Tijuana Flats

Mexican pizza

Interior

**** (4 stars)

This chain’s food is consistent from location to location. This location is a bit larger than some of the others, and has more outdoor seating. The hot sauce bar here has more selections than the one on Kirkman.

If you order the Mexican pizza, ask for the red sauce on the side, as it is rather odd.

Because of its size, it can be quite noisy, especially at lunchtime on Taco Tuesdays.

Tijuana Flats
7560 W. Sand Lake Rd.
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 352-6113
https://www.yelp.com/biz/tijuana-flats-orlando-9

Negril Jamaican Restaurant

Curry chicken

Jerk chicken

Exterior

**** (4 stars)

Many of the Jamaican places in town are a bit divey, but not Negril. It’s a neat counter service place in Ocoee.

We tried the curry chicken and the jerk chicken. Both were very good. The curry sauce on the accompanying rice and beans was particularly good.

The mac and cheese side wasn’t very good, but the fried plantains were very nicely caramelized.

The “small” size is plenty for a full meal.

Service was fast and friendly.

Negril Jamaican Restaurant
2795 Old Winter Garden Rd
Ocoee, FL 34761
(407) 347-7449
http://www.yelp.com/biz/negril-jamaican-restaurant-ocoee

1921 by Norman Van Aken

Exterior

Entry

Foyer/kitchen

Dining room

Fried Cornish game hen, collard greens, Mac and cheese

Duck

*** (3 stars)

The challenge a new restaurant faces is threefold: providing good food, good service, and attracting customers. 1921 has succeeded on two out of three.

The customers are no problem. Open only a week or two, the restaurant was packed when we visited. Unfortunately, although the decor is beautiful, it didn’t include acoustic treatment, so the dining room was at a deafening level–enough that my companion and I had to keep repeating ourselves, even though we were at a small table for two.

The food also passes muster. I’ve never been a huge fan of Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton, but I thought three of the dishes we had here were better than anything I’ve ever had there.

The Caesar salad was enlivened by some lemon zest, a trick I will try at home.

Chaufa “Aeropuerto” was an Asian-influenced fried rice dish with grilled octopus and sausage. The octopus and sausage were just okay, but the rice flavors were wonderful. This is a large starter, but would make an excellent side dish.

The fried cornish game hen was excellent, like a wonderful fried chicken, and served with good collard greens and mac and cheese.

The only miss was the duck breast that our waiter highly recommended. It looked unappetizing, and the “mole” sauce bore no relationship to a true mole, overpowered by odd tasting herbs.

The third aspect of a good restaurant is the service staff, and the place was certainly heavily staffed. But our waiter was in way over his head. Upon taking our order he told us he’d “try to get the wine out as soon as he could,” as if this required some Herculean effort. Apparently it did, as it didn’t arrive until we were almost done with our first course. Someone should also mention to him that you present the bottle before opening it, and you don’t fill the wine glasses to the brim to save yourself a trip later. And had we not anticipated his failure to pace the meal, I’m pretty sure our entrees would have arrived before we’d even finished that course.

Management seemed involved, so perhaps this will be corrected as they adjust staff levels.

Overall I’d say that if you’re in the area and want good food, 1921 is worth a try, as long as you don’t plan on having a conversation during dinner.

1921 by Norman Van Aken
142 E 4th Ave
Mount Dora, FL 32757
(352) 385-1921
http://www.yelp.com/biz/1921-by-norman-van-aken-mount-dora

Luigi Stefani Pizzeria

*** (3 stars)

This place has quite a collection of poor reviews, but it is possible to get a good meal here. In fact, it can be one of the more healthful options in the entire airport food court. The trick is to go around the corner, past the greasy pizza, to the deli salad area. There, for$10, you can get a green salad topped with your choice of three fresh made deli salads. I chose grilled vegetables, asparagus, and something called harvest grains. They were all delicious.

Luigi Stefani Pizzeria
5700 S Cicero Ave
Chicago, IL 60638
(773) 838-8824
http://www.yelp.com/biz/luigi-stefani-pizzeria-chicago

Maple & Ash

**** (4 stars)

You enter the upstairs dining room of Maple & Ash quite dramatically, from an elevator at the rear of the building that opens out into a dramatic two-story space that is quite dazzling. Although it is a steakhouse in a city of steakhouses, the experience here is quite different. Servers are much more engaged with their guests, and there are many freebies and extras involved in each meal.

For example, before you’ve even started, there are chips and dip, watermelon radishes with salt, parmesan crisps, and even an “amuse booze” cocktail of vermouth and grapefruit. Crusty bread and butter come next. We were starting to worry we’d be full before the first course arrived.

An extensive wine list has a range of offerings at moderate prices but includes a page of under $50 bargains.

