Corellis Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria


**** (4 stars)

This hidden away gem of an Italian restaurant serves excellent food, and has some of the best wine prices you’ll find in Central Florida. The wine offerings are top notch, with a lot of hard to find labels, and an emphasis on top-rated reds. The owner obviously has a passion for it.

During a special event we were seated in the wine shop, and it was actually nicer than the main dining room. Plus, there was an excellent jazz saxophonist.

Highly recommended.

Corellis Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria
1042-1044 E Hwy 50
Clermont, FL
(352) 989-5924

Pret A Manger


**** (4 stars)

I like the simplicity of Pret if you just want a coffee and croissant. The baristas can certainly whip up something fancy, but sometimes it’s nice to just serve yourself a cup.

The chocolate hazelnut croissant is noteworthy, because it’s filled like pain au chocolate, but is the shape and consistency of a croissant.

Pret A Manger
787 7th Ave
New York, NY 10019
(212) 262-2328

Rasa Asian Street Food

Wings with five spice and Thai chili sauce

Mee Goreng

Papaya salad

Roti canai

Dim sum



**** (4 stars)

Southwest Orlando can use an Asian street food restaurant, as the others are all in the Mills District. Rasa is off to a good start. While there was no absolute home run in the dishes we tried, they were all within striking range of those other places.

The menu offers a nice assortment of noodle, rice and curry dishes. It’s weak on salads, and the one we tried was far too spicy with no warning at all on the menu.

Dim Sum was four pieces of sauteed potstickers. I would have liked a bit more sear on them, but they were delicious.

Mee Goreng was quite good, with lots of shrimp and chicken mixed into a Pad-Thai-like noodle base. It was just a little more like Pad Thai than a true Mee Goreng.

Chicken wings are available simply fried (naked) or breaded, and you can select two sauces from the seven offered. We liked the five spice the best.

Roti Canai was perhaps the most on target of everything we tried. The yellow curry was rich and flavorful, but the roti is greasier than elsewhere.

Tea service needs a bit of work. I’m always a bit put off by Asian restaurants where the green tea is a tea bag, and the pot holds barely one cup.

Service was friendly and well-intentioned; it just felt like it needs a few weeks to settle in, as especially the food runners seemed a bit out of their element.

Prices are reasonable.

In all, this is a promising start, and we will certainly go back.

Rasa Asian Street Food
7730 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 930-0402

Canvas Restaurant & Market



**** (4 stars)

This is a convenient stop on your way to or from Orlando International Airport. The restaurant has a modern look, and is beautifully situated overlooking a lake.

Upon entry there is a bit of an identity crisis, as it seems more like a convenience store and casual eating area. But proceed to the hostess stand and you’ll be ushered into the restaurant proper, which is large, and has a modern looking bar at the far end. The booths near the bar are actually the quietest place to eat, as they are away from most other tables and hard surfaces.

We tried several small plates. The smoked fish dip was a surprise, as it was more of a hot cheese queso with fish chunks. It was tasty, but the accompanying crackers could have been fresher.

Mussels were served in an interesting tomatillo broth that was quite good, and accompanied by a couple of pieces of nicely grilled bread.

The grilled shrimp salad was pretty good; the greens were lightly dressed and studded with several hot grilled shrimp.

Service was friendly.

Canvas Restaurant & Market
13615 Sachs Ave
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 313-7800

Pizza Bruno

Pepperoni, ricotta, basil




**** (4 stars)

I have to admit I was expecting a bit more from this place, given the hype, but while the pizza looked authentic, I didn’t find anything remarkable about its flavor or consistency. It struck me as odd that the basil was applied before baking, resulting in burnt leaves.

However I did love the kale salad! It was a perfect combination of a house-made Caesar dressing, plus little crunchy and sweet elements.

I also liked the cauliflower appetizer, although be warned that the sauce is very sweet. It’s almost dessert cauliflower.

The place can get quite loud, because the floors are concrete, and there are no soft surfaces.

Service was excellent.

Pizza Bruno
3990 Curry Ford Rd
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 440-3894


Peel and Eat Shrimp

Cheese Monger

Hamachi crudo


**** (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.

2208 W Morrison Ave
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 258-2233

La Fiesta Mexican Grill


Chili replenish and quesadilla



*** (3 stars)

While the rave reviews got me excited about La Fiesta, we didn’t find anything particularly remarkable about the place. The best thing we had by far was the sangria, which wasn’t too sweet and has lots of fruit chunks.

