Looking to expand your dining horizons? Check out Joseph Hayes’ picks for the BEST NEW RESTAURANTS in Orlando. They serve everything from Turkish cuisine to Spanish selections, Afro-Indian dishes to Greek delicacies, first-rate seafood to Italian (and Italian-Brazilian) offerings.
Land of Discovery
Like wandering the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, traveling in the maze that is the Dr. Phillips Marketplace to find Anatolia can be tricky. It’s sort of around by the—um, behind the place where they—it’s next to Einstein Bros. Bagels, that I remember for sure.
At Anatolia (named after the part of Turkey between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean), appetizers are a taste of the Middle East that features four kinds of eggplant, hummus and lovely zucchini pancakes (mucver). Main courses span the great plains of central Turkey, with kebabs, lamb shwarma and tavuk Adana, a Turkish chicken delight, all recommended, along with the well-seasoned cipura ( labeled as “dorado” on the menu, what we call mahi). From puffy lavas bread to tart and savory rice pudding, the food here suggests a consistent kitchen; every dish is as good as the last.
ADDRESS 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando | PHONE 407-352-6766 | ENTREES $14-$24
Kouzzina by Cat Cora
The opening of Kouzzina in September heralded the arrival of the latest celebrity chef in Orlando, and the first to partner directly with Disney on a restaurant. Cat Cora, as you may know, can claim rights to being the only female Iron Chef and executive chef for Bon Appétit magazine.
It’s a treat to watch this compact dynamo work the room when she’s in town. When she’s not, Chef Dee Foundoukis commands the kitchen, and she has a sure touch with Greek ingredients and Cora’s recipes.
Traditional Mediterranean is well represented by hummus, spanakopita and yoghurt. Cora’s own tweaks on tradition find their way to items such as chicken stewed with cinnamon and the very popular (and pleasantly spicy) lamb burgers.
A room full of enthusiastic diners is typical of Greek restaurants, so it should come as no surprise that Kouzzina is a loud, energetic space. If you’re lucky, someone will accidentally drop a plate, which is sure to be met by a hysterically loud chorus of “Opa!”
ADDRESS 2101 Epcot Resorts Blvd., Lake Buena Vista | PHONE 407-939-3463 | ENTREES $20-$28
La Luce means “the light,” and it’s an apt name for this guiding beacon to quirky regional Italian dishes. Located in the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, it brings to mind Napa Valley, where restauranteur Donna Scala fine-tuned her country kitchen delights at the renowned Bistro Don Giovanni.
It’s something of a contradiction of American dining that rustically simple foreign dishes like Scala’s polpette lamb meatballs with vegetable ragu can only be found in high-end restaurants like La Luce, but it’s better than not discovering them at all. Service is up there with the best in Orlando, as the fine people taking your order actually pay attention. Invite their suggestions.
A well-appointed room, nice silverware, a bar that is probably up to any challenge and a craftsman in the kitchen in the form of Alexander Rodriguez—La Luce hits on every mark.
ADDRESS 14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, Orlando | PHONE 407-597-5500
ENTREES $13-$28 | WEB laluceorlando.com
La Nuova Cucina
Italian Fare, via Brazil
It’s logical to assume that, with the worldwide popularity of Italian food, there would be regional variations everywhere, particularly in South America, where tomatoes originated in the first place.
Owner and chef Paulo Baroni brings the decades-old Italian traditions of his native Sao Paulo, Brazil, to the table at La Nuova Cucina. (Sao Paulo, with as many as 25 million residents of Italian descent, claims to be the third largest Italian city in the world.)
The blend of Italiano and Brasileiro shows itself in dishes like a creamy pumpkin soup (crema di zucca) laced with curry and grilled shrimp—get the bowl—and a seafood tagliatelle that introduces Bolognese pasta to the beaches at Caipira. The well-appointed, New York-style room (read: long and thin) will soon be expanding into the space next door, affording even more folks a chance to sample the fascinating blending at (to translate the title) this “New Kitchen.”
ADDRESS 7724 W. Sand Lake Road, Orlando | PHONE 407-354-4909 | ENTREES $15.50-$30.90
Mi Tomatina Paella Bar
Little Goes a Long Way
Put these words on your list of things you must learn: tapas, bacalao, paella, Mi Tomatina. Tapas means, at best, delightfully savory little Spanish dishes. At worst, tapas is an overused buzzword for overpriced appetizers. At Mi Tomatina (named after a tomato-throwing festival in Spain), tapas are the former. This restaurant, which specializes in the Spanish national rice dish called paella, manages to excel in small plates of goodness.
The classic ingredients are all there—shrimp, calamari, mussels, chorizo sausage, croquettes of ham and shrimp, poached cod (the bacalao)—and all are prepared with great respect. The paella serves a crowd; the room is welcoming enough to please one.
ADDRESS 433 W. New England Ave., Winter Park
PHONE 321-972-4881 | ENTREES $10 – $44
Best of the Best
As a melding of North African and Indian cuisines, Sanaa is in a class by itself. Plus, it’s nestled in the Animal Kingdom Lodge and an African veldt setting (complete with giraffes and zebras) that may be unique in the world.
I was impressed by the caliber of cooking when Sanaa opened almost a year ago. Amazingly, after eating there recently, I can say that the food from this state-of-the-art kitchen has taken an even further leap forward in quality. Curries are as multi-leveled and subtle as fine wines, vegetables are unusually and cleverly seasoned, and the chicken and shrimp coming out of the high-heat tandoor oven are skillfully kissed with authentic sub-continental flavors.
Sanaa means “work of art” in Swahili, and if the art of cooking gets any better in this artful place, there won’t be a restaurant in town that can touch it.
ADDRESS Animal Kingdom Lodge Kidani Village, 2901 Osceola Pkwy., Lake Buena Vista
PHONE 407-939-3463 | ENTREES $13.99-$27.99 | WEB disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/sanaa
Winter Park Fish Company
Small Kitchen, Big Results
Give a great chef a kitchen, and the food will be just as great whether it’s haute cuisine or scrambled eggs. In the case of George Vogelbacher, veteran of Le Cordon Bleu and Nicole St. Pierre, the amazingly small kitchen at Winter Park Fish Company seems to be just right for producing impressive seafood.
A bowl of cioppino fish stew, loaded with toothsome shrimp, plump mussels and catch-of-the-day fish, is a rare treat in this sometimes seafood-jaded town. Must be the respect Vogelbacher shows for the ingredients. Same with the lobster roll and hushpuppies.
If you invited every one of your friends to dinner, they wouldn’t all fit in the room, and that’s OK. If you can find a seat, watch taped episodes of Sea Hunt playing on the black-and-white TV, make new (very) close friends, and enjoy.
ADDRESS 761 N. Orange Ave., Winter Park | PHONE 407-622-6112
ENTREES $11-$22 | WEB winterparkfish.com