Authors Posts by Unique Michael

Unique Michael

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Unique has over five years of experience in the communication industry and is the Director of Advertising for Tasty Chomps, Orlando's Number 1 Food Blog. He also writes for Orlando Weekly, Orlando Business Journal, and Entrepreneur.

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I was recently invited to The Bohemian Hotel in Celebration to preview their new menu – created by executive chef, Zachary Martin. The dinner menu is focused on healthier food options, locally sourced ingredients, the freshest ingredients and sustainable food items. The majority of the produce is from local farmers in the Florida area – including Water Kist Farms, Cahaba Farms, Arc Farms, Pero Farms, Santa Sweet Farms and B&W Quality Growers.

At some point in my life, I lived in Celebration. However, I never set foot in the hotel. From the outside, it has a regal look. The lights lighten up the street and the giant “Bohemian Hotel” sign welcomes both tourists and the town of celebration.

Before entering, I was greeted by a friendly hotel staff. I entered the hotel and found my eyes scattered. There was so much to take in! Art. People. Laughter. The positive energy radiated through the entire lobby.

I was taken to the pool area, where a variety of Mini Martinis were served. I’m not a lush by any means, but I wanted to try all of them. Here’s what they had:

  1. Blood Orange
  2. Key Lime Mojito
  3. Tequila Sunrise
  4. Lychee
  5. Malibu Bleu

Drinks

Mini Martinis 

First, I tried the Blood Orange Martini, which had notes of grapefruit and cinnamon. The alcohol overpowered the flavor but it was still enjoyable. Two minutes later, I tried the Tequila Sunrise. This was definitely too strong for me but it had beautiful aromas of orange and cedar wood. After that drink, I found myself feeling slightly buzzed. However, I had to have one more drink. The bartender handed me a Malibu Bleu, which was as blue as the sky. This drink was unlike the others; it was refreshing and reinvigorating. For those of you who aren’t a fan of super sweet drinks, I wouldn’t recommend this one – it’s definitely on the sweeter side.

After drinks, we were taken to the dining room. A beautiful long table awaited I and the other media. The table was embellished with fresh flowers and beautiful cutlery – the type you’d see in MTV’s Marie Antoinette – the room was also surrounded with artwork by Tom Sadler, a talented artist who creates beautiful landscape pieces in rich color.

Several minutes passed until Executive Chef, Zachary Martin appeared, an enthusiastic chef whose love for culinary creations is undeniable.

After telling us about the menu, he left the room and we were served the Summer Corn Bisque – a beautiful blend of citrus and yogurt. At first, I thought the combination was strange because citrus and dairy don’t usually go well together. Why? The citrus tends to make the dairy curdle. The bisque was warm and tangy; I detected bold flavors of bold mandarin and lemon. The after taste was surprisingly creamy – almost like an orange cream Popsicle.

Next, we sampled the Beets and Bleu – a dynamic salad made of roasted beets, pickled red onions, crumbled bacon, mixed greens, bleu cheese, and aged balsamic. Under any other circumstances, you wouldn’t find me eating beets. The dirt-like taste has always repelled me away. To my surprise, the salad was excellent. The beets were cooked perfectly and didn’t have the dirt taste – it was most likely balanced by the aged balsamic. The pickled red onions and mixed greens gave it a crunch texture, while the bleu cheese tied everything together with its tart creaminess.

After trying the Beets and Bleu, we were served the Crab Cake. Now – I’ve had a lot of crab cake in my life but I’ve never tasted crab cake with shaved fennel, tomato, red onion salad, and champagne yogurt. The combination was definitely unique. I wasn’t a huge fan of the champagne yogurt since it was too rich – almost like mayonnaise. However, the crab cake was moist and the red onion salad had bold flavors of pepper and spice.

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Crab Cake with shaved fennel, tomato, red onion salad, and champagne yogurt

Next, we tried the Chilean Seabass. Unlike everything else we sampled, I wasn’t impressed with this dish. The fish was served with soba noodles, pea tendrils, shitake mushrooms, prawn butter, and coconut curry broth. The combination was too much. Yes – there is such a thing as too much; kind of like when you make an alcoholic beverage and add too many ingredients. The Seabass would have been excellent with just the pea tendrils, shitake mushrooms, and coconut curry broth. The soba noodles were awkward and the butter was too much in combination with the rich coconut curry broth.

SeaBass

Chilean Seabass served with soba noodles, pea tendrils, shitake mushrooms, prawn butter, and coconut curry broth.

For the final entrée, I tasted both scallops and filet mignon – on different plates, served with summer roasted vegetables, roasted fingerling potatoes, and fresh herb butter. The scallops were cooked to perfection. In the past, I’ve had chew scallops. However, these were juicy and easily melted with every chomp.

Scallops

Scallops with roasted fingerling potatoes. 

I only had a small bite of the filet mignon since I don’t eat beef but it was tender and full of bold woodsy flavor – think oaky mixed with peppers. Unfortunately, I was not a fan of the herb butter – it was too rich and didn’t really pair well with either of the meats.

Fillet

Fillet Mignon with roasted fingerling potatoes. 

