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. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

What's New at Epcot Food and Wine Festival

Today marks the start of the fabulous, over-the-top Epcot Food and Wine Festival, an event I look forward to every year. This really gives me a chance to try foods from all over the world, while walking around a beautiful park, at my own pace. Every year, Epcot ups the ante on classes, special events and the type of food offered at each country. 

Here are the top new foods and beverages you will want to try this year:

At the new Patagonia Pavilion (featuring South American dishes), check out the Roasted Salmon with Arugula Chimichurri, the Grilled Beef Skewers, and the Beef Empanadas. Several delicious wines are also being served at this pavilion. While the Australian pavilion always features some sort of lamb dish, this year you can also get
Conch Salad
Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes and Pavlova, a dessert that features custard and berries inside a crispy meringue shell.

Instead of its traditional escargot dish, the French Pavilion is featuring a delectable-looking Escargot Tart with garlic, spinach, bacon and Parmesan. At the new Farm Fresh Pavilion, check out the Griddled "Yard Bird", griddled chicken with braised greens and habanero sauce. I love that this pavilion features several Orlando and Florida ales as well. The new Conch Salad at the Puerto Rico Pavilion looks very tasty as well!

Of course I want to try these new dishes, but I also have to stick with some of my old favorites, such as the Belgian Waffles with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream in Belgium. Please let me know your favorites - and the new dishes you try this year - in the comments section below.

When: Sept. 19 - Nov. 10, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another Broken Egg - Worth the Wait?

It's a good thing that breakfast cafes are becoming more popular around Orlando. I am definitely a breakfast person, and don't want to wait for Sunday brunch to go out for a good breakfast! 

I finally had a chance to try Another Broken Egg Cafe in Winter Park, Fla., the other day. I really liked the menu selection, atmosphere and - for the most part - food, but the service was not great. When I checked in at the restaurant on Foursquare, all the commenters agreed with me: "great food, lousy service". I definitely expected a wait at the popular spot, since I went on a Saturday at 1:00 p.m., but I was seated right away.

After I was seated, it took awhile for a server to greet me. Then, once I ordered, it took 20 minutes for a simple order: a plain waffle, bacon and poached eggs. By this point I was starving, but still sent the waffle back because it had arrived cold. However, once I did get to try the waffle, it was very light and fluffy with a bit of crispy exterior - exactly as I like it. The sweet, crispy bacon was also good, as were the eggs.

There are so many choices on the menu, it was hard to make up my mind. Many of the omelettes look great as well as the Signature Benedicts - especially Crabcakes Cavallo. A fellow food blogger recommended The Floridian omelette, which is filled with cream cheese and topped with garlic sauteed crabmeat, Monterey Jack and green onions. I couldn't order this mouth-watering dish because of a dairy sensitivity, so it would be great to see vegan cheese as an option for all the omelettes.

However, I was impressed by the vegetarian options on the menu, as well as the gluten-free pancakes and several healthy options. Another Broken Egg serves several burgers, sandwiches and salads too. More dishes for me to try - if I come expecting a wait. I like the vibe of the restaurant, too. Several 20-something patrons were watching football at the bar - a great place to hang out and order mimosas or Bloody Marys with your brunch.

Where: 430 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park, Fla.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Yummy, Unique Food at Fresh to Order

"People sometimes associate healthy food with not tasting great," Darshi Patel, catering director at Fresh To Order in Orlando, Fla., told me recently. She is right. That is a mistake that people often make, but they would be wrong to think that of the tasty, high quality food at the recently-opened Fresh to Order in the Waterford Lakes Town Center in Waterford Lakes.

Fresh to Order, which just started offering catering services from the location near Oviedo, offers healthier menu options - in other words, no French fries - that are delicious. You order at the counter, and receive your food fairly quickly, but this is far from fast food. The broad menu has soups, salads, entrees, better-for-you-burgers, panini sandwiches, along with freshly made desserts and sides. "There are no freezers here. Everything is cooked fresh," Owner Giriam Patel told me.

I sampled two of the entrees: Almond Chicken Skewers, which feature a unique
Almond Chicken Skewers
almond rosemary crust and are served with two sauces: one is a teriyaki-type sauce and one is a sweeter sauce. Both complement the skewer perfectly. The skewer is slightly too salty and greasy, but otherwise the flavors are great. The sides - Ginger Apple Coleslaw and Sweet Mashed Potatoes - 
are delicious and different than what you see at other restaurants. I also loved the Coconut Curry Salmon with Roasted Peanut Corn Relish and Wheatberry Rice. The rice is another example of a healthy side that is tasty (although I wish it was slightly more flavorful, perhaps with the addition of an herb). The salmon, though was cooked perfectly, and I liked the flavor of the curry sauce. I am used to spicier curry sauces, but this one is not. 

Fudge Brownies
Fresh to Order is known for their Icebox pies, fudge brownies and freshly baked cookies. While I didn't try the pies on this visit, I would recommend any of the cookies. The Oatmeal Raisin and Peanut Butter cookies I had were obviously made fresh that day. They were just so tasty! I didn't like the flavor of the brownies as much. I don't know how to describe it; it was just a stronger, different flavor than I am used to. 

Overall, I would highly recommend this restaurant. And watch for other Fresh to Order locations opening around Central Florida! Meanwhile, to have your business meeting or event catered by Fresh to Order, call 407-800-8110 or email

Where: 851 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando