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 forĀ 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

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

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

Haven

Peel and Eat Shrimp

Cheese Monger

Hamachi crudo

Interior

**** (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.

Haven
2208 W Morrison Ave
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 258-2233
https://www.yelp.com/biz/haven-tampa-3

Earls Kitchen + Bar

Exterior

Interior

Dining room

Salt and pepper wings

Kung pao

Bibimbap

*** (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
https://www.yelp.com/biz/earls-kitchen-bar-orlando

il Porcellino








**** (4 stars)

I was a big fan of Paris Club, which occupied this space, but I must admit that Il Porcellino is a much better restaurant–and business plan. It was packed the night I visited. But even though it was full, I liked the fact that I could still hear the background music (an odd blend of 20th century pop and cliche Italian restaurant music) and conversation was easy.

The space is unrecognizable and gorgeous. Hundreds of light bulbs hang over the dining room, creating a romantic aura, and the large bar out front and various room dividers are also cleverly lit to show off the bottles and other stuff on the shelves.

Service is extremely polished, with constant attention from the servers, and independent delivery of the food straight from the kitchen via runners.

I was unimpressed by the complimentary risotto ball amuse bouche, but after that everything was excellent.

The garlic loaf is a great way to start. It’s a mini boule, crisped on the outside and sliced into six pie wedges. Grated parmesan is stuffed into the cracks and then, tableside, garlic butter is poured in. It was delicious, and even managed to maintain its crispness throughout dinner.

Fried Brussels sprouts were also good, not too oily and not too buried in cheese.

I’m not too big on pasta, so I opted for the brick chicken specialty. Good move. It was a giant slab of boneless breast meat with a unique, super-crispy crust. But the thing that made the dish was the mixture of cauliflower, garden vegetables and butter on which it sat.

If you’re into hot fudge sundaes you’ll like the semi-fredo, but I wished I’d selected a different dessert.

Drink-wise, I started with a negroni. There are three choices, and I liked the Fernet-based one I picked because it was particularly bitter. The house Chianti I segued into wasn’t particularly good. But I finished with a Nonino, my favorite Amaro.

If I have any complaint about Il Porcelino it’s simply that there are no healthful options on the menu. Everything is either friend, drenched in butter or swimming in carbs. Even the salads look pretty heavy. It’s all delicious, but I couldn’t eat there very often without some lighter choices.

il Porcellino
59 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-0800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/il-porcellino-chicago

Tapa Toro

***** (5 stars)

This may be Orlando’s best tapas restaurant. Its diverse menu offers all the standards, plus a lot of dishes with a unique twist, and unlike some tapas places there are a lot of lighter selections and many vegetarian offerings.

My favorite dish by far was the roasted cauliflower, which was perfectly seasoned and sauced, and topped with sultanas and capers. Yum! Grilled asparagus served with grated manchego was also very good.

More conventional were the salmon crudo and the grilled garlic shrimp plates. The assorted cold meat platter was also conventional except for the inclusion of a delicious house-made pate and house-made pickles.

There’s an extensive list of wines by the glass or bottle, plus a very intriguing cocktail list. I tried the Feliz Boca, an inspired mixture of rosemary, lavender, blood orange and bitters. Delicious, and an amazing match to the pate.

There’s a nice dessert menu, but note that there’s also a Ben and Jerry’s about ten feet away! Hmm. Decisions.

Service was very friendly and attentive, and the outdoor dining area is great–mostly shaded, with a view of the Orlando Eye, which is nearby.

Tapa Toro
8441 International Dr
Ste 260
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 226-2929
http://www.yelp.com/biz/tapa-toro-orlando

GreenRiver

**** (4 stars)

Green River offers one of the better cocktail lists in Chicago, and the dining area is upscale, trendy and yet intimate. The approach, through long hospital-like corridors is a bit weird, but once there you can settle in and enjoy some interesting small plates and a lot of cocktails.

One word of caution is that wine offerings are pretty limited, so it’s definitely a cocktail place. I liked that there were a lot of choices that weren’t overly sweet.

Food was good, even if there were no real home runs. Service was very knowledgeable and helpful.

GreenRiver
259 E Erie St
18th Fl
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 337-0101
http://www.yelp.com/biz/greenriver-chicago

Celeste

***** (5 stars)

Celeste offers a different concept on each floor. Online reservations get you a table in the cozy cocktail bar on the second floor.

A fifteen page cocktail list offers something for everyone. My server was really into it, and actually created a cocktail to my taste from some new liqueurs they’d just received. There is also a limited but well-thought-out wine list.

The menu is brief, but excellent, with a number of small plates and a few entrees.

The octopus is a specialty, and was tender and flavorful, set off by bits of citrus and served on a creamy puree, topped with cilantro. It was delicious.

But my favorite was the smoked trout salad. The sour citrus wedges combined with the smoky trout and light dressing on the greens to something that was much more than the sum of its parts.

Food service was lightning fast, and the four bartenders did a good job of keeping up with the bustle. The low ceiling keeps noise to a reasonable level.

Celeste is definitely one of the better cocktail and dining experiences on Hubbard.

Celeste
111 W Hubbard St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 828-9000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/celeste-chicago