If you’ve met me – you’d know that I’m a dessert connoisseur. Three out of four times, I order dessert first because I know I’ll be full if I eat the entrée first. After dinner, we were treated to a decadent Florida Key Lime Cheesecake. Here’s my honest critique. I was majorly confused because Key Lime Cheesecake is moderately tart and creamy. This dish was definitely more along the lines of a  New York Cheesecake with a hint of lime; it was served with sugared limes and dried raspberries, which gave it a contrasting tanginess. The “filling” itself was very creamy but lacked tartness. Overall, I give it eight out of ten stars.

Dessert

Key Lime Cheesecake served with sugared limes and dried raspberries

Our night ended with lots of laughs and discussions about art. The hotel’s Grand Bohemian Gallery showcases more than 75 works of art by local, regional and internationally recognized artists. Upon exiting the hotel, I briefly listened to the live music and felt the soulful energy of the hotel. If you are in Celebration, try out the new menu. The staff is extremely friendly and the hotel has a unique charm of its own.

 

About Executive Chef, Zachary Martin

Born and raised in New Orleans, La., Chef Zazhary martin’s hometown roots have influence his innovative culinary creations and his modern approach to classic cuisine. His techniques and talents have been fine-tuned through mentoring by the royalty of new-age giants, Emeril Lagasse and Bernard Carmouche.

About Bohemian Hotel Celebration – Celebration, Fla.

Within the charming town of Celebration rests a delightful escape from the ordinary, Bohemian Hotel Celebration. The Kessler Collection boutique hotel features a luxe lobby inspired by nature with warm golden, cream and white décor reminiscent of sophisticated Floridian elegance. The hotel’s fine design, inspired by its owner Richard Kessler, includes a breathtaking Italian chandelier, natural linen furnishings, fresh orchids and handmade poplar bark tables. Captivating lakeside views invite guests to walk alongside the water for a stroll in the “unexpected Orlando,” take a swim in the inviting pool or relax in rocking chairs on the terrace, among lush red draperies, hickory branch chandeliers and rustic driftwood scones crafted from indigenous vines.

About Kessler Collection Hotels

Capturing the classical and unconventional spirit of Bohemian cultures, The Kessler Collection’s portfolio of passionately created and artistically inspired boutique hotels boast chic design, luxe accommodations, enriching ambiance and intuitive service. Whether visiting properties in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama and South Carolina each hotel’s exquisite art, music and cultural influences, personally acquired for that hotel by the Kessler family, are deliberately approachable.

Designed to inspire unforgettable experiences, Kessler guests are bathed in re-defined Bohemian luxury, from an 1888 historic hotel, a cutting edge downtown landmark and a magical castle, to an earthy Native American retreat, high design southern mansion and elite ski lodge.

Bohemian Bar & Grill Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Park Ave is hands down the highest visited spot in Winter Park. However, there are still many hidden treasures to be found around this hotspot.

One day, I decided to explore Winter Park to see what more it had to offer. After ending up on Pennsylvania Avenue, I checked out a few of the local shops; a few being Riffle Paper Company and Pure Blends Apothecary and Spa. After a short lived shopping spree, I ran through the rain and ended up at Fresh Cafe.

Before you continue reading, please note I had absolutely no intention of coming here. However, the combination of rain and post-shopping fatigue brought on some serious soup cravings.  Upon entering, an EXTREMELY friendly staff welcomed me into the dim lit restaurant – the main source of light being the melancholy sun through the wide window.

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I sat down at a small wooden table and took in the surroundings. Beautiful wood tables. Posh designs. Calming atmosphere. The ambiance is indescribable and that’s a good thing because it’s one of the best places in Winter Park to go on a date. Fresh is known for its ethics. They are globally inspired yet locally sourced. Meaning, they use locally sourced organic ingredients.

The server tried his hardest to get my full attention but my eyes kept scanning the restaurant. Every detail. All the plants. He got really close to me until it was obvious that I couldn’t ignore him for much longer and asked me what I’d like to drink. My typical response is “Water,” and I said just that.

The waiter smiled and said “We have different infused waters,” pointing to various containers behind the counter. My eyes were instantly fixated on herbs floating in giant containers of water. I can’t remember all of the combinations, but I ended up choosing Rosemary instead of my second choice, Lavender.

My mood instantly changed for the better after taking a sip of the Rosemary infused water; it was fresh, earthy, and breathtaking. Every sip felt like a new breath of fresh air. A new server approached me and asked me how the water was.

I smiled and said “Yes..please” assuming he was inquiring if I wanted more. By this point, my mind was gone. I wasn’t listening to anyone. I felt like I was in a whole new world. It sounds cheesy but it’s true. The combination of the ambiance with the rosemary water was extremely euphoric.

Water
Infused Rosemary Water 

After getting my own bottle of Rosemary water, I looked over the menu and asked the server what he recommended. He pointed out the Tikka Masala Chickpea Soup, which sounded absolutely amazing since I’m from India and have felt homesick lately. The soup was very interesting – almost like a cross between curry and a creamy bisque. The texture was smooth and slightly thick. I asked the server how it was made. He said “We slow cook the chickpeas with the spices, puree it, and it continues to slow cook for hours.” The soup had notes of cardamom, cumin, tomato, coconut, and garlic. Overall, I’d give it an eight out of ten stars. The soup is delicious but it could use more spice. Maybe roasted red peppers or habanero?

Soup
Tikka Chickpea Soup

For my entree, I tried the Mrs. Saigon Salad, which had julienne Cabbage, Daikon, Cucumbers, Carrots, Scallions, Peanuts, Cilantro, mint, basil sesame-ginger dressing on a bed of black rice. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the combination but I wasn’t disappointed with it either. The cold rice felt undercooked and the sauce was zesty its best but ended up being boring. The vegetables were fresh and crisp but the ginger dressing took away the original flavor.

Saigon
Mrs. Saigon Salad

For dessert, I opted for the Bananas and Chocolate Bread Pudding, which was served with homemade whipped cream. Bread Pudding is not one of my favorite desserts. However, the combination of deep chocolate and creamy banana works well together. The dish is served warm and pairs beautifully with the cooly creaminess of the whipped cream. At first, I found the texture to be awkward until I felt a crunch. There were walnuts! Yum! The combination of rich flavors, creaminess, and crunchy texture set the bar for future bread puddings. Overall, I give the bread pudding a nine out of ten. My only issue with it was the flavor. A hint of cinnamon or peppermint would take the dish to a whole new level!

Banana
Bananas and Chocolate Bread Pudding 

Fresh Cafe is an amazing restaurant. The customer service is superb and the cuisine is absolutely delicious. If I had to give it a rating, I’d give it a nine out of ten.

Fresh Café on Urbanspoon

Do you ever crave pasta? I’m talking about a giant bowl of pasta that could feed at least five people. Well, I recently had one of those days and decided to head to Italio in Winter Park. I’ve been to Italio twice in the past but never really paid attention to the food. The past few times were more  “Get food in my stomach and head to wherever in a hurry” instances. However, I never left fully satisfied and wanted to know why.

If you’ve never been to Italio, it’s a visual sensation, showcasing bold red tones and Italian embellishments. The concept is fast casual like Chipotle, but feels slightly nicer. At Italio, you are able to choose a piada (wrap), noodles, or salad bowl. There are three main sauces, and an overwhelming amount of toppings.

If you’re not a control freak, there are prefixed “Chef Selections” to choose from.

Chef

Chef’s Menu 

I ended up making my own pasta bowl, because that’s the true meaning of happiness. The Italio employee asked me to pick between two types of noodles: whole wheat or regular. I obviously opted for the regular. Next, I was asked to pick something from the grill. My options were steak, chicken, chicken fritte (breaded), shrimp, italian sausage, meatball, and veggie. As someone who doesn’t like complicated options, I chose the chicken. Selecting the sauce was a challenge since I had to try all three of them. Here’s what I thought:

1) Basil Pomodoro: Tastes like Tostidos Salsa. Bland and boring.

2) Artisan Alfredo: Creamy but lacks flavor. The claimed “garlic” does not exist in flavor.

3) Spicy Prima Rosa: This sauce is neither spicy or creamy, so it completely failed the taste test.
I ended up going with the Artisan Alfredo since it stood out from the rest.

Food

For the toppings, I ended up selecting mushroom, roasted red peppers, chickpeas, roasted garlic, and mozzarella.

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Here’s the honest truth, and this is from eating here a total of three times:

– The food is NEVER hot; it’s always an awkward lukewarm. It would be great if my pasta was steaming!

-The Alfredo sauce is devastatingly boring. I tried using the roasted garlic and mozzarella to give it more flavor but it didn’t work. The sauce reminded me of my first time trying to make Alfredo when I was seven. 

– The assortment of toppings is amazing. I’m going to try a salad next time. Maybe it’ll be dynamic.

– The bowl is huge, so you will get full but you won’t walk out extremely impressed. However, the concept is fast casual and not a fine Italian restaurant. Don’t set your expectations high. 

– The staff makes me sad. When I asked to try the sauces, they acted like it was a huge burden.

 

On the bright side, Italio has one treasure I’ll keep coming back for.

CANNOLI. CHIPS. WOW. WOW. WOW. 

Cannoli

I’m not a cannoli person by any means. but their take on filled cannolis is really amazing. They are in the form of chips and are served with a creamy cannoli dip. The combination is mind blowing. However, the dip was slightly powder sugary on my  latest visit. Maybe it’s hit or miss? Either way, try the cannoli chips if anything!

Italio – Winter Park
276 S Orlando Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 960-1860
www.italiokitchen.com

Like any other Sunday morning, I was faced with the tedious task of figuring out what to eat for breakfast. After all, no weekend is complete without a memorable Sunday brunch.

I decided to head toward Park Ave with great hope of finding a delicious brunch spot. Unfortunately, the parking situation was not in my favor, so I decided to drive away. A minute later, my eyes glanced over to Ethos Vegan Kitchen. For those of you who have never been here, they serve vegan/vegetarian cuisine – I’ve had their pizza and calzones in the past, which didn’t disappoint at all. However, I was completely unfamiliar with the brunch/breakfast scene at Ethos. The thought of vegan sausage and bacon confused me.

I walked into Ethos and was greeted by a friendly staff. They pointed me to the bar since all the booths were filled. The menu was easy to follow; they were serving up the usual breakfast assortment in a vegan fashion: eggs, french toast, cinnamon buns, bacon, etc

My brunch started with  freshly brewed iced tea, or at least that’s what I was told it was. Unfortunately, the tea was bitter – probably due to over-steeping or poor tea quality. I should have trusted my instincts and ordered a mimosa.

SweetTea

Bitter Iced Tea 

Before ordering, I asked the server what the vegan sausage was made of. She said, “It’s a mixture of wheat and soy.”

