As with every year, there were many pleasant experiences among the restaurants that were reviewed here, some of them surprises. There were also more than a few disappointments, but let’s concentrate on the highs, some of which were revisits.
It was a delight to see that the new owner of Enzo’s on the Lake, John Khalil, was dedicated to not trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. The quality of the food and the service remains as first class as ever, due in large part to many of the longtime workers in both the front and back of the house staying on after the sale.
Already on my list of special occasion restaurants, Bull & Bear at the Waldorf Astoria rose a couple of places with its fresh new decor and its reaffirmed commitment to fine dining – and high quality food.
No one was more surprised than I was to see that Kres Chophouse recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. With a dearth of good restaurants in downtown, especially for those looking to combine dinner with a show at Dr. Phillips, Kres can lay claim to being the elder statesman of downtown fine dining.
Ravenous Pig is younger than Kres by only a few years. My return visit confirmed my belief that it will be around many more years.
I won’t pretend that I didn’t expect Aurora at the Celeste, the restaurant in the on-campus hotel at UCF, to keep up the good quality that it had when it opened, especially after it lost its original chef. I needn’t have fretted. If anything, Ibis Lopez has made it even better.
And it was fun to return to White Wolf Cafe, the quirky eatery in Ivanhoe Village, to help it celebrate 32 years.
I suppose that technically you could say that Norman’s and Spanish River Grill aren’t really newcomers; they’re names we’ve known for years. But each returned this year in new locations – in the cases of Norman’s and Spanish River Grill the returns came after several years.
Norman’s made its long-awaited debut – redebut? – at the Dellagio and it seemed as if we’d never said goodbye.
Henry and Michele Salgado’s reboot of Spanish River Grill is much more of a new concept under a familiar name. But the same quality we’d come to love so many years ago is still there.
Other welcome newcomers: Pine & Oak from the team at Delaney’s Tavern in a refreshed golf clubhouse. Doshi, giving Korean food the fine dining treatment. Turci Pasta and Turci Panino with fresh pasta and Italian sandwiches in College Park. Though I thought the concept needed a little work, it was nice to see Piggza finally open in Mills 50.
Wine 4 Oysters, the East Orlando crustaceanrie, brought its fresh food and good wines to Dr. Phillips and Restaurant Row. Kavas Tacos + Tequila, from the same team as Taverna Opa, brings that same exuberance from the Greek restaurant to Mexican fare.
I was surprised that so many people took my review of Salt & the Cellar by Akira Back to be a pan. It’s not how I saw it. Yes, I thought the restaurant had issues that it needed to deal with, but I was impressed with the endeavor to bring an upscale restaurant with a creative menu – and no alcohol – to a blighted area in Kissimmee.
And just look at how rich the Mills 50 and Milk District were, with Kaya, an upscale Filipino restaurant, The Moderne, a chic boite, and Otto’s High Dive, with its menu of rums and Cuban food. Kaya and Otto’s even got Michelin nods in their inaugural years.
Most fun I had dining this year
Our vertically progressive dinner party at JW Marriott Bonnet Creek.
Le Coq au Vin
Linda’s Winter Park Diner
Dexter’s Lake Mary
The loss of Le Coq Au Vin was significant. It had been a fixture on South Orange Avenue for decades. And the closing of Dexter’s of Lake Mary brought an end to what had once been a multi-location dynasty.
And what’s coming up?
In the coming days and weeks, look for reviews of
And this year will include a surprise announcement. But more on that later.