Coral Reef

Interior

Chargrilled octopus

Scampi

Bailey’s and Jack Daniel’s Mousse

*** (3 stars)

When it first opened this was one of the best restaurants at Epcot. They offered a true upscale dining experience and a spectacular view of the fish tank at the Seas Pavilion.

The view of the tank is still there, but the upscale dining experience is long gone. The reason, as with most of the other restaurants at Walt Disney World, is the advent of dining packages. Because guests can now get the food as part of their lodging and admissions packet, it has had a leveling effect on all of the restaurants, where everything is somewhat uniform. It’s not that the food is bad, it’s just very similar, and none of it stands out.

This is particularly apparent at the Coral Reef, which despite its theming isn’t really even a seafood restaurant anymore. Chicken and meat dishes outnumber the few fish dishes on the menu.

I had the chargrilled octopus, which was good, and the scampi, which included a skewer of decent shrimp and scallops over a completely flavorless pile of unsauced spaghetti.

Dinner for four, with a bottle of wine and tip, was over $300. Service was friendly and helpful, and the view is great.

Coral Reef
Walt Disney World Resort
Epcot’s Living Seas Pavilion
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32856
(407) 824-4321
https://www.yelp.com/biz/coral-reef-lake-buena-vista

STK Orlando

Exterior

Dining room

Pull apart bread

Small seafood platter

Truffle fries

Mini burgers

Crispy rock shrimp

Carmelito Bar

*** (3 stars)

If you’re looking for a steakhouse experience in Disney Springs, this is it. It’s not going to change your life, but it is fine.

You’ll find all the usual offerings, and not much outside the box.

We started with the seafood tower, which is expensive (well, everything is expensive) but included a generous portion of fresh, giant shrimp, the best thing we had. The most interesting component was the two jars, one of smoked mussels and the other ceviche, although I wasn’t wild about the marinade on either.

Complimentary “pull apart sourdough” is included, but you’ll find that it is more like Parkerhouse rolls with blue cheese butter on top.

We skipped the steak and tried a couple of other appetizers. My companion liked the mini burgers, but I couldn’t really deal with the uncooked center of the patty. Truffle fries were good, and a serving for four to six people. Crispy rock shrimp was essentially the same dish as the bang bang shrimp at Bonefish. It was fine, but I’d actually ordered the crispy rock shrimp salad (repeating the word salad twice to our waiter, who wasn’t very good at listening).

Our waiter was good at talking, though. He was one of those people who have to tell you everything they’re going to do: “I’m going to bring you fresh silverware”, “I’ll go get your bread” and even “I’m moving the candle to make room for your next course.” I wish he’d spent some time on refilling water glasses or pouring more wine, two things that didn’t seem to be on his list.

Speaking of wine, it’s expensive, especially by the glass. You’re looking at $16-$28 per glass. We opted for an $82 bottle of Chardonnay instead. If you can deal with the pricing, the selections are excellent.

The carmelito bar was an excellent dessert, with several layers of different flavors and an excellent caramel sauce.

I’m not sure Orlando needed another steakhouse rather than a truly interesting fine dining restaurant, but that seems to be the trend, and I guess Disney Springs didn’t have one. Now it does.

STK Orlando
1580 E Buena Vista Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 917-7440
https://www.yelp.com/biz/stk-orlando-orlando

Carol’s Place

Breakfast burrito

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Carol’s is an old-fashioned diner, the kind you see in television shows from the 60s. The decor, food and service are exactly as you would expect. Many of the customers are regulars who are greeted by name. You can pretty much get anything they’ve got ingredients for. The preparations are straightforward and generous.

Carol’s Place
3421 S Orange Ave
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 251-8860
https://www.yelp.com/biz/carols-place-orlando

Vida 365 Bistro Juice Bar

Vegan tacos

Cup of chili

Interior

Exterior

Kitchen

Breakfast menu

Lunch menu

***** (5 stars)

This place is much more than a juice bar, with a complete menu of delicious food, some vegetarian, some vegan, but also lots of items that aren’t.

