Sunday, January 24, 2010

La Fiesta

Wow, really good food, great service, and a popular place! I have been to La Fiesta before--it's always busy, always crowded, and always a bit of a wait. My friend Tommy and I went there at prime time on a Saturday evening and guess what? There was a bit of a wait! Duh-oh! We knew there would be one. Fortunately, we found two empty barstools and so had a drink while we waited. 

OK, the bartender was busy, but not paying good attention. I was sitting right by the beer taps and spied Dos Equis XX on tap. I asked for that and Tommy asked for a margarita. The bartender never asked what size, but served the largest size, a 28 oz., $7.99 behemoth. He should have asked. I asked for a Dox Equis XX tap and got a bottle--in his defense, it was loud and maybe he did not hear me, or maybe it was out. My change from a $20 was $12. I asked for the reciept...he should have provided that. To his credit, he gave me $8 change when the bill was about a quarter over $12. Still, he was a bit unattentive, or at the least, very busy. But, the margarita was good and had an very ample quantity of Tequila in it. It lasted my friend through the whole meal, and he noted that it was plenty to drink--he could certainly feel it. 

Our buzzer went off once and the host quickly hurried over to apologize and say that was a mistake. No problem. A few minutes later it went off "for real." I think our total wait was maybe 20 minutes, not real bad, actually. As we approached our table, the host noticed it was not cleaned yet! Oh no! But within maybe 20 seconds, bus boys and waiters appeared from nowhere and cleaned it spotless. I was impressed by the quick service. We were not even settled in our chairs when chips and salsa appeared. Wow, they are fast here.

If you follow my blog, you may recall my recent post on another "Mexican" restaurant in the Daytona Beach area--i was not impressed by the watery, bland salsa. Not so here at La Fiesta. Wow, the salsa was excellent! It had a nice hearty tomato flavor, you could taste the sharpness of the cilantro, and they were not afraid of a little bit of heat. Not too much for the faint of heart, but certainly the heat was evident. One of the best salsa's I've had--ever (except of course, for my own....). The tortilla chips were crisp and fresh as well. We did eventually finish the salsa--it was that good. There was also some sort fo crema servered along with it. It was creamy and spicy hot and sweet all at the same time. I liked it, it was different. Even though spicy, it had a mellowing affect on the spice. Another hit in my book.

La Fiesta has an extensive menu, it took quite some time to devour it. But eventually we decided on our meals. Tommy recognized our server, Omar, as being a long term employee. He was certainly very competent and provided us great service.

Tommy ordered the Quesadilla La Fiesta with chicken, a grilled flour tortilla fille with cheese and chicken, served with rice, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo. He liked it. No, actually, he loved it an pretty much ate the whole thing. Fortuantely, I had a taste--it was excellent. The chicken was tender, the tortilla crisp, the cheese creamy. What a nice dish. Simple and yes elegant, all that a quesadilla should be.

It took me a long time to decide, partly because the menu is so extensive, partly because i was so hungry and wanted one of everything, and partly because it all sounded so great. But eventually I decided on the Pollo Fiesta. Wow, what a good choice! This was a grilled chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, then cooked with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and medium hot chipotle peppers. It was served with rich, refried beans, and three tortillas. Oh my! it was to die for. I slice off a third of this and loaded it onto one of the tortillas, adding a bit of the refried beans. A very handy way to eat it. And the was magnificent. I could taste all of the ingredients: the chicken was tender, the smokiness of the ham, the creaminess of the cheese, the mushrooms, onion and all made for a food orgy in my mouth. I am not kidding--it was that good. Simple ingredients. Fresh ingredients. Cooked well. Married well together. It was an excellent dish. And the best part: I have 1/3 of it in a "to go" box in my refrigerator right now, ready for take two!

