Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Request for Restaurant Recommendations: Any Good Chinese Restaurants Out There?

I have noticed a lack of really good Chinese restaurants in the greater Orlando area. Sure, there are some here and there such as Eastern Pearl in Altamonte Springs or Kim Wu in Metrowest. Our family even likes P.F. Chang's even though I would consider it "nouveau" Chinese as opposed to traditional. Anyone have any suggestions that I could try with my family? Where is it located and what is your favorite dish there?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Restaurant Review: Guacamole Mexican Cuisine, Winter Garden, FL

Recently, we tried the new Guacamole Mexican restaurant that is located on West Colonial Drive in Winter Garden in the Beall's/Appliance Direct shopping center. This had most recently been another Mexican restaurant - Chimi's - that I never got to try as it went out of business so quickly. Guacamole is located next to the empty building that used to be a Publix. I have to tell you that because there was no real signage outside of the restaurant so it is hard to spot. The boys and I were meeting Grandma and Grandpa there and luckily we were able to find it. When we walked in, Grandma and Grandpa were already at a table, eating chips and salsa and drinking margaritas. Guacamole offers a full-bar as well as margaritas and domestic/imported beers. Grandma declared the margarita really "weak" so probably going with a beer is a good idea. As we perused the menu and started eating the chips, Grandpa warned us that our first basket of chips and salsa is free but additional baskets are $1.50 according to the menu. Okay, that immediately put me in a not-so-favorable mood towards Guacamole which, unfortunately, did not improve throughout the meal. When the server came to take our drink orders, I ordered iced tea and asked for lemonade for the boys. It turns out that they only have sodas or iced tea for drinks, nothing else non-carbonated for the little ones. BB asked for a sweet iced tea but I was stuck for LB. He won't drink sodas and he doesn't like iced tea. Luckily, I noticed that Guacamole also offers agua de melon or "melon water" which I was sure LB would like. He's tried watermelon juice before and liked it and this turned out to be cantaloupe juice which he also liked. Whew, disaster averted... for now. I noticed that all of the kids' meals were $5 and included a side item (beans and rice for the Mexican offerings and fries for the rest) as well as a small drink. Since LB's drink wasn't going to be included anyways since it was a specialty drink, I just got side orders of quesadillas for each of the boys. That would only run me $2.75 a piece, much better than the $5 as they probably weren't going to eat the rice and beans anyways. Grandma ordered one of the combination platters with a cheese enchilada, a chicken tostada, and rice and beans for $5.25. Grandpa got adventurous and ordered the Nopales con Carnitas or cactus with pork. Apparently, he used to eat cactus occasionally when living in Texas. I had never tried cactus so I was eager to sample his dish. I ordered the 3 tamales plate for $7 which comes with rice and beans as well as sour cream, salsa, and guacamole. A short while later, the food arrived... but only the adults' food. The kids quesadillas were "coming" we were told. Not good - kids' meals should be served first if anything but never after the adults. Immediately, both kids starting whining and wondering where their food was. Secondly, my tamales were cold. Not slightly warm, but cold. Also, the condiments (sour cream, salsa, and guacamole) were served in tiny cups about the size of a shot glass. Five minutes later when the kids' food arrived, I asked the server to take back the tamales and have them heated up. Grandma's food was okay and Grandpa's cactus dish was as well. Cactus, it turns out, resembles green peppers when cooked and tastes a little bit the same as well, although maybe a bit blander. The pork was a bit spicy but was a good accompaniment to the cactus. Finally, my hot tamales arrived. We all agreed that the food was okay but not much better than that. As Grandpa said, there was nothing really spectacular about Guacamole that would make you want to return. So, we will probably not be back.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Restaurant Review: Dixie Crossroads, Festival Bay Mall, Orlando, FL

Update 5/31/08: We drove by Festival Bay Mall a few weeks ago and it looks like the Dixie Crossroads there has closed. Too bad, I liked a local place to get those little rock shrimps. However, if you liked Dixie Crossroads, you can always visit the original flagship restaurant in Titusville at 1475 Garden Street, Titusville, FL 32796. It is a LOT bigger than the Festival Bay restaurant ever was.