Cheese nachos were pretty bland, consisting of good chips covered with a liquid white cheese and nothing else, no jalapenos.

The relleno was pretty weird, although the waiter did warn us that it was stuffed with mashed potatoes. We should have followed his suggestion to substitute some kind of meat. The quesadilla was nicely grilled, and filled with cheese and chicken. It was okay, not great, as were the fairly bland rice and beans.

The best entree was the chilaquiles, which seems to be available only at lunch. The green sauce had a lot of flavor, and the shredded chicken and fried egg were good. The chips didn’t really stand up to the sauce, though, and quickly dissolved.

The decor of the restaurant is nice, but overhead fluorescent light aren’t in keeping with the restaurant ambiance.

Service was excellent.

La Fiesta Mexican Grill
3000 Curry Ford Rd
Orlando, FL 32806
(407) 985-4340

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

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl

*** (3 stars)

I’ll start by confessing I’m not a huge fan of Chicago-style hot dogs or Italian beef sandwiches. It’s not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t see what all the fuss is about.

That said, there’s a lot to like about Portillo’s. Foremost, it’s not a hot dog stand or a dumpy diner, it’s a stylish, themed, village-like food court with several counters: one for their specialties, a separate operation for Italian food, and a hamburger counter. The interior ambiance is great.

The main attractions are hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches, so that’s what I tried.

The Chicago dog was pretty much like all the others I’ve had: very soft roll with poppy seeds, very tender dog, green relish, large pickle, and a couple of sport peppers. Nothing really distinguished it, except that the sport peppers were a bit tamer than some I’ve had, making it easier to taste the rest.

The Italian beef was less interesting. The very tender shaved beef had little flavor, and the very soft, soggy roll didn’t thrill me. I’m not sure what would have fixed this, but no condiments were available. I wouldn’t order it again.

The vanilla shake was good, a bit frothy compared to some.

Overall Portillo’s was fine, but I see no compelling reason to return.

Portillo’s Hot Dogs & Barnelli’s Salad Bowl
100 W Ontario St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 587-8910

3 Greens Market


***** (5 stars)

Perhaps the 3 in the title of this place if for the three expansive salad bars. They certainly look good. I say “look” because I haven’t actually tried them. On my next visit I need to do that. But this visit was all about a hamburger.

Ever since Au Cheval’s burger was named the best in the country by several sources I’ve been attempting to try it. Unfortunately, every time I’ve gone there it’s either had ridiculous wait times or been unexpectedly closed (mid-afternoon they only serve drinks and snacks). In fact, it’s been a lot like my failed attempts to try Hot Dougs, but that’s another story.

Anyway, when I saw that they’d spun off a smaller operation called Small Cheval, I resolved to try the burger that way, but somehow never managed to get there.

So when I saw that 3 Greens Market was serving a Small Cheval burger, I spotted my chance to at last try the famous burger. Of course, it’s a burger twice-removed from its source, but still… It was a mighty good hamburger.

I like my burgers pretty much loaded. But some people just like mustard and ketchup. What’s interesting about this burger is that those are the two ingredients that aren’t included. So some people probably wouldn’t like it, but I did.

Here, the emphasis is on the two perfectly cooked beef patties, the very melted cheese, and the garlic aioli. Secondary flavors come from the pickle slices and chopped onion. I added bacon which, in retrospect, was unneeded. The bun is sturdy enough to hold the whole thing together, an impressive achievement considering how much is going on.

Of course, when someone declares a thing “the best” they’re setting it up for comparison and naysaying, and in fact I’ve had burgers I liked better, including one here in Chicago at Good Stuff Eatery. But this is a very good burger, and I wouldn’t argue with someone who says it’s their favorite.

The accompanying fries were skinny, very crisp, but didn’t have a lot of flavor.

3 Greens has Coke Freestyle machines, which are always fun to experiment with.

Counter service is friendly and efficient.

Next time: the salad bars. Maybe.

3 Greens Market
354 West Hubbard Street
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 888-9195