Sunday, January 28, 2007

Restaurant Review - Saucy Bella, 1700 West Sand Lake Road, Florida Mall area, Orlando, FL

Update 7/30/07 - Sorry to report that Saucy Bella has been confirmed as closed. Apparently, they were not getting enough traffic to keep going. Very sad - I will miss the tickled pink sauce.

A co-worker suggested I try Saucy Bella in the Cost Plus/World Market shopping center across the street from the Florida Mall. She said the pasta with vodka sauce was incredible and that there were other folks there with kids so it should be a kid-friendly place. So, on a recent Saturday, the boys, Grandma M., and I arrived at Saucy Bella for lunch. Saucy Bella is a fast-casual restaurant which means you go to the counter to order and then sit down and the food is delivered to your table. The decor is very different than I thought it would be with stainless steel tables and kitschy '50's style designs and colors. They have a large menu so we sat down first before ordering so we would have time to look it over. Nothing on the menu was expensive with prices ranging from $6 - $10. The menu was broken out by Saucy Starters (soups and appetizers), Salads (you can order a half salad of each offering, for about half the price - nice!), Saucy Pizza (with interesting sauce choices - not just red sauce), Saucy Sandwiches, and then Pastas. The Pastas are basically "make-your-own". For a $7.95 base price, you first choose a pasta (cavatelli, penne, angel hair, rigatoni, fettuccine or multi-grain penne) and then you choose a sauce. The sauce choices are really outstanding. There are your standard sauces such as Bolognese (meat sauce), Pomodoro (regular red sauce), and Alfredo (white cream sauce), but then they had several more intriguing choices in Vodka sauce (cream sauce with garlic, vodka, and sun-dried tomatoes giving it a characteristic pink color), Basil Cream (wild mushrooms, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and cream), and Checca (chopped tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil). The Vodka sauce appears to be Saucy Bella's signature sauce and it shows up in several "Tickled Pink" menu items including a Tickled Pink Chicken pizza and a Tickled Pink Chicken sandwich. The kid's menu looked pretty standard with choices of macaroni & cheese, chicken strips, pizza, spaghetti & meatballs, and grilled cheese for $3.95, which includes a drink and a cookie.

We finally made our decision so I went up to order. Grandma M. decided to get the "Pick Two" special where you can choose two of the following - cup of soup, 1/2 pasta, 1/2 sandwich, or 1/2 salad - for $6.95. She choose the half chopped salad and the half Italian Job sandwich (your basic Italian cold cuts). BB wanted the pizza and LB wanted the spaghetti & meatballs. I ordered the penne pasta but I was torn between the Vodka sauce and the Basil Cream - both sounded very good. The server said she could get me a plain bowl of the penne and then separate bowls of the two sauces - a very nice idea that I took her up on. I then went back to the table to wait for the food and to ask what everyone wanted to drink before I filled up the cups at the soda dispenser. BB immediately asked if they had crayons and something he could write on. Hmm, I didn't know so I went back to the order counter and saw that they did have coloring sheets and a big bucket of crayons (nice ones, too, Crayola, and some with glitter) so I grabbed a couple of sheets and a handful of crayons and came back to the table. The boys were very happy.

About 10 minutes later the boys' meals arrived... and they was HUGE! I figured BB's pizza could have fed all of us and LB's spaghetti & meatballs was enough for a very hungry adult with two enormous meatballs on top of a big mound of angel hair pasta. I knew right then we'd be taking home leftovers. I couldn't believe that each kid meal plus a drink plus a cookie was only $3.95. A few minutes later, our meals arrived. Grandma M.'s was big as well with a large half sandwich on ciabatta bread and a nice size salad on the side. I received a large bowl of penne, the two bowls of sauce, and then a nice piece of bread on the side to dunk with. The vodka sauce looked as I expected but the basil cream was much more pink - I had expected it to be more green from the basil. I poured some of the basil cream on one part of my pasta and some of the vodka sauce on the other. The basil cream was very nice and had lots of pieces of mushrooms... but it just couldn't compare to the delicious vodka sauce. I ended up pouring the rest of the vodka sauce on my pasta and finished the whole thing. Grandma M. also ate all of hers and declared it delicious as well. LB had given up on the meatballs and was now eating part of BB's pizza. We all ended up having a slice of the pizza and actually finished it between the four of us, so I just brought home the leftover spaghetti & meatballs. Next time, I'll just order the kids' pizza and have the kids split it. On our way out, we stopped by the counter to get the boys' chocolate chip cookies (also large). Saucy Bella is definitely a place you can get a lot of good food for a little money. They also have Kids Nights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays after 5 pm where kids eat free with every adult entree purchased.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Baskin-Robbins Flavor of the Month - Blueberry Lavender Ice Cream?