As a struggling vegetarian, I decided to give it a try and ordered the vegan sausage as a side to my french toast, which was served with fresh strawberries, walnuts ($0.99 extra), and agave syrup. When I received my french toast, I was slightly disappointed at first. The portion size was tiny and didn’t seem like it was worth $10. However, I started feeling full after a few bites in. I’m not sure how vegan french toast is made, but Ethos’ take is rich and filling. The powdered sugar and cinnamon accentuated the caramel flavors found in the edges and the sweetness of the strawberries. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the vegan sausage – it was dull in flavor and slightly chalky in texture.

FrenchToast

French Toast topped with fresh strawberries, agave syrup, walnuts, and served with vegan sausage. 

Overall, I’d give the French Toast an eight out of ten. The french toast itself was absolutely delicious but I’ll have to try a different side next time.

Ethos Vegan Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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On Monday, June 30th, Orlando Weekly will be hosting Bite Night at the grand Orchid Garden at Church Street Station, from 7 – 11p.m.,  where attendees will taste cuisine from:

  • Cask & Larder
  • Sushi Pop
  • Santiago’s Bodega
  • The Smiling Bison
  • Whole Foods Market
  • The Rusty Spoon
  • Tako Cheena
  • K Restaurant
  • The Strand
  • Iza Tapas
  • Park Plaza Gardens
  • Sweet! By Miss Holly
  • Range – A Shared Kitchen
  • Txokos Basque

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Featured Chefs:

Henry Salgado – Txokos Basque Kitchen

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Kathleen Blake – The Rusty Spoon

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Kevin Fonzo – K Restaurant

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Hollis Wilder – Sweet! By Miss Holly

James and Julie Petrakis – Cask & Larder

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Chau Trinh – Sushi Pop

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The Whole Foods Market’s Chef Challenge:

Hollis Wilder, the three time winner of The Food Network’s Cupcakes Wars, will host a fun chef’s challenge – where Kathleen Blake (The Rusty Spoon), Kevin Fonzo (K Restaurant), James and Julie Petrakis (Cask & Larder) will compete. Our very own Ricky Ly of Tasty Chomps and Orlando Weekly’s Jessica Young – editor of Bite Magazine, will judge the competition.

Special Guests:

Daniel Dennis (A Mediocre Time with Tom and Dan Podcast)

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Johnny Magic (XL 106.7)

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Lauren Johnson (Good Day Orlando)

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Beneficiary:

The silent auction and a portion of ticket sales will benefit Edible Schoolyard Orlando at Orlando Junior Academy. The mission of Edible Schoolyard Orlando, at Orlando Junior Academy, challenges the typical classroom setting by integrating math and science into the cultural appreciation of nutritious and delicious food while promoting local seed-to-table concepts to impact the health of today’s kids, for the rest of their lives.

Where to Purchase Tickets:

Buy your tickets here and visit Bite Night for more information.

Event Address: 122 W Church St, Orlando, Florida 32801

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Father’s Day Pairing Guide

Don’t Forget The Wine!

Father’s Day is around the corner. If you haven’t picked out something special for good ol’ dad, don’t sweat it – we have a few recommendations to make this Father’s Day extra special. For those of you who were triumphant in braving the Orlando shops and malls to find that perfect gift, we’d like to remind you that no gift is complete without wine. If you got him chocolate – get him wine! If you’re taking him out to dinner – get him wine! Is he receiving a beautiful white dress shirt? Again, get that man some wine – STAT. To showcase which wines pair beautifully with our Father’s Day foodie picks, we interviewed wine expert, Roger Beery of Bacchus & Beery.

After surveying a total of 81 dads across the nation and figuring out what they really want for Father’s Day, Roger Beery and I discussed which wines pair exquisitely with these top picks.

Dark Chocolate

For the dad with the sweet tooth, we recommend dark chocolate from Peterbrooke Chocolatier on Park Avenue. Their Dark Chocolate will pair beautifully with a Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Roger recommends this variety because the tannins in wine can accentuate the slight bitterness found in dark chocolate. He suggests pairing dark chocolate with a Vintage Port – it’ll put a smile on dad’s chocolate covered face.

peterbrooke

Photo Credit: Unique Michael

 

Marshmallows

For the classy dads out there, we recommend Wondermade’s Gold Champagne Marshmallows. What’s so special about these bites? They are capped with 24 karat gold! Roger recommends pairing these beauties with sparkling wine or champagne, as the bubbles will help to balance the gooey deliciousness of the gourmet marshmallow. He specifically suggests a brut style sparkler from J vineyards or Mumm Napa Valley. 

gold

Photo Credit: Wondermade 

 

Steak

Let’s face it. A hungry dad is not a happy dad. A majority of dads will order a steak on Father’s Day – a Porterhouse Steak to be exact. As agreed with Roger, a great steak calls for a great Cabernet Sauvignon. Why? Roger recommends this variety because the tannins and red fruit are made to pair with the juicy cut. He even recommends taking the extra step and ordering a unique small production Cabernet directly from the winery: Dunn Vineyards, Alpha Omega Winery, Corison Winery, or John Anthony Vineyards to impress. For local picks, he recommends Jordan Winery, Caymus Winery, and Shafer Vineyards, as they are consistent Cabernet standouts.