A new addition to the Festival Bay Mall at the end of International Drive is "World Famous" Dixie Crossroads (of the Titusville Dixie Crossroads), a Florida-style seafood restaurant. The restaurant is located outside of the main entrance to the mall, next to the now defunct Caddyshack restaurant. There's a fun looking patio with an indoor/outdoor bar at the front and the main restaurant area inside. Of course, since this is mostly a tourist mall, you can also take your picture by the Mr. Rock (Shrimp) statue by the door. I actually really liked the decor with whimsical undersea motifs including manatees, dolphins, and other Florida underwater creatures. When you are with children, I believe the best area to be seated is the center "house" that features a large aquarium to occupy the little ones' attention. There is but one menu at Dixie Crossroads, all listed on your paper placemat, kids' meals included. Prices are a little high for some of the entrees but the restaurant boasts that they catch all of their own seafood and ensure it is fresh. I won't be able to do the menu justice but be prepared for a boatload of different types of shrimp and seafood preparations (pun intended). Pretty much any type of shrimp or fish (that is in season, of course) can be done almost any type of way - fried, broiled, steamed, grilled, blackened, seasoned, stuffed, "coconutted", etc. All kids' meals are $2.99 and include fries, drink, and a chocolate pudding. Kids' choices are limited to a hamburger, chicken nuggets, shrimp, fish or clams. BB asked for fried shrimp and we ordered chicken nuggets for LB. Hubby was hungry this Saturday afternoon and so ordered a crab cake for an appetizer and then the mahi-mahi basket ($7.99) for lunch. From what I could tell, the only difference between the baskets and the entrees on the menu was an extra side item for the entrees (and about $2). Hubby chose the shrimp soup as his side and asked for the fish simply broiled with butter. I went for the specialty of the house - the rock shrimp. I had first tried rock shrimp about 3 weeks ago at this same restaurant and had come back for more. If you love lobster, you'll love rock shrimp. They are like tiny little lobsters pretending to be shrimp. Last time, the sweet potato side had been a disappointment due to its small size (although the cinnamon butter served with it helped) so I went for the regular baked potato hoping for the best. The rock shrimp basket goes for $9.99 and comes with one side; if you go for the entree with the two sides it will run you $11.99. Before we even got our drinks, my favorite part of eating at Dixie Crossroads arrived at our table - the corn fritters. These little hot balls of fried cornmeal dough come dusted with powdered sugar and are just wonderful. LB's eyes lit up as soon as the basket hit the table and he quickly grabbed one. Hubby is not one to eat sweets before lunch so he left the rest of us to gobble up the little goodies. Soon enough, Hubby's shrimp soup arrived. He claimed it was "okay" but was similar to potato soup with some tiny shrimp thrown in at the last minute. But, LB was willing to help him finish. Hubby was a little annoyed that our request for an extra spoon took a bit of time, especially with LB chanting, "Soup, soup, SOUP!" Our meals arrived soon after and I was pleased to see a large baked potato accompany my shrimp. Hubby peered down at my 12 small shrimp and asked if I had enough food. Okay, they do look small but they taste really good and with a baked potato and a bunch of corn fritters, it makes a nice meal. Hubby tried one of the rock shrimp and did declare that they tasted like lobster but that a dozen would probably have not been enough for him. His mahi-mahi he said was good and done as requested. LB had apparently stuffed himself with fritters, crackers (they come ready for snacking on every table), and shrimp soup and was just picking at his chicken (which really resembled chicken fingers versus nuggets). BB was carefully eating his fried shrimp, trying to avoid the tail shell that we warned him about. He actually got pretty good size shrimp with his kid's meal, most hidden under the french fries. Hubby, who is a quick eater, finished and then took LB to walk the mall so BB and I could finish our meals. BB did pretty good, eating most of his shrimp, and I polished off all of mine. The kids' meal dessert - the chocolate pudding - is of the pre-packaged variety and comes in the basket when the food is delivered so BB dug into his, and, well, okay, I ate LB's pudding (what he doesn't know won't hurt him). It was actually pretty good, almost mousse-like. Dixie Crossroads is a nice place to bring the family for a seafood meal, only marred by some hit-or-miss service (trust me, you don't want to hear about the service the first time I visited). You've got to try the rock shrimp when you visit [Mr. Rock told me to say that].

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Restaurant Mom's Culinary Commentary - Picky Eaters: Born or Bred?

