Raglan Road Irish Pub Named 2014 Best Restaurant by Orlando Magazine

Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant is one of our favorite stops in all of Disney World (check out our most recent review here!). And now we know we certainly aren’t alone in that opinion!

Orlando Magazine has recently announced its annual Dining Awards for 2014, and the Downtown Disney restaurant has taken the coveted top spot for Orlando’s Best Restaurant.

Writer Joseph Hayes credits Chef Kevin Dundon’s energy and menu influence with the success of Raglan Road. But it’s more than that, he says.

The restaurant, a series of faithfully restored bars and furnishings from ancient Old Country pubs, has the feel of a genuinely family-run restaurant (which it is). It gives Dundon a place to use traditional recipes and farm-fresh ingredients as a leaping point for new, satisfying and occasionally surprising ideas such as a killer twist on smoked haddock & Dubliner cheese dip or a wine-infused broth and seafood he calls ‘It’s not bleedin’ Chowder!’ The combination of New Irish cuisine, a pint of ale and a wink from a high-stepping Irish lass is hard to beat.

Keen Eye for Shepherd's Pie

Keen Eye for Shepherd’s Pie

Chef Kevin received the news by phone while at home in Ireland, and expressed his gratitude to fans of the restaurant. “We’re very proud of this honor and want to thank [Read more…]

News! Magical Dining Month in Orlando Returns September 2013

We’re so excited to see Magical Dining Month return to the Orlando area in September! This is always SUCH a great deal, and combining awesome food with an option to support a worthy charity is a win.

In its eighth year, this month-long event sponsored by Visit Orlando offers diners a culinary celebration at more than 60 restaurants offering three-course, prix fixe dinner for just $33. The dinners include an appetizer, entrée, and dessert.

This year’s event benefits the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida, and $1 from each meal will be donated.

This celebration takes place September 1-30, 2013, at top-rated Orlando restaurants including:

Disney World Area Restaurants:

Chef Emeril Lagasse Showcases Orlando Restaurants in “Emeril’s Florida”

Fun news for food TV lovers — celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse, has kicked off his brand new show, “Emeril’s Florida,” with a focus on Orlando restaurants.

Featured in the show are the Ravenous Pig (one of my favorites!), ICEBAR Orlando, Emeril’s Orlando, Vines Grille & Wine Bar, and the pastry chef from Rosen Shingle Creek. The show premier aired Sunday, January 6, at 10:30am.

Emeril Lagasse

Emeril’s Florida is brought to viewers via the partnership of Visit Orlando, VISIT FLORIDA, and Chef Emeril Lagasse. Focusing on wonderful Florida destinations and unique dining opportunities, the show airs on the [Read more…]

Details on Orlando’s Magical Dining Month This September!

September is the month for savings for visitors and locals to Orlando!

Magical Dining Month presented by Visit Orlando invites everyone to enjoy this annual event now in its sixth year. Celebrate Central Florida’s culinary delights when over sixty restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe dinners for $30.

Expand your palate and help benefit the Boys & Girls Club during this month-long event as $1 of every meal is donated to this wonderful organization.

Visit Orlando will offer this exceptional value from September 1 – 30, 2011, at top-rated Orlando restaurants, including: [Read more…]

Review: House of Blues Orlando

Update: As we reported earlier, House of Blues in Orlando is now serving the new Crossroads Menu.

At long last, I finally made it over to the West Side of Disney World’s Downtown Disney to have my FIRST EVER meal at House of Blues! I can’t wait to hear your comments about this place!

Atmosphere

The House of Blues is all about atmosphere. Eating there is like being plunged into the middle of a museum. According to the official House of Blues website, here’s the backstory:

The House of Blues grew out of founder Isaac Tigrett’s love for the unique American art form known as the “the Blues,” Weaned on this music during his early childhood in Tennessee, one of Isaac’s goals was to introduce the world to the music of the rural south, including the Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Jazz and Roots-abed Rock & Roll.

The Blues is translated throughout the restaurant — inside and out — via fascinating, and sometimes extremely powerful, artwork.

The “grounds” of the restaurant surround a huge porch, and are peppered with found-object sculptures, mosaics, and [Read more…]

Orlando Magical Dining Month

It’s back again!

Interested in dining at some of Orlando’s most incredible restaurants for $30 a pop? You can — all through the month of September — and you’ll even be contributing part of your bill to charity!

Roy's Restaurant Chocolate Souffle

60 restaurants are participating in this year’s 5th Annual Magical Dining Month in Orlando. Here’s how it works: These incredible restaurants offer $30 three-course dinners (you get to choose from several options on a Magical Dining Month menu), and $1 from every meal goes to support the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Central Florida!