Steak

Photo Credit: Allen Brothers  

 

Shrimp & Grits 

Taking dad out for a nice lunch? We recommend the Shrimp & Grits at Marlow’s Tavern. Why? White Cheddar Grit Cake, Spinach, Roma Tomato, Shallot and Roast Tomato Beurre Blanc all combine together to create a flavorful experience. Roger recommends pairing this delicious dish with a dry rose’, as it is not your grandmother’s sweet white Zinfandel. Dry rose’s are crisp, refreshing and less sweeter. Pour dad a glass of manly rose’ of Pinor Noir such as Belle Glos or Copain.

Shrimp

Photo Credit: Unique Michael 

 

Blue Cheese

It’s okay to be cheesy this Father’s Day – just don’t forget the wine! Blue Cheese is a popular choice and is often given to dads who are cheese connoisseurs. They can be salty and pungent, making wine pairing tricky. Roger recommends pairing Blue Cheese with a sweet or dessert wine such as a Sauterne or Late Harvest Riesling. If your dad doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, Roger recommends Smith Madrone Dry Riesling (Napa) or Chateau Ste. Michelle. We also wholeheartedly recommend Michelle Riesling (Washington) for its hint of sweetness.

cheese

Photo Credit: Cornucopia Cheese 

 

 

 

About Roger Beery  

Roger and Donna Beery began writing Bacchus and Beery Wine Blog in 2009 as a way to express their mutual love of boutique wines, winemakers and wine country. What began as a little hobby has grown into one of the most widely read wine blogs. Today Bacchus and Beery focuses on wine travel, winemaker interviews and wine reviews. In the Fall of 2014 with their son, Conch, a winemaker in Sonoma, they will make their first wines for their new, yet to be named, wine label. As Roger said, “it’s time for the writer to get a little dirty in the winery.”

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I recently visited Kasa for lunch. For those of you who are familiar with Downtown Orlando, Kasa took over the space where Urban Flats used to be. Truthfully, it wasn’t my first time at Kasa. However, my last few visits weren’t worth writing about.

My weeks are usually very busy; finding a decent bite that won’t take too long to prepare is nearly impossible in downtown – unless you eat fast food or fast casual. That’s another issue with downtown. A lot of the restaurants offer salads but they are either overpriced based on portion size and quality, or not fresh in the slightest sense. Unlike most days, I was only able to squeeze in a fifteen minute lunch break. My options were either Subway or Eden’s but I wasn’t feeling Subway and Eden’s had a line out the door.

While on my way to Subway, I passed Kasa. The only times I’ve visited the restaurant was for dinner, which wasn’t bad but it wasn’t amazing either. However, I stopped to see the lunch menu and was surprised to see affordable options. I’m not a cheap eater by any means. There are just some things that shouldn’t be more than its value. For example, I’d never pay $25 for pudding.

I took the gamble and chose Kasa for lunch. The service has always been exceptional. In fact, my first visit was saved by the extraordinary customer service since my tapas were subpar. Speaking of Tapas – that’s what Kasa is all about. They are known for their tapas sized sharable dishes, inspired by various cultures. From Edamame Bruschetta to Yucca Fries, there’s a cultural delight for everyone. Kasa also offers full entrees that are subject to change, so call ahead to make sure they have your favorite dish.

On this visit, I chose the Quinoa Greek Salad, composed of cucumbers, Kalamata olives, red onions,feta, cranberries, bell peppers, tomato, mixed greens, and citrus vinaigrette. At first, I wasn’t sure about the combination. The idea of citrus vinaigrette on cranberries confused me. Why? Most citrus vinaigrettes I’ve had in the past were either too sweet or too salty. For those of you who haven’t tried Quinoa, I highly recommend it for its taste and nutritional value. According to the National Institutes of HealthQuinoa, a grain originating in the Andes region of South America, is  a complete food due to its protein quality and is an important source of minerals and vitamins. The salad took roughly 7 minutes to prepare, which is extremely fast for any downtown restaurant at 1p.m. on a weekday.

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Quinoa Greek Salad at Kasa. Photo taken by Unique Michael 

The salad’s architecture was truly stunning. The quinoa was formed into a circle and sat underneath a bed of lush mixed greens. The olives, onions, cheese, cranberries, tomatoes, and bell peppers were evenly placed on the very top of the salad, accompanied by a generous drizzle of tangy citrus vinaigrette. Normally, I take a picture first before taking the first bite. This time, I picked up my fork and took a giant bite of the salad – making sure to get a little bit of everything in one mouthful.

The soft quinoa and crisp mixed green beans complimented each other between the chewy tart cranberries and juicy Kalamata olives. I was able to taste the creamy feta cheese in every bite. Surprisingly, I fell in love with the citrus vinaigrette. The hints of orange and lemon took the salad to a new level. Despite my fears, it wasn’t too sweet or salty. Instead, the citrus vinaigrette tied every component of the salad beautifully. What’s most impressive about the salad is the portion. For $9, you get a big portion of salad. I’m surprised the quinoa didn’t spike the salad’s price up to $13 or $14.

If you haven’t been to Kasa yet, I’d recommend going for lunch. Why? There are plenty of healthy offerings and at a great price point. The service is always on point and you’re bound to find something – just ask the servers for their recommendations.

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Kasa Tapas & Raw Bar on Urbanspoon

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Have you ever heard about a particular restaurant through multiple friends?  Some say it’s great while others steer you away.

