** (2 stars)

This is a beautifully decorated restaurant with good service that unfortunately struggles to provide even mediocre food. The problem seems to be a combination of the actual recipes and the execution in the kitchen.

We sampled a half-dozen dishes, and the only fairly good one was the yellowtail and smoked salmon sashimi. It’s telling that these two items have only a single ingredient. The double spicy tuna roll wasn’t nearly as good. In general it seemed the more ingredients, the farther things went astray.

Ceviche, for example, was simply a bowl full of citrus juice with a lot of onion, tomato, fairly flavorless avocado, and a couple of small pieces of equally flavorless trigger fish.

Mussels were served in the thinnest, most flavorless broth I’ve ever seen them in. The strongest flavor in the bowl was actually some celery bits.

Truffle “fries” are actually slabs of somewhat soggy potato, although they were served with a tasty horseradish dipping sauce.

On the plus side, there is an extensive wine list with excellent pricing. In fact if you’re willing to drop some big bucks, the prestige bottles are priced below retail.

I’ve been to several Talk of the Town restaurants, and never had a great experience, but I’d heard enough good things about Moonfish that (after avoiding it for a decade) I decided to finally try it. But it, too, was a disappointment.

7525 West Sand Lake Road
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 363-7262

Mr. Quick

**** (4 stars)

Mr. Quick serves good reliable diner food in an old-fashioned roadside diner setting. If your group can’t decide between breakfast lunch and dinner, Mr. Quick has it covered, as they serve all three at once. The extremely extensive menu offers pretty much every diner food you can think of.

The omelets are interesting because they are served in either flat or fluffy styles, a choice I’ve never been offered before.

Corn beef hash, eggs and hashbrowns were prepared just the way I requested.

The burger was good too.

The staff are definitely into what they’re doing here, in both the front of house and behind the counter, as service was prompt and courteous, and true to its name our assortment of dishes were served pretty darned quick.

Mr. Quick
5615 W Colonial Dr
Orlando, FL 32808
(407) 293-0511

DoveCote Brasserie

***** (5 stars)

Downtown Orlando has long been in need of a great French restaurant, and at last there is one. We attended a soft opening lunch with high expectations, and were not disappointed. Even though the restaurant was full, the kitchen was turning out hit after hit, and service was both friendly and professional.

The space is the former Harveyr’s bistro in the bottom of the B of A, but it has been remodeled to give it a modern brasserie feel. In addition to several inside areas, there’s also outside seating. The best addition is free valet parking, right outside the side door, which solves a major downtown dining problem.

We had an opportunity to sample much of the lunch menu, and loved most of what we tried.

Chicken Liver pate was very traditional, with the coating of duck fat on top to seal it into its jar. The highlight of this dish was actually the grilled toast, which was perfectly and authentically done in the brasserie style.

This same wonderful toast accompanied the even better pork terrine, which came with a wonderful house-made mustard.

Carrot soup was a thick, cold concoction poured over cooked shrimp. We heard good things about it, but none of us cared for it, possibly due to some flawed sesame seeds that were sprinkled on top.

French onioin soup was much better, completely traditional, maybe a bit sweet for my taste, but with a rich oxtail broth and plenty of gruyere cheese. The horseradish mentioned on the menu may have added complexity, but wasn’t detectable.

I loved both of the salads we tried. The frisee salad was non-traditional, with a curry dressing and toasted macadamias rather than the traditional egg. It was really exotic. The other salad wasn’t the simple green salad described on the menu, but a delicious concoction involving beets, radish and greens with a vinaigrette and superb crunchy sunflower seed granola.

We shared a DC Burger as another starter. What a great piece of ground breef! It was tender, flavorful, juicy, had a nice char, and was cooked a perfect medium. The mayonnaise-based sauce was excellent but not mentioned in the menu description.

For mains we tried the butter roasted chicken, red snapper, and yellowfin tuna burger. These were all good, but perhaps not quite as good as what came before.

The snapper was certainly the best, with a great crust, and accompanied by very flavorful quinoa.

The chicken was pleasant, but not remarkable, however chef substituted ratatouille for the fingerling potatoes at our request, and it was absolutely great. This should go on the menu by itself!

The tuna burger was not at all what I expected, as it seemed more like a lamb burger due to the way it was ground and the heavy inclusion of cumin in the patty. That said, I really enjoyed it.

A tempura mushroom side dish was nicely cooked, but probably would be better with a different vegetable.

The creme brulee was as good as any I’ve ever had, served at the perfect temperature of slightly warm, with a soft texture, strong vanilla flavor, and a crackly crust.

Milk sherbet with peaches was another winner.

The accompanying espresso was also perfectly done, served in an odd little shot glass, with a nice crema, and just enough bitterness to offset the sweet desserts. This espresso makes me want to go back for breakfast.

In addition to all this great food, there is an even greater wine list, with the best wine pricing of any restaurant in town. Selected by Kristopher Soto, the general manager here, who used to be the sommelier for the sadly missed Vineyard at The Ritz Carlton, the wine price to performance ratio is unmatched anywhere in town. You can get any number of great bottles for well under $100. These wines are literally twice the price at other restaurants in Orlando.

With Clayton Miller as the head chef, Gene Zimmerman, who is behind the Courtesy speakeasy bar, heading the bar, and James Petrakis, the owner of Ravenous Pig and Cask & Larder, as a consulting partner, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a great restaurant. But for it to be this good the day before opening is pretty amazing. May it live long and prosper.