A word about the sides. I tasted Tommy's guacamole, it was pretty good (OK, not as good as I make, but certainly good for restaurant are. The refried beans were average, but good. The rice...oh, wow, that was awesome, too. It had bits of carrot, lima beans, peas, green beans, and corn in it, among other things. It was sweet and savory at the same time. It was very, very good, actually, not your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant-type rice. Mmmmm!

Our total bill for the two meals (recall we ordered and paid for drinks earlier) was just under $22 before tax and a most generous tip--our waiter and the whole staff worked hard and deserved a generous tip. The Lake Mary Food Critic works a real job and eating well and blogging is my hobby--I believe in tipping well for a job well done, too.

This was certainly an excellent dining experience--an excellent meal, great service, a nice atmosphere, and a good time. There is a reason this place is always packed! Even when we left, there were a lot of people waiting for a table, a great testament to just how great a place this is. Though I live closer to Orlando, I am not aware of any place in Orlando that is this good when it comes to Mexican food, though I see that the owners have opened an Orlando location called Agave Azul. Yes, it's in the "tourist area" near Universal Studios. Still, based on my experience at the "mother restaurant," I'd like to try out this other location as well. But in the meantime, I highly recommend La Fiesta to all. It's great Mexican food at a decent price, definitely a value, definitely worth your time!
La Fiesta on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 23, 2010


I cannot get tired of Giovanni's and feel fortunate to live about a mile away. I have never had a bad meal here and in general, all my experiences here have been above average. Add the fact that it's a local small chain, and I'm a big fan of this place. On top of that, their lunch special can't be beat: my favorite is a stuffed slice and a house salad for $6.95. Great value and great pizza! But I digress...

My friend Tommy and I had spent Friday evening in downtown Sanford for the monthly Fourth Friday "Art Walk," a monthly event. Tommy is an artist ( and has some of his work on display at Art Affair Gallery in downtown Sanford, a fun place to visit and hang out and meet all sorts of very interesting people. Anyway, after a fun evening there, though we'd had a few appetizers and a few wine/champagne sample, we were hungry. It was almost 9:30 and I knew many places were thinking of closing, so we decided on Giovanni's. It was, again, a good choice. 

Giovanni's was not extrememly busy when we got there, but it was late. I've often seen people waiting outside during "prime hours." The front dining and bar area were busy, but the dining room proper was fairly empty. Nonetheless, we were promptly seated by the hostess and our waiter, William, provided excellent and attentive service. I started out with a bottle of Sam Adams, Tommy with an iced tea. After hearing all the specials, we decided to start with the Crab-stuffed Portobello. It was a good choice. We were both very impressed by the flavors of this appetizer.

The crab stuffing itself was not overpowered by the wine-based sauce but rather highlighted by it. The crispy bruschetta served as a nice contrast to the creaminess of the mushroom and crab stuffing. Served alongside some house bread, we found ourselves sopping up all available sauce--it was that good!

Both of our meals were served with a house side salad which was fresh and delicious. I had the house balsamic dressing, an in-house, homemade dressing that I love, it's my favorite. The salads included carrots, grape tomatoes and some cucumbers. They were refreshing, more than ample, and delicious.

Deciding on a main course was tough. One part of me wanted pizza, but there were so many good things to choose from. A few of the specials sounded so good as well. Finally, we were able to make the hard decisions. For his main course, Tommy chose the Lasagna, layered pasta wtih homemade meat sauce, ricotta cheese, and covered with melted mozzarella cheese and sauce. I had a taste, it was absolutely delicious, all that a lasagna should be. I would not pronounce it the best lasagna I've ever had--Mom gets the accolades for that, and she's Polish!--but it was certainly better than average, a very good choice. Tommy agreed, saying it was very good and tasty.

