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

Luke’s Kitchen and Bar

Chicken burger

Scallop ceviche

Snapper ceviche

Potato chips with onion chive dip

Interior

Lunch menu

*** (3 stars)

This is a new endeavor from the creators of Luma and Prato. You can see them designing in all the things they’d like to have, such as a larger prep kitchen. Now their challenge will be to get better food out of that kitchen.

We went for lunch and it was just okay. We started with some house made potato chips and onion chive dip. The chips were good, but notethat the predominate dip flavor is actually truffle, even though it’s not listed as an ingredient.

The tuna tartare we ordered was unavailable, so we tried again, with red snapper ceviche. I liked it okay; my companion thought it lacked sufficed acid to “cook” it in the true manner of ceviche.

My companion preferred the scallop ceviche. I liked the scallops, but thought this one needed lime juice instead of passionfruit.

As an entree we shared a chicken burger. This was not a good choice. It is, indeed, a ground chicken patty that has been deep fried. If that sounds like something you’d get at McDonald’s it also tastes like it. The only redeeming feature of this dish was the accompanying house greens salad, which was delicious.

The vibe of the restaurant owes a lot to Hilstone’s. Tables are nicely spaced.

There are a LOT of people working here, which makes it surprising how long it takes to get dishes from the kitchen, particularly considering that they weren’t busy. Our server was friendly and helpful.

Luke’s Kitchen and Bar
640 S Orlando Ave
Orlando, FL 32751
(407) 674-2400
https://www.yelp.com/biz/lukes-kitchen-and-bar-orlando

Sam Snead’s Oak Grill and Tavern

Chocolate sack

Exterior

Interior

***** (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
https://www.yelp.com/biz/sam-sneads-oak-grill-and-tavern-orlando

The Mex Authentic

Nachos Al pastor

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

Excellent service is the highlight of this nice sit down Mexican restaurant at the base of State Street.

The tortilla chips are authentic and obviously homemade, and the salsa is fresh and not terribly spicy.

We started with the Nachos Pastor, a loaded version of nachos the included beans, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, seeded raw jalapenos and pork pastor. It was delicious, however the two of us could only make our way halfway through it! So when I say “we started with” I also mean “we finished with”!

I’m looking forward to returnign and trying some of their other offerings.

The Mex Authentic
413 State St
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 845-6364
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-mex-authentic-santa-barbara

Cask & Larder

CL burger with cheddar

Crispy cauliflower

Grilled fish

Drinks

Menu

Exterior

Interior

*** (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
https://www.yelp.com/biz/cask-and-larder-orlando

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

Bijan’s Bistro

**** (4 stars)

It’s hard to categorize Bihan’s because of the incredibly diverse menu, which offers something for nearly every taste, from French and Mediterranean food to Burgers and sandwiches, Italian, and even bar food.

We liked everything we had, but in particular the spinach artichoke dip with lavash was really excellent.

There’s an extensive bar, and all the standard cocktails as well as wine and beer. Service was friendly and attentive.

In addition to all-day dining they server really late (4am).

Bijan’s Bistro
663 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 202-1904
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bijans-bistro-chicago

Beacon Tavern

***** (5 stars)

It’s hard to believe this restaurant had only been open a week or two when we visited, as it was running like a well-practiced operation indeed. In fact, the exterior of the building was not even finished! But certainy the staff training was.

The remodeled space is beautiful, with a boisterous bar area near the entry, and a more sedate dining area on the other side of the wall.

The short but very interesting menu focuses on small plates, mainly seafood, although heartier dishes such as fish and chips and even a burger are available.

We began with two crudos, one hamachi, the other fluke. Both combined sauces and other ingredients with exemplary slices of raw fish, but the fluke was the better of the two, because of the trout roe accompaniment and surprising combination of fruity flavors. The crudos are not cheap, and the serving size lives up to its “small plate” billing.

We also tried the king salmon entree, and while it was a delicious piece of salmon, the orange foam dotting the accompanying zucchini balls was the real standout, and would make a great vegetarian dish.

Ironically, the largest serving we had was the clam dish listed under small plates. A generous helping of clams was topped with a fried egg and bits of what were, essentially, lardons, plus some thin slices of peppers. The combination of the ingredients was surprising and superb. It was the best thing we tried.

The wine selections are limited, but there is an extensive list of interesting cocktails and spirits, tending towards bitter drinks like negronis and amaros, which suit my palate well, and go nicely with the various seafood offerings.

Our server, Layla, was extremely knowledgeable and engaging, and made our meal a delight. In all, a very auspicious start.

Beacon Tavern
405 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 955-4226
http://www.yelp.com/biz/beacon-tavern-chicago

Berghoff Restaurant

**** (4 stars)

Great ambiance and great root beer have been bringing people back here for a very long time. In fact, the history goes back to the 1893 world’s exhibition (where the Berghoffs had to set up shop outside the fairgrounds, but did very well, thank you). The decor is amazing, particularly the murals and photos of the world’s fair. The German food is quite good, and there are also unusual items such as chili con carne made using a recipe from 1893. Look for Chicago’s first post-prohibition liquor license, Number 1, in one of the glass cabinets in the bar.

Berghoff Restaurant
17 W Adams St
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 427-3170
http://www.yelp.com/biz/berghoff-restaurant-chicago-3

Tanta

**** (4 stars)

Tanta provides a modern take on traditional Peruvian cuisine in an upscale, trendy environment.

We went for brunch, but mostly ordered non-brunch items.

The causa is a deconstructed version of the Peruvian classic, with the ingredients arrayed along a plate rather than stacked, but the flavors adhere closely to the classic dish.

There are several varieties of ceviche, depending upon the type of fish and whether you want a lime or creamier base.

All three empanadas were excellent, and each person in our party had a different favorite, so it’s worth trying them all.

The quinoa salad was refreshing, but not a show-stopper.

One of my favorite items was from the brunch menu, it was chicken on top of an egg “tortilla.” The accompanying sauce was reminiscent of a sweet Thai chili sauce.

There’s an interesting list of cocktails, topped by a fragrant take on the classic pisco sour.

Pricing is reasonable, and service is attentive, even when they are bustling (which seems to be all of the time).

Tanta
118 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 222-9700
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tanta-chicago