Dine: Culinary Contemplation

As the year winds down, a look back at trends, arrivals, departures and convivial conversations.

As we approach the end of 2018—and none too soon, in some people’s opinion—I realize that this year was one of triumph and decline—some restaurants booming while others faded—and sparkling, unexpected discoveries embraced.

Along with the continuing push toward Asian street food (Kai Asian Street Fare, Big Time Street Food, Bonchon Kitchen, and a new location of Hawkers), there seemed to be a welcome expansion of inventive Indian cuisine, mostly coming from restaurateur Sunny Corda and his Rasa/Saffron/Mynt/Southern Spice empire.

Sushi seems to have been overtaken by ramen as the Japanese food of choice. Susuru, Jinya, even Lucky’s Market and the aptly named The Ramen are slinging noodles in town. Sonny Nguyen is taking the lion’s share with Domu while opening locations in Jacksonville and Dr. Phillips, and breaking ground on Tori Tori and Domu Chibi as part of his “Domu Dynasty.” Both Nguyen and Jason Chin, he of Osprey Tavern, Reyes Mezcaleria and Seito Sushi, are becoming major forces, with the potential to radically change the national image of Orlando’s food scene.

What has run its course? Tacos made by those who have no business making them, stuffing every ingredient imaginable into a tortilla with the results bearing no semblance whatsoever to Latin cuisine. Please stop—it’s just not cute anymore.

Ironically, what has risen above this tacopocalypse is smart, crafted, eye-opening Mexican food from chefs like Wendy Lopez at Reyes Mezcaleria, John Calloway at Black Rooster Taqueria, and Joseph and David Creech at Hunger Street Tacos. The Creech Brothers delve deep into often daring dishes from the streets of Mexico City. The Best Newcomer Dining Award winner has become a powerhouse, adding inventive chefs Bruno Fonseca and Albert DeSue and influencing other chefs with sold-out collaborative dinners, as well as attracting attention from The New York Times and frequent raves from folks like Norman Van Aken who know what they’re talking about.

This was a year of conversations, from an afternoon I spent with five powerhouse bakers—Celine Duvoisin, Trina Gregory-Propst, Stacey Tomljenovich, Evette Rahman and Janice Brahm Talty—who define the prominence of women working with flour; to very enjoyable visits with international star chef Theo Schoenegger (Maria & Enzo’s), and Top Chef Master and James Beard Award winner Tony Mantuano (Terralina), to get the inside story on their restaurants at Disney Springs. The continuing emergence of Disney Springs as a culinary powerhouse was a big deal, with new star chefs moving in, including College Park’s own Master Sommelier George Miliotes and his Wine Bar George, and more on the way.

Another interview I enjoyed was a sit-down with celeb chef Roberto Treviño at his Church Street Latin-Asian eatery El Buda, which unfortunately closed in October. Closings were dizzying, from Truck Stop Popup Kitchen, Emeril’s, Funky Monkey and Muddy Waters to Church Street-centered Ferg’s Depot and Schumann’s Jager Haus.

I like the growth of eateries outside the usual suspects of Winter Park, Restaurant Row and Downtown. Winter Garden, which has always impressed me, added Ryan Freelove’s Market to Table to my radar, and gave former Osprey Tavern chef Joseph Burnett a place to shine at The Deli Downtown. The effervescent Plant Street Market added melted Raclette (Morthan Cheese) and smoked meats (This Little Piggy) to their lineup, while around the corner, organic breakfastery Eggs & Oats opened. A drive around Chinatown—on West Colonial Drive, that is—revealed remarkable Korean dishes at BBB Tofu House, and pan-Chinese items at Chef Wang’s Kitchen.

After this year’s beer, baker and Food Adventure extravaganzas in print (not to mention Dining Awards), who knows what will catch my eye next year? New restaurants will open, several more will close, chefs will vanish from kitchens only to reappear in others. Tastes will change, marvelous and probably strange foods will become popular … and I’ll be here to share it all with you. Happy New Year, vote in the 2019 Dining Awards beginning this month, and remember to Savor Orlando. (Check out voting details and my Savor blog at www.orlandomagazine.com/savor-orlando.)

Categories: Food & Drink