For my main course, after much vacillation, I eventually settled on the Pasta Silva--advertised as Ziti topped with diced chicken, mushrooms, shallts, marsala wine, and a touch of creme. It was very, very good. quite tasty. I noted that it also had some sliced garlic in it--very nice and sweet, well roasted and not burned. The zite, though, really were penne rigate, sorry to be so picky. They were cooked will, not over cooked and mushy. Actually, I almost did not select this dish because it was touted as having ziti, so i was glad for the penne rigate, I thought that would be a better choice. I guess I was right! The chicken, though tasty, was just a bit dry. But the mushroom and marsala sauce that gave this dish the preponderance of it's flavor was excellent. It was a very good dish and I'd recommend it to anyone--and hope that you, too, got the penne rigate. 

Our total damages for the eveninig came to just under $38 for the beer, iced tea, appetizer, and two entrees--not bad at all for the excellent for meals we had or will have. Yes, meals, because we both have doggie bags with enog for another fine meal of leftover. I am a bit jealous of Tommy, as we all know hat lasagna is better the next day! But I'm sure my pasta silva will be equally good tomorrow. I am quite fortunate to live so close to this Giovanni's. I hope you'll give them a try some time, too!
Giovanni's on Urbanspoon


After hearing of some good reviews, a few of us decided to try Vamonos for lunch the other day. Coworkers Dale, Bob, and I got there a bit before noon on a gorgeous Lake Mary Friday recently. Vamonos was not very busy, and certainly not as busy as some of the more "formal" restaurants around. However, I found it a warm and friendly place with a pleasant decor. The food there is somewhat reminiscent of what you'd have at Qdoba or Chipotle, with one big digression: the choice of proteins. They have a very imaginative menu of about 7 or so different proteins, fish, pork, chicken, and beef, prepared in a variety of ways. I liked that.

The meal selection is pretty basic: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tostadas, salad, or a platter. But the meat selections are great:
  • Chicken -- Marinated grilled chicken.
  • Arrachera -- Marinated grilled steak.
  • Chuleta -- Marinated grilled pork chop.
  • Fish -- Grilled fish in Mayan adobo sauce.
  • Pastor -- Pork loin broided on a vertical skewer.
  • Tinga -- Chicken stewed with fresh onion, tomato, and a hint of chipotle.
  • Barbacoa -- Sonora styel shredded braised beef.
  • Cochinita Pibil -- Mayan style pulled pork loin. 
Oh, and all their tortillas--flour and corn--are homemade. They also advertise using only fresh ingredients without preservatives. I will say, everything tasted very fresh.

I decided to try the tostadas so that I could try three different meats. In retrospect, I'd choose tacos next time only because they are easier and a bit less messy to eat. However, the tostadas were very good. A very thin layer of refried black beans was topped with my meats of choice, one each of the Tinga, Barbacoa, and Cochinita Pibil. I had mine simply dressed with one of their salsas and some romaine lettuce. Once at my table, I did pull them apart a bit to sample the meats. Each was very good. Of special note, I liked the bit of extra sweetness that was in the Barbacoa, the braised beef. But each was very good in its own right. To get the full experience, I also sampled their various salsas from the salsa bar (yes, help yourself!). Whew! One of them was very hot! But they were all generally good and all interesting. I think perhaps next time I'd get tacos and put my own sauces on, just to experiment. I don't know that I could declare a favorite. I will worn the wimps out there: test a little bit first, some have a bit of heat! The menu does warn about the heat level, though. I also ordered the Aguas Frescas, an all natural fruit water flavored with Jamaica--it was good and refreshing and about as expensive as a soft drink but without the refills, of course. Still, it was good. They also have an assortment of beer by the bottle.

My friend Dale ordered a burrito. She was not that impressed, saying it was comparable to Qdoba or Chipotle. I think maybe it was the meat, but who knows. It was a pretty good size however. Her dining experience was marred a bit when she asked for guacamole and they gave her a side but then charged $1.99 for it. When she then declined, they were unable to take the charge off because the manager was not there. That was quite odd, I thought. I cannot imagine running a place without someone of some authority in charge. Later the clerk did give her the money back, but in cash, saying they were not able to credit the card she's used for the purchase. A bit strange. I think perhaps some better procedures and training are needed in that regard.

