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March 10, 2011

The Dining Pleasures of Orlando—Why Visit Disney When You Can Dine Like Royalty

Most people go to Orlando to vacation and take in the tourist theme parks.  I go to eat.  I find that Orlando has some of the best reasons to dine out in America.  Give me any excuse to go to Orlando and I am there!  I know it may sound strange that I do not share an attraction tourist parks.  I would rather spend my time dining, and dining, and dining. 

Orlando has a smorgasbord of restaurants to choose from ranging from all you can eat for $10.00 to selections from menus and décor that is fit for a king.  Because of the theme parks, Orlando has many restaurants to choose from including a bevy of chain restaurants that are moderately priced and serve good fare.  I enjoy eating at those on any given day, but I prefer to try something that I cannot get at home.  Let me take you on a tour of three restaurants that are a “must experience” for someone who wants to sample the best Orlando has to offer.

My first stop would definitely be HUE; but then I am just a bistro kind of girl, for the most part. HUE is downtown Orlando’s critically acclaimed, award-winning urban bistro.  HUE has taken the prestigious Golden Spoon Award by Florida Trend Magazine for five consecutive years as well as a slew of other awards.  HUE was also name as one of the Best New Restaurants in the world by Conde Nast Travel Magazine, the only restaurant in Orlando to achieve this acclaim.   HUE’s menu is American cuisine with a big city flair.  One of the things I like best is that the menu changes daily, featuring an array of unique flavors and combinations that never fail to make me want to try more.  HUE’s interiors have a warm feel with clean uptown architecture and walls lined with interesting as well as decorative original art.  Dining there makes me feel “in touch” with what is happening on the food frontier.

My next stop would be Emeril’s Tchop Chop.  While most people know Emeril for his Southern style cooking and his Louisiana dishes, Tchop is a step in a new direction—East, far East.  Thanks to Chef Greg Richie’s twist on Pan-Asian cuisine, Tchop excels at producing dishes that exceed your expectations and tantalize your taste for the exotic. or as Emeril is known to say, “Take it up a notch”.  Chef Richie does just that.  Whether it is brunch or exotic cocktails, this stop will satisfy your taste buds for something different without emptying your pocket.  The menu has the expected selection of delicious hand-rolled sushi as well as the unexpected--Asian salads and noodle bowls for your selection.  If somehow you can’t find just what your heart desires, you can build your own bowl or bento box.  Personally, I like to try something different each time I go, and I am never disappointed; but I keep returning to my old favorite standbys such as the miso soup and Asian noodles.  Sometimes simplicity is best.  Kids aren’t shortchanged at Tchops either.  There are kid’s combos for even the most hard-to-please of your little ones.  Located in the Loew’s Royal Pacific Resort at Universal, the setting is richly exotic.   The food is fun and oh so satisfying.

Victoria and Albert’s is a dining experience like no other.  Before you arrive for your meal, you will receive a call from the staff, usually the day before your reservations, to discuss any food allergies you may have or preferences.  Your menu will be personalized with your name on it and if it is a special occasion, the special event you are celebrating.  How much more royally can you be treated?

The menu at Victoria and Albert’s changes every day with choices from each category to choose.  Everyone starts with the amuse bouche and then proceeds to six courses.  You might think that you could never finish six courses, but you will and you will relish each and every one of them. Victoria & Albert’s is one of Florida’s most celebrated restaurants for a very good reason. It holds the highest honor from the Mobile Guide and it is the only restaurant in Orlando to earn five diamonds from AAA ten years in a row -- that’s enough diamonds for a new tiara for the queen.

Aside from being named for royalty, this restaurant knows how to please the discerning diner.  When you make your reservations, you will need to decide which of the three rooms you would like to be seated.  My favorite is the Queen Victoria Room, a small, intimate space where many choose to celebrate their special evening because of the ambiance and the romance. The Queen Victoria Room experience features fabulous service including several tableside preparations, many of them performed by maitre d’hotel Israel Perez, who also is the restaurant’s lead sommelier.

 The first choice of seating is the main dining room for the majority of diners. This is where most people dine for their first visit.  You will dine in the grandest fashion possible under the dome.

Food groupies usually opt for the popular and highly booked chef’s table. This seating is table is in an alcove off the main kitchen and provides a front row vantage point into the executive chef, Scott Hunnel’s kitchen. The kitchen staff reflects the quiet calm that comes with a seasoned crew of professional chefs as they go about the preparation and presentation of each dish.  Die hard food cultists enjoy the experience of observing a master chef at work and having each course explained by Hunnel, no less.

Men are required to wear jackets, and women must wear cocktail dresses or pantsuits. The crystal-and-linen dining room typically seats no more than 100 patrons. The hushed atmosphere features live harp music. The menu, which changes daily, offers programmed, seven-course dinners that can last as long as three hours. Prices start at $125 a person.  Children younger than ten years of age are not welcome—which is really quite fine when you consider the ambiance and the experience.  Be certain to dress appropriately.    Being elegantly attired is part of the total experience.  Would you go to your prom in jeans?

Posted by Jo Wilson on March 10, 2011 at 12:31 PM in Dining, Food and Drink | Permalink

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