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Orlando report (Downtown/Winter Park) (long)

A quick report on a recent solo visit to Orlando. I stayed at the very nicely re-done Crowne Plaza on Colonial at I-4, so I was easily accessible to Winter Park and Downtown, and areas in between.

Thursday: The Ravenous Pig. Nice crowd, but not overly crowded or noisy. I was a little put off by the $3.00 charge for the gruyere buscuits, especially since they come in an order of 4, which would have made me a ravenous pig had I eaten all of them! They are too good, however, to pass up, so I got them (and thanks to the microwave in my hotel room, had one for breakfast the next day). I loved the micro-brew list, and was able to order 2 different 6-oz pours of different style beers, which was perfect. I then had a half-order of "Scampi flavored pasta with scallops." The name of this dish was a little odd, since there are no scampis in it. However, the pasta was home-made, there were 2 large, perfectly seared scallops, and the sauce was a delicious lemony-butter-garlic (sopped up with, you guessed it, a gruyere biscuit). My main course was Arctic Char (my favorite fish), served atop horseradish spaetzel and some very thinly sliced (chiffonade?) collard greens. Other than the odd presentation of the fish (skin side up), the dish was superb, and a very hearty portion. Everything worked together, and the fish was perfectly cooked (and it was one of the thicker pieces of Char that I've had). I think the pasta was $10 or $11 and the Char was perhaps $25. Service was a tad slow between courses, but I wasn't in a hurry and I was totally happy with the meal.

Friday: Graze. Accidentally (and happily) found myself sitting at the bar in the midst of what is unofficially known as Gays at Graze. I got there at 9:30, and was promptly informed that happy hour goes on until 10. The bar was nearly full, and the restaurant looked pretty full as well. The atmosphere was very friendly. I ordered a Caipirihnia (sp?) for $4 that was improperly made by one bartender, but the other bartender noticed it and corrected it immediately. I then ordered 2 small plates (both about $10): grilled octopus over a microgreen salad in a citrus dressing. This was outstanding. Next I had grouper sliders -- 3 small fried fish sandwiches on buns with a nice tartar sauce. The fish was perfectly cooked, and I thought it was a great amount of food for the price. They had a wonderful selection of wines by the glass for $5 at happy hour prices. Excellent evening, and quite the bargain, considering the happy hour prices. The bar staff was veyr personable, which is appreciated when one is dining solo.

Saturday: Luma on Park. My big mistake was going out to eat by myself on Valentine's Day. What a zoo. The only other time I had been to Luma was on a Sunday night, when it was serene and classy. My experience this Saturday was the opposite. I sat at the bar, which was jammed and not necessarily with the classiest crowd. As it turned out, the woman in the red dress that was sitting next to me was a prostitute who proceeded to work her trade in an embarassingly obvious way with whoever paid attention (including the 70+ yr old guy who wound up snuggling up with her, which almost foreclosed the thought of eating dinner). I ordered the red snapper ceviche appetizer ($11 I think), duck breast ($25) and a side of broccolini, blistered grape tomatoes with a sprinkling of mozzeralla. The ceviche was very nice, fresh and citrus-y, but not a terribly generous portion. It was served in a small mound in a large bowl, that made it look even smaller. The duck was just a little over-cooked, but not enough to send back. it was nicely flavored, and served over black "forbidden" rice (whatever that is, but it was wonderful) with a kumquat marmelade (excellent -- but a half teaspoon of it was hardly enough). The wines-by-the-glass list was quite extensive, but not a wonderful value. Service at the bar was indifferent, which is understandable considering the volume. All in all, this evening was the more disppointing of the 3. Try Luma on a Sunday -- it's much better without the crazy crowd.

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  1. A prostitute working her trade on Park Avenue?!?!?! There's been a lot of talk lately and in our local paper about how the merchants along that toney stretch of shops and restaurants have to change to attract a wider market in this economy; not sure that's what they had in mind....this is too funny!

    I've never been that impressed with Luma -- the portion sizes are ridiculous IMO -- but you found two other wonderful restaurants while in town and your review was very entertaining -- glad you had a good time, Randy!

