Friday, September 26, 2008


Kudos? to the Cafe at Nordstroms for having a line cook start over on my sandwich when I noticed she wasn't wearing gloves. Yuck!

The sandwich was delicious but I was definitely turned off to returning by the lack of good hygiene practice. Hopefully this was an isolated incident.

The big upside is that they served the best fries I've ever had. Awesome Parsley/Rosemary seasoning!


I continued to theme of Magical Dining and overindulgence (ah, don’t you just love September?) this past weekend and headed out to Roy’s over on Restaurant Row.

My friends and I had early reservations on Saturday and drove out with the intention of ordering off the Magical Menu. But here’s what happened. After we sat at our table (which, for the record, was our second-our first table was located directly next to a large group of high school students on their way to Homecoming! The hostess was very nice about moving us.), our server came over and sold us on the regular menu. I mean really sold us. Don’t get in a tizzy-we still didn’t pay full price-but rather ordered off the regular seasonal prix fixe menu! Who knew that for just a few more dollars ($35) you could have a larger selection of items to choose from? We decided to splurge and pay the extra $6 each for more options.

I started with the Nori charred Yellowfin Ahi Tuna appetizer. I was immediately impressed by the plate presentation and good size of the portion. This app could have easily been shared amongst two. But then again I happily ate the entire thing. It was also served with a Wasabi Ogo Salad that paired well with the sauce. FYI, Ogo is gourmet (translation: expensive) seaweed from Hawaii. The tuna was perfectly cooked and seasoned well.

I went with one of the signature dishes for my entrée-the Tender Braised Hawaii Kai Beef Short Ribs. And you know what- there’s really something to be said about eating meat that you don’t even need a knife to cut into. This beef was soooo tender and delicious it was practically falling apart as I maneuvered it from the plate into my mouth. Along with the meat, the braising sauce was flavorful and borderline too rich. The garlic-mashed potatoes were sub-par and served luke warm, but the perfectly cooked and bright green broccoli and bok choy made up for the spuds. Overall the dish was flavorful but very rich with a hefty size serving.

So here’s a question for you:
(Whether you want to regard it as culinary or philosophical is your choice).

What is the difference between Soufflé and Lava Cake??

Here’s what I know:
Soufflés are, well, light and fluffy. A combination of some sort of base mixed with egg whites. They are served in their original baking vessel. If made correctly they rise beautifully and are often served with crème anglaise, ice cream or Chantilly cream (or all of the above). Ok, I admit it; I’ve made several hundred soufflés back in my restaurant days.


Lava Cakes are, well, mini-cakes with a lava-like filling. Think of a warm individual size chocolate cake filled with chocolate ganache that comes oozing out as you break into it. They are served outside of their original baking vessel. And often served with ice cream. I have less experience making lava cakes but probably more experience eating them.

or Lava?

I’ve been noticing recently that restaurants are using the terms “Soufflé” and “Lava Cake” interchangeably. And I’m officially tired of it! So I asked around at work today, and I got a few insights into the dark world of rich desserts. Some say that restaurants are assuming that their guests are under-educated about the differences stated above and are just choosing to use the term Soufflé. Or maybe it’s about trends. As my fav pasty chef Victoria said, “What? Lava Cake? Hop into your Delorean and travel back to 1987!” Maybe they do this because people are more apt to buy a soufflé, or maybe they assume that the average guest simply cannot distinguish between the two.

But I can and here’s what’s bothering me: My entrée, while super tasty, was also super heavy. And I was already close to being full before dessert even got to the table. Yes, I know what you’re thinking-I could’ve stopped eating my entrée before I finished ¾ of it-but then again I thought I was getting a light and fluffy dessert-not another heavy and rich dish. Don’t get me wrong-I’m not complaining. The soufflé/lava cake was amazingly delicious with its lava-like center and ice cream. I guess I’m just tired of feeling fooled by the soufflé/lava cake forces above.

Besides the wholes dessert debacle, here’s the thing: I love this restaurant! The food was amazing and the service was impeccable (Kudos to Ryan!). They also have a great wine list with a good variety of price points (We had a $36 Pinot Noir from Australia that was perfect for all of our entrees). Plus, now that I know they offer a seasonal prix fixe menu I’m hoping to go back often.

Insider tip: Roy’s only offers reservations at or before 6pm or after 8pm. If you’re planning on being a walk in-go between those hours.

* Soufflé Tip: When buttering your ramekins, use a pastry brush and make sure to use vertical strokes. This will cause vertical striations in the butter that will help propel the soufflé up and out of the ramekin.

