itar Bistro Market

**** (4 stars)

Even though this place is only a few blocks away from my office I managed to overlook it for more than a year, probably due to its lack of visibility and low traffic location, which has done in more than a few nearby restaurants. But they certainly weren’t hurting for business on the Tuesday lunch when we visited, and I can see why.

The concept is an unlikely combination of Italian and Argentine food, hence the name.

Everything we had was quite good. We chose to order items from the dinner menu, so it wasn’t inexpensive, but there are plenty of appealing lunch specials for well under ten dollars.

The highlight of our meal was definitely the molito malbec, a wonderful tenderloin steak in a rich malbec and mushroom sauce. It was one of the better pieces of beef I’ve had in Orlando, and I’m including the area’s top steakhouses in that assessment. It was well worth the $29 price tag.

Not quite as good but only half the price was the Churrasco, a marinated and grilled skirt steak.

We also had a sausage appetizer, and liked the regular sausage better than the blood sausage, which is an acquired taste that I haven’t yet acquired.

Accompaniments included mashed potatoes, fries, and a green salad, all of which were just okay.

I like the airy atmosphere and cool light fixtures. There’s also a small grocery section that sells mostly Italian foods, and a wall of wines by the bottle.

Service was friendly and not rushed.

itar Bistro Market
7065 Westpointe Bvd
Ste 100
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 757-0553
http://www.yelp.com/biz/itar-bistro-market-orlando

MoonFish

** (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.

MoonFish
7525 West Sand Lake Road
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 363-7262
http://www.yelp.com/biz/moonfish-orlando-2

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
http://www.yelp.com/biz/mr-quick-orlando

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
https://www.yelp.com/biz/dovecote-orlando-3

Restaurant BT

***** (5 stars)

Based upon the reviews I was expecting some fairly extraordinary food, and I was not disappointed. Everything we had was top notch. The complexity of the recipes and quality of the ingredients is definitely far above most Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to.

At a recent lunch we worked our way through many appetizer courses, beginning with the fresh shrimp rolls and the mini crispy spring rolls. Both were elevated by the inclusion of very flavorful and fresh herbs.

Tuna Tai Chanh was a wonderful tuna tartare that was mixed with an unusually large amount of chopped fresh herbs that gave it a complex flavor, elevating it far about the tuna and sesame oil base.

We also tried two special. Pheasant pate was an excellent rough country style pate served with traditional French accompaniments of mustard, gherkins and chopped onions. Truffled burrata cheese was also nicely done, with a sort of pesto or chimichurri accompaniment.

For an entree I had the grilled pork banh mi. I’m a particular fan of that sandwich, and this one was as good as any I’ve had, with lots of fresh herbs, a savory soy marinade, and just the right amount of creamy mayonnaise.

I’m not sure I’d describe anything I had as “fusion” cuisine. Most of the dishes are gourmet Vietnamese, and the two specials we had were French, but I didn’t detect any fusing going on.

The wine list is reasonably priced and offers some nice choices. The Puligny Montrachet went well with the food, although not as well as the Chateau Carbonneau that we brought. The $30 corkage seemed a bit steep, but otherwise I thought the food pricing was very reasonable. I can only assume those complaining about the prices were expecting Vietnamese sandwich shop and the ingredients here mark this as a very fine dining restaurant that happens to serve lunch, too.

Restaurant BT
2507 S MacDill Ave
Tampa, FL 33629
(813) 258-1916
http://www.yelp.com/biz/restaurant-bt-tampa

Keke’s Breakfast Cafe

**** (4 stars)

This is one of the better Keke’s locations, with a nice interior and excellent staff. While I usually go to Keke’s for breakfast, they have a fair variety of lunch items as well.

The Carolina Chicken wrap I tried on this visit combined fried chicken chunks, pecans, bacon, tomato, and lettuce. It was good with the accompanying spicy remoulade, which was really intended for the rather flavorless onion rings.

