Lotus of Siam

Dining room

Bar

**** (4.5 stars)

As the awards attest, Lotus of Siam serves some of the best Thai food in the country. This new location is a gorgeous building, and allows them to serve many more people.

As is often the case, with the growth come issues. We’ve always had amazing service at the old location. To describe the service at this new location as disjointed would be giving it too much credit. The fundamental problem is that you don’t have a server. Instead, a whole team of people randomly drops by; two people took our orders, two others took orders for wine, the food was delivered by runners, water refilled by others, and wine… well, the wine was another matter all together.

Lotus of Siam has a great wine list. I didn’t see anyone else in the vast space having a bottle, so it may simply be they’ve forgotten how to serve it. We ordered two bottles and forty minutes later(!) finally were advised they were out of both. We ordered an alternate for one of them, and accepted a recommendation for the other. fifteen minutes later the recommendation finally showed up. The other bottle? Missing in action. We finally gave up and cancelled it after all the food had been served.

And the one bottle we did get ended up being self-serve. We had to get up and get it from the ice bucket every time we needed a refill.

I guess next time we’ll order cocktails.

Lotus of Siam
620 E Flamingo Rd
Las Vegas, NV
89119
(702) 538-6135
https://www.yelp.com/biz/lotus-of-siam-las-vegas-13

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

Wine Bar George

Upstairs

Downstairs

Exterior

Jicama and kholrabi

Wine flights – any wines and any size pours you want

***** (5 stars)

Finally there is a place in Orlando I can refer my wine loving visitors to! When I first came to Orlando in the early 1980s there were several prestigious wine lists in town, like Chris’ House of Beef. Today there are essentially zero. I end up sending visitors to Berns in Tampa.

But Wine Bar George is something completely different. It’s actually most like the early days of Seasons 52 (before they dumbed down the list), when you could get any of a hundred or so very interesting wines on the list poured by the glass. Wine Bar George goes that one better, and lets you get any wine in any amount, down to an ounce. So you can build your own flights anyway you like.

We had a French and a California Chardonnay, and then a flight of Cabernet, Cab Franc (from South Africa) and Syrah. Two ounces is a perfect pour for wine flights as far as I’m concerned. Then we finished with an ounce of two high-end Dujac wines that I’m sure are not served by the glass anywhere else.

The cheese plate was a great accompaniment, and also included some delicious house marinated olives. Jicama and Kholrabi salad was a great palate cleanser, and then we finished with some Asian influenced chicken skewers.

Service was polished and our server Zach was very knowledgeable. We also chatted with server Chris, who recognized us from past wine dinners. The staff is extremely professional and enthusiastic.

In case you’re wondering who George is, he’s Master Sommelier George Miliotes, and the quality of wine bar George is no accident. His dad owned Chris’ House of Beef where George was a somm as a kid, and George later created that wine program at Seasons 52. Now he’s doing his own thing, and Orlando is all the better for it.

Wine Bar George
1610 Buena Vista Dr
Orlando, FL 32830
(407) 490-1800
https://www.yelp.com/biz/wine-bar-george-orlando

Sealegs Wine Bar

Interior

Chilequilles

Ceviche

***** (5 stars)

This is a pretty darn good place, especially for an airport lounge. There’s a nice selection of wines by the glass and bottle, at fairly reasonable prices for an airport. There’s also a great menu off well thought-out, atypical food. Service was a bit slow, but when you’re trying to kill time during a layover and have a nice bottle of wine, that’s fine.

Sealegs Wine Bar
200 World Way
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(424) 227-8295
https://www.yelp.com/biz/sealegs-wine-bar-los-angeles

Matt’s Casbah

Korean Wings

Interior

***** (5 stars)

Usually when small restaurants try to be too many things they fail at being any one great thing, but Matt’s is the exception to this rule. It has separate spaces for fine dining, outdoor beach-type dining, sushi bar, dive bar, and a live performance area. The same menu is served throughout, but there is definitely a different feel to it, depending upon where you are seated.

We had lunch in the fine dining area, and really enjoyed our Korean wings appetizer and the sushi we shared. The sashimi sampler is a great deal, providing 4 or 5 pieces of four different fish, and a large Japanese style salad.

We also liked the unusual roll we had, which incorporated a smoked salmon pate that was very different (and far smokier) that a normal sushi smoked salmon.

Service was friendly and efficient, and the music soundtrack was great.

Matt’s Casbah
801 E New Haven
Melbourne, FL 32901
(321) 574-1099
http://www.yelp.com/biz/matts-casbah-melbourne

Bella Italia Ristorante

Exterior

Bar

Interior

Clams Casino

Fettuccine Alfredo

Eggplant Rollatini

***** (5 stars)

Bella Italia is definitely a level above what you’d expect in a strip mall location. The decor, food and service are all top notch.