Extra Pix:

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp with Fried Egg Fried Rice

Roy's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Le Coq Au Vin

First off, I have to openly admit that I don’t go out for French food too often. I’ve even admitted to it being one of my least favorite cuisines. I think I’ve always had a pre-conceived notion of rich food with confusing names. Granted, I attended a French technique culinary school and also currently work at one. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the processes and details. But I think I was scared off as a kid-worried that all the dishes contained rabbits or frog’s legs.

In fact, I hadn’t been to Le Coq Au Vin in quite a few years. And when I say quite a few, I mean many, many years. Ok, fine, I was an angst-ridden teen last time I was there. I’ve thought often about going back, but as an adult was no longer scared by the possibility of bunny on my plate, but more by the possibility of spending an amount of money equivalent to my electricity bill.

So, with the ringing of the Magical Dining Month in my ears, I got a group of girls together to get gussied up and go eat some French food!

Considering I hadn’t been to Le Coq Au Vin in some time, I don’t think too terribly much has changed. Located in an odd location on Orange Ave. just south of Gatlin, the ambiance is quite unique and rather homey. Thoughtfully we had made reservations-the restaurant was absolutely slamming for a Sunday evening.

I started my three-course prix fixe ($29) dinner with the Tarte a L’ Oignon. (Here’s the other thing-while I even speak extensively about French wines, I often have to look up pronunciations. Growing up in Florida, I figured the key language to focus on in school was Spanish.)

Oh My Goodness. This was delicious. The Alsace style tart consisted of a bedding of puff pastry topped with caramelized onions, bacon, and goat and Boursin cheeses. When it comes to the region of Alsace (in northeast France, right on the Germany border) I feel very comfortable talking about their wines-highly regarded Pinot Gris, Gewurtztraminer and Riesling. (Also, FYI, the Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc has become a recent fav amongst my friends and I.) Plus, both my boss and another co-chef are from the region and I never fail to see the pride in their eyes when they speak of their hometown. I digress-point being-the tart was absolutely perfect with it’s buttery crust, sweet onions and herby cheese. Honestly, I plan on having this dish again! Soon!

For my second course I choose the Tournedos-seared beef tenderloin topped with crabmeat and a Béarnaise sauce. (Yep, I decided against the signature dish-really, the best Coq Au Vin I’ve had was in Paris.) The entrée was fantastic-perfectly cooked meat with one of the best Béarnaise I’ve had. It was served with a potato pancake that was unusual and tasty with large chunks of potatoes. The two other sides were perfectly cooked carrots and haricot verts.

Lastly, for dessert, I went against my instincts and got the Tarte ala Rhubarbe. I know that I’ve mentioned my Grandmother on this site-and what a fantastic chef she is. But I think I’ve left out her Rhubarb torte. We have it every summer when I go to Ohio to visit. And, quite frankly, there’s nothing like the fresh rhubarb from Ohio. So, while I was expecting the sour/tangy/sweetness of the rhubarb torte that I’m used to, I instead tasted a very blend and boring dessert. The only saving grace was a summery and creamy coconut ice cream. I’ll give my Grandma a call in the next few days and get her recipe-it literally runs circles around the one at Le Coq Au Vin.

As far as the wine list-I have to admit I was also disappointed. I was looking forward to sampling some hard to find French wines-but rather found a mundane list that had more American wines than French.

All in all I had a perfect time. The food was absolutely fantastic. And I also have to say that I think I’ve finally broken down my preconceptions of French food. Maybe it’s the culinary and life experience, but the menu no longer intimidates me. Although, thank goodness I had a high school French teacher with me to help with pronunciations!

PS For kicks and giggles-here's a pix of me in Paris eating Coq Au Vin. Sorry it's oddly small, I had to scan it and couldn't figure out how to enlarge it....

Le Coq Au Vin on Urbanspoon

My Job Rocks!

Wine Tasting
Cheddar Cheese
Bleu Cheese
Diet Coke
Spit Cup!
Albarino from Spain
Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
Mablec from Argentina
Shiraz from Australia

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rocco's Italian Grille

So I went a bit crazy this weekend with the whole Magical Dining Month-eating at Rocco’s on Saturday night and Le Coq Au Vin on Sunday. But, when the prices are so good, how can you resist?

I’d been to Rocco’s Italian Grille a few times before for family dinner and have always had both a great time and a great meal. We got there pretty early on Saturday (yep, after a quick afternoon trip to the Wine Room on Park Ave.) and were greeted with a huge smile and plenty of open tables.

I couldn’t resist the Bruschetta of the day for my appetizer-Marscarpone and Gorgonzola cheeses with artichokes and arugula. And, for the record, they had me at Marscarpone! Hints of sweetness with tanginess from the Gorgonzola and bitterness from the arugula were a perfect match. The bread was perfectly toasted and this dish was a hit all around the table!

