Sunday, February 24, 2008

Funky Monkey

So I headed over to The Funky Monkey last weekend. I really really wanted to like this restaurant for a variety of reasons. Number one: it’s close to my house. Number two: it’s described as a “neighborhood wine bar”. Lastly and most obviously, I love the idea of fun and exciting restaurants opening their doors in Orlando.

Here’s the deal. You guys know that I’m not keen on reporting to many negative things about restaurants on this blog. I go to many eateries that I never discuss on here, some good, some bad. Some really, really bad. But over all this is supposed to be a fun thing for me, and I’m not interested in wasting my time and energy on bad experiences (I just usually give them a quick plug on But, in the interest of fairness, and because readers voted for me to go here, I’m going to give you an honest account of my experience at Funky Monkey.

We choose to do salads and apps to get a variety and not spend too terribly much money.

To start, here are the positives:

The Ambiance: Very hip and comfortable with fun artifacts wherever you look. (One warning though, if you’re a bit on the claustrophobic side, it is very small and crowded.)

The Wine List: Interesting and varied with a good selection of price points. Trust me, I’m very happy to get a decent bottle of wine in a restaurant for $15 (Blue Monkey Zinfandel).

The Edamame: An on the house beginning to the meal. Unlike the usual, this edamame was tossed with lime juice and chopped garlic to bring this treat to a whole new level. I’ll never eat the traditional salted variety the same way again.

The Blue Monkey Salad: I watched in envy as my dinner companion ate this salad. I’m not kidding, there was lots of ohhing and ahhing coming from across the table. The mixed greens, blue cheese and mushrooms were covered with an absolutely delicious blueberry ginger vinaigrette. I managed to get one of the last bites, but only after promising that I would go undercover as a line cook just to get the recipe.

The Shrimp and Scallop Dumplings: Fresh and quite tasty with a tangy soy-ginger-lime sauce.

Orlando Brewing Co on Tap: I’m not the biggest fan of the beer, but kudos for keeping it local.

And here are the negatives:

The Parking: A major issue. Located on Mills Ave. in the ViMi district, I have no idea how they are going to rectify this situation. We ended up parking in the neighborhood behind the restaurant and cutting through a gas station to get to the entrance. A sign on the door recommends customers parking across the street in a bank parking lot and then crossing Mills. There is also limited street parking in the area.

The Red Monkey Salad: Iceberg lettuce, canned corn, processed shredded cheese and a tasteless dressing. Enough said.

The Crabcake: And when I say The crabcake, I’m not kidding. One single crabcake. Served on iceberg lettuce. For ten dollars. Enough said.

Identity Crisis: The Funky Monkey is simply trying to be too many things at once. Is it a sophisticated eatery or a “funky” eatery? What's with the fantastic wine list with good prices yet the over priced food? I understand trying to keep food costs low, but you could have at least roasted the corn in my salad. I overheard the manager telling another table that Chef Penelope Brown used to head up Amuras. The Asian influence was prevalent, and quite honestly, the best part of our meal. I would love to see them focus more on the Asian fusion to help sort out this crisis.

Will I go back? Maybe, probably. I'm interested in trying the Bison Burger and waiting to see if they wrinkle out the kinks of a new establishment.

Sorry, there are no pictures due to technical difficulties.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sea Thai

Sometimes I feel like the majority of Orlando consists of one ghetto strip mall after another.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those “Orlando sucks and I can’t wait to get out!” people. Actually, I’m one of those rare natives that has never felt that way. Sure, I left for schooling, living in New Orleans for four years and Washington DC for another two. But I never had any complaints about Orlando. I returned to my hometown with a fresh outlook and really got to know her in a different fashion. Gone were the high school days of hours wasted at Denny’s or Village Inn drinking coffee. Gone were the days of running around reaping havoc at The Exchange. Now it’s the days of discovering the hidden gems. The days of cultural events and good shopping. The days of finding my new top choice for Thai food in Orlando. Even if it is in a ghetto strip mall.

Sea Thai won a Foodie Award this year for best Thai restaurant. I’d been meaning to go for a while and finally headed over this past weekend. First impressions of this restaurant are anything besides the typical strip mall restaurant. The geometrical blue earthy tones on the walls and the bubbles hanging from the ceiling literally give feelings of dining beneath the sea. We were seated quickly and enjoyed prompt service throughout our meal.

We started off the meal with an order of Veggie Summer Rolls. The fresh rice paper was a perfect encasing for seared Tofu sticks and the peanut sauce was lusciously thick and creamy.

I had the Herbal Tea Smoked Chicken for my entrée. It was delicious; moist with the perfect hints of charcoaled smokiness. I didn’t really get the jolt of tea flavoring that I was expecting but nonetheless I was happy with my choice.

My dinner companion got the pan seared Tofu steaks that I didn’t get to try but looked beautiful. (Although certainly more fried than seared). Our only complaint about both dishes was the small amount of veggies on the plate. So we ordered an extra side, only to practically collapse in laughter as we divvied up the miniscule amount of veggies that were brought out to us (Imagine, “Ok, I’ll take the piece of broccoli, you take the snap pea…”).

We splurged on dessert and got the Fried Banana with a scoop of Coconut Ice Cream. The ice cream was absolutely fantastic in its rich but not too sweet creaminess. This was a new flavor combination for me and reminded me of a hot beachy summer day. It was the perfect finish to a great meal experience.

Later in the weekend I stopped in at the new location for The Dessert Lady. Located across the street from Ceviche on Church Street, it has one of the coolest atmospheres in Orlando. The décor is straight out of a boudoir and practically transports you to France ala Moulin Rouge. My friends and I couldn’t come to a consensus on ordering, so we split the dessert platter (4 different ½ servings). First and foremost, the Peanut Butter Pie was out of this world. The light and fluffy PB mousse really made this dessert unique. We also tried the Lemon Rum Cake that was freakishly moist with a delicious icing. The Cannoli Cake was also fantastic, but the Flourless Chocolate Torte, while tasty, was a bit on the dense side for me. All of the staff were very friendly and gung ho about finally being open. On one hand I’m thrilled to have such a new and central location for this dessert eatery. On the other hand, I kinda wish I never knew that they existed because I must have that Peanut Butter Pie again!
(Call for directions; the new location is not yet listed on the site.)

Sea Thai on Urbanspoon

The Dessert Lady on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Fifi's Bistro

To kinda go along with the theme of the times, I took your votes to heart and went to Fifi’s Bistro last week for dinner.

First off, it’s rare for me to go out on a Tuesday evening. It’s even more rare for me to drink on a Tuesday evening. But the most rare for me is to turn down a dinner invitation when a restaurant is offering ½ off bottles of wine (under $100). So I took the reader’s advice and my new shi shi haircut and headed out for dinner.

Fifi’s is located downtown on Eola Drive in between restaurants the Beacon and Graze. I’m not quite sure of the word to describe the decor. Posh? Swanky? Precious? Whatever the term, I adored the wash of pink, the dramatic window draperies, the classic dessert case, and most of all, the Lucite chandeliers.

For starters I had the Chick Pea Soup with Bacon special. I was envisioning more of pureed soup but instead got a Minestrone with a few Chick Peas and strips of Sundried Tomatoes. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, but the addition of the bacon made the soup a bit on the greasy side. My dinner companion raved about her Baby Lettuces salad and I have to admit I experienced a tinge of order jealousy. It was served with candied Walnuts, Boursin cheese, and a Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette.

I ordered the Capellini Pasta for my entrée. I don’t think that I’ve ordered pasta in a restaurant in quite some time, but I’m really a sucker for the addition of Peas in a pasta dish. (Alright, I also admit this was one of the cheaper options. I’ve placed myself on a restaurant budget.) The dish was quite good, but very rich. The pasta was topped with a large portion of roasted Chicken, a delicious Rosemary cream sauce, and a smoky Mozzarella that (thankfully) was on the lighter side of smokiness. All the flavors were spot on, and the Chicken was cooked perfectly. The portion size was above average, and I was happy to take home more than half my meal and have it the next night for dinner.

My veg friendly companion had the Butternut Squash Ravioli served in a Sage brown butter sauce. It was also garnished with a few crispy Sage leaves. One of my favorite flavor combinations, this dish was absolutely delicious and a big hit.

Every time I’ve heard someone talk about Fifi’s, dessert is mentioned at some point in the conversation. So I was thrilled when our server led us up to the dessert case and flipped on the lights so we could get a good look at our choices. Everything looked, um, fantastic, but I decided to go with the Lemon Chiffon Cake with a drizzle of Strawberry sauce. Wow is about all I can say. The cake was moist, light and fluffy with gentle hints of lemon. We also tried the Chocolate Lava-esque Cake that was smothered in Chocolate sauce with a scoop of ice cream on the side. Delicious but a bit too heavy for me after my entrée.

Above everything else, there is one thing that was lacking from the evening. With a name like Fifi’s, I was expecting an air of uncomfortable pretentiousness and conceit. Instead I got an unaffected and relaxed atmosphere. My overall impressions of Fifi’s are really very positive. The restaurant was chic, the food was good, and the service was flawless. Next I plan on trying lunch, the crepes look fantastic!

Almost forgot to mention the wine: We had a yummy Tempranillo. There are wine specials on all of the weekdays. Check out their website for more details.