The Restaurants and Menus“>participating restaurant list mentions several restaurants on or near Disney World property, including some of our favorites: La Luce at the Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort, and Todd English’s bluezoo and Il Mulino New York Trattoria at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort! Also, that chocolate souffle pictured to the right from Roy’s Restaurant — heaven! I can say from experience!

Click here to see participating restaurants and menus!

This whole shebang is presented by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. (Orlando/Orange County CVB), so send your kudos along to them!

Review: Villa de Flora at Gaylord Palms Resort

Today we’re reviewing another of the Gaylord Palms Resort restaurants — Villa de Flora!

Gaylord Palms' Villa de Flora Restaurant

Gaylord Palms' Villa de Flora Restaurant

As you know, I was kindly invited to a complimentary dine-around at the restaurants at Gaylord Palms the last time I was in Orlando, Florida (you can see my photos and descriptions of the Sora Sushi Bar and the Old Hickory Steakhouse here). Gaylord Palms Resort is just a few miles away from Disney World’s main gate, and is a quick taxi ride or drive away from any Disney park or resort.

Villa de Flora Atmosphere
Gaylord Palms Resort is built around a massive indoor courtyard, which is separated into three Florida-specific sections: Key West, St. Augustine, and the Everglades. Villa de Flora is located in the St. Augustine area of the courtyard, directly across from this rustic Spanish castle where the resort holds special events:

Courtyard Castle

Courtyard Castle

The castle could be just one part of your view from this Mediterranean villa-themed restaurant. There are dining rooms inside the main villa area, affording surroundings of Spanish tile, heavy dark wood furniture, and massive fireplaces…

Gaylord Palms Inside Dining room

…or “outdoor” dining rooms (of course, the entire courtyard is covered, so you have no elements to worry about) strewn with lights and decorated casually with potted trees and wicker furniture.

Set Table in the Courtyard

Set Table in the Courtyard

No matter where you choose to dine, the restaurant has made the guest experience even more individualized by placing potted herbs on each table. Guests are encouraged to use the herbs as desired to add even more flavor to their meals.

Herbs and Olive Oil

Herbs and Olive Oil

Eats
Villa de Flora’s buffet offerings are set up as a Mediterranean market highlighting seasonal cuisine from several countries. In fact, the menu here has a twist. Although the service is buffet, each day the restaurant highlights a different Mediterranean country with its dishes, rotating between Spain, Italy, France, and Greece. When we were there, we were treated to specialties like seafood paella, tortilla salad, coconut shrimp, a gorgeous antipasto display, and some amazing desserts. But your choices might vary — it all depends on the day you dine.

Seafood Paella

Seafood Paella

Coconut Shrimp

Coconut Shrimp

Tortilla Salad

Tortilla Salad

Sundried tomatoes, various cheeses, hearts of palm, mandarin orange and dates salad, various breads

Sundried tomatoes, various cheeses, hearts of palm, mandarin orange and dates salad, various breads

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding

Cake, Tiramisu, Baklava, and Cheesecake

Cake, Tiramisu, Baklava, and Cheesecake

Chocolate Desserts

Chocolate Desserts

Once we had made the rounds of the buffet, we were greeted at our table by our server preparing the house-made Sangria! Although the buffet variety might keep other restaurants from developing house dishes, Villa de Flora has made its mark with a delicious tomato-basil soup and this Sangria, made from a variety of apples, oranges, lemons, cinnamon sticks, fruit juices, brandy, and Réné Barbier Mediterranean wines. The strong cinnamon taste made it stand out from any other Sangria I’ve sampled, and it was delicious.

Preparations for Sangria

Preparations for Sangria

Making the Sangria

Making the Sangria

House Tomato Basil Soup

House Tomato Basil Soup

A Sample Salad Plate of Mine

A Sample Salad Plate of Mine

So how was it?
We were very impressed with this restaurant! How do you make a standard resort buffet into something special? In my opinion, you create beautiful and changing surroundings; keep the menu season-inspired and innovative; focus on taste and presentation; and stay true to the dishes that make your restaurant special. We’re usually not big buffet fans, but the house-made Sangria mixed at the table and fresh, not-too-fussy dishes won us over. (I can still taste that Sangria!!) I was truly sorry we were anticipating the next restaurant, because I couldn’t dig into that line of incredible desserts…!

