Magical Dining month in Orlando is an opportunity to try new restaurants or to revisit a favorite one at reasonable prices. For a fixed amount of $40 per person, you get a three-course dinner. Our first stop this year was The Back Room Steakhouse in Apopka. We actually went twice, because my husband got a gift card there as a birthday gift. The atmosphere was elegant with good service. The first time, we had Thai Chili Coconut Shrimp, 10 oz. Prime NY Strip, and Key Lime Pie. The shrimp and the dessert were really good. The steak was okay. I wish they’d offered a beef fillet instead. I’m not a big steak person but chose this entrée because I don’t eat much meat at home.
The next visit, we indulged in the Braised Short Rib Egg Rolls, Sauteed Norwegian Salmon Filet, and — how could I resist? — Key Lime Pie again. The egg rolls were deeply fried and rather heavy, making me prefer the lighter spring rolls from Trader Joes. The shrimp was much better as an appetizer. The salmon was perfect and I chose a baked potato and broccoli as an accompaniment.
My overall impression? If you live west in Apopka, this is a nice choice for a fancy occasion although the prices can be steep. It might be worth another trip for Magical Dining depending on the menu. However, where we live, we do have lots of other options.
Our second experience was at TerraMia Ristorante E Trattoria in Altamonte Springs. Here we shared the Antipasto TerraMia and the Burrata Pugliese for appetizers. Both were excellent. For an entrée, I had the Agnello Abbruzzese, a barolo braised lamb shank served with genovese sauce. It was very tender with lots of meat that fell off the bone. Richard had fish, the Branzino Mediterraneo pan-roasted in a white wine garlic sauce with cherry tomatoes and served over pasta. He enjoyed his dish. For dessert, I chose the Torta Alla Pera, a classic neapolitan cake filled with cream and pear. This did not impress me. I didn’t taste any cream inside and there was a small half slice of pear on top. I can make a better cake myself. Richard got the Selvanera Cake, an Italian version of black forest cake.
Overall, the food was excellent, but the atmosphere was extremely noisy. Maybe it’s better on a weekday, but the bar overwhelms the restaurant and does not make for a cozy, intimate experience. If you’re looking to sit at a lively bar, you might like this scene. We prefer a quieter evening.
Happy New Year! Time is moving on, so let me tell you about our latest adventures in Orlando over Christmas. We took a stroll at The Mall at Millenia that was nicely decorated for the holidays. Dinner included an evening at Bosphorus Turkish Cuisine. We began with their hollow lava bread and hummus appetizer. I really liked the zucchini patties served with yogurt. I could eat this savory dish for an entire meal. The appetizer includes three huge pancakes, so be prepared to share. I didn’t care so much for the falafel ones. My husband had the lamb shish-kabob for his entrée, and I had moussaka. I always like this eggplant dish. I’d wanted to explore the Island Grove Wine Company at Formosa Gardens in Kissimmee. It’s mostly a retail store with a café and tasting bar. Although they advertise tours and a botanical garden, these don’t really exist. We each enjoyed a turkey sandwich along with our wine tasting. I liked the dry blueberry, the slightly sweet peach, and the cranberry wine. The company has a full-fledged winery at Hawthorne, FL: https://www.islandgrovewinecompany.com/ From here, we went down the street to an indoor flea market but the twisting stalls held a collection of shlock. Good place for tourists but not for us. It doesn’t compare to the Festival Marketplace at home. Coming Next: Christmas Day in Disney Springs GIVEAWAY Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN Gift Card at Booklover’s Bench
As usual when we visit Orlando, we like to try new dining spots as well as frequent some of our favorite restaurants. Besides Bonefish Grill and Longhorn, we celebrated our family’s September birthdays with the Magical Dining Month menu at Fleming’s. I got the beef filet with a salad and carrot cake for dessert. I didn’t fare as well at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. This being Labor Day Weekend and the opening of the festival, the park was crowded and there was a long wait under the broiling sun just to get in through bag inspection. We made it to a couple of places where I tasted the mini blended burger (very good!) and the loaded mac and cheese (too spicy). Then I succumbed to the heat and felt lightheaded. After a brief rest on a shady bench, I recovered my stamina and we headed to the festival marketplace to pick up our annual passholder magnets. Then we left, vowing to return when the weather has cooled and the crowds have thinned. I just can’t make this trek anymore in the 90+ degree heat. Another day, we dined at La Madelaine, a French café located inside the Florida Mall where we took a nice air-conditioned walk. I didn’t have a problem there and enjoyed the exercise. My meal here was tomato basil soup, Caesar salad, and a half turkey and brie sandwich. The best breakfast was at Keke’s Café where I had a waffle accompanied by fresh berries and whipped cream. The highlight of the week was a bridal shower in honor of our daughter held at Orchid Thai Cuisine in Winter Park. The food was delicious from the buffet-style appetizers to the plated lunch to the beautiful cake. Our daughter was radiant as she greeted her friends and other guests. It’s hard to follow the wedding diet on these meals. I’d say I would wait until after the wedding, since that weekend will involve a lot of eating too, but then Thanksgiving will be upon us. Maybe I should make getting in shape a New Year’s resolution?