To celebrate "America's love of chocolate" according to the Baskin-Robbins website (, Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream stores are featuring Swiss Chocolate Treasure and Love Potion #31 as their Flavors of the Month. I thought, yum, Swiss Chocolate Treasure sounds good so I went on to read the description: Swiss Chocolate Treasure - Blueberry lavender ice cream combines with milk and Swiss chocolate ice creams and hidden chocolate-filled lavender cups to indulge all of your senses. What?? Blueberry lavender ice cream with chocolate-filled lavender cups? Okay, how many chocolate lovers out there think this sounds appetizing? I wash my hands with lavender soap; I don't know that I necessarily want to eat lavender.

(The other flavor, Love Potion #31 sounds good: White chocolate and raspberry ice creams swirled with a raspberry ribbon and loaded with raspberry-filled cups and chocolate chips. )

Now, I have tried rosewater ice cream before (it was at a foodie event in Miami), and ... I really didn't like it. Why? Because it tasted like rosewater... or what I would imagine a rose soaked in water would taste like. Very powdery and flowery - not exactly a taste I crave. So maybe I'm being unfairly judgmental to the Blueberry Lavender ice cream and am expecting it to taste like a flower as well.

Has anyone out there ever tried Blueberry Lavender ice cream before? Or, are you planning on trying the new Baskin-Robbins flavor? Let me know in the comments section! I might have to go by my Baskin-Robbins and actually get a taste of the flavor. If I do, I'll report back as well.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Restaurant Review - The Melting Pot, 7549 W. Sand Lake Rd, Orlando, FL

On a recent Sunday night, Mrs. S. and I went out for a "Moms Night Out" at The Melting Pot on Sand Lake Road. Now, while I actually saw families that brought their kids to eat at The Melting Pot, I don't think I'd be able to bring my kids until they are a little older. I don't think either one can sit through a 2-hour dinner without squirming and whining. For those of you who have never been to The Melting Pot, or haven't been in a while, a full meal consists of 4 courses - a cheese fondue appetizer, a salad, an entree fondue, and then a dessert (chocolate) fondue. You can certainly purchase each course individually, or you can go for the "Big Night Out" which is a package deal of four premium courses together. The "Big Night Out" changes periodically, about every 6-8 months according to our server.

After perusing the menu, and ordering a glass of wine, we decided to go ahead with the "Big Night Out" as the offerings looked really good. For $40 - $50 per person (yeah, that's another reason I don't bring the kids), the premium courses included a Quattro Formaggio cheese fondue (Provolone, Asiago, Fontina and Gruyere cheeses mixed with white wine, basil pesto, and marinara sauce), a Chopped Caesar salad, either filet mignon, lobster, or both, and then a Torino Hazelnut chocolate fondue. I'm usually a cheddar cheese fondue person (it's cheddar cheese cooked in beer - yum!) but the four-cheese fondue sounded really good. However, the Caesar salad didn't sound as good as my favorite Mushroom Salad so I substituted while Mrs. S. went ahead with the Caesar. Now all we had to do was choose a cooking style for our entrees -- which basically means choosing whether you are going to fry your food in oil or poach it in broth. Not wanting to smell like a french fry, we decided to go with one of the broths. We chose the Coq Au Vin broth, which normally has a $5 surcharge but is complimentary with the Big Night Out. It is a broth flavored with herbs, burgundy wine, mushrooms, garlic, and other spices. As she left to place our order, our server started to heat up the fondue pot in the middle of the table so it would be ready for our cheese appetizer.