Bog ordered a quesadilla and pronounced it very good. He said he'd go back again and thought it better than other comparable places. He also ordered the guacamole--they made sure he knew there was an upcharge ahead of time, several times!--and also a Cheese Chicharron, melted cheese rolled up into a crispy shell. I sampled the guacamole and thought it a bit on the bland size, though it's possible my taste buds were still reeling from the extra-hot salsa habanero I'd had! The cheese chicharron was interesting, and was good.

All in all, I enjoyed my food and would like to go back, if only to sample some of the other proteins. I like the various salsas and the salsa bar. I'd put Vamonos a step above the Qdoba and Chipotle chains, and also a bit ahead of the Florida chain of Tijuana Flats which does have a nice hot sauce selection but is a bit more pricey, I'd say. but they are both a bit different. My total here for the tostadas and the aguas frescas was about $9, not a bad value for what I got, good eats!
VĂ¡monos on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Harmoni Market

Great meal and nice ambience, that's what I'll remember most about Harmoni Market in College Park. It was only the fact that our first choice for dining on a Saturday evening had a line out the door that brought us here, though I had eaten at this Harmoni location once before and found it exellent. I'm glad we stopped here!

My friend Tommy and I were out and about and I remembered my previous good experience here. He remembered our previous bad experience at their other location in Longwood, but we decided to give it a try here, based on my suggestion. Good choice!

We were promptly greeted. I asked for table by the window, but it turned out to be a small table, so we asked if we could sit at a larger one. No problem at all! I like that. The waitstaff was very attentive and friendly. The hostess and a manager all stopped by at one time or another and our waiter, Justin, was very helpful and efficient.

I had a glass of the Avalon Cabernet Sauvingnon with my meal. It was OK, not outstanding, but a nice full bodied red wine. Tommy had the Two Princes Riesling--a very nice wine indeed, a bit sweet, but also very flavorful.

We started out with indecision. I wanted an appetizer, but serveral looked interesting. Finally, we decided on the "trio" special, three appetizers. They were the Spinach & Artichoke DipBaked Ricotta Dip, and Moroccan White Bean Dip. They were served with Pita chips and also some thin-sliced, toasted and buttered bread, almost like a chip. The Spinach and Artichoke was my favorite, it had a nice flavor of artichoke in it. The baked ricotta was also very good with a nice cheesy flavor and a bit of a stringiness to it that made it fun. The white bean dip was OK, but just OK. I'm not sure what made it moroccan, though a bit of red "stuff" (probably a bit of peppers) on top did add to the flavor. It was my least favorite, I'd order the other two again.

I started out with Tomato Bisque Soup. For me, this was a home run. The soup had a great tomato flavor and a nice, somewhat chunky texture. It was well seasoned but not over-seasoned, so the tomato was definitely the star of this dish. I could eat a quart of it!

We both had side salads that were also a hit. The house balsamic dressing was very good, not to acidic, and kind of thick. There was a lot of frisse as well as other microgreens. These were accented by parmesan curls, they added a lot of flavor. Crisp croutons, some roasted red peppers, and a bit of cucumber all combined to make this a very tasty salad. It was served with a thin slice of a very tasty bread.

Even though we were getting full, we were excited when our entrees arrived. We had a hard time deciding on what to order. As it turned out, my top two pics were identical to my friends, so we each got to taste our second choice. Tommy had the Flat Iron Steak. This was a nice sized piece of very flavorful flat iron steak, cooked perfectly to his desired medium. It was topped with a fig balsamico reduction and blue cheese. I will say that the portion of the fig balsamico was, I thought, just a bit too much. It was very sweet and served as a nice counterpoint to the richness of the blue cheese, but the sweetness also somewhat overwhelmed the flavor of the steak. Don't get me wrong, it was all excellent, but just a bit too much sweetness for my liking. But the steak...oh my! It was very tasty indeed. 

Both of our meals were served on a bed of perfectly cooked asparagus spears along with some Garlic Mashed Potatoes. The potatoes were perfectly cooked, the garlic flavor nice and sweet. The potatoes were roughly mashed with the skins on, giving them a nice and interesting texture. My only complaint was that they were perhaps a bit over-salted. I'd rather have my potatoes undersalted and add salt at the table if I desired. Still they were very good. And the asparagus was perfectly prepared, not overcooked, young, juicy, and tender. A hit!

For my entree, i had the Tuscan Pork Cutlet. This was a nice pork cutlet that was breaded an fried, cooked to a perfect consistency. The breading was crips and flavorful, the pork tender and equally flavorful. This was topped by a "marinted mushroom, caramelized onion, and tomato cream sauce." The sauce was delicious and flavorful, a wonderful compliment to the pork and a nice addition to the garlic mashed potatoes. I loved it.

It was hard to find any fault with this meal. From the somewhat quiet ambience of the Harmoni Market's bistro-like atmosphere, to the attentive waitstaff to the excellent food, Harmoni is a real gem. They are also a part of the local "slow food" movement, so i was happy to patronize them. The slow food movement emphasizes small local restaurants who use many local ingredients raised with an eye to sustainability. Harmoni Market does a great job with their food. Our experience here was excellent. The total bill before tax and tip was $62. I did not say it was cheap, I said it was good! Good always trumps cheap when it comes to good eats!

Harmoni Market on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 15, 2010

Leanh's Chinese Restaurant

at a nice find, excellent Chinese food in Daytona Beach. I am fortunate in life in that in the past I have had a number of meals of authentic Chinese food prepared by chefs from China using the finest of ingredients. Though I am not an expert of Chinese food, I know how wonderful and flavorful it can be done when it's well done. Am NOT talking the "junk" you get on any one of innumerable so-called Chinese Buffets all across the nation, either. I am talking good Chinese food.

A short disclaimer: China is a huge country with many distinct regions, so even calling something "Chinese food" is really not doing it service. Various regions have widely varying cuisines. So eating "Chinese food" can in reality be a cultural journey across a huge continent. But in my case, I was just glad to find very decent Chinese food.

We went to Leanh's Chinese Restaurant on a chilly Sunday evening and were immediately greeted and seated by our waitress, Chris. We took a bit of time to peruse the menu, and first ordered an appetizer, Steamed Dumplings. These are crescent shaped dumplings filled with ground chicken and vegetables and

pan fried. It did not take very long for our appetizer to appear, and when it did, we were amazed: there on the plate were eight of them, a very large portion. But not only was the serving size more than adequate, the taste was all of that too. First of all, they were not over-salted, and the soy sauce served on the side was also not overly salty--definitely not the typical stuff you'd buy in the store--and served with a sprinkling of scallions. These were a big hit. Yumm!

We both ordered soup as well. My friend, Tommy, had the Wonton Soup, pork wontons, shredded pork, and scallions in a chicken broth. It was very good with a nice and delicate flavor. Again, not overly salty as the food in so many Chinese restaurants can be. 

I had the Hot and Sour Soup which contained chicken, bamboo shoots and mushrooms with a dash of vinegar and hot white pepper--among other things. I'm a big fan of Hot and Sour soup--I love the stuff. I looked into making it myself once, and it takes a lot of various exotic ingredients I'm not familiar with. So I stick with letting the experts prepare it. This one was very well done, definitely.

We both had Egg Rolls with our meal, hand-made rolls that were stuffed with pork and shredded cabbage and vegetables, then deep fried. These were very good too, not at all greasy, and with a nice flavor. We asked for some Chinese mustard to go with these, and were immediately delivered a large plate with a tiny dollop of mustard in the center...and that was a very adequate portion. This was excellent Chinese mustard in every regard. Just a tiny touch was enough to clear out my sinuses--we both really loved this stