Peel and Eat Shrimp

Cheese Monger

Hamachi crudo


**** (4 stars)

If you are a cheese lover, Haven is a must visit. There are dozens of cheeses on their menu, and the “Cheese Monger” offers a selection of 18(!) of them on one well-organized plate. My only wish was for more variety, as they were almost all cow’s milk, and mostly the same firmness. I’d have liked some more soft ones, and some stinkier ones. But that’s just me.

The menu also offers a nice selection of other small plates. We liked the hamachi crudo. The peel and eat shrimp was okay, but I didn’t care for the harissa flavor of the accompanying remoulade, as it overwhelmed the other flavors.

The interior decor is gorgeous, with reasonable lighting levels and not too noisy, even though there are no soft surfaces except the booths (which offer the quietest place to sit).

The wine list is extensive, and the more expensive wines are actually the better deals.

Service was friendly and efficient.

2208 W Morrison Ave
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 258-2233

Chez Filet


Lobster bites

Bread service with complimentary butter and pate



**** (4 stars)

This is an intimate (12 tables or less) restaurant in the plaza off I-Drive north of the Orlando Eye.

As the name implies, the concept here is French/steakhouse. They are striving for fine dining, but it’s not quite at that level. Certainly the service is outstandingly solicitous, but it’s clear most of the staff is unfamiliar with the level to which the management aspires. So while many servers asked repeatedly if we needed anything, it was more obtrusive than helpful. Coupled with an offer of dessert before our main courses were served, it was a bit disjointed. Still, their hearts are in the right place, and experience will iron out these problems.

The food, too, strives but doesn’t always succeed. For starters we had the quiche and the lobster bites. The quiche was a nice, small, thin tartlet that made a good appetizer, as it wasn’t too filling. The lobster bites were essentially an escargot preparation, but using generous chunks of lobser instead of snails. The garlic butter was delicious, but the method of preparation of course leaves the lobster very, very well done.

We also had a small Caesar salad and onion soup. The Caesar was good, and at $5 was emblematic of the extremely reasonable pricing. Where else in town can you get a Caesar salad for that price? The onion soup was the only thing we had that really wasn’t good. It looked like a traditional preparation, but the consistency was more like gravy, and not very appealing in taste, either.

Main courses are also very reasonably priced, particularly considering they include two side dishes of your choice. I thought my companion’s New York steak was a bit tough, but she enjoyed it. The accompanying Chico’s sauce had a nice mustard base. I had the fish special, a corvina, which was delicate and nicely prepared. The home run of the evening was actually the Angel Onions, thin onion straws that were battered and perfectly crisped.

Photos of the place don’t do it justice, as the interior decor is stunning, although it would be better with lower light levels.

And as I’ve mentioned, the prices are extremely reasonable, particularly given the tourist area that surrounds it.

Chez Filet
8255 International Dr
Ste 144A
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 250-4090

Sam Snead’s Oak Grill and Tavern

Chocolate sack



***** (5 stars)

Many years ago there was a Sam Snead’s across from my office, and we ate there at least weekly. Sadly, it closed some 15 years ago, to be replaced by a parade of mediocre imitators.

So it was quite a stroll down memory lane to visit this location, which is virtually identical. The menu is also largely unchanged, so we were able to enjoy several of our favorites including the spinach and cheese dip, oak grilled grouper sandwich, and chocolate sack. Each was even better than I remembered. So perhaps you can go home again!

Sam Snead’s Oak Grill and Tavern
1801 Maitland Blvd
Orlando, FL 32810
(407) 622-8800

Kona Grill

Wasabi salmon



***** (5 stars)

I really loved everything about this place.

The interior decor is wonderful, with separate areas for sushi bar, regular dining, hightops, a long bar facing the street through large plate glass windows, and considerable sidewalk dining. It should be noted that at lunch only about 20% of the place was filled and it wasn’t quiet, so I can imagine it could be very noisy on a popular night.

The menu is extensive and eclectic, ranging from sandwich and salads to Italian, and an entire side devoted to sushi. We tried a spicy yellow tail roll and a sunrise roll, and they were both pretty good, but the wasabi salmon sashimi we started with was a home run. Really excellent flavors and consistency.

I also really like my Oriental salad (isn’t that no longer politically correct?) which was mostly a huge volcano of shredded cabbage with a delicious vinaigrette and some crunchy noodle bits.

Service seemed a bit tentative, but was friendly and effective. The kitchen and sushi bar are not speedy, so don’t go on a tight lunch hour.

Kona Grill
110 S Orlando Ave
Ste 12
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 900-0100

Stonehouse Restaurant

Hamachi and Uni

Steak Diane




***** (5 stars)

The Stonehouse is a magical setting for dinner, one of the most romantic restaurants around, and the food is good, too.

After winding your way up to the resort, then winding your way to the valet, and finally winding your way up the stairs to the restaurant, you feel you are truly transported to another land. The original stone building serves as a lounge, and an adjoining added-on room with huge wood beams and a giant fireplace forms the romantic dining area. It’s a wonderful spot to sit near the fire on a cool evening. On warmer evenings, and outside area is canopied by thousands of tiny lights, and offers quieter acoustics.

The Hamachi and Uni appetizer is a wonderfully refreshing way to start. The house specialty is a classic Steak Diane, flamed tableside with brandy. The prime filet did not disappoint, and the reduction and sauteed mushrooms that accompanied it were sublime.

The extensive wine list offers both high-end local wines and international selections.

Service is professional without being stiff.

Stonehouse Restaurant
San Ysidro Ranch
900 San Ysidro Ln
Santa Barbara, CA 93108
(805) 565-1720

Cask & Larder

CL burger with cheddar

Crispy cauliflower

Grilled fish





*** (3 stars)

This is certainly a step up in the food available in the D terminal at MCO. Fans who remember the food at the Cask and Larder in Winter Park may be disappointed, but the food her is certainly above average for an airport.

The open atmosphere is sunny and pleasant, and spacious enough to feel like a bit of an oasis from the bustle of the gates. The menu focuses on Southern and barbecue, which means the only healthy choices are three salads and the grilled fish. I chose the latter. The fish was a nice piece of swordfish, which was a bit well done, but good. The accompanying rice was delicious. Zucchini and tomatoes were very overcooked.

We also tried the CL Burger. It was a generous two patties, and we opted for cheddar rather than blue cheese. The best thing were the crispy fries, well worth the extra three bucks.

Speaking of crispy, the Crispy Cauliflower wasn’t. It also wasn’t very good: a small, overpriced portion served in an oddly sweet sauce.

Service was friendly. The kitchen was pretty slow, considering there were few customers at 10:30 am, but it’s more a place to relax than somewhere for a quick bite.

I’ll go back, but I’ll stick with the burgers and BBQ.

Cask & Larder
1 Jeff Fuqua Blvd
Gates 100-129
Orlando, FL 32827
(321) 280-4200

F&D Kitchen & Bar



***** (5 stars)

This gastro pub has an excellent menu that is more healthy than most. There is less frying, more grilling, and a thoughtful selection of vegetables.

There is also an extensive selection of carefully chosen quality wines by the glass.

The decor is sophisticated, with an acoustic-friendly ceiling that works well.

Service was friendly and helpful.

F&D Kitchen & Bar
1541 International Pkwy
Ste 1001
Lake Mary, FL 32746
(407) 915-5687

Earls Kitchen + Bar



Dining room

Salt and pepper wings

Kung pao


*** (3 stars)

This is an absolutely stunning (and huge) space, that sports perhaps the best interior design of any restaurant in Orlando. Unfortunately the food doesn’t live up to the high expectations set by the design.

We tried the salt and pepper chicken wings (actually we wanted to try Leroy’s crispy ribs, but the waiter got the order wrong). They were the best thing we had, with a nice crisp skin, not too much oil, and a nice black pepper spice. The accompanying parmesan ranch dressing was also good.

We almost tried the Bronx Burger, and probably should have, because it seems like the strategy here is to stick with junk foods. But instead we tried the Hunan Kung Pao and the Bibimbap.

It’s a good rule to avoid Asian foods in non-Asian restaurants, and that was reinforced here. The Kung Pao didn’t offer any of the fresh, discrete tastes that make it special (although it looked very nice). The Bibimbap didn’t even look nice. By the time it was mixed tableside to get the raw egg to cook, the rice had turned into a gelatinous mess that was a pale imitation of a well-made bibimbap. I would definitely not order this.

Lunch for one, without appetizer or alcohol, but including soft drink and a tip will run you about $20.

Our waiter was well intentioned, but as he talked about how two weeks of soft opening had benefitted the staff since many had never worked in a restaurant, we became a bit worried. Getting the order right and splitting a check, and even tableside credit card processing were all part of the learning curve. Still, I will say that every employee we encountered (and there were many) were extremely friendly, outgoing, and obviously cared about making a good impression. I’m sure this will soon be a very well run operation. Now they just need to do something about the food.

Earls Kitchen + Bar
Mall At Millenia
4200 Conroy Rd, Unit H246
Orlando, FL 32839
(407) 345-8260

Nona Blue Modern Tavern

Smoked salmon dip

Chicken tenders

House made salsa


**** (4 stars)

Nona Blue is a particularly nice sports bar. It has lower lighting levels and nicer decor than most, and the menu, while offering familiar dishes, adds a unique twist to most.

For example, the salsa is house made, filled with interesting herbs and onions, and served in a large dish that would easily service four people. (If you like it spicy you’ll need to ask for some tabasco to add some zip, as it’s quite mild). The accompanying chips were fresh and plentiful.

Smoked salmon dip was fresh tasting and flavorful. It contains quite a bit of egg white, so be aware if that’s not your thing.

The chicken tenders were exceptional. They aren’t the usual chopped up chicken, but were tender strips of white meat in a spectacularly crunchy, crisp, yet oil-free crust. We had them tossed in buffalo sauce rather than the standard BBQ or honey. Our waiter brought the other sauces to try, but the buffalo sauce was a great call. They were delicious.

Speaking of our waiter, he was very friendly and helpful. Service was definitely beyond expectations.

Nona Blue Modern Tavern
9685 Lake Nona Village Pl
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 313-0027

1921 by Norman Van Aken




Dining room

Fried Cornish game hen, collard greens, Mac and cheese


*** (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