My entrée was the Chicken breast filled with fresh Mozzarella, roasted red peppers and prosciutto. It was served atop slightly wilted spinach and diced tomatoes with a light Marsala sauce. The entrée was good; don’t get me wrong, but nothing too special. First off, from personal experience, fresh Mozzarella never does well as a stuffing for chicken. It doesn’t hold up well in heat and really breaks down and melts out of the chicken. For the rest of the stuffing-it was pretty sparse with one sliver of red pepper and a few slices of Prosciutto. My spinach was perfectly wilted and quite fresh-but was not stemmed! (For the record, after spending many hours of my life de-stemming fresh spinach, this has become one of my biggest food pet peeves. Look how ugly it looks! Yes, it’s a pain and very time consuming, but it’s all about the details!) The Marsala sauce was very flavorful but definitely on the runny side. All in all, my entrée was tasty (the chicken was cooked perfectly) but I wouldn’t order it again. At the same time, the thought has crossed my mind that maybe the filling was skimpy because….we were ordering off the Magical menu. I hope that’s not the case, but, realistically, I’m sure it was.

Dessert all around the table was the Cannoli (plus after dinner drinks…). I’m not the biggest fan of Cannoli-I find it rather cumbersome to eat, and yes, while breaking into it I sent a piece flying across the table. But the filling was absolutely delicious with a great texture (not too mealy) and perfect hints of orange flavoring.

I had a great time at Rocco’s and am sure I’ll be back in the future. Both our server and management were very friendly and gracious. The ambience is relaxed and comfortable without the pretentiousness of some fine dining establishments. Plus, Rocco’s is now featuring in depth Italian regional tasting menus for both food and wine. Once the Magical month of September is completed, they’ll go back to focusing on one sub-region of Italy per month. Great concept! Especially for those of us that are a fan of everything Italy!

And, as usual, I fell into the Magical Dining Month trap-spend a little on food and a lot of alcohol! We had a fantastic Dolcetto D’Alba plus after dinner drinks. But, as I’ve been saying a lot these past few weeks-it’s worth it to get a chance to experience fantastic food experiences at some of our amazing Orlando restaurants! At great food prices!

Don’t forget to check out the Magical website:
And Rocco’s website for a more detailed menu:

Rocco's Italian Grille on Urbanspoon
Check back in a few days for my Le Coq Au Vin review!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Hmmm...I see many Prix Fixe meals in my future...

Started out September Magical Dining Month with a (cheap) bang!

I've heard (and read) a lot of not-so-great reviews of Emeril's Tchoup Chop down at Universal-but I've always had positive experiences there! Then I realized the one common denominator in my Tchoup dining experiences...I've only been for lunch. And, since they are currently offering $19 for a 3 course lunch, I went back again over the weekend.

One key thing: the restaurant has always been near empty when I've been during daytime hours. Maybe people are at the parks, or at the pool which is just a few steps away. Regardless, again I had fantastic and quick service. My entree was similar to the one I got last year (ok, I ordered the same thing and it was just as delicious as last year). In all seriousness, the Macadamia encrusted Salmon is fantastic-served with broccoli, enoki mushrooms, sticky rice and an amazing ginger beurre blanc.

For apps we got the Cruncy Shrimp (um, yep, just as yummy, see the previous Tchoup entry for more details!) and the Mongolian BBQ Chicken. The BBQ was served on a crispy wonton with a healthy dose of roasted red peppers. The sauce was rather non distinctive-my dining partner thought it need more acidity, I thought it need more sweetness and spice. But, thinking about it now, I think it needed more of an Asian influence (sesame oil, Sriracha, etc.) However, the crispiness of the wonton did bring a nice crunch to the dish.

I did try two new desserts this year (not to worry, we split them and didn't finish either. Well, we left a few bites on the plate!). My fav was the individual Pineapple Upside down Cake with Ginger Ice Cream. The cake itself was perfect and moist with a creamy ice cream that was not overly sweet but rather mild and alluring. Plus, I love any dishes that are served in an individual style!

We also got the "Sweet Chocolate Glazed Peanut Butter Cream Layered Kahlua Chocolate Cake served with Banana Foster Sauce, Pecan Praline and Sweet Cream". I'm not kidding. While all of the above are delicious on their own, the combination of flavors was just as convoluted as the name of the dish.

If you have any interest in dining at Tchoup Chop, again I would recommend going during lunch. The restaurant itself is quite beautiful and surprisingly relaxing in the sometimes overwhelming tourist area. Plus, you can park right at the hotel and get your parking validated (and avoid the Universal parking cluster).

Stay tuned for more magical experiences-now that I've left the Creole/Pacific Rim cuisine of Thcoup Chop, I see a trip for some amazing French fine dining cuisine in my future.....