It’s time for Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, 30 days of good eating at good restaurants for not a lot of money, although it’s more money than last year, but we’ll get to that in moment.
VO’s MagDinMo offers prix fixe, three-course dinners at participating restaurants all over town. The restaurants put together a special menu, usually with two or three options in each category of starters, entrees and desserts. In most cases the menus are reflective of the restaurant’s regular menu, but I’ve noticed in researching some of the participants this year that several are offering items on their Magical menus that aren’t available on their, um, unmagical menus. But that’s OK, you’re still getting a good representation of what the restaurant can do, and it’s still good food for the price.
Now, about that price. For the past several years it has been three courses for $30. This year the price is $33. And that’s the same price whether you’re dining at Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Kobe Japanese Steak House. The higher cost, I’m told, comes at the request of restaurateurs who cite higher food costs. I’m OK with that.
As with years past, the restaurants agree to donate $1 from each sale to the featured charity, which this year is Ronald McDonald House. And I’m OK with that, too. (And no, there are no McDonald’s restaurants participating in Magical Dining Month, and I’m really OK with that.)
What got an eyebrow raise out of me was a new $500 upfront fee to the restaurants to participate in MagDinMo. The fee is for “marketing and advertising” consideration. I suppose there’s something to be said for that, and 65 restaurants didn’t seem to have a problem with forking it over. But I wonder if it kept some of the smaller, independent restaurants from signing on.
That said, there are some good restaurants on this year’s list, including some exciting newcomers. I’m anxious to give Hamilton’s Kitchen at the Alfond Inn a try. And other restaurants participating for the first time include Mitchell’s Fish Market, the aforementioned Ruth’s Chris Steak House (all three locations), Siro at the World Center Marriott, and Bohemian Bar & Grill. (That last one had me stumped — it’s at the Bohemian Hotel Celebration.)
On the Magical Dining Month website, the restaurants are categorized by “district,” but not all the restaurants fit snugly within the designated districts. Convention Area, makes sense, so does Restaurant Row. But then you’ve got Winter Park and North, and by north they mean as far as Lake Mary. And a few restaurants get tossed off in a “Surrounding Areas” catchall. I think I would have included K restaurant and Le Coq Au Vin in the Downtown district.
Here’s something else that’s new this year. Some of the hotels whose restaurants are participating are offering dinner-and-a-room packages. So you could stay in a suite at the Caribe Royale and get two Magical Dining Month dinners at the Venetian Room for $155. And as I mentioned in my review of Napa, you could take advantage of the package deal to be among the last to sleep at the Peabody Orlando before it changes to a Hyatt Regency in October.
I thought it might be a good way to try out the Alfond Inn, but the dinner and stay package is $165, and the hotel is offering introductory prices of $99, so the package deal isn’t much of a deal.
My advice for choosing where to dine during MagDinMo is the same. Choose restaurants that you’ve wanted to try out but have been intimidated by regular menu prices. Do some advance research to compare the Dining Month menu with the regular menu to see what will get you the best deal. It’s always best to make reservations, but they’re not required to take advantage of the Magical menu. However, just assume you’re going to have to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu when you’re seated — few restaurants offer them outright. If you go in after doing your research and you order the soup, steak and apple pie because you know they’re on the Magical Dining Month menu, you’re going to be surprised when you get your check.
Dining begins Sunday all around town. And surrounding areas.