We spent an afternoon last weekend strolling around Disney World’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. Turning right at the first main intersection, we passed the fast food places on our left and gift shops on our right. Straight ahead was the Tower of Terror. I went on this theme park ride for one time in the past, and it was my only time. However, I like to admire the structure because it reminds me of Dead Roots, my haunted hotel mystery. I had this attraction in mind when planning the layout for my fictional resort, which was also inspired by the delightful Tower of Terror movie.
We viewed the tourists along with this local resident.
Then we went into Star Wars: Path of the Jedi to see a 12 minute film and get cooled off in the air-conditioning. The film follows Luke Skywalker from when he began his journey as a Jedi to when Rey took up the challenge in the latest saga film.
We saw the new Star Wars Solo movie at Disney’s Dine-In Theater. The action kept me on my toes throughout along with keeping track of the various political factions. I especially liked how Han met Chewbacca and Lando. If you want a good escapist film, I’d recommend it for an entertaining couple of hours.
We ate at several restaurants in the area. Here’s the stuffed mushroom appetizer we enjoyed at Longhorn.
Breakfast one day was at Wilderness Lodge.
Dinner at Ahi Sushi.
We also went to the Farmer’s Market in Winter Park and then strolled along the shops at Park Avenue after lunch.
This was a welcome break. Back home, I completed my final read-through of Trimmed to Death, #15 in the Bad Hair Day mystery series. Now it’s ready for production!
You may be wondering why I write about food so much on this blog. Authors have lives, too, and I happen to enjoy dining out, taking cooking classes, and experimenting on recipes. Everything we do feeds into our creative works. You’ll find recipes and food mentioned throughout my Bad Hair Day Mysteries. So here are some local spots aside from the usual chains.
Dar Tajine is a Moroccan Restaurant that draws you in with its lush décor. The menu selections were varied enough to appeal to everyone at our table.
We started out with Zaalouk, an appetizer with grilled eggplant, tomato, garlic, olive oil and spices. It tasted like Ratatouille and came with triangles of pita bread. For my entrée, I had the Beef Tajine that was wonderfully tasty and tender. My husband had the Vegetarian Tajine that looked substantial enough for his appetite. In my estimation, tajine means it is slow-cooked and served in these interesting pots. We’ll have to go back to try the Shish Kabob and Chicken Bastilla. Mint tea and a selection of pastries concluded the meal. The restaurant is located at 8281 W. Sunrise Blvd in Plantation. Go to http://www.dar-tajine.com
On Mother’s Day, we dined at Vienna Café & Wine Bar. This is a favorite when we want a special night out. It has a continental atmosphere with Vienna classics on the menu. I started with the Mushroom Fricassee. The mushrooms are sautéed with port wine and cream and served in a flaky pastry. My main dish was the potato-crusted salmon, which came with a pinot noir cream sauce and steamed asparagus. I ordered a side dish of potatoes au gratin. This is located in Davie at Pine Island Plaza. http://www.ViennaWineBar.com
So here’s my question for you. Do you like to read about my dining and travel adventures? Or would you rather I stick to how-to articles on writing and the writing process? Perhaps you like a mixture of both? Please let me know what interests you.
Aside from our culinary rounds at World Showcase’s marketplaces in Epcot as mentioned below, we sampled the cuisine at a variety of places in and around Orlando over the weekend. At Disney Springs, we ate at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen. The atmosphere was lively in this popular Orlando eaterie, and the service was good. I got their famous fried chicken with creamy mashed potatoes and a cheese biscuit while Richard got a fish sandwich. My dinner platter came with three pieces of chicken. My opinion? The chicken had too much breading. I filled an entire salad plate with the pickings. You can get better fried chicken at Publix for half the price. The mashed potatoes were creamy as advertised but nothing special. The biscuit was surpassed by the ones at Red Lobster. This restaurant is a fun place to try once, but we weren’t impressed enough to return.
