The Tasting Room


***** (5 stars)

The Tasting Room is the best small plates restaurant in Central Florida. It’s run by Laurie and Kevin Tarter, who are famous for The Chef’s Table at the Edgewater, one of Central Florida’s top fine dining restaurants, and perpetual winner of most romantic restaurant. In fact, The Tasting Room is right in front of The Chef’s Table, and they share a kitchen which explains the extraordinarily high quality of the food.

Highlights include the duck fat fries, smoked fish dip, and interesting salads.

In addition, there is a terrific bar, with a vast collection of interesting spirits and original cocktails, plus a well-curated wine and beer list.

Live music adds to the great ambiance several nights a week. Plus it’s located in historic Winter Garden, a truly charming town that is a great exemplar of how amazing Central Florida can be just a short drive from the theme parks.

The Tasting Room
99 W Plant StSte 5
Winter Garden, FL
(407) 230-4837


Susuru chashu gohan

Chicken breast yakitori, brussel sprouts yasai, short rib kushiyaki





***** (5 stars)

What a great place! This is an authentic Japanese Izakaya, just like you’d find in Tokyo. There’s no other place in Central Florida like this.

Choose yakitori skewers from a full menu, or have a delicious okonomiyaki. The mini rice bowls are also delicious.

There’s a fairly extensive sake and sochu list as well.

Service is friendly and prices are very reasonable.

8548 Palm Pkwy
Orlando, FL
(407) 778-4813

Aku Aku Tiki Bar

Eric at the bar


***** (5 stars)

This is Orlando’s best real tiki bar, with an excellent selection of rums, and a nice variety of traditional and modern tiki drinks. The Sunday bartender, Eric, is particularly passionate about all things tiki, and can give you an amazing guided tour of the science of making a great tiki cocktail.

The intimate size and eclectic historic tiki decor make this a very cool place for tiki aficionados to hang out and experience the real thing.

Aku Aku Tiki Bar
431 E Central Blvd
Orlando, FL
(407) 839-0080

Eiffel Tower

Frozen soufflé

Ocean seafood salad

Cream of onion soup




**** (4 stars)

I was expecting this place to be very touristy, so I’m shocked to come away feeling it is one of my favorite restaurants in Vegas. In fact, I enjoyed it more that Jules Verne in the real Eiffel Tower!

The room is beautiful, and the view of the Strip and the Bellagio fountain can’t be beat. The atmosphere is sophisticated without being stuck up.

The lunch menu offers a nice assortment of French-inspired cuisine focusing on the lighter side. I loved the torchon appetizer and my Ocean Seafood Salad (btw, what other kind of seafood is there?)

The frozen souffle was an interesting dessert. Try ordering a glass of Amaro and pouring into the ice cream at the bottom–delicious!

The wine list is decent, and the prices normal for the Strip.

This is one of the few Vegas restaurants I think is worth a return visit, because it is about more than just the novelty of the experience.

Eiffel Tower
3655 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 948-6937

The Stubborn Mule

Tuscan flat bread special

Tuna bowl

pastrami sandwich


**** (4 stars)

This was an odd meal, parts of it fine, others pretty much off the rails. It’s hard to judge how much of the experience was colored by a fairly dreadful server, but there were some issues in the kitchen, too.

First the good:

There is a nice outdoor seating area.

The menu is interesting.

The day’s special Tuscan flatbread was delicious, with a perfectly crisped naan crust and a lovely combination of toppings.

The rosemary fries were very good.

Now the not so good:

I would have been better disposed toward the experience if not for the server. We started with the wrong wine, and ended with the wrong entree.

I ordered the smashed salmon sandwich, but I got a pressed pastrami. I like pastrami okay, but this was fairly fatty, and there was an unappealing bitter spread.

Our server offered to correct the mistake, but at this point we were two hours into lunch, and it seemed futile. And that was also two hours without a water refill, so we were getting parched.

The tuna bowl had good tuna and avocado, but I suspect that consumption of the dressing (thankfully served on the side) would have made us sick, as it was pretty clearly spoiled.

I suppose if you’re looking for a burger that might be a good choice. Maybe you’ll have better luck than we did.

The Stubborn Mule
100 S Eola Dr
Orlando, FL

Le Grill de Joël Robuchon





Cheese soufflé


Ice cream and sorbet assortment

***** (5 stars)

l’Atelier is one of my favorite restaurants around the world, so I always try to visit when I’m in a city that has one. However on this Monday night only Le Grill was open, so we decided to try it, and we were glad we did.

Le Grill offers a relaxed environment, a reasonably priced and very interesting menu, and an excellent wine list. Service is as perfect as at all of Joel Robuchon’s restaurants, professional, yet never stuffy. It’s wonderful to have such an excellent meal experience without it having to be a production number.

Le Grill de Joël Robuchon
85 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011
(212) 488-8885

The Little Door




Sesame Seared Day Boat Scallops, Preserved Lemon Sauce

Chermoula Marinated Grilled Octopus, Preserved Lemon Sauce

Spicy Ahi Tuna Tartare and Shaved Fennel Salad

Patio at night

***** (5 stars)

The extraordinarily romantic ambiance of The Little Door makes it almost a magical dining experience. Divided into many intimate spaces, it feels like you’re dining in a patio, or a forest, or a cottage, depending upon where you sit.

Tuna tartare was a nice starter, but the grilled octopus was even better, extremely tender and flavorful.

The mussels appetizer which my companion had as an entree was huge; she could only eat half!

My grilled scallops were perfectly cooked and accompanied by carrots seasoned with interesting Morrocan spices.

The extensive wine list is extremely reasonably priced.

Service was professional, attentive, and friendly.

The Little Door
8164 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-1210

Toca Madera

Back room

Enchiladas De Mole

Carne asada hot rock


**** (4 stars)

This is a very vibrant restaurant with a club-like atmosphere in the front room. It’s loud by design, and louder because of the central bar. HOWEVER… there is a back room (and an upstairs room) where you can find a reasonable noise level and enjoy some very interesting food.

The free chips and salsa were good, and the plantain chips were particularly good, not overwhelmingly tough or banana-y. I’ve had a lot of guacamole in my life, but this was the best I’ve encountered–creamy, and topped with pomegranate seeds and interesting herbs.

The carne asada hot rock preparation was okay, but nothing spectacular; the soft tortillas were a bit more like roti.

The clear standout of the meal was the enchiladas de mole. WOW! This is by far the best mole I have ever tasted. They claim they use 42 ingredients and cook it for 24 hours, and the complexity shows it is worth it!

Service was very attentive. It’s worth noting that server’s costumes may be setting a new record for short hemlines.

Yes, many of the patrons are narcissistic, dressed to the nines selfie-takers making duck faces into their smartphones. But there are also plenty of well-adjusted people enjoying some creative cuisine. My advice is to go early, before it gets too full of itself.

Toca Madera
8450 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 852-9400


Shishito peppers


Buffalo chicken wanton

**** (4 stars)

Chroma combines a nice assortment of small plates with an interesting and varied wine list. The place is divided into several spaces, and it’s quieter in the rooms away from the central bar. There’s also outside dining. You might not think an outside dining area under an airport’s approach is a good idea, but somehow it works, particularly on a nice balmy evening.

It’s one of those places where things come out from the kitchen whenever they’re ready, which can lead to pacing problems, so I suggest going when you’re not in a hurry, and not ordering everything at once.

6967 Lake Nona Blvd
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 955-4340

STK Orlando


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