My favorite was the chili, a delicious concoction of ground turkey and beans with many interesting spices and just the right kick to it.

The Vegan tacos were also good, with crisp shells and a flavorful slaw to add some interest to the quinoa filling.

The servers and chefs were all very friendly.

Vida 365 Bistro Juice Bar
16129 State Road 50
Unit 104
Clermont, FL 34711
(352) 474-8432
http://www.yelp.com/biz/vida-365-bistro-juice-bar-clermont

Matt’s Casbah

Korean Wings

Interior

***** (5 stars)

Usually when small restaurants try to be too many things they fail at being any one great thing, but Matt’s is the exception to this rule. It has separate spaces for fine dining, outdoor beach-type dining, sushi bar, dive bar, and a live performance area. The same menu is served throughout, but there is definitely a different feel to it, depending upon where you are seated.

We had lunch in the fine dining area, and really enjoyed our Korean wings appetizer and the sushi we shared. The sashimi sampler is a great deal, providing 4 or 5 pieces of four different fish, and a large Japanese style salad.

We also liked the unusual roll we had, which incorporated a smoked salmon pate that was very different (and far smokier) that a normal sushi smoked salmon.

Service was friendly and efficient, and the music soundtrack was great.

Matt’s Casbah
801 E New Haven
Melbourne, FL 32901
(321) 574-1099
http://www.yelp.com/biz/matts-casbah-melbourne

Georgie

Pate

Salmon

Salad

Crudo

Scallops

Oysters

Interior

Outside

**** (4 stars)

If you’re looking for a romantic outdoor dining experience in Beverly Hills, this is the spot. It overlooks the park, is away from the street, and it’s dimmly lit. It’s really the perfect spot for a quiet and intimate dinner.

That the food never quite lives up to its ambitious aspirations is really beside the point. It’s nicely presented and pretty good, if not exactly superb. But given its location, and the excellent service, it is reasonably priced.

The wine list, which has to be requested, is extensive and interesting, with many big names but also lots of obscure gems. There are no deals on the list, but you’ll find some very intriguing selections.

In short, this is a great place to come with someone when you want the focus to be on your time together. A lovely experience.

Georgie
225 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 860-7970
https://www.yelp.com/biz/georgie-beverly-hills

Yamashiro Hollywood

Samurai roll

Truffle hamachi

Scallop ceviche

Yellowtail and Serrano pepper sashimi

Courtyard

View

Entry

*** (3 stars)

Yamashiro is one of the neatest, most magical spaces in LA. I’ve been coming here for decades for the spectacular view, and the tranquil Japanese courtyard in the center of the building. On each visit, I am amazed at what a great spot it is, and equally amazed that the food never lives up to the promise of the location.

On this visit they were out of: sparkling water, 9 out of ten types of sparkling wine on their wine list, one type of chicken, and Kirin beer. I was beginning to suspect we’d wandered into Monty Python’s cheese shop.

But they did have (nearly) all of the fish on their sashimi menu, and we tried most of them. They were all fine–okay fish quality, and good sauces. Maybe it’s just that we’d been to Sugarfish for lunch the day before, but this sushi was not remarkable, just serviceable.

Our waitress was nice, although totally unfamiliar with the wine list, and seemed a bit shaky on the food, too. Maybe the focus of the business is on selling the fishbowl-sized fruit drinks; they were certainly doing a lot of that.

Still, I’ll no doubt go back. I always do. There’s no place quite like it.

Yamashiro Hollywood
1999 N Sycamore Ave
Hollywood, CA 90068
(323) 466-5125
https://www.yelp.com/biz/yamashiro-hollywood-hollywood

Jean-Georges Beverly Hills

Baked apple

Tenderloin

Black cod with green curry

Beets

Tuna tartare

Interior

Caviar

***** (5 stars)

Whenever we visit New York, our first stop is always at Jean Georges for lunch, probably the best deal in town. So we were interested to check out this new Beverly Hills location. The restaurants turned out to be fairly different, even though they look a bit similar.

