi and other restaurants in town.

On the recent Sunday I visited Amura Lake Mary with a friend from out of town, the restaurant must have been understaffed. That is the only reason I can think of for the slow service and the customer service fiasco that ensued. Because of an allergy to gluten (and therefore, vinegar that is included in most sushi rolls), I asked that my sushi be made with plain rice or rice paper. Although there was only one roll wrapped in rice paper on the menu, our waitress assured us that the chefs could make any of the rolls on the menu with rice paper instead of rice. It turns out they couldn't. The plate was brought out with one roll made with rice paper, and the other with regular rice. The roll with rice paper had sauce on top, which I asked to be left off. 

Before I sound too bitchy, know that I am always understanding that some restaurants are not used to dealing with food allergies. I am very patient and explain why I can't have a sauce or a particular ingredient. However, when the waitress tried to take the rolls back to the kitchen - after what had already been a half hour wait - the manager came to the table and asked what was wrong. I explained the situation and he said there was nothing they could do to help or to alter the dish. I felt like he was begging me to leave. His attitude was so rude and careless. In fact, I did decide to forgo ordering a different dish - because he said there was nothing they could do to help me - and leave the restaurant.

At the same time, I was embarrassed that my friend from out of town, whom I was trying to show off Lake Mary's great restaurants to, had to leave as well. Fortunately for her, the Hurricane Roll and Bubble Roll she ordered were very well made and delicious.

Many readers believe that Amura has the best sushi in town. I disagree. I have experienced - and heard about - so many other great sushi eateries. One of my favorites - for the sushi rolls, Chili Garlic Edamame, and eclectic atmosphere - is Sushi Pop in Oviedo. Where do you go for sushi?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

4 Rivers' Sweet Shop Takes the Cake

So many of Flavorful Excursions' readers love 4 Rivers Smokehouse for its amazing barbecue (including St. Louis style ribs and brisket sandwiches), but have you tried the restaurant's desserts? You really should. There is something at 4 Rivers Sweet Shop for everyone!

If you are into cupcakes, Sweet Shop has more than 10 varieties daily, including oustanding, unique flavors such as Mountain Dew, Junkfood, Earthquake and the popular Birthday Cake. The shop also features a number of cakes, such as Red Velvet and Carrot Cake. S'Mores Brownies, Chocolate Mint Covered Oreos, and Red Velvet Whoopie Pie sandwiches also make the list. 

Still, I have not even begun listing the ice cream flavors and desserts available, since I simply could not try all the desserts there in one visit! When I recently visited the Longwood location (which is very convenient, since it is right off of I-4 on 434), I tried a few of the house-made bars because the flavors sounded so unique and delectable. The Texas Bourbon Pecan Pie did not disappoint. I really got the strong flavors of bourbon in the not-too-sweet fillng, along with a wonderful crust and toasted pecans. This bar is one of my new favorite desserts. 
Texas Bourbon Pecan Pie

I also loved the Peanut Butter Kiss bar. It tasted exactly like the name and the flavors work perfectly together. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar tastes exactly like a sweeter version of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Again, it is not too sweet and all the flowers fit together perfectly. I really have no complaints about my first visit to the 4 Rivers Sweet Shop, and can't wait to go back. Which desserts should I try next?

Where: Inside 4 Rivers' Winter Park, Longwood, and Jacksonville locations

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Delicious Asian Fusion Tacos at Tako Cheena

Panko Crusted Cod & Korean Beef Takos
A loyal Flavorful Excursions reader and friend has been urging me to try Tako Cheena since it opened less than a year ago in the Mills District in Orlando. I can see why. This small, unassuming Asian fusion spot (I call it Asian-Mexican, but there are lots of other flavors incorporated into the food) provides something new and different to the Orlando dining scene.

The "takos" are reasonably priced and delicous, and the restaurant draws a young, eclectic crowd. Our favorite tako was the Panko Crusted Cod tako, which is lightly breaded and has just the right amount of crunch with coleslaw and a sweet and sour sauce. The house-made sauce, which is both sweet and spicy, blanaced out the cod perfectly. We also liked the Korean Beef tako, which features delicious marinated beef, house-made Kimchi, cliantro, and roasted sesame seeds. For some reason, the beef itself had a weird texture, so we would recommend the cod tako over the beef.

The entire staff was so friendly and welcoming, especially when I mentioned I had food allergies. This restaurant goes out of their way for guests on special diets, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free. Since I eat gluten-free, I was able to order my Thai Peanut Chicken tako served over rice (you can also order any of the takos served over cabbage slaw). It was delicous over rice! The secret recipe peanut sauce is to die for. I loved the perfect balance of sweet and spice in that sauce, and it made the dish.