We started with the Clams Casino, a generous portion with a delicious lemon and garlic broth.

Fettucine Alfredo was equally generous, nigh on to huge. It needed a bit of salt to bring out the flavor, but had plenty of butter, cream and cheese.

Eggplant Rollatini was a nice improvement on Eggplant Parmigiana, with grilled rather than breaded eggplant, stuffed with four kinds of cheese, baked in marinara sauce, and topped with melted mozzarella.  It was delicious. The accompanying spaghetti was fine, but not needed.

All of these dishes were less than $9 at lunch, a great deal. Lunch also came with a basket of fresh bread and an excellent pesto/olive oil mixture for dipping.

Service was friendly and attentive.

Bella Italia Ristorante
13848 Tilden Rd
Ste 192
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 347-3277
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bella-italia-ristorante-winter-garden

Haven

Peel and Eat Shrimp

Cheese Monger

Hamachi crudo

Interior

**** (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.

Haven
2208 W Morrison Ave
Tampa, FL 33606
(813) 258-2233
https://www.yelp.com/biz/haven-tampa-3

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Bacon cheeseburger

Flatbread

Interior

**** (4 stars)

This combination wine shop and cafe is where one of the best scenes in Sideways was filmed. They have an excellent selection of retail wines, focused on the surrounding area, at reasonable prices. Wine tastings are also available, and the central wine bar is a good place to have a glass of your favorite.

The cafe has excellent food. The hamburger is particularly good, especially loaded up with bacon, sauteed onions and your choice of cheese.

I’ve been a member of the wine club for many years, which I particularly like because every quarter you receive high-end wines from completely different wineries, so there is much more variety than in most clubs.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe
2879 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA 93441
(805) 688-7265
https://www.yelp.com/biz/los-olivos-wine-merchant-and-cafe-los-olivos-4

il Porcellino








**** (4 stars)

I was a big fan of Paris Club, which occupied this space, but I must admit that Il Porcellino is a much better restaurant–and business plan. It was packed the night I visited. But even though it was full, I liked the fact that I could still hear the background music (an odd blend of 20th century pop and cliche Italian restaurant music) and conversation was easy.

The space is unrecognizable and gorgeous. Hundreds of light bulbs hang over the dining room, creating a romantic aura, and the large bar out front and various room dividers are also cleverly lit to show off the bottles and other stuff on the shelves.

Service is extremely polished, with constant attention from the servers, and independent delivery of the food straight from the kitchen via runners.

I was unimpressed by the complimentary risotto ball amuse bouche, but after that everything was excellent.

The garlic loaf is a great way to start. It’s a mini boule, crisped on the outside and sliced into six pie wedges. Grated parmesan is stuffed into the cracks and then, tableside, garlic butter is poured in. It was delicious, and even managed to maintain its crispness throughout dinner.

Fried Brussels sprouts were also good, not too oily and not too buried in cheese.

I’m not too big on pasta, so I opted for the brick chicken specialty. Good move. It was a giant slab of boneless breast meat with a unique, super-crispy crust. But the thing that made the dish was the mixture of cauliflower, garden vegetables and butter on which it sat.

If you’re into hot fudge sundaes you’ll like the semi-fredo, but I wished I’d selected a different dessert.

Drink-wise, I started with a negroni. There are three choices, and I liked the Fernet-based one I picked because it was particularly bitter. The house Chianti I segued into wasn’t particularly good. But I finished with a Nonino, my favorite Amaro.

If I have any complaint about Il Porcelino it’s simply that there are no healthful options on the menu. Everything is either friend, drenched in butter or swimming in carbs. Even the salads look pretty heavy. It’s all delicious, but I couldn’t eat there very often without some lighter choices.

il Porcellino
59 W Hubbard
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-0800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/il-porcellino-chicago

Brindille

Vicchysoisse

Beef tartare

Quail

Scallop

Lobster

Veal

Lamb

Strawberries and hazlenut

**** (4 stars)

This is a very fine restaurant that is doing most everything right. The chef’s eight-course tasting menu, which is available on request, is the way to go here. It’s assembled to match your tastes, and is a great way to experience the menu’s highlights.

Each course was beautifully presented. The only truly amazing one was the vichyssoise, but everything else was quite good, and the price was reasonable for the quality.

Service was informative and attentive, and the secondary service staff were particularly efficient at delivering and clearing.

Brindille has one of the better wine lists in town, at a reasonable markup of about twice retail. It’s heavy on quality French wines, and bears a bit of research before your visit to be truly rewarded.

Brindille
534 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 595-1616
http://www.yelp.com/biz/brindille-chicago