Pizza @ Artegon

**** (4 stars)

I’ve been to this mall many times over the past fifteen years, and it has always been deserted. But I hadn’t been there since it changed to Artagon, so I was surprised to find… that it’s still deserted.

Be that as it may, this is an excellent pizza spot. You place your order at the counter and supervise as they assemble your pizza and run it though a conveyor oven, a process that only takes a few minutes.

The resulting pizza is on a thin, tasty crust. What’s really nice is that for about $8 you can put up to six ingredients on. Usually extra ingredients are ridiculously expensive, so I love this build your own approach.

That said, I decided to go with one of their featured recipes, the”Goofy Foot.” I’m not sure what a sauceless seafood pizza has to do with where you put your feet on a skateboard, but it was delicious. The combination of cheeses, mahi, shrimp, basil and chili oil really went together. My only complaint was that for some reason–probably the amount of moist ingredients–condensation immediately began to form under the crust, and I had to keep moving it around to keep it from dissolving. I’d like to experiment with ingredients and see if there’s a way to get a truly crispy crust.

Everyone in our group absolutely loved their pizzas, and said they’d like to return. That shouldn’t be a problem, as there will likely be no lines.

Pizza @ Artegon
5250 International Dr
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 480-5008
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pizza-artegon-orlando

Giordano’s

*** (3 stars)

I’ve never been a fan of deep dish pizza, so there’s that. I find the crust tastes like saltine crackers, and there’s just too much filling.

Plus, it takes about 40 minutes to cook, which is tool long for lunch hour. So it’s unfortunate that the only pizza lunch specials at Giordano’s involve deep dish pizza (what they called stuffed).

Still, they offer regular pizza and even an extra thin version. Unfortunately they have that same weird dough. Not my favorite.

That said, their Caesar salad is excellent. And the service at this Giordano’s is excellent. So if deep dish is your thing, by all means check it out.

Giordano’s
6203 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 377-0022
http://www.yelp.com/biz/giordanos-orlando-3

Lac Viet

***** (5 stars)

We had a great meal here, made all the more memorable because the night before we ate at Morimoto Asia. The food a Lac Viet was substantially better, and one third the price.

The interior of the restaurant–which I remember from decades ago, when it was Le Cordon Bleu–is bright and open, divided in to many intimate rooms.

We started with the Tom Yum, which had a thinner and less tomato-based broth than the Thai version I’m used to, but despite it’s clarity, it was the most flavorful Tom Yum I’ve ever tasted, with just the right spice level.

The seafood crepe was also good, although not quite what I was expecting. Fried to a crispy gold, it looked more like a giant taco, filled with bean sprouts, shrimp and other goodies. This is a giant appetizer, so plan ahead.

The Vermicelli bowl is always my favorite at Vietnamese restaurants, and this was no exception, the combination of charred pork, cucumber, sprouts, vermicelli, and greens was delicious, especially with some added fish sauce, hoisin and Sriracha.

The other entree we tried was a massive assortment of pork, beef and chicken. The pork and chicken had each been sautéed with different sauces and vegetables, and were absolutely delicious. This one dish is plenty for sharing, but we were happy to have lots of all three preparations to take home for later. This dish really emphasized the light touch of Lac Viet, because it was similar to Chinese stir fry, and yet there was none of the heavy oiliness that turns me off of Chinese food. Really great stuff.

There is a small but well thought out list of wines and beers. Service is attentive and helpful.

There are quite a few good Vietnamese restaurants in Orlando, particularly in the Mills 50 area, but Lac Viet is the best I’ve been to anywhere.

Lac Viet
2021 E Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 228-4000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/lac-viet-orlando

Panera Bread

**** (4 stars)

Every Panera I’ve been to has essentially identical food, so reviewing it seems superfluous; you either like it or not.

Panera always seems a bit like a bait and switch to me, as they bill themselves as healthy, yet most of what they serve is not particularly good for you. Just look at that bakery display! But you can eat healthy if you try, and assuming their calorie counts are honest they must have the lowest calorie tuna sandwich on the planet. Also, did you know you can get an apple instead of chips?

What sets Paneras apart is the location, and this one is well-sited. It’s easy to get in and out, has lots of parking, and even a drive through. Also, there is a porch, so you can eat outside, yet be in the shade.

Service is friendly, but I sure wish they wouldn’t page you before your food is up, a reliable occurrence. What’s the point of the pager if you’re just going to stand at the counter anyway?

You can also order online and pick your food up in a bag on the shelf; very convenient.