This weekend, I visited one such spot and wanted to share my experience with all of you food lovers out there. Normally, I’m not one to go out to birthday dinners because they get overcrowded and I seldom enjoy being on the farthest end of the table.

However, one of my best friends invited me to dine at Maxine’s On Shine. Instantly, I was transported back to memories of friends saying, “It’s delightful” and “Oh, it’s tacky.” Well, I decided to be the judge myself. If you’ve never driven in the residential area that parallels East Colonial near Mills 50, you’re in for a bumpy awakening. In fact, Maxine’s On Shine is in the Colonial South neighborhood near the YMCA. If it weren’t for the restaurant lights and row of cars, I’d never find the place. To be honest, I was really impressed with the ambiance; it takes a lot to knock my socks off with décor but the combination of deep colors with romantic light really gave it a “sensational” feel. My only pet peeve with the physical establishment was the bathroom. My friend Annie from The Feisty Foodist once told me to look at the bathroom first because that hints at how clean the place is.  I’m not sure if they were too busy to check but the bathroom was not in the best shape.

Here’s the part you probably care about – the food.  The menu was slightly overwhelming as the pricing was extremely high for a few things. However, the Chicken Maxine’s was $17.00, which is composed of diced chicken breast, shallots, and shitake mushrooms in a marsala sauce over penne pasta. It’s a fair price but the restaurant is setting high expectations. Maxine’s doesn’t strike me as a high-end restaurant. It’s cute and has great decor but the overall cuisine doesn’t scream top chef.

After scanning the menu, I asked to try the vegetable soup. As a struggling vegetarian, I love any soup filled with veggies but their soup was bland and awkwardly sweet. When I asked our server what was in it, she struggled to remember and I felt as if she made up a few things. Instead, I told her that I’d take the Mussel soup instead. A few of my other friends received their orders early. One ordered the Rainbow Trout and the other selected the Chef’s Select Steak.

The North Carolina Rainbow Trout was smothered in a lemon butter sauce and accompanied with potatoes and broccolini but the whole dish ended up being  too salty. The texture of the trout was perfect but it was literally so salty I pursed my lips without even realizing it. We passed the trout around and everyone agreed. The accompanied broccolini was also too salty.

Another friend ordered the Drunken Mussels, which tasted overly fishy and almost vinegary. My friend and I absolutely love mussels, so this was rather disappointing. A few moments had passed by until I had an epiphany.

I asked the server earlier for the Mussel soup but she may have been confused. When she came back out, I asked her about it. She told me she put in the order for the Drunken Mussels. I frowned and said, “There’s been a misunderstanding because I ordered the soup.” She paused, opened her mouth and said, “The order has already been put in. I can’t do anything. Sorry.” At that point, I was in disbelief and ready to leave. Muscles

Drunken Mussels in white wine and garlic butter sauce, served with toast points.

Instead of coming out and saying something like “I talked to the manager and we canceled it out. Can we get you something else?” she put the plate of mussels in front of me and walked away awkwardly. My friend and I looked at each other in silence. She tried the mussels and agreed about the salty tasty – it was bad. Finally, the server came back and took the food away after seeing our expressions.  She asked if we wanted anything else and I asked her about the fries. She didn’t speak much about it until I asked, “Is it fresh cut or frozen?” Her response was short; she admitted to carrying frozen fries, which wasn’t a problem but it isn’t epicurean like the restaurant claims to be. Ten minutes passed.

Our friend silently ate his steak and looked at me with a blank expression. He ordered a 10-ounce bone-out ribeye, black angus with mushrooms and a baked potato. I asked to try his steak but before I did, I noticed the small piece of meat was drenched in gravy. Imagine giving a six year old a bottle of maple syrup to put on his pancakes. That’s how smothered it was. I asked my friend if he was okay with it and he shrugged. Ultimately, the steak’s flavor was lost in the sauce.

At this point, we were all extremely disappointed with the food. I turned to my friend who ordered the trout. She also ordered the bruschetta, which she didn’t seem happy about; I gave her an inquisitive look. She handed me a forkful of it. I took a bite, preparing myself for crunchy goodness. To my dismay, I was chewing on a soggy piece of bread. I asked her if it was crispy when it came out and she said no.

Finally, Maxine came out and apologized for how the dinner was. She seemed genuine. However, she made it a point to blame the mussels on the company they get it from. She asked if we wanted anything else, which was nice of her but it was too late at that point.

Finally, dessert came out. We tried the Apple Strudel, which was delicious in flavor but absolutely cold. It’s not uncommon for this dessert to be served chilled but it felt kind of frozen. apple

Granny Smith apples and pecans in phyllo dough, served with vanilla ice cream. 

Overall, the bad service and food disappointed me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go there and try it but read the reviews out there first. You’ll see a handful of great ones and a handful of not so great ones.  It’s a great place to have a few drinks with friends but I wouldn’t recommend the food at all.

Maxine's on Shine on Urbanspoon

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When I first heard about a pie shop opening in Audubon Park, I instantly thought of “Pushing Daisies,” an amazing series that used to air on ABC about a Pie maker who had the ability to resurrect the dead. In this series, the pie maker was able to touch wilted or not so alive produce and bring it back to life with full flavor, making his pies the best in town! There is also a huge thing about resurrecting dead people and not being able to kiss the love of his life but we won’t get into that.

ELLEN GREENE, SWOOSIE KURTZ, ANNA FRIEL, LEE PACE, CHI McBRIDE, KRISTIN CHENOWETH

Pushing Daisies, a cancelled television show that once appeared on ABC

This beautiful Pie shop is located down the road from the beautiful East End Market and is home to an extraordinary array of bath-bomb sized pies and more. Before you go, please call to make sure they are open as the shop closes its doors once it sells out of products, which seems to happen according to the owner, Tara Gould.

Her pies are as beautiful as the shop, which is accented with varying shades of wood surfaces and dim lighting through what looks like mason jar bulbs.

The sun shines through just enough to illuminate the faces of happy employees showing off pie to excited customers.

I wouldn’t really consider this a spot to work and lounge. This is more of a “Devour pie with friends and leave without any kind of judgement” kind of place, and be prepared to pay between $3 – 5 for a single serving. The pie makers here are committed to creating miniature artisan treats with fresh and local ingredients.

I asked Tara why she decided to open this Pie shop and her response was “I didn’t want to regret it when I was in my sixties.”

After chatting with Tara for a few minutes, I found out that she possessed true passion about her products. She used to bake pies when she was in college. Unlike other girls her age, she was busy creating tasty pies instead of partying. However, I’m sure she’d be the life of any party if she brought those pies with her.

Okay, so now we know that Tara had her priorities in order when she was growing up. Without further delay, here’s what you can expect at P is for Pie but make sure you call because the menu changes with the season – sometimes daily! Oh, and did I mention Tara has plans to extend her hours? That’s right. You can get your pie all the way until 9p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Yes, this means you are able to satisfy your sweet tooth after dinner and before you go out for a night on the town. What could be better?

 

Piefait copy

Rosemary Peach and Lemon Cream Piefait (I totally named it the Piefair)

Black

Blackberry Lemon Cream Mini Pie with Walnut Thyme Streusel 

Pecan

Caramel Pecan Hand Pies 

Cobbler

Blueberry Cobbler 

Oatmeal

Oatmeal Cream Pies 

 

P is for Pie Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

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I was recently invited to attend The Great American Pie Festival, hosted at Lakeside Park in Celebration, Florida. After paralleling parking for the first time in my life, I took note of the extreme heat and multiple crowds gathered across Columbia, an upscale Columbian restaurant. In these crowds, I spotted volunteers wearing red shirts reading “PIE. A Slice of Life.” If that wasn’t epic enough, I was tempted to jump into the pie car with the giant pie on top!

Pie Car

The Great American Pie car with a giant pie on the roof. 

The festival took place outdoors and felt like a farmer’s market at first. From handmade aprons to glitzing jewelry, vendors of all kind came together to show off their unique products. After walking past all the vendors, I started to worry because there was no sign of pie. After all, I was attending a pie festival. There had to be pie. Once I managed to get past the vendors, I smelled food. Not Pie. I’m talking about real food. What smelt was the combination of melted mozzarella and sweet yellow corn from Gran Arepa. The combination was dynamic.

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Melted Mozzarella and Sweet Yellow Corn from Arepa
Not even one minute after, a man walked by with a giant roll of something insane. I wasn’t sure what it was so I asked him and he pointed to Monsta Lobsta, a food truck specializing in lobster rolls. Oh, and they are monstrous!

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Monster Lobster Roll from Monsta Lobsta

Making it through the food vendors was tough. I was tempted to stop at every vendor. Gyros. Fresh Smoothies. Everything. Before I could stop anywhere else, I made it my life mission to find the pie! Nothing would stop me, except for Super Pie Man, aka the Great American Pie Festival’s mascot who guided me to the Never-Ending-Pie Buffet!

Super Pie Man

Super Pie Man & Unique Michael 

An hour had passed before I made it to the pie section of the festival. This was perhaps the most insane gathering of pie lovers I’ve seen in my life. Multiple tents were being raided for pie, and I’m talking all of it. People were walking away with two to three slices and I should have picked up on the Hunger Games desperation for pie. The pie entrance notified guests that they were prohibited to carry out any pie – as a normal buffet would. Instead, attendees hoarded boxes of pie and retreated to tables to feast. At first, I felt anxious because the lines were extremely  long. Actually, the lines kept breaking and reforming, so it was almost chaotic to get a single slice of yumminess. Fifteen minutes passed by and I finally managed to grab a slice of Caramel-Chocolate Silk Pie from Legendary. If chocolate mouse had a love child with pecan pie, this is what their child would look and taste like. The chocolate filling was sweet but not too overwhelming. My taste buds were zinging from the globs of oozing caramel, and the whole pie was brought to a beautiful finish with the crunch of toasted pecan.

Pie6

 Caramel Chocolate Silk Pie from Legendary 

 

Out of the smaller pie companies, I spotted a trusted friend. Publix. They were manning down their pie stand by cranking out ten to twenty pie slices at a time. From blueberry to apple pie, they kept dishing it out. What made them even more epic was the complimentary vanilla bean ice-cream they were giving out. Yum!

Pie5

Apple Pie from Publix
By that point, I had at least 5 slices of pie. I should have stopped but I came across Wicks’ booth and sampled their Pecan Pie. Normally, Pecan Pie is too sweet and I’m not a fan of the overly buttery taste but Wicks was dishing out gold. Their Pecan Pie had a slightly firm consistency and wasn’t as sweet as sugar. Each bite was reminiscent of bourbon and roasted pecans.