Unlike in New York, the Beverly Hills restaurant isn’t divided into casual and formal areas. Instead, the entire space is used for hotel dining at breakfast and lunch, and then becomes a bit more elegant at dinner with the simple addition of white tablecloths. The dinner menu also offers dining suitable for a hotel restaurant, with pizzas and french fries.

But for those looking for the full Jean George experience, there is thankfully also a multi-course tasting menu. At a very reasonable $145, this is an even better deal than the New York offering.

There is a notable difference between this tasting menu and the New York version, with more California influence, and less in the way of sauces, allowing the fresh seasonal ingredients to show through. That’s not to say the dishes have simple flavors; the Ahi tuna tartare was the best I’ve ever tasted, with layers of flavor that evolved on your palate with each bite. Heirloom beets were also wonderful, with surprisingly potent celery and cilantro flavors.

We selected the wine pairing to accompany the tasting menu. At $115, it was also a great value, and one of the best groups of pairing wines I’ve had. A couple of the wines I’d normally shun, such as Gruner Veltliner and Riesling were real standouts, and perfectly matched their courses.

Service was flawless, down to the last detail. When our waiter heard my wife admiring the french fries that went to another table he added them to our meat course in the tasting menu at no charge (and they were really good!)

My only quibble relates to a couple of cutlery issues–that’s an indication of how perfect the meal was. Black cod was served in a bowl with crispy greens that couldn’t possibly have been cut with the dull fish knife. And the baked apple dessert was served with only a fork, making cutting the apple and scooping the melting honey ice cream a bit of a challenge. Life is hard.

Sommelier Michael Scribner did a wonderful job with the wine pairings, and had interesting comments about each selection. The wine list is also excellent, with some reasonably priced offerings and some pricey gems.

In short, Jean George Beverly Hills will become as regular a stop for us as the New York version, even while the restaurants are each doing their own thing.

Jean-Georges Beverly Hills
9850 Wilshire Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 860-6566
https://www.yelp.com/biz/jean-georges-beverly-hills-beverly-hills-2

Boca Kitchen Bar Market

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

I used to think this space was cursed, because of the long succession of unsuccessful restaurants that occupied it. But it turns out it wasn’t the space, it was the restaurants that were the problem. Boca is packed every day, and with good reason.

The food and service are both top notch. We had the day’s lunch special, a blackened amberjack sandwich. The amberjack was a thick piece, perfectly cooked. The accompanying mango slaw was a bit sweet for my taste, but with just a little on the sandwich it was perfect.

Rather than fries we asked for the mixed vegetables which had been sauteed and had a delightful smokey flavor.

Boca is one of the best bets for lunch on Park Avenue.

Boca Kitchen Bar Market
358 North Park Ave
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 636-7022
http://www.yelp.com/biz/boca-kitchen-bar-market-winter-park

Huey Magoo’s Chicken Tenders

Exterior

Interior

Counter and menu

Magoo’s favorite salad

Buffalo chicken salad

**** (4 stars)

When I read about a new chicken tenders place I imagined something like Chick fil a, which I despise, but Huey Magoo’s is much, much better. For one thing, if you get the chicken grilled rather than battered, it’s actually healthful.

We tried two different salads. Magoo’s Favorite, mixed greens with grilled chicken, cranberries, walnuts, grape tomatoes, & raspberry walnut vinaigrette dressing. The chicken was a bit bland, but the dressing was excellent.

Even better was the Buffalo Chicken Salad ordered with grilled chicken. It included bleu cheese crumbles, and grape tomatoes. Unlike the menu description it was made with mixed greens, not romaine.  And rather then jalapeño ranch & spicy Magoo’s dressing it came with a wonderful blue cheese dressing. Thanks to the Buffalo sauces, this chicken really had a lot of flavor. This was really a top-notch salad, far beyond expectations for a quick serve restaurant.

They have a Coke freestyle machine.

While there isn’t table service, the staff was attentive.

Huey Magoo’s Chicken Tenders
7538 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 203-2051
http://www.yelp.com/biz/huey-magoos-chicken-tenders-orlando