Panera Bread
4200 Conroy Road
Orlando, FL 32839
(407) 248-0811
http://www.yelp.com/biz/panera-bread-orlando-7

Circa 57

**** (4 stars)

This place is all about the decor, which is fabulous. I’m not sure there were any diners in the 50s that were actually this nice, but it gets each individual element perfect, right down to the two-tone glittery piping on the vinyl booths.

The menu is exactly what you’d expect from a place that serves 50s comfort food, with very little concession to modern nutrition. Everything we tried was good, and probably less greasy than its 50s inspirations.

Service was attentive and friendly. This is an excellent choice for before theater dinner.

Circa 57
101 W Campbell St
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
(847) 392-1957
http://www.yelp.com/biz/circa-57-arlington-heights

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza

**** (4 stars)

This is a great concept for pizza.

It’s always bugged me that pizza places charge some ridiculous amount for each ingredient when you roll your own. Well not at Blaze. Here you can get anything you like, in any combination, for one reasonable price. Assembly is quick and easy, and the baking process is equally quick, so it’s as fast as fast food, but completely custom, and with much better ingredients.

Service was friendly and efficient, and they took extra care to get my crust crispy, the way I like it, and to melt the ricotta cheese I selected.

It’s great that there’s finally an excellent pizza place in Evanston!

Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza
4999 Old Orchard Center
Ste F9
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 568-1649
http://www.yelp.com/biz/blaze-fast-fired-pizza-skokie

Melange

**** (4 stars)

I was very impressed by this creative concept. At first it does look like a CiCi’s pizza, with its salad and pizza buffet.

But the real treat is at the back, where you can get a sandwich, panini, pizza or ice cream with virtually any combination of ingredients you can imagine, made to order. For sandwiches alone, with about a dozen breads, a dozen meats, and a dozen toppings, there are a lot of possibilities.

You can order at the counter, but it’s fun to use the two touchscreens to assemble exactly what you want. Then it’s promptly made and delivered to your table. I selected rye bread, ham, turkey, swiss, fat free mayo and banana peppers. The sandwich turned out great, and all the ingredients were fresh and delicious. It was accompanied by a very tasty and zesty potato salad.

This is a great place for families, because there’s something for everyone, but it’s also one of the better places in town to get a sandwich, and I’d actually rate it above any of the sub shops and delis in the area. In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about it is the bright fluorescent lighting.

And at $7.99 for lunch, it’s hard to imagine a better deal.

Melange
8261 S John Young Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 704-3821
http://www.yelp.com/biz/melange-orlando

Panera Bread

*** (3 stars)

It’s hardly necessary to review a restaurant chain that most people have been to, so I’ll restrict my comments to this particular store, and to the new food item introduced on this visit.

Compared to other Panera’s this location is:

-nicer than most interiors
-a bit more difficult to park near
-has a friendlier staff
-has an annoying habit of paging you before your meal is actually ready.

The new item I tried was the Soba Noodle broth bowl with chicken. The broth had a pleasant Asian-inspired flavor, and there was lots of tender and savory chicken. The noodles were a bit odd, grayish with a square cross section, and finer than true soba noodles. Overall the complexity of the dish did not approach that of the Japanese Ramen bowls it imitates.

If you’re looking for a Panera in Orlando, I’d rate this as the best one in the area.

Panera Bread
4700 S Apopka Vineland Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 217-6916
http://www.yelp.com/biz/panera-bread-orlando-10

Bedford & Burns

**** (4 stars)

This terrific bistro offers a great lively ambiance, and both indoor and outdoor dining options.

There is an excellent assortment of food ranging from sashimi and caesar salad starters to steak and lamb entrees.

The winless offers great variety, and there are some very nicely priced gems.

Service is friendly, attentive, and yet not at all rushed.

One of the best choices in the area.

Bedford & Burns
369 Bedford Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 273-8585
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bedford-and-burns-beverly-hills

Green Kitchen

**** (4 stars)

This is a welcome addition to the vegetarian dining scene in southwest Orange County, which has been pretty sparse. But despite the name this isn’t a vegetarian restaurant. The majority of offerings actually include a protein.

The menu is divided between salads, panini sandwiches, and melts made on a naan-like bread. I wasn’t too happy with my special of the day, a flank steak that was done with too little seasoning, although the accompanying broccoli was good. But my companions enjoyed their sandwiches.

The space is all hard surfaces, so it can be pretty loud, even when only a third filled. But the service is quick and friendly, making it a good lunch choice.

Green Kitchen
7055 S Kirkman Rd
Ste 126
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 413-5005
http://www.yelp.com/biz/green-kitchen-orlando