    1. Nice review, thanks. I've been to all three, and Luma is my favorite. RP is great too. I've only been to Graze once when it first opened and was not impressed at all. Menu just felt like it was all over the place, trying to please everyone with everything as opposed to doing a smaller amount perfectly. But sounds like things might have changed, maybe I'll head back there soon.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Corporate_40

        Yes definitely give Graze another shot. Also it sounds like ClevelandRandy and I were unknowingly bar mates on Friday as I was up there about the same time, Graze really is doing some good stuff these days. I went there Saturday as well for their valentines day menu, and it was excellent.

        Another place that seems to be headed on an upward trajectory is Tschoup choup, was out there last week and noticed a big improvement food and service wise based on that one visit. Black Olives downtown is opening very soon, they have recruited some very talented cook staff, it should be good.

        As for TRP, regarding charging for the biscuits, I admit that I was a l little miffed at the idea, but talking to management was told that people were basically coming in and making a meal out of the biscuits (when they were free) , so I can see their point in charging.

        Finally, The Chefs Table in Winter Garden is becoming very popular, they are selling out many days, so now it's hard/impossible to get in last minute. Great to see people supporting quality eating establishments like that.

        1. re: herbert1

          Sorry for the tangent, but has anyone heard anything specific about what's going on with Black Olives? We went to some wine/food event at Lake Eola back in---November? (I think). They were going to open by the end of the month or the end of the year or some such thing back then. Now it is almost the end of February and they still haven't cracked their doors. What's up with that?

          On topic, Graze is great. I love the food, especially noshing on the small plates during happy hour. The bartenders are very sharp and personable too.

          1. re: glowworm

            heard that the opening has been postponed again, no date set.

      2. No chowhound eats on Valentines Day, or a service people call it (rookie night). Just FYI, Arctic Char is usually served skin side up.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ghettofoodie

          I hear you about rookie night. At home, I would never eat out on Valentines Day, New Years Eve or other such occasions. But when staying in a hotel on Valentines Day, one doesn't have much option other than to go out to a restaurant. I've had Arctic Char numerous times and have never seen it served skin side up. Not sure I see the point of presenting it that way, since I assume most people lift the fish off the skin as they eat it. But you learn something new every day!

        2. ClevelandRandy, What an adventure you had! I cannot imagine what the higher ups in WP would have to say say about a lady of the evening working the Ave!

          I'm glad to hear that the Ravenous Pig and Graze made up for your evening at Luma. Graze has the talents of Jephanie Foster as the executive chef, which was not the case when Graze first opened. (She came in 2008) Jephanie has a great local following from her former restaurant Blue Bistro. I've had the pleasure of dining at Graze several times since she's been at the helm and there is a marked difference in the menu and food preparation. Thumbs up!

          One quick comment on the RP Scampi dish....your looking for "scampi's" confused me a bit in an American Gastropub. Here in the states, we use the term Scampi as a preparation method...cooked with butter, garlic and white wine. In Europe (Canada, etc) they use it to mainly describe Lobster. Not to split hairs, but Scampi flavored pasta would be a garlic, butter sauce and white wine flavored sauce tossed with pasta and Scallops to me- was the dish prepared this way or something else entirely? Mostly curious as this dish wasn't on the menu when I was in a few weeks ago and I would try it if it was prepared the way I described it. :)

          Everyone I know is addicted to those biscuits and that wonderful smoked sea salt on the butter. It's probably good that they charge for them....or we'd continue to inhale them instead of parting with the empty basket after 4 were gone.

          1 Reply
          1. re: winechic

            The dish was prepared precisely as you described it (perhaps with some lemon in addition to the butter, garlic and wine). I had always heard "scampi" used as a word for large shrimp (which is not to say it hasn't been entirely misused), so that was my confusion. Now that I know it is a style of preparation, I will do some research, because I would love to replicate that recipe. It was truly declicious (of course, the house-made pasta and perfectly seared scallops added to the success of the dish). Thanks for the heads up on this!!

          2. Great report! (and funny!) Thanks