Periodically, between restaurant reviews, I'd like to hear what you all think about different food-related topics. Today, I'd like to touch on kids that are picky eaters and how they got that way. Is it genetic? Did they learn to hate broccoli from their friends (or us)? Is there any way to make sure you won't get a picky eater? Here's my theory, with only my own two kids as research. For my big boy (BB) I was determined to keep eating all the ethnic cuisines I wanted throughout my pregnancy. So, I ate Indian food, Thai food, Mexican food, you name it. BB came out as a non-picky eater from the start. He loves fruits and vegetables (especially broccoli) and tries any food we throw at him. He's a big miso soup fan (he loves the tofu cubes in it) and begs for our pickled ginger when we have sushi. I've taken him to an Indian restaurant for dinner and he has tried every item that we ordered. Next, let's look at my little boy (LB), just two years old now. I wasn't feeling too great through his pregnancy plus I had terrible heartburn. So, I tried to eat a little bit blander menu and didn't eat out as much. He is now Mr. Meat and Potatoes (and Mr. Bread and Butter, too). He's actually said to me, "no green" when I'm trying to put vegetables on his plate. He can't get enough starches (corn, potatoes, rice, etc.) but basically pushes away everything else. Could it be that what I ate while they were pregnant influenced their tastes in the early years of their lives? What do you think? Let me know!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Restaurant Review: Frontera Mexican Cuisine, Sand Lake Road, Orlando, FL

For lunch on Sunday, we tried the new location of Frontera Mexican Cuisine, by the Florida Mall (the former Hops Restaurant spot). Frontera also has a location in Kissimmee. Frontera did a nice job decorating with the Hops space, with Spanish-style tiles on the tables and warm colors that give it a friendly and fun atmosphere. Grandma and Grandpa were disappointed that we couldn't order off the lunch menu, which is only for weekdays, but the dinner menu is pretty inexpensive and everyone was able to find something to order. The kids' menu consists of just a few simple puzzles and the menu on a colored piece of paper. BB loves menus like that. Give him a crayon and a piece of paper and he is happy. Kids' offerings are $3-$4 and include Mexican items like quesadillas, tacos, and enchiladas, as well as "gringo" items like chicken fingers and cheeseburgers. Strangely, one item is french fries for $2 - is that considered a complete entree for kids nowadays? LB ordered the cheese quesadilla, which comes with rice, and BB ordered the enchilada, which comes with rice or beans. Grandpa asked the server if it was a cheese enchilada and we got a nod from the server. BB decided on the beans on the side. For the adults, entrees range from $6-$11 for the "Mexican Dinners", which is all the traditional favorites, and $10-$16 for the "Especialidades (Specials)", such as steak and fajita dishes. Grandma and I went for the Flautas Mexicanas - five rolled corn tortillas stuffed with chicken or beef and then fried. I asked for two beef and three chicken and Grandma concurred. Grandpa asked for the Fried Beef Chimichanga. For the most part, the majority of the Mexican Dinners come with sour cream, pico de gallo (the chopped tomatoes, onions, and cilantro), and guacamole, which is great as most restaurants charge extra for those condiments. Hot chips and salsa arrived, as well as our drinks. The chips were crispy and the salsa was slightly spicy. Kids' drinks are served in plastic kids cups although the server brought BB his drink in a regular glass (BB was very pleased that he was considered old enough to get a "real" glass). The food took a while to arrive, probably close to half an hour, and it was hard to keep the kids entertained. However, several servers did keep the drinks and chips coming during this time. When the food did arrive, I was surprised to see that my flautas did not come with rice and beans. I know it didn't indicate that on the menu but I had just assumed it would accompany my flautas. The flautas themselves, however, were delicious. I think I prefer the chicken ones best as they were a bit softer and tastier although Grandma liked both. There was a verde (green) sauce on the side for dipping and the sauce was nicely spicy. Grandpa's chimichanga was HUGE. He almost didn't finish, and he ALWAYS finishes his food. He said it was nicely spicy as well. LB somehow picked all the tortilla off his quesadilla and just ate the cheese, although every bit of the cheese. He ate some of Grandpa's chimichanga as well although he thought it was spicy, too. He would just eat a bit, say "spicy", drink some lemonade and then repeat. For some strange reason, BB was served a bean enchilada with rice on the side. Certainly different than the expected cheese enchilada with beans on the side. Maybe when he said beans the server thought that was the kind of enchilada he wanted? BB is a big refried bean fan though and ate most of his meal, although he left the rice alone. Really, except for the long wait for the food, we had a very nice meal for a weekend lunch.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Restaurant Review: Carrabba's Italian Grill, Clermont, FL