Next stop was a repeat visit to The Big Easy, a New Orleans-style restaurant across the street from our condo in Windermere. I had the red beans and rice that came with corn bread. It was a tasty meal and a large enough portion for me to have leftovers, but it would have been even better if it came with a small salad. Richard had a Caesar salad with shrimp. There was live music and the bar was filled, so it can get pretty noisy inside. We like the food and the prices and will doubtless return here.
Another night found us at Landry’s Seafood Restaurant, where I had salmon with asparagus couscous and Richard had the crab cake appetizer as his meal. The main entrees came with salad and garlic bread. I like the menu choices here and the prices are reasonable. The crowd tends to be older, but we seniors know a good bargain when we see one. Ask for an AARP discount.
Following the Orlando Book Festival at Orlando Public Library, we met our family at Shari Sushi in the Thornton Park district. I ordered citrus crusted Scottish salmon with quinoa salad and Greek yogurt, while my husband had the crab meat salad. Neither of us was terribly impressed, although the younger folks among us loved the sushi there. Shari is a popular restaurant, so it clearly has its repeat fans.
We couldn’t resist a visit to Beck Brothers Blueberries to pick our own basket full of plump, ripe berries. These are always good, and they stay fresh for a long time.
All of these dining experiences made me gain two pounds, so now I have to work on getting the weight off so I can fit into my mother-of-the-bride outfits.
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Once again, we dined our way through another Orlando visit. Our first stop on this culinary journey was dinner at The Big Easy in Windermere. My husband had a vegetable po-boy, and I had breaded tilapia with rice and beans and sautéed veggies. The rice and beans were really good and would make a meal in itself with a side of corn bread. We actually returned here for lunch but I got a cobb salad that time. I like the New Orleans-style decorations and the lively bar scene.
Our next foray was to Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs. They celebrated cherry blossom festival with flowering plants and dinner specials. I ordered the sake sangria. My meal was two appetizers, the Portobello mushroom fries and chicken dumplings.
We detoured from our usual route to explore St. Augustine. Lunch was at Harry’s where I got the crab meat and eggplant Napoleon. It was delish. This is a favorite restaurant of mine in this city, especially if you sit outside in the breezy courtyard. I wouldn’t do this in the heat of summer, however, with the scorching sun overhead and hungry mosquitoes looking for bait. Then I’d ask for a table indoors.
Now we’re back home, and I have to lose the extra weight I’d gained. That’s the problem with culinary adventures. You pay for the calories and salt intake when you resume your normal routine.
Besides attending the Epcot Food and Wine Festival at Disney World this past weekend in Orlando, we tried a couple of new restaurants. Friday night, we ate at Longhorn in Winter Garden. This wasn’t new to us, but I ordered the grilled shrimp and enjoyed this dish with rice, a baked sweet potato, salad, and bread.
On Saturday, we ate brunch at Slate. This trendy establishment is located by Trader Joes on West Sand Lake Road. Weekend brunch menu items are reasonably priced and varied in selection. Our family shared the deviled eggs appetizer, and I had the toast points with smoked salmon for my meal. This wasn’t lox like I’d expected but real pieces of cooked salmon in a tasty mixture. While pricey for dinner, the restaurant is open during weekdays for lunch.
Since we weren’t too hungry for dinner, we took a walk around Disney’s Riverside Resort that is close to our condo. Then we settled into the lounge for drinks and appetizers that would serve as our meal. I enjoyed the cheese fritters that were fried cheese balls in a sweet red pepper sauce. My Mai Tai had lots of fruit juice but seemed to be light on the rum. The guys had the hearty gumbo soup.
Sunday we went to Epcot for a stroll around World Showcase. Here we turned right and stopped first at the Caribbean marketplace. I passed on their seared grouper with pigeon peas and rice in coconut sauce, deciding to wait for further fare. One member of our party tried their Quesito puff pastry stuffed with sweetened cream cheese and guava sauce. At Patagonia, our son had the grilled beef skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree.
My first taste was the mushroom beef filet mignon at Canada ($7.25). At Scotland, I had one of my favorite dishes, the crispy potato pancake with Scottish smoked salmon and herbed sour cream ($5.00).
