Written By Administrator On September 11, 2008

Friends Restaurant to close after Saturday

The Flog has just learned that Friends restaurant on North Mills Avenue has been sold. The final day in its current form will be Saturday, September 13. More to come later on the new owners and their plans for the place.

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Marcella Hazan writes memoir

Written By Administrator On September 10, 2008

with her husband, Victor, and stirs memories of Venice

Marcella Hazan Kim Severson, one of my favorite food writers, has a profile of Marcella Hazan in today’s New York Times. The occasion is the forthcoming release of Hazan’s memoir, Amarcord: Marcella Remembers.
If you don’t know, Marcella Hazan is credited with single-handedly bringing Italian food to America. Calamari was virtually unknown in this country until she included it in her first cookbook.

The article brought to mind a profile I did on Marcella about 10 years ago, visiting her first at her home in Venice, where she was packing up the apartment on the top floor of an old villa overlooking the rooftops of the city, for a move to Longboat Key, Florida, where she resides today.

I was in Florence visiting a friend and arranged to meet with Marcella in Venice. I took the train up the day before and wound my way through the narrow passageways to the apartment building where I was greeted by Marcella and her husband, Victor.
We sat and chatted a while. I took notes and sipped the espresso they offered me (stunned that I preferred it without adding sugar). Then Victor took me off to the Venice market to buy supplies for a meal Marcella was planning. Even then, Marcella, who is 84 now, did not get around very easily, and Victor ran most of the errands. And when I say ran, I mean I had a hard time keeping up with this man who was easily 30 years older.
The fastest way to the market was by gondola, he said, but not one of those tourist trap boats that line the Grand Canal. This was a large boat that only went back and forth a canal from one bank to the other — a sort of ferry. Victor told me that real Venetians stood in the boat as it crossed — they did not sit down — so that’s what we did, like Washington crossing the Delaware.
The Venice market is an amazing place; no foodie should miss it, but you have to know where to look. There are a few food stalls set up around the Rialto Bridge for the tourists, but this is not the real market. Find your way beyond the bridge and you’ll come across the most dazzling array of produce, meats and seafood you can imagine.
The seafood is most impressive. You can stand in the middle of the fishmonger stalls and not smell one whiff of foul air, so fresh is the product. There were fish from all over Europe, but, counter-intuitively, the “imported” fish cost less than the locally caught seafood.
While walking through the produce, I asked Victor about an incident a few days earlier. In a Florence market I was fascinated by some immense mushrooms and reached out to touch one. The vendor went ballistic on me and started yelling and batting my hand away. “It’s absolutely forbidden by law” to touch produce, Victor explained. Mind you, the mushroom was covered with manure, but that apparently didn’t matter.
(Go into a supermarket in Italy and you’ll see rolls of plastic bags in the shape of crude gloves over the produce rows; these are for shoppers to pick up their selections.)
Victor was on a mission to buy pig snout for a special sausage Marcella had in mind, but the butchers were fresh out of snouts. We went back to the flat with some other meats and vegetables. I chatted a bit more with Marcella and started to thank them for all their time and say my good-byes — it was now late morning — and Marcella said, “But you’re coming to lunch with us.”
Then she said, “Julia is in town and wanted to have lunch today, but I told her we were having lunch with you.”
That would be Julia Child, who was in Venice, at a hotel on the Lido. And when Julia Child gets bumped in your favor, how can you refuse? (They made arrangements to have lunch with Child the next day; that’s what the pig snout was for, and, yes, they liked Julia Child very much.)
Victor and Marcella took me to one of their favorite restaurants, Fiaschettera Toscana. (Despite the name, the restaurant is Venetian, not Tuscan. Venice has exorbitant fees for changing signage, Victor told me, so when the current owner bought the restaurant, he kept the name so he wouldn’t have to pay for new signs.)
At the Hazans’ insistence, I had the house specialty. the fritto misto, fried assorted seafood, including, no doubt, some of the seafood I had seen in the market that morning, such as cuttlefish.
After much food and much conversation, Marcella had had enough. She ordered, in Italian, a shot of Jack Daniel’s (there it’s an import) and pushed her plate away. “Basta,” she said.
And if you saw my farewell column in the Sentinel where I used that word, that was where I got it — from Marcella Hazan, sitting in a small trattoria, in Venice, away from the crowds. Enough food, she was saying.
And more Jack Daniels.