Pie3

Pecan Pie from Wicks  

Once I finished off my third slice of pecan pie, I hobbled out of the pie arena. People were starting to go back for sevenths and I wasn’t ready to lose an arm for dessert. Now, I was ready to explore the festivities. When I say festivities, I’m referring to more pie eating activities. One specific event was a children’s pie eating content. The air was still. The adults were rubbing their kid’s shoulders and cheering them on. This was the real hunger games.

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A table of youngseters getting ready to compete to find out who is the fastest pie eater. 

Also, let’s not forget about the live entertainment. This guy was showing off some serious tricks and dance moves.

Pie11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Live entertainment at The Pietopia

After another hour of devouring pie and watching children eat more pie than their parents would normally permit, I walked back to the pie buffet. By then, most of the pie was gone and families were eating despite being extremely full. After all, you can’t go to a pie festival and not go into a sugar coma after. One such group showed off their pie with pride.

Pie7

 Locals eating pie at The Great Pie Festival in Celebration, Florida. 

 

Overall, it was a wonderful family-oriented event. There were tons of activities aside from eating pie and the weather was great. My only SLICE of advice is to mentally prepare for the not so sweet parking situation.

Contest Alert!

What’s your favorite type of pie and why?

Comment below for a chance to win a $25 Publix Gift Card!

 

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Photos and Words by Unique Michael

“Men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, Author of The Great Gatsby 

Remember those magnificent parties Gatsby put on for Daisy in The Great Gatsby? On Saturday, March 8th 2014 Orlando Weekly hosted the largest cocktail party, The Great Orlando Mixer at The Cheyenne Saloon at Church Street Station. Hundreds of folks dressed in extravagant 1920s attire and partied to 1920 remixes of today’s pop hits.

If you’ve never been inside The Cheyenne Saloon, you’re missing out. The interior is reminiscent of a western saloon where the winner of a “showdown” drank to celebrate their victory. When you first walk in, you’ll notice the mirrors behind the side bars. They reflect the entire Saloon, showcasing the beauty in whole. As you move closer to center of the room, your eyes immediately float to the beautiful wood floors, paneling, and railings. If that isn’t reminiscent of a beautifully designed saloon, the stained-glass fixtures and windows bring out the real western appeal where folks would drink and smoke for hours.

Despite the photo of everyone dancing and socializing from the mass amount of alcohol consumed, hundreds of drinkers judged Orlando’s top bartenders by trying each of the bartender’s unique cocktails, ultimately crowning one bartender as the winner of The Great Orlando Mixer.

prato
Christina Eglin of Prato in Winter Park served up some truly dynamic vodka and moonshine drinks. Her original recipe for everyone to create at home is the Melone Picante.

Melone Picante Recipe:

-1.25 ounces Nolet’s Gin
-1 lemon wedge, squeezed
-0.75 ounces Canton Ginger Liqueur
-1 ounce fresh watermelon juice (adding simple syrup to taste)
-3 dashes habanero bitters

Luma
Jerid Johnston from Luma dazzled the crowd with his snazzy mustache and beautiful cocktails. His original recipe for everyone to create at home is the The Firm.

The Firm Recipe:

– 2 ounces Gentleman Jack
-1 ounce Blood Orange San Pellegrino
– 0.75 ounces soda water
-0.5 ounces agave nectar
-3 dashes grapefruit bitters

kasa
Alejanddro Munoz from Kasa wowed the crowd with their cocktails – one even had apple pie on the rim. His original recipe for everyone to create at home is the the Cinnamon Suspension Martini.

Cinnamon Suspension Martini Recipe:

-1.5 onces vanilla vodka
-2 ounces lemonade (homemade sour mix)
-Couple of dashes of cinnamon powder

dta
Michael Studley from DTA electrified the crowd with his refreshing cocktails – one had cucumber. His original recipe for everyone to create at home is the the Real Mccoy

Real Mccoy Recipe:

-1.5 ounces Nolet’s Finest Gin
-1 ounce lemon juice
-0.5 onces Grapefruit San Pellegrino
-1 sprig rosemary
-1 ounce simple syrup
-0.5 ounces egg whites

girls 
The dancers put on a show, the music grew louder, and laughter filled the air.

pastry
Among the many food vendors, German Backhaus, a German bakery and deli (formerly Yalaha Bakery) in the Lake Ivanhoe District, served up mouthwatering breads, apple strudel, and a black forest dessert.

rene

 

Photo by Orlando Weekly 

At the end of the night, the many revelers at The Great Orlando Mixer voted for Rene Nguyen of Hanson’s Shoe Repair as the Winner. His original recipe for everyone to create at home is the the The English Channel

The English Channel Recipe:

-1.5 ounces Plymouth Gin
-1.5 ounces Carpano Bianco Vermouth
-2 dashes orange bitters
-Cynar rinse

Specific Instructions:

1) Chill serving glass with ice. Combine gin, vermouth and bitter with ice and stir for 30 seconds.
2) Discard ice from chilled coupe glass and rinse with three dashes of Cynar.
3) Strain cocktail into Cynar-rinsed glass.
4) Take an orange peel and express oils over the surface of the cocktail, rim the glass using the peel and garnish.

Unique
Thank you Jessica Young from Orlando Weekly for inviting Tasty Chomps to The Great Orlando Mixer!

More photos of The Great Orlando Mixer by Kim Buttons of www.kimbutton.com

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