We opted for the “I don’t give a f*@k” tasting menu because it let us sample much of the menu. It’s a bargain at $145. These were the courses:

Seafood platter, not chilled, but rather roasted, featuring lobster, shrimp, scallops, and clams. The was served in a pool of butter which was later used for a tableside preparation of pasta.

Beet and watercress salad.

Rosemary fries with Hollandaise and aioli.

Meatballs with garlic cheese toast.

Bone in ribeye steak served with ricotta agnolotti, roasted squash, and mashed potatoes.

Ice cream sundae tower with three kinds of ice cream and 12 toppings to choose from.

We enjoyed the experience, and particularly our server. I can’t say there were really any home runs, and the steak was definitely not the highlight, as it wasn’t particularly tender. Overall it was a very rich menu, with little respite from heavily buttered dishes. The best items were the dip, the mashed potatoes, and the sundae.

Despite the large size of the room, noise levels were surprisingly pleasant (until a large drunk party was seated next to us) and the background music track is particularly chill.

If you are looking for a steakhouse-type experience that is a little out of the ordinary, it’s worth checking out.

Maple & Ash
8 W Maple
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 944-8888
http://www.yelp.com/biz/maple-and-ash-chicago

River Roast

*** (3 stars)

I was expecting River Roast to be like all the steakhouses in town, but it’s not. For one thing, they don’t have steak. It’s also much more casual.

The concept here is that almost everything is roasted. I guess that makes sense, given the name. On the day we visited there was one selection of fish, prime rib or chicken as the protein sources. We didn’t choose any of them, although perhaps we should have.

Instead, we tried almost everything else on the menu. Unfortunately, despite that diversity, we didn’t really find anything we’d want to eat again. Here’s what we had:

House pickles were good, actually the best thing we had, but beware the red peppers as they are insanely hot.

Chicken “gobbets” were bite size chunks of fried chicken in a crispy batter, served with honey. They were the other dish we liked.

Shaved salad had a broad mixture of fennel, radishes, mushrooms, arugula, carrots and other stuff, dress in a lemon vinaigrette. The ingredients didn’t really come together into a cohesive dish.

Smoked salmon was served in a sauce that didn’t do it any favors.

Roasted carrots and “dirt” were pretty plain tasting carrots with some crumbs on them. A bit of the honey from the chicken helped them.

Peas were served in a bowl, and couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be soup. The bits of ham added some flavor, and these were probably the best vegetable.

Roasted curry cauliflower had a nice char on top, but the only flavor was from the red sauce underneath which it is a stretch to call curry.

Overall, nothing would bring me back unless I had a craving for prime rib, which might be good.

The service staff was friendly and efficient.

The night we visited there was a live jazz trio playing in the dining room, even though it was early. They were talented and the music was at a reasonable level.

River Roast
315 N La Salle Dr
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 822-0100
http://www.yelp.com/biz/river-roast-chicago-3

The Berkshire Room

o

**** (4 stars)

This is a chill bar for craft cocktails, but they could up the food quality. The main draw is the “dealer’s ┬áchoice” selection of cocktails where you pick the spirit, the style and the glass and leave the rest to the mixologists. They are obviously really into it (just look at the extensive list of spirits), and it’s likely you’ll get something you really like.

I instead opted for a couple of the cocktail menu selections. The Continuous Negroni was one of the better Negronis I’ve had, intensely bitter, and quite complex.

The highly touted Weston was an interesting mix of bourbon, coffee essence and tobacco. I found it boring, but maybe it was because I had just had the negroni.

I tried all three of the dips on the menu, which were part of the “pick three” bar snack menu, and cost a very reasonable $8. The smoked whitefish was good, the onion was just okay, and the bean was not that great.

I also had the Reuben sandwich, which was nicely prepared, but contained huge hunks of very fatty “bacon” in quarter inch thick slabs. It wasn’t very good. The accompanying slaw was very bland, but the potato chips were excellent, super thin and very crispy.

In all, this is a great place for craft cocktails, but I’d skip the food entirely.

The Berkshire Room
15 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 894-0945
http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-berkshire-room-chicago

Brindille

Vicchysoisse

Beef tartare

Quail

Scallop

Lobster

Veal

Lamb

Strawberries and hazlenut

**** (4 stars)

This is a very fine restaurant that is doing most everything right. The chef’s eight-course tasting menu, which is available on request, is the way to go here. It’s assembled to match your tastes, and is a great way to experience the menu’s highlights.

Each course was beautifully presented. The only truly amazing one was the vichyssoise, but everything else was quite good, and the price was reasonable for the quality.

Service was informative and attentive, and the secondary service staff were particularly efficient at delivering and clearing.

Brindille has one of the better wine lists in town, at a reasonable markup of about twice retail. It’s heavy on quality French wines, and bears a bit of research before your visit to be truly rewarded.

Brindille
534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1616
http://www.yelp.com/biz/brindille-chicago