DoveCote Brasserie
390 North Orange Ave
Ste 110
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 930-1700

India House Restaurant

*** (3 stars)

This is a very nicely decorated restaurant with about 150 different dishes on the menu. Unfortunately the staff isn’t very good, and the food is just average.

It’s odd browsing through the menu, because it seems to have little organization with multiple sections devoted the similar categories, and very few of the standbys like korma, saag, and so on.

We tried Papdi Chat as an appetizer, and the flavors were good, but it wasn’t enhanced by the sturdy wafers mixed into it.

Mahi Mahi Fish Tikka was good fish, but the seasoning on the fish skin wasn’t my favorite flavor.

Bhuni Gobi was extremely overcooked cauliflower; it resembled something that had been sitting on a buffet for hours.

The best dish was Channa Palak, chick peas in a garlic, onion and spinach sauce. Garlic naan bread was also okay.

The service staff seems to be mostly Russian, and wasn’t strong on communication. They were out of all the juices, and couldn’t produce a beer list.

There aren’t many Indian restaurants in River North, but even so, I wouldn’t bother to return here.

India House Restaurant
59 W Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 645-9500

Chicago q

***** (5 stars)

This might not be the best barbecue place in Chicago, but it’s certainly the nicest, and I love their approach to food and beverage. They focus on flights of both, and offer variety in surprising ways.

For example, we started with the barbecue flight, a good way to sample brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken. It came with four(!) different barbecue sauces, all of which were good.

Well, we didn’t actually start with that, because when you sit down they give you a generous basket of seasoned house-made potato chips and delicious sweet pickles.

For our main courses we had the chicken and waffles and another flight, this time of eggs benedict. I still don’t really get the combination of chicken and waffles, but both were good–even better when I asked for some barbecue sauce to dunk the chicken in. The eggs benedict was served three ways, each of them huge: with brisket, pulled pork, and pulled chicken. But it was different from the barbecue flight, because each was on a different base: biscuit, fried green tomato, and corn bread. Each also had a different Hollandaise sauce, which my dining companion wisely opted to have on the side. A little bit was all it needed.

There’s a really extensive list of beers, wines, whiskey, bourbon, scotch and a limited list of cocktails. Staying with the flight theme, we tried the Grand Tasting, which consisted of nine(!) whiskeys. It wasn’t cheap, but it was a real learning experience, because they were all so different, and the beverage manager was really knowledgeable about them.

For the record, here are my ratings (on a scale of 10) for the flight:

Auchentoshan Whiskey (American Oak) 6/10
Hibiki Harmony (Japanese) 7/10
Wieser Uuahouua (Pinot Noir barrels, Austrian) 7.5/10

Compass Box Spice Tree (clove cardamom cinnamon) 7/10
Elijah Craig (barrel strength 102 proof) 8/10
Slaughter House by Orin Swift 9/10

Noah’s Mill Bourbon 6.5/10
Willet Pot Still Bourbon 7/10
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked 9/10

I really like the whole approach to food and beverages at Chicago q.

Chicago q
1160 N Dearborn St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 642-1160

Duck Duck Goat


*** (3 stars)

I’m a huge fan of The Girl and the Goat, so I was really looking forward to Stephanie Izzard’s take on Chinese cuisine.

The place is absolutely gorgeous, with every room decorated in a uniquely elaborate way. Unfortunately the decor was pretty much the only noteworthy thing about the meal. We tried four items from the dim sum list, plus a noodle dish and an entree, and none of them were different or better than what you’d get at any high-quality Chinese restaurant.

The dim sum was all fine, the best item being the ribs.

The slap noodles were the worst thing we had, very heavy wide noodles that were quite durable despite seeming overcooked. The accompanying mixture of vegetables and sauce was better than the noodles, but we both barely tasted this dish.

The special fish dish was a whole snapper, which was very good. If having the head and tail on a fish doesn’t put you off, I recommend this.

Cocktails were excellent. There is a limited selection of wines by the glass or bottle.

Service was pleasant, and the dishes, although all ordered at once, came out in an orderly fashion.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with this experience, but at $200 including tip for two, it was probably about double what comparably good Chinese food might cost elsewhere. In short, a decent experience, but not one I’d repeat.

Duck Duck Goat
857 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 902-3825

Café Iberico

**** (4 stars)

This bustling tapas restaurant serves classic Spanish tapas in a rather brightly lit and loud dining room. Ironically enough, the bar is much quieter and more pleasant. In addition to the extensive list of rather large tapas items on the menu, there are smaller tasting size plates displayed in the cases that line the top of the bar. There’s also a fairly extensive list of wines and fino by the glass or bottle. Service is efficient but busy.

Café Iberico
737 N Lasalle Blvd
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 573-1510

25 Degrees

**** (4 stars)

This is a burger joint with cloth napkins and cocktails. The interior is nice but can get quite loud, so try for a table on the sidewalk.

The burgers are huge, with two giant patties and all the fixings. I opted for a Number Six, because it is essentially my standard loaded burger. Everything was tasty, but the extremely juicy patties quickly overwhelmed the soft bun, and I ended up with two handfuls of mush. Tasty mush, but still…

There’s a nice assortment of drinks, plus spiked sodas and shakes.

Service was friendly.

25 Degrees
736 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 943-9700

Seoul Taco

***** (5 stars)

If there’s any cheaper way to have a tasty meal in River North, I haven’t found it.

The Tacos make up in spiciness what they lack in size. The tortillas are cooked to order, so everything is hot and fresh.

The other entrees are larger, but I thought the taco was just right. And I added (for just two bucks) the kimchi fried rice, which is almost a meal in itself.  

For less than $5 I left stuffed.

Seoul Taco
738 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 265-1607