From my experience there, I think Villa de Flora would be ideal for a business lunch, a family brunch (think Mother’s Day!), or an evening excursion with friends for a few pitchers of Sangria and some delicious Mediterranean homestyle eats. (We actually passed Villa de Flora on our way out of the resort later that evening and it was very lively with groups of people at the courtyard tables having a great time!)

Specs and Info
You can check out the current Gaylord Palms Resort Villa de Flora menu here. Breakfast at Villa de Flora is served weekdays from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m., and until 11:00 a.m. on weekends. Sunday brunch is served from noon until 3:00 p.m.; lunch is served weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Saturdays from noon until 2:30 p.m.; and dinner is served nightly from 5:00 until 10:00 p.m. Bar service (with occasional entertainment) is available from 11:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.

Villa de Flora is located in the St. Augustine Atrium, and attire is casual. You can make a reservation online, or call (407) 586-1114.

Sora Sushi Bar and Lounge Review

Sora

On my recent trip to Disney World I was invited for a complimentary dine-around at Gaylord Palms Resort, which is a massive complex just outside of the “gates to the World.”

I’ll say in advance that I’m not usually one to leave Disney property all that much when I’m on a Disney trip. There are just too many things (including restaurants!) that keep my attention Disney-focused to spend precious vacation time elsewhere in Orlando. But visiting the Gaylord Palms was pretty eye-opening regarding what else is out there! Clearly, the chefs at Gaylord have been able to carve out a distinctive dining niche for the resort that includes interesting themed surroundings coupled with Really. Good. Food. While there, I visited four different restaurants; today’s review is of Sora, Gaylord Palms’ sushi bar and lounge. I hope you enjoy this first trip outside the gates!

Sora Entrance at Gaylord Palms Resort

Sora Entrance at Gaylord Palms Resort

The Atmosphere
Now, when I heard Sushi Bar and Lounge, I immediately thought, “Hmm…not really my speed;” even when I lived in New York City I wasn’t a “Bar and Lounge” person. But I can honestly say that this place is not at all intimidating. The restaurant has a relatively open floor plan, lined with comfy booths and offering views into the resort’s atrium and lobby (appropriate, as “Sora” means “blue sky” in Japanese). Walking into Sora doesn’t give the feel of a big city nightspot with blaring music and lights so dim you can’t see where you’re walking — it feels like a hip, but accessible place to pick up some appetizers, light dinner, and cocktails.

Sora Seating Areas

Sora Seating Areas

Sora Inside

Sora Inside

The Eats
While Sora is known for its innovative sushi menu, I was glad to discover that both the adventurous and the picky will find things to try here. And it’s a fun selection. If you take a look at the menu, you’ll see what I mean. You can even order a drink based on how you want to feel — Balance, Nirvana, Opulent, Divine, Distinct… .

Sora Menu

Sora Menu

We started with “Zen,” a delicious drink made with Zen green tea liqueur, Peach Schnapps, and Sauvignon Blanc. The presentation was stunning and the flavor was like nothing I’d ever tasted. I really enjoyed it and wished I could see how all of the drinks looked and tasted (maybe next time!).

Sora's Zen Cocktail

Sora's Zen Cocktail

If you move on in the menu, you’ll see a thorough sushi and sashimi menu that includes BBQ eel and octopus along with standards like tuna and salmon. You can also choose from soups, salads, starters, or dinners, such as sea bass and duck. Try the “omakase” — the chefs will prepare something just for you based on the catches of the day and what’s fresh from the farmer’s market!

BBQ Pork Bao Bun Sandwiches

BBQ Pork Bao Bun Sandwiches

We sampled the Bao Bun Sandwiches, which offered a choice of barbeque pulled pork, vegetable and tofu stir fry, or miso glazed fresh fish of the day, served with Asian slaw, sriracha mayonnaise, and lemon chili sauce. We were served the pork sandwiches, which were “Do-It-Yourself” — fun to put together and sample with the different sauces.

Sora's Bao Bun Sandwiches

Sora's Bao Bun Sandwiches

Another interesting twist Sora has introduced is offering “tapas”-style dishes like Lobster Fritters or Spicy Tuna Nachos in two sizes — “nosh” and “share.”

Overall
We were impressed with Sora. It’s difficult to make the “bar in a resort” into a destination, but the interesting drink menu and fun-to-eat dishes — along with the easygoing atmosphere — make it a great place to stop for pre-dinner cocktails or even a light dinner. If you’re a sushi-lover or a cocktail connoisseur, definitely give it a go.

Sora is open daily, serving food from 5:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. The bar is open daily from 4:00 p.m. until midnight.