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Team USA — led by Orlando chef

Written By Administrator On September 10, 2008

brings home gold medal (and we’re not talking about flour)

Team USA Team USA, led by pastry chef Laurent Branlard of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, won first place in at the 2008 World Pastry Team Championship in Nashville. The two-day, 13-hour compeition was held August 31 and September 1 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.
Branlard (left, with a pulled-sugar sculpture that, believe it or not, is entirely edible) was captain of the US team that also included Dimitri Fayard, co-owner of Vanille Patisserie of Chicago and Stephane Treand, executive pastry chef at the St. Regis Resort, Monarch Beach, California.
During the two-day competitions, teams must present showpieces (I guess that would be an example of a showpiece in the photo), frozen desserts, bonbons, plated desserts and entremets — small dessert dishes served between courses.We are very proud to represent America and to compete against all these nations — most of them are top food industry leader countries, like Belgium and Japan, so it made the competition very interesting,” Branlard said in a statement.
Central Floridians can taste Branlard’s pastry confections at Todd English’s bluezoo, Il Mulino Trattoria and Shula’s Steak House at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts.

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Orlando Magical Dining Month

Written By Administrator On September 10, 2008

means good bargains at some good restaurants

September is Orlando Magical Dining Month — yes, all month long. Magic Dining
During OMDM you can visit a lot of restaurants you may have been wanting to try and not have to spend a lot of money.
Here’s how it works: Go to the Orlando Magical Dining Month site and view the list of restaurants. Click on one that interests you to see the menu they’re offering. That’s the catch, you can order only from a special menu.
Here’s the other catch: most restaurants don’t offer this menu voluntarily. So, when the host is seating you, you have to wink twice and say, “Pssst, I wanna see the Magical menu.” Please make certain you’re in one of the participating restaurants or the host might find your request odd, and, possibly, illegal.
There are two types of offerings, upscale ($29) and casual ($19). Both offer prix fixe menus of three courses.
This is a great way to try some of the pricier restaurants, like A Land Remembered and Cala Bella at Rosen’s Shingle Creek; The Boheme at the Grand Bohemian; Oceanaire; Roy’s; Park Plaza Gardens; and Emeril’s Orlando. Most of those feature entrees that cost more than the prix fixe.

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A New Era of Grocery Shopping

Written By Administrator On September 8, 2008

in downtown Orlando

Publix A new Publix store opened last weekend, which is hardly occasion to break out the confetti. But this was different from any other Publix in the area, or any other supermarket for that matter. And it could turn out to be an important component in downtown’s survival.

This Publix is on the ground floor of a newly constructed condominium building across from Lake Eola. It’s the first in a high-rise, and, as far as I know, the first to be constructed as part of a residential tower.
It’s smaller than an average Publix, but this is hardly a boutique store. It appeared to me to be a bit larger than the other downtown Publix on Shine Avenue at Colonial Drive.

Parking for the store is in an underground garage. There’s an elevator to take you from the garage to the store (although, honestly, couldn’t they have put some stairs nearby to encourage walking?). The elevators are spacious enough to allow people to roll on their shopping carts (which are smaller than those in a regular store). The neat thing about the underground garage is that if it’s raining you can go from your car to the store and back without getting wet.
On opening weekend the store was sampling items left and right. There were boiled shrimp, trail mix, sushi (not very good sushi), sweet rolls and myriad other stuff. There were lots of workers, too, but a good deal of them were brought in for the opening and to help train the store’s staff.
I was able to find most of the things I’m familiar with in my Publix. Most important was the discovery of the rotisserie chicken cooker. Publix’s chickens are a terrific deal (although, in truth, the rotisserie chickens from Costco are bigger and cheaper). I think I might have made room for more prepared deli meals — this is targeted at working class urbanites, after all.
I thought the produce section looked better stocked than the Shine/Colonial store, but it may just have been the newness.
The aisles are spacious enough, and the ceilings are high — you never get the sensation that you’re on the ground floor of a tall condominium complex.
I stopped in to do my grocery shopping because, in case you haven’t heard, I have to buy all my own food these days. (Oh, how I miss that expense account!) I was going down the aisles and every time I grabbed at something on a shelf I got an electrical shock. A friend nearby was having the same experience, so I know it wasn’t just something odd about the way I’m grounded, although I must say the topic has come up before.
I’m thinking there’s something horribly wrong with the wiring in the store, perhaps something worthy of a lawsuit (reference the lamented lost expense account above). So I mention it to a passing manager.
And he says it’s something that happens with every new store. It seems that when they finally turn on the air-conditioning system it goes into overdrive to draw out the excess moisture. The result is static electricity. I call it an alternative power source.
But that’s not how this new Publix is going to figure into downtown’s survival. It’s proximity to the many newly constructed condos in the area is going to be a big selling point — as though bargain-basement prices on the once-overpriced units isn’t enough.
This store makes downtown living much more palatable. For those who also work downtown, it’s now possible to park the car and forget about it for days at a time.
Little Orlando is growing up. And who would have guessed a Publix would be one of its rites of passage?

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Florida Restaurant Show

Written By Administrator On September 5, 2008

Slogging through the aisles

Florida Restaurant Show The Florida Restaurant Show started today and runs through Sunday. It’s open only to people in the industry. Members of the press can get in, of course. I don’t know if they consider a flogger to be a member of the press, but I wasn’t going to take any chances — I arranged for my credentials before I left the Orlando Sentinel.
I look forward to the show every year because it gives me a chance to wander the aisles of the convention center and analyze the products that are being touted and showcased. I try to glean some sort of trend from what I see there. This year, I can sum things up in three words…

Pizza, pizza, pizza.
Everywhere I looked there were people handing out samples of pizza. True, the Orlando Pizza Show is conducted in concert with the Restaurant Show, but even beyond the pizza aisle vendors were hawking cardboardy slices of pie.
(I just reread that last line — what do you suppose a pizza concert would sound like?)

If it wasn’t pizza, it was cheese. And not very good cheese, either.

The most interesting food items being sampled this year were the crab dishes from Handy. They had a passable crab cake and a pretty impressive soft-shell crab. I say impressive because it came breaded, cooked and frozen and was tossed in the fryer for a minute to reheat and add that all important grease note. I’m not sure I would have known any difference if I’d been served this soft-shell crab in a restaurant, but then I’m a little out of practice.
Since “green” is the politically correct buzzword these days there was a whole section of environmentally friendly items. The most interesting was a line of takeout containers that looked like conventional foam but claimed to be biodegradable. Watch for more restaurants to promote their green sides more this year. (A lot of vendors were passing out reusable cloth bags instead of plastic.)
Here are a few other notes from the aisles:
Handiest product:
A pizza box carrier. This thing is ingenious in its simplicity. Have you ever tried to put a pizza box in a conventional plastic bag? Disaster! This device is made of the same material as your basic grocery store bag but it’s one long piece of plastic that when you lay it out flat looks something like a gasket: there are handles on the ends, and in the middle are two square cut-outs.
You place a corner of the pizza box in the square cut-outs, lift the handles and, voila!, you’re carrying your pizza box without burning your hands. You can carry two or three boxes in the same little sheet of plastic. Brilliant.
The “I’ll bet someone’s going to be impressed with that product” award:
The Glass Flipper, which sounds a little like it should be a fragile dolphin but is actually a device that flips glasses. This if for organizations that serve large banquets, such as hotels or big caterers. they take the water or wine glasses and put them in big plastic racks to run through the dishwasher. The problem is you have to put them through the dishwasher upside down, and when they come out, someone has to flip each one right-side-up so they can be filled with ice and water.
Not any more. Now you just put the rack in The Glass Flipper, give it a spin, and voila!, right-side- up with a minimum of breakage.
Coolest gadget:
Literally. It’s called the Winesceptre. It’s a long, thin tube that is kept in a freezer. When a customer orders a bottle of wine, the waiter fills their glasses and then inserts the Winesceptre into the bottle to keep it chilled. The top of the sceptre has a stopper and pourer, so the waiter doesn’t have to pull the thing out of the bottle each time. No messy ice buckets!
The device I hope is run out of town:
An automatic sushi making machine. It’s like a mechanized cigar roller. You put the nori sheets on the roller, layer on the rice and fish and — no, this one does not warrant a voila! — out comes some pretty hideous sushi. I picked up a card from the vendor so I could tell you the name of the manufacturer. But instead I picked up a card for Sushi House in Orlando. Please tell me they don’t actually use this thing there.

There were signs that the economy is taking a toll. Most notably, Bari Foods, which usually has an elaborate booth, this year had no special trappings. Things are really tough when you scale back on your sales and marketing.

The most disappointing thing about the show was the convention center itself. Parking was horrible — actually nonexistent (I finally got frustrated and parked at Pointe Orlando and hoofed it) — and there were way too few trash cans in the exhibit hall.

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What’s that smell?

Written By Administrator On June 2, 2008

We like things fresh here at Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide. That includes our reviews. The review for this restaurant was getting a bit stale, so we’ve taken it down for now. Scott will be returning to freshen it up soon.

In the meantime, if you’ve been to this restaurant, please feel free to write your own review and give the restaurant a rating. That will help other flog readers get a sense of the place — and give fresher scents to the reviews.

To write a review, go back to the page you just came from and click on “Write a Review” (we try to keep things intuitive here). You must be a registered user of the flog. If you haven’t registered it’s a painless process and a safe one, too. We have a no-spam guarantee (God, how we hate spam here). You can review as many restaurants as you’d like, but please follow some simple guidelines: 

  • If you have a complaint, be specific about what went wrong and the attempts, if any, that were offered to correct the situation.
  • It’s OK if you’d like to leave a note about your own restaurant, but please be upfront about it.
  • Please use only language you would use in front of your mother, unless your mother cusses a blue streak, too. In that case wing it.
  • In most cases it is not necessary to use the specific names of servers and managers to get your point across. An exception can be made if you want to compliment a particular person for a job well done.

Thanks for participating, and for helping to keep things smelling fresh on the flog.

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