As the pot in front of us began to steam, our server arrived with a tray full of the cheeses and other ingredients that made up our appetizer. She started with the white wine and then mixed in all the cheeses, other seasonings, and then a spoonful of the basil pesto and marinara. The results was a delicious mix of gooey cheese. We happily dipped the bread cubes, veggies, and green apples into the hot cheese. And, I have to admit, this was as good as the cheddar cheese fondue. Soon after we were done, our server took away the fondue pot (that had almost been licked clean), and brought our salads. Mrs. S. said the Caesar was good, but had Parmesan-encrusted pine nuts in it, which made for an "interesting" taste. My mushroom salad was as good as ever. Don't get this unless you LOVE mushrooms like I do. It's pretty much all mushrooms, with a little lettuce, in a Parmesan Italian dressing. Next came our Coq Au Vin broth, piping hot from the kitchen. Our server also brought our raw entrees which included one lobster tail cut into pieces, filet mignon medallions, strip sirloin, chicken breast chunks, huge shrimp, and four raw ravioli. We also got a bowl of raw veggies and about 10 different sauces to dunk our finished foods into. There was a garlic-butter sauce for the lobster, a green goddess sauce for the veggies, teriyaki, sweet & sour, curry, horseradish, barbeque, etc. etc. So now, our whole table was full of stuff! In the past, I usually took individual pieces of the entree and would cook them in the broth using the provided fondue forks. This is a very slow process and you have to be watching to make sure you aren't overcooking anything. However, our server gave us a great idea. She said to just dump in each entree (such as all of the pieces of lobster), let it sit for 2 minutes to cook and then scoop it out with the slotted spoon we were given. This was great advice and it was how we cooked all of our food. That way it gave us a chance to eat without constantly checking what was still cooking.

We were stuffed at this point but we knew that chocolate was next! We were given strawberries, pineapples, pieces of biscotti, marshmallows, brownies, and a large slice of cheesecake to dip into the chocolate. A great finish to a great meal. Expensive, yes, but you get a LOT of food for the money.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Restaurant Review - The Florida Waffle Shop, 4192 Conroy Road, Mall of Millenia area, Orlando, FL

A couple of weeks ago, Grandma, Grandpa, the boys, and I decided to try a new breakfast/lunch place that opened up right outside the Mall of Millenia (in the former Mama Fu's location). The Florida Waffle Shop is only open from 7 am - 3 pm each day, with breakfast available all the time and lunch from 10:30 am to closing. We arrived right around 10:30 am so were free to choose what we wanted from the menu. We were shown to a table at the back of the restaurant which, ironically, was where we were seated the last time we came to Mama Fu's. In fact, I think it actually was the same exact table as the decor doesn't look much different from when it was Mama Fu's. As a nice touch, the server brought us balloons for the boys as well as kids' menus and Wikki Stix instead of crayons. For those of you unfamiliar with Wikki Stix, they are colored string-like pieces that are coated with wax and can be used to make a picture by pressing them onto paper or can be twisted together to make 3-D creations. I like them, and so do the boys, so they were pretty happy.

The kids' menu is pretty simple - breakfast offerings are $2.95 and are French Toast, Scrambled Eggs & Toast, or Silver Dollar Pancakes; lunch is $3.95 and you can choose Chicken Fingers & Fries, Mac & Cheese, or Grilled Cheese & Chips. Drinks are additional and are a bit pricey - $1.50 for soda or milk and $2.25 for orange or apple juice. I was also surprised that there wasn't a kid's waffle offering. That's a pity because LB LOVES waffles. For adults, the breakfast offerings are waffles (natch) with a variety of toppings for around $6.69, pancakes with toppings for $5.99, French Toast for $5.79, and then Omelets that ranged from $5.99 to $7.79. Beverages, again, were expensive! All beverages are $2.25, including coffee and tea! Come on - how much does a tea bag cost nowadays? For lunch, you can choose from salads, sandwiches, paninis, and burgers, all around the same price ranges as the breakfast foods. Grandma chose the Chocolate Chip Waffles and a coffee, Grandpa went for lunch and ordered the BLT for $6.29, and both boys ordered the Silver Dollar Pancakes and chocolate milk. I ordered the Bacon, Tomato, and Cheddar Omelet and a decaf coffee. Do you want to know why I decided to go with an omelet? Because it comes with side dishes. All omelets come with Home Fries and an English muffin or toast. What do the waffles, pancakes and French toast come with? Nada, nothing, zilch. And Grandpa's BLT just comes with chips - fries are $1.49 EXTRA if you want to substitute.