Keke’s Breakfast Cafe
2433 S Hiawassee Rd
Ste 130
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 298-3684
http://www.yelp.com/biz/kekes-breakfast-cafe-orlando-7

Noodles & Company

**** (4 stars)

This is a very well run outlet, with friendly staff and a nice seating area with a roll-up glass door that lets in a bit of the outdoors.

The menu offers a good variety of different noodle-based cuisines, plus salads and soups. The noodle dishes have the same issue as at Pei Wei where the calorie counts look attractive until you realize there are two servings in each bowl. However Noodles and Company has come up with a great solution. Their “Buff” bowls leave out the noodles, and substitute spinach, while doubling the other ingredients.

I tried the Buff version of the Japanese Pan Noodles. It seemed funny to remove the Japanese Pan part from the dish, but it more than halved the calories, to just 320 in the whole bowl. And it was extremely tasty. I feel like I got all the flavor, without the carbs. And since the veggies (other than the spinach and cilantro) were hot, it didn’t seem like a salad.

As with the other bowls, you can get a side dish. I had a Caesar salad (side salad with a salad, ha!) and it was also tasty, and added only another 90 calories.

They also have the Coke Freestyle machines that can make a hundred or so different combos, including many with no calories.

In all, quite a satisfying low-cal lunch.

Noodles & Company
7822 W Sand Lake Rd
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 354-1301
http://www.yelp.com/biz/noodles-and-company-orlando-3

Taboon Bistro

**** (4 stars)

This hard to find restaurant faces the courtyard in the middle of the twin office buildings at the Universal backlot entrance. There is a lovely outside seating area under the portico.

The extensive menu offers every Mediterranean dish you can think of, and a few oddballs (Philly cheesesteak?)

Servings are generous, to say the least. My Veggie plate would have served two, particularly given the accompanying sides of salad and pickles. The Falafel was a bit dry, and I’ve had better hummus, but the Baba Ghanouj was the best I’ve had.

Taboon Bistro
5911 Turkey Lake Rd
Suite 102
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 720-7664
http://www.yelp.com/biz/taboon-bistro-orlando

Black Rock Bar & Grill

**** (4 stars)

This place is the latest incarnation of a space that has had a lot of turnover since it was what we called “Naughty Perkins” during Tiger Wood’s escapades. This latest tenant looks to have a better chance of survival… if they make a few adjustments.

The concept here is hot rock cooking, where you prepare your own meat on a 750 degree rock. Although some reviewers have treated this as a revolutionary concept, there has, in fact, been a place in Orlando that’s been doing a fantastic job of this for more than two decades. It’s Colorado Fondue Company in Casselberry. And Black Rock Bar & Grill has a long way to go before they’re as good as that place.

Nevertheless, they have an extensive menu, with some interesting salads and sandwiches in addition to the hot rock meals. That’s a good thing, because one of the problems here is that there are no economical lunch offerings. That’s because there is no lunch menu. With hot rock entrees at $24 and up, that’s a non-starter. ┬áBut salads and burgers are $11 and up, which is also on the high side for lunch.

The other problem is training. Our server had a significant language barrier, and half of our party’s order was wrong in one way or another. I’m sure it could all have been corrected, but it had already taken more than a half hour to get our meals, so it wasn’t worth it. And at lunch time the restaurant was far from full, so there’s some work to be done in the kitchen, too.

All that said, I really liked my Ahi tuna salad. The Ahi had a crunchy (but not spicy) coating of crushed wasabi peas, and the asian dressing was excellent.

“Black rock sauce,” whatever that is, came on several sandwiches. Although quite salty, it was delicious, and seemed to be a variation on Hollandaise.

The fries, which are battered, are also delicious.

Until some changes are made (namely, a lunch menu) I probably wouldn’t return for lunch. But it’s worth investigating the hot rock cooking at dinner, as that can be quite a fun activity.

Black Rock Bar & Grill
8965 Conroy Windermere Rd
Orlando, FL 32819

http://www.yelp.com/biz/black-rock-bar-and-grill-orlando