Tonight I took my big boy (BB) and little boy (LB) to the Clermont Carrabba's to meet Grandma and Grandpa for dinner. There are several Carrabba's in the Central Florida area but I believe this is the newest one. Grandma called ahead to get our name on the waiting list, yet we still waited about 30 minutes to get a table. For some unknown reason, Clermont restaurants ALWAYS have a long wait. Here it was, a Wednesday evening at 6 pm, and we had a half hour wait! I guess Clermont residents have been literally starving for new restaurants in the area and now that several open up each month, they want to make sure they stay in business. I actually didn't have high expectations of what our experience might be at this restaurant. Grandma and Grandpa told me their first experience at the new restaurant a few weeks ago was terrible -- the food was cold and the service was horrible. But, they were willing to try again and we were all glad they did. We had the most wonderful server who was very attentive and was great with the kids. It turned out that Ashley was studying to be a preschool teacher and told us how she loved working with kids. How perfect is it to have a server like that? She quickly took our drink orders and let us know that it was still Happy Hour and "real" drinks were 2 for 1. Grandma and Grandpa took her up on that deal and ordered two sangrias. Ashley quickly came back with our drinks as well as hot bread and a bread dipping sauce made with herbs, spices, and olive oil. While the boys were stuffing themselves with bread, I perused the menu. Carrabba's has a pretty standard Italian menu with pasta dishes and pizzas along with some specials of the day and several interesting choices in Pasta Specialties and From the Grill. From the Grill features various preparations of chicken, seafood, and steaks that come with soup or salad plus a side dish. These run in the $15 - $20 range and sounded too filling for me. I went with Mezzaluna in the Pasta Specialties which was half-moon ravioli filled with chicken, ricotta and spinach in a tomato cream sauce. Grandma had the same as I did and Grandpa went with a bowl full of mussels steamed in a white wine and butter sauce. The kids menu was a coloring/activity book that had the offerings on the back. BB loves getting an activity book and crayons as a menu and quickly started filling out all the pages of his book. LB just scribbled happily. Kids' entrees are $4 - $5 and come with a beverage -- a big plus in my book as my kids rarely finish their drinks. LB went with the cheese pizza while BB got the cheese ravioli and went off the menu with his sauce, preferring an alfredo to the offered Pomodoro sauce (ah, my little gourmet, I was so proud). Of course Ashley said that would be no problem. The food quickly arrived and was all delicious. LB decided he wanted to eat a little bit of everybody's food although he liked BB's food a little too much and got a little cranky when he couldn't have more of the ravioli in the white sauce. We were able to placate him with the mezzaluna and he calmed down. Ashley returned to the table several times to refill drinks and bring more bread. We ended up bringing several types of ravioli home to save for my husband who had been working. All in all, a very pleasant experience and good food.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Restaurant Review: Cookes of Dublin - Pleasure Island, Downtown Disney, Lake Buena Vista, FL

After a brief shopping stint at the newly refurbished World of Disney store, my two-year old son and I were ready to eat! With a visiting cousin in tow, we surveyed our options. We didn't want McDonald's and decided to head to Pleasure Island and see what restaurants were available. I had been wanting to try Raglan Road, the new Irish pub/restaurant, but didn't think the LB (little boy) could handle it. So, I was very surprised to see a new counter-service restaurant right next door to Raglan Road that served Great Britain specialties! The place is called Cookes of Dublin and I have to assume that it is affiliated in some way with Raglan Road. It is a small place, truly just a counter service eatery, with a few indoor tables and more outdoor tables to a patio on the left. The patio, conveniently, has a full bar including import beers from the UK. Entrees are mid-priced between $8-$14 and all include a serving of chips (that's fries to us Yankees). There was the old standby of Fish and Chips as well as battered chicken, sausages, and a selection of meat pies. There is also a Juniors menu that has smaller sizes of Fish and Chips, Battered Chicken skewer, or sausages. Since my LB is a big chicken fan, I went with the Battered Chicken for him, for about $5. Drinks are not included with the children's meals but since LB had a full sippy cup, I decided he could just share my drink. As a big fan of cottage and shepherd's pie, I went for one of the pies for my dinner. I tried the Chicken pie with mushrooms in a creamy wine sauce and my cousin went for the Fish and Chips. After paying, my cousin stayed to wait for our numbers to be called and I went to the outside patio to scope out a table with LB in tow. Luckily, we only had to wait a few minutes before several folks left and we secured a table. These are patio-style tables however, they did have a stash of high chairs in the corner. LB hates high chairs and booster seats and did fine with these regular chairs. It took about 5-10 minutes to get the food. My pie was deceptively small since I ended up being full having just eaten half of it and the chips. The crust was very flaky, more like a croissant than a pie crust. And the chicken and sauce were delicious! I'll definitely have to come back and try the beef and lamb pie. My cousin declared the Fish and Chips delicious and LB ate ALL of his chicken plus a good portion of his chips. The atmosphere was very festive, although since we were outside, there were some smokers here and there (for those of you who don't like smoke). Good food, nice atmosphere, LB ate and liked it... I'll be back for sure.

Copyright © by Restaurant Mom. All rights reserved.