Have you tried Tako Cheena yet? Please post your review below.

Where: 932 Mills Ave., Orlando, Fla.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Hook: Best Seafood on the Miss. Gulf Coast

Bacon -Wrapped Shrimp
I had been anticipating my visit to Hook Gulf Coast Cuisine in Pass Christian, Miss., for months, and I ended up loving the food even more than I thought I would! During my recent trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, my family and I had the pleasure of enjoying the atmosphere and culinary inspirations of Chef Corry Hudson and his team at Hook.

I love the light, airy, Cape Cod-type feel of the restaurant. It is small and clean, with a separate dining room for groups. It was difficult to choose our appetizers, entrees, and desserts - everything looked good! One of our favorite appetizers was the Southern Style BBQ Shrimp. It featured such a light, spicy sauce, without an overpowering barbecue flavor. The Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp was surprisingly light, crispy and flavorful. The gumbo was very full-flavored, but had slightly too much pepper.

Parmesan Chicken
I ordered one of the most popular entrees at Hook: the Tripletail Escabeche and Mashed Potatoes. The Escabeche is a light but full-flavored Mediterranean sauce that pairs perfectly with the fish. I loved the fish on its own, though: it was cooked perfectly and is such a light, non-fishy choice. The mashed potatoes are to die for! We also tried the Crab Stuffed Shrimp, which is topped with a sweet lemon butter sauce. It was also perfect. The breading on the Seafood Platter - which features Mangrove snapper, oysters, crawfish, and shrimp - was so light and the seafood was cooked just right.

For those who are not seafood lovers like myself, I would also highly recommend Hook's Parmesan Crusted Chicken served over pasta and topped with a Citrus Beurre Blanc, as well as the 12-ounce Ribeye and Chicken Roulade. Hook's desserts are made fresh in-house and every one is unique and delectable. On this night, we sampled the Bread Pudding, the Chocolate Icebox Pie, and the Carrot Cake. The bread pudding was so ooey-gooey and flavorful. The Chocolate Icebox pie, made with dark chocolate, was rich but still very light. And the Carrot Cake is one of my favorites. Unlike other carrot cakes I have had, I could taste the carrots, raisins and pecans in the cake, and it was still very light.

I would highly recommend Hook Gulf Coast Cuisine on your next trip to the Coast! If you have tried Hook, let me know your favorite dishes in the Comments section below.

Where: 133 Davis Ave., Unit M, Pass Christian, Miss.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

For the Best Sandwiches & Key West Vibe, Try Yellow Dog Eats

The Holy Crap
Holy crap! That is the name of one of Yellow Dog Eats sandwiches and I can see why. When you take your first bite of The Holy Crap ($10.95), that is exactly what you say! The shaved honey mesquite roasted turkey paired with bacon, goat cheese, avocado, and basil mayo inside hot pressed bread all melds together in your mouth, as your eyes roll back in your head.

Then, you realize that this is not the only sandwich to choose from at the iconic Windermere eatery, located in a colorful, 100-year-old building. There are several other specialty sandwiches, plus dishes such as ribs and salads. We had the Pulled Pork Nachos ($10.95), which are truly unique and flavorful, thanks to the black beans, BBQ sauce, Thai chili sauce, cilantro sour cream and other yummy ingredients.

The Club Elvis
The 1/2 Rack of Ribs with Gold Sauce ($9.95) are extremely yummy. The barbecue sauce is tangy and not overly sweet like some sauces. The ribs are cooked perfectly and are not greasy. On the lighter side, the Smokey Smoked Salmon Salad ($13.95) was unique and delicious. The salmon - a good portion! - was so tender and delicious and was served over field greens, a raisin and nut mix, shredded carrots and dikon sprouts.

Back to the sandwiches. We also tried the Retriever's Roast ($9.95), which features Gouda cheese, an orange cointreau mayo, carmelized onion and a sweet pimento spread. All the flavors meld together perfectly in each savory bite. You also need to try the unique Club Elvis, one of Yellow Dog Eat's several pulled pork sandwiches, topped with bacon, Gouda cheese, and fried onions.

Go to Yellow Dog for the atmosphere as much as for the food. The patio is a fun, relaxing place to eat and you can bring your dogs. Inside, the graffiti on the walls and antique dog statues help give the restaurant that fun, casual feel. I also like the new wine bar! The roosters walking around outside - and nesting in the trees! - help to give this place a Key West vibe.

Note: this is one of those places that is always packed, so try not to go during the busy lunch and dinner hours.

Where: 1236 Hempel Ave., Windermere, Fla.