After getting my protein, I was prepared to saunter along in the ninety-degree heat toward France. They always have dishes I like but the portions are generous, and I decided to save my appetite. The guys each had the Beef Bourguignon, braised short ribs with mashed potatoes ($6.25). I’ve had it before, and it’s very good but filling. And it was too hot for their onion soup with gruyere and cognac. Nor was I ready for dessert, or I’d have had the caramel chocolate crème brulee. Don’t these descriptions make your mouth water?
Belgium had a dish I might have tried if I hadn’t already eaten meat. The beer-braised beef with smoked gouda mashed potatoes sounded good. Next time. Of course, you can get Belgian waffles here, too.
At Japan, our daughter had the spicy sushi roll ($5.75). I couldn’t resist the garlic shrimp and rice ($6.95). It’s as good as it sounds, although if you eat all the rice, you might get too stuffed for anything else. As it was, I’d wanted to try the smoked beef brisket and pimento cheese at the American Adventure, but was already getting too full. Their lobster roll and carrot cake sounded tempting, too.
We dipped into the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar at Italy to share a bottle of wine and to cool off in the darkened interior. It’s a quiet place where you can relax and recoup your energy along with your appetite.
Unfortunately, I didn’t recoup my hunger enough to try the Korean BBQ beef, the Chinese roasted duck with hoisin sauce or the chicken pot stickers, the Mexican chocolate flan, or the lamb chop at Australia. Next time, we’ll have to start to the left at World Showcase and go around in the opposite direction.
Toward the end, I stopped at Farm Fresh for their savory mac and cheese dish ($4.50) that came with bacon bits and chopped green onions. It was my favorite taste of this visit. Their stewed chicken with mushrooms and spinach sounded good, but I couldn’t eat anymore. Or drink anymore. I might have liked to try the Mai Tai or pineapple wine at the Hawaii marketplace.
Meandering past the Caribbean site again, we visited the new additions on our way back to Future World. We couldn’t resist the Chocolate Studio where we sampled the red wine chocolate truffle ($2.25) and the chocolate raspberry torte ($4.00).
Note that vegetarian, gluten-free, and kid-friendly items are marked in the Festival Passport booklet. The Food and Wine Festival is open until mid-November. It’s especially pleasant once the season’s first cold front moves in and cools the air. Meanwhile, be prepared with umbrellas for the passing showers. And now that I’ve reviewed all these treats available there, I’m ready to go again.
That night, we didn’t feel like eating a heavy dinner, so we ventured to 33 & Melt, a grilled cheese emporium only open past 4:00 pm in the Summerport area of Windermere. It’s located amid townhouses in a residential district at a recreated town square. A few other shops are sprinkled in here with a lake toward the rear. I had the grilled brie with raspberry preserves sandwich. Entries come with salad greens tossed in champagne vinaigrette; a dipper of very tasty tomato soup, and a couple of pickle slices. It’s a small neighborhood place with a bar serving beer and wine, but it’s family-friendly and the food is good.
Look at what waited by our doorstep on our return home. Was he out looking for a meal, too?
We wanted to try the newly opened STK Orlando restaurant at Disney Springs, and Magical Dining Month gave us the perfect opportunity. Reservations are definitely recommended for this popular dining establishment located by the bridge between the Marketplace and the West End. Inside, thumping music from a DJ’s selections greeted us as we were seated. The dimly lit interior was pleasantly designed in black and white colors. Here are the dining room and the bar area.
Evidently, lunch is served on a second level, and there’s a rooftop location as well. As it was raining out, we did not go up for a view after dinner. We ordered a glass of wine each. They did not have the bottle we wanted for fifty-some dollars and instead said the least expensive bottle of wine was sixty-eight dollars. A glass of wine costs thirteen dollars and up. So be prepared to spend some bucks on your liquor. Beer is less costly. The pull-apart bread comes with some kind of flavored olive oil dip.
I chose the beets with goat cheese and hazelnuts for my starter dish. It was unusual and delicious. Tomato soup or a Romaine salad were other choices.
Since we’d had fish last night, we all chose the petite filet that came charred on the outside and tender pink on the inside. This came with a mildly spicy sauce and a few waxed beans. We ordered a dish of sautéed mushrooms on the side. The meal was so good that none of us had leftovers to take home.
The men in our party chose the orange dream cheesecake for dessert while we ladies had the chocolate chip cookie with ice cream. The large inflated cookie was the crispy variety and not too soft. We preferred the lava cake from the night before. Nonetheless, there wasn’t a crumb left on our plates.
Now that I’ve probably gained back the couple of pounds I’d lost before this trip, we are ready to return home and eat more mundane and healthful choices.