Our server was very friendly and very nice to the boys... but was a little slow in the service area. We got our first cups of coffee okay but it was a while before we saw her again to get a refill. Luckily, the Wikki Stix were really keeping the boys busy and they didn't notice that it had been a while since we ordered and we still didn't have food yet. The food was finally delivered and mine looked really good. Also, the boys' Silver Dollar pancakes were pretty big, much larger than I was thinking they would be. Of course, once they saw Grandma had chocolate chips on her waffle, they wanted chocolate chips on their pancakes. Luckily, our server was there at the time and she quickly left and came back with a small cup of chocolate chips - no charge - for the boys. That was really nice. Grandma said her waffle was okay but she would have liked it to be a little warmer. Grandpa said the same about his BLT and that the "B" was a little skimpy with only 3 slices of bacon. Mine was actually VERY good. The omelet was nice and warm and filled with cheese, tomatoes, and bacon pieces. The English muffin was warm and buttered all the way, and the home fries were hot and fantastic! I don't know how they season their home fries but they just tasted great! Grandpa tried them as well and agreed they were very good (he then asked if he could have some more). So, if you are going to try The Florida Waffle Shop, I suggest you skip the waffles and get one of the omelet dishes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

It's Strawberry Season... Now Go Out and U-Pick 'Em!

Ah, winter in Florida (yes, it is winter my fellow Floridians). Time for navel oranges and fresh strawberries! Now, I have not been to the Plant City Strawberry Festival, so I can't compare, but I found a great place to take the kids strawberry picking right up S.R. 441. While heading back from lunch in Mt. Dora a couple of weekends ago, we passed a sign that read "U-Pick Strawberries" and a big arrow. Grandpa reasoned that if the sign was out, then they had to be open so we followed the arrows. A few miles and a dirt road later and we arrived at Oak Haven Farms. Yeah! They were open! We parked by the farm store and found out that we were there for the second weekend of strawberry season and it had come a little early this year. If we wanted to pick our own, it would be $1.99 a pound, or we could just buy the ones they had already picked for $3 a pound. We decided to "U-Pick" and grabbed a long cardboard box to put the berries in. We were told to head to where the other pickers were and the Oak Haven employee there would tell us what to do. BB dashed off to the strawberry fields with LB quickly following behind. Wow, I guess they were excited! The Oak Haven farmer gave us an orange flag that we were to put at the end of the row of strawberries we picked so they would know that row was done and not to send others down that row. All we had to do was find a row without an orange flag at the end. The boys and Grandpa had a GREAT time. The boys liked to find the ripe red berries and even my 3-year old started to learn that the red ones were good and the green ones were not yet ready. BB learned how to pick the berries pretty quickly but I had to guide LB a little bit. At first, he would just reach for the red berry and pretty much squish it. I taught him to use two hands and hold the stem with one hand and then pull the berry by the green part with the other. I had to help him pull but he did really good. The berries were nice and big and really ripe, but not too soft. At the end of the row, we realized we had actually picked a lot of berries.

Turns out, when our booty got weighed at the store, we had picked 3 pounds worth! They were really sweet and juicy too -- no sugar needed here! I was also excited to get back to the store because I saw that they had fresh strawberry milkshakes for sale as well. Unfortunately, I found out that, since it was only the beginning of the season, that they didn't have enough staff yet to man the milkshake counter but that they would in January. That seals the deal - I'll have to come back.

To get to Oak Haven Farms, take S.R. 441 North through Mt. Dora (past Hwy 46), and then turn right (East) on Wolf Branch Road. Take Wolf Branch Road for 2.5 miles and then turn left (North) on Bird Road. Bird Road is a dirt road and you'll see Oak Haven Farms on the right-hand side. Oak Haven Farms is not open everyday so you can call them at 352-735-1996 to see when they are going to be open.

Does anyone else have a favorite U-Pick 'Em place? I know there are some blueberry ones and corn ones as well. Let me know!

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