Kres Chophouse

Written By Scott Joseph On November 30, 2023

Kres Chophouse interior

In most cities, you’d expect the downtown area to be the most stable for businesses. That doesn’t seem to be the case for downtown Orlando, especially for its restaurants. Longevity just isn’t a quality many restaurants enjoy. Kres Chophouse, which, amazingly, opened 20 years ago, appears to be an exception.

Perhaps it’s because it fills a void, offering an upscale dining experience amid a glut of bars, casual eateries and more bars. And it does it with panache, quality food expertly prepared and served with poise.

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Bull & Bear

Written By Scott Joseph On November 9, 2023

Bull and Bear sign

I’ll admit that my heart sank a bit when I learned that Bull & Bear, the signature fine dining restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, would undergo a major renovation. I feared it would succumb, as so many other upscale restaurants had before it – Dux, Atlantis, Arthur’s 27, Manuel’s on the 28th – to the changing preferences of today’s diners, who say, some believe, that they no longer want the posh, white glove dining experience those restaurants provided.

Bull & Bear, when it opened with the Orlando resort in 2009, the first Waldorf Astoria outside of Manhattan, was the epitome of a fine dining restaurant. Its decor was so sumptuous and elegant that I even used a photograph of its dining room on the guidebooks I used to publish.

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Knife & Spoon

Written By Scott Joseph On March 2, 2023

KnifeSpoon23 dining

As we await the announcement of this year’s Florida Michelin Guide winners – they could come at any time within the next couple of months – I took the opportunity to revisit one of Central Florida’s starred restaurants, Knife & Spoon, to do an inspection of my own. Based on my visit, I expect the Ritz-Carton headliner will hold on to its star or even gain an additional one.

There have been a couple of changes since last year. Tyler Kineman took over the position of chef de cuisine from opening cdc Gerald Sombright. Kineman, who previously was Knife & Spoon’s sous chef, serves as the permanently-on-site head of the kitchen when Dallas-based John Tesar isn’t in town.

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Magical Dining Recommendation: BoVine

Written By Scott Joseph On August 30, 2022

Bovine ext

BoVine is just the sort of restaurant I look for when Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining comes around. It’s an upscale, fine dining restaurant where many of the a la carte menu items are already in the $40 range, so you know you’re going to get a terrific deal with three courses for that price. For many people, this is a great opportunity to try a really good restaurant.

In my original review of BoVine, I mentioned how much I liked the Applewood Smoked Bacon Slab, similar to a popular appetizer at famed Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn. It’s one of the starter choices on the Park Avenue restaurant’s Magical Dining menu and I recommend it heartily. Bovine’s Caesar Salad is another good choice.

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Christner’s at 29

Written By Scott Joseph On July 26, 2022

Christners dining room

I try to get to Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster about once a year to, you know, just make sure it’s still one of the best places in town for high quality steaks. It is.

On my most recent visit I was also able to introduce Christner’s to some friends who are new to town. I was able to tell them about the history – now celebrating its 29th year – and about its staying power – there are few independently owned steakhouses of this caliber still in operation, not just here but nationally – most, including Del Frisco’s, which was the original name of Christner’s, are owned by large chains.

But Christner’s is still owned and operated by actual Christner’s, including including Carol, original operator Russ’s widow, her son David and his wife, Alice, and, most recently, her daughter Diana Johnston.

And there seems to always be a Christner on hand, as well as many staff members who have been with the restaurant for years. They all make sure the consistency remains the same, which is to say excellent.

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Nick Filet

Written By Scott Joseph On August 3, 2021

Nick logo

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Nick Filet sounds a lot like the name of a certain never-on-Sundays fast food chain. But there actually is a Nick behind the new fast-fooder, which recently opened a franchise in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips off Restaurant Row, and it specializes in filets, and even uses the proper spelling.

The Nick in question is Nick Kline, and he and his father, Keith, started Nick Filet not quite three years ago with the first restaurant in Paoli, just outside Philadelphia. The Orlando location is just one of four and the first outside of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Nick’s niche is simple: Instead of the ubiquitous chicken sandwich that every other franchise seems to specialize in, Nick’s offers a steak on a bun. It isn’t a unique idea. In fact, there’s a similar concept, Steak on Fire, just over a quarter of a mile away.

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BoVine

Written By Scott Joseph On April 22, 2021

Bovine ext

BoVine, an upscale steakhouse that opened last year amid pandemic strictures and limitations, occupies the space that for many years had been the jewel of Winter Park’s poshest boulevard when it might have been considered the area’s first Restaurant Row: Park Plaza Gardens.

It would be difficult to come up with a more venerable and iconic restaurant than Park Plaza Gardens. It was a jewel of fine dining in an era when few special occasion restaurants existed in the area, back when its menu was described as continental cuisine (a term that has thankfully been eighty-sixed). Over the past several decades, its menu and ownership changed (Robert Earl had it at one time; Manny Garcia was on a management team) and at one point even the name was tweaked, known briefly as Chef Justin’s Park Plaza Gardens for Justin Plank, now the executive chef at Terralina Crafted Italian in Disney Springs.

But through it all, the decor and design of the restaurant remained, with the signature element of a main dining room under a glass ceiling with brick floor and lots of green plants. It had the effect of dining outside but without the vagaries of Florida’s weather.

All of that is gone. It had to go. The building had fallen into disrepair – it became harder to keep those Florida elements out – and a dispute between the last owner of the restaurant and the building’s landlord involving accusations of infestation had damaged any brand goodwill that might have remained.

But don’t lament the loss. The restaurant that has taken its place is arguably better than any iteration that preceded it.

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Orlando Meats

Written By Scott Joseph On April 1, 2021

Orlandomeats ext

Even when Orlando Meats was in its original location, on Virginia Drive in Orlando proper, I wondered if it knew what it wanted to be, a butcher shop or a cafe. It even sold doughnuts originally. I liked it – well not the doughnut – I just found its concept confusing.

That was in 2017, and there have been a few times over the years that I’ve stopped in in search of a good steak to cook at home. But the inventory was always limited, which isn’t surprising for a boutique butcher. Prepared foods were at a minimum, too, and the space was cramped.

Now the business has moved to Winter Park (Orlando improper?) to a spacious space in the Ravaudage plaza. Curiously, despite the larger digs the butcher shop offerings don’t seem to have grown and is still limited, though it does have some things you wouldn’t find at most other local butchers, such as duck beef tallow and ghee.

Most of the space is occupied by bare-top tables with lots of chairs for seating. And the menu is expanded, too. So is Orlando Meats leaning toward being more of a restaurant than a butcher’s market?

And if so, what kind of restaurant does it want to be?

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Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill

Written By Scott Joseph On October 15, 2020

SearSea verandah

Seemingly out of nowhere, a big new JW Marriott has appeared and along with it a pretty darned good restaurant, Sear + Sea Woodfire Grill.

The hotel is a new neighbor of other large hotels like the Waldorf Astoria, Hilton and Wyndham in the area known as Bonnet Creek. In fact, if you sit on the restaurant’s comfortably spacious veranda, as I did on my recent visit, you’ll have a view of the actual creek and its woody banks just below.

As you might deduce from the clever name, Sear + Sea is a steak and seafood restaurant, which might sound a bit ho-hum at first. But the menu, under the direction of chef de cuisine Alex Pyser, is creative and appealing.

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Knife & Spoon

Written By Scott Joseph On October 8, 2020

KnifeSpoon top

Knife & Spoon, the much anticipated restaurant that replaced the estimable Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, opened on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, its delayed debut was not caused by construction slowdowns but rather the pandemic that has affected so many restaurants. The upside, if pandemics are allowed to have an upside, is that the developers were able to engineer the space to meet safety protocols rather than having to retool, as so many other restaurants have done.

KnifeSpoon sambonet

The knife of the name is an actual knife, a rather impressive Sambonet in this case, and signifies the steak specialty of the menu. Given the quality of the meat, however, an instrument with such a honed blade might be considered – you should pardon the expression – overkill. But we’ll come back to that.

The spoon of the name is not a spoon, or at least not a spoon found on polite tables. Instead, it references a fishing lure known as a spoon, which then leads to the seafood offerings. (More ancient mariners would tell you to look for largemouth bass, salmon or trout on a list of spoon-caught fish, but I saw none; it’s a clever name nonetheless.)

The Knife is also a nod to John Tesar, the Dallas chef and restaurateur, who owns Knife-named restaurants there. His accomplishments, as listed on the Knife & Spoon webpage, include being the pseudonymous Jimmy Sears in Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”; appearances on the Today Show and Top Chef; and being “famously entangled in a feud with Dallas food critic Leslie Brenner.” That feud, which included a negative review from Brenner and Tesar’s two-word response, happened in 2014, so maybe it’s time to let it go.

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