Imperium Food & Wine

***** (5 stars)

This is my favorite place to eat in Celebration. They have an eclectic selection of wines by the glass, and a nice sampling of small plates and sandwiches. The outside dining on the sidewalk is one of the nicest outdoor spots in Central Florida.

On a recent visit we enjoyed a bruschetta special the most

Imperium Food & Wine
606 Market St
Celebration, FL 34747
(407) 566-9054
https://www.yelp.com/biz/imperium-food-and-wine-celebration

Blu 57 Seafood & Small Plates

Interior

Scallops

Truffle tuna tar tar

Crab cake

Mussels

Brussels sprouts

Squid ink pasta

Shrimp bombs

Red curry elotes

Tiramisu

Mango mousse

**** (4 stars)

This is a charming small restaurant in a quiet section of Andersonville. It focuses on seafood, with a touch of Thai.

Appetizers are a good way to explore the menu here, and we tried most of them.

By far the best thing we had was the Truffle tuna tar tar. The scent of truffle was certainly there, but the thing that made it outstanding was the complex combination of spicy and citrus flavors and interesting tender and crunchy textures.

Seared scallops in curry were also good, and the crab cake was one of the best I’ve had, with a spicy kick and crusty outside.

Mussels were a disappointment. They seemed fishy, and we didn’t finish them.

Shrimp bombs were probably the most typically Thai dish, with a bite of minced shrimp mixture in a deep fried wanton purse. They were okay, but probably not worth the price for what was essentially three bites.

Squid ink pasta was a very substantial plate of dense, black pasta with rings of calamari. You will look like a goth after eating this dish!

Brussels sprouts was an okay side dish, nothing remarkable about them, and not much of the promised maple syrup flavoring.

Red curry elotes was definitely a Thai-spice-level take on this traditional street corn.

For dessert we finished with the mango mousse and tiramisu. The tiramisu was the better of the two, but wasn’t like what you’re picturing. Instead it is a dome with a chocolate crust encasing Thai iced tea flavored mousse.

Service was good, particularly considering that our server and her trainee were handling the entire restaurant.

Note that it is BYOB, and the liquor store across the street has incredibly poor taste in wine. Best to bring your own.

Blu 57 Seafood & Small Plates
5701 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60660
(773) 944-0575
https://www.yelp.com/biz/blu-57-seafood-and-small-plates-chicago

The Bazaar by José Andrés

Interior

Exterior

Scallop ceviche

Caviar and lox cones

$9 a bite x 4

Foie Sandwich

Smoked oysters

Pork Bahn Mi Bun (3 Each)*

Octopus Toast

Squash Tempura Squash Blossoms

Philly Cheesesteak (signature dish)

Dessert room

Mille-Feuille, Caramel Cream and Salted Caramel

Rose

***** (5 stars)

The is an enormous restaurant that feels surprisingly intimate due to clever use of draperies and display cases as partitions. It definitely has an upbeat vibe, but isn’t deafening, and doesn’t make you feel like you’re not cool enough to be there.

Let’s get this out of the way first: it’s not cheap. In particular I thinking of the “cones” that look like little ice cream cones but are filled with ingredients like caviar. The operative word is “little”. They are literally smaller than your thumb, and couldn’t possibly be considered more than one bite, and not a very big bite at that. At $9 each they simply aren’t worth it, even if they are good.

But moving on, there are some much more noteworthy items on the menu. It’s divided between traditional tapas and modern tapas. The modern items were so interesting we just kept exploring, and never got to the traditional side of the extensive menu.

Scallop ceviche was Peruvian style with an unusual creamy but very tart broth. There were only a few bites of fish in the large bowl, but the tart broth made that seem like plenty.

The most inventive item we tried was the foie sandwich, which looked just like a Wonder Bread sandwich, but the bread was made of a somehow soft apple meringue! A thin layer of foie gras and jam was just enough.

Four raw oysters were served under a smoke-filled glass dome. The released smoke makes everyone around you want them, too!

Pork Bahn Mi Buns were three mini sliders with traditional flavors.

The octopus toast was extremely tender, and a generous serving. Raw jalapeno slices added a kick.

Squash tempura blossoms were stuffed with a cheese and olive mixture. The pungent olives overwhelmed the delicate flavors of the squash.

Philly cheesesteak is their signature dish, and it’s easy to see why. Four thin slices of wagyu are served atop a football-shaped pastry filled with a sharp cheese sauce. Eat this over a plate!!! It was delicious.

The wine list is fairly extensive, although most prices are pretty high. However, the Spanish wines are priced quite fairly, and there are some real gems.

A large section of the restaurant has been devoted to a separate dessert room, so at the conclusion of your meal they can transfer your drinks over there for a second experience that is seamless. The only other place I’ve seen this done is Berns in Tampa.

The dessert room lets you survey an array of dozens of items to help decide what you want to order. The rose filled with chocolate mousse was good, but the mille-feuille with salted caramel filling was even better.

Service in both parts of the restaurant was professional, attentive and pleasant. This is definitely one of the more interesting dining experiences in LA.

The Bazaar by José Andrés
465 South La Cienega Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90048
(310) 246-5555
https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-bazaar-by-jos%C3%A9-andr%C3%A9s-beverly-hills-3

Chroma

Shishito peppers

Exterior

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.

Chroma
6967 Lake Nona Blvd
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 955-4340
https://www.yelp.com/biz/chroma-orlando

Babalu Tacos & Tapas

**** (4 stars)

This very popular spot offers a combination of Mexican inspired dishes and small tapas plates. As noted elsewhere, the table-side guacamole is extremely good, and I really liked the homemade tortilla strips served with it.

Ceviche is actually diced tuna with citrus and avocado. Shrimp and grits we classically prepared.

Service was very friendly and our server was obviously very proud of the quality of her restaurant.

Babalu Tacos & Tapas
622 Duling Ave
Jackson, MS 39216
(601) 366-5757
http://www.yelp.com/biz/babalu-tacos-and-tapas-jackson

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!

**** (4 stars)

This bustling tapas restaurant is larger than it looks from the outside, and is consistently busy.

The menu has a reasonably broad selection of tapas and also paella. There is also a substantial wine and sangria list, and a separate cocktail menu.

I particularly enjoyed the house smoked salmon.

Bacon wrapped dates were nice and crisp on the outside without being mushy on the inside.

Buttermilk chicken thighs seemed mis-named, and were more like chicken tenders with a wing sauce on them.

Beef skewers were tender and nicely charred on the outside, although the horseradish sauce could have used more kick.

The empanadas had a delightfully flakey pastry.

Service was friendly and attentive. Dishes are delivered by runners, and come out as they are ready, so don’t order everything at once or you will be inundated in food!

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!
2024 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 935-5000
http://www.yelp.com/biz/cafe-ba-ba-reeba-chicago-3

Emilio’s Tapas Sol y Nieve

**** (4 stars)

Wow, this place was packed, even on a rainy Thursday. Great vibe, just like Spain. The menu is a bit more limited than some Tapas places, but there is a nice variety. We really liked the beef dishes; very tender and good quality. There’s also a nice selection of Spanish wines. Service was very friendly, and noise levels are reasonable, even when busy, particularly at the window tables.

Emilio’s Tapas Sol y Nieve
215 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 467-7177
http://www.yelp.com/biz/emilios-tapas-sol-y-nieve-chicago-2

The Purple Pig

**** (4 stars)

Despite the name, this place is also a good choice for vegetarians. We had six courses, and aside from a little bacon in one of them, there was no pig or other meat involved. The highlights were the peas (because of the fresh mint mixed in) and the leeks.

There is a great selection of both pasteurized and raw milk cheeses, which made a wonderful dessert plate for two.

For me, though, the reason to go is the remarkable wine list, with hundreds of selections, all from countries bordering the Mediterranean. Nearly every selection is available by the glass, demi, half or full bottle, and they’ll even open a bottle of any of the wines priced under $50 (which is nearly all of them) and pour you just half. So it’s a great place to explore varieties and appellations you’ve never heard of.

One word of warning: the atmosphere is vibrant (read that as LOUD) to say the least, so it’s not a place for intimate conversation. It’s somewhat better on the patio, but even there it’s pretty boisterous.

The Purple Pig
500 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 464-1744
http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-purple-pig-chicago

Norman’s

**** (4 stars)

A recent visit here showed much improvement. Clearly ownership has taken a renewed interest. The food is consistently good if not stunning, and service is a lot more professional.

General Manager and wine director Yusuf Yildiz clearly knows his stuff, and has great plans for a new wine room, storage and emphasis on depth of the wine list, coming in August 2015. I look forward to seeing if Orlando can finally add a truly world class wine list to its restaurant portfolio after several decades without one.

Norman’s
4012 Central Florida Pkwy
Orlando, FL 32837
(407) 393-4333
http://www.yelp.com/biz/normans-orlando

Kasa Restaurant & Bar

***** (5 stars)

Of all the places in Orlando that are trying to be hip and gourmet and eclectic at the same time, I think Kasa succeeds the best. The only downside is that when you take a room full of hip gourmets and place them in a hard surfaced room and fill them with cocktails, things can get VERY LOUD.

Frankly, I was surprised how good the food was here. I honestly think it’s better than the Rusty Spoon or Ceviche, both nearby tapas contenders.

The standout was the Kasa corn, which I wouldn’t have ordered except for the other rave reviews. Small sections of corn on the cob are served on sticks, coated with both spicy and creamy condiments–scrumptious.

Brussels sprouts and bacon were good, not as rich as you’d imagine due to the vinegary base.

Tuna tartare (which is served with plantain chips, NOT tostones) was just good. Ceviche had a nice lime base but was marred by too tough conch; a different shellfish would have been better.

The fondue is more like cream sauce than cheese; the accompanying yucca fries were poofy on the inside and crisp on the outside, and were piping hot.

Cuban mojo ribs were succulent, but much sweeter and wetter than the “dry rub” description led us to expect.

We almost never order dessert, but the raves about the destroyed apple pie with salted caramel ice cream tempted us into trying it. The pie is rolled up and deep fried, then cut into sushi-like slices. It was delicious, but the salted caramel ice cream was the real standout. My wife, who hates desserts, kept going back for more and more of this incredible ice cream, which she described as the best she ever had.

Service was friendly and helpful. The wine list is brief and rather middle brow, but there are plenty of cocktail choices.

Kasa is definitely one of the top foodie destinations in downtown Orlando.

Kasa Restaurant & Bar
183 S Orange Ave
Ste 183
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 985-5272
http://www.yelp.com/biz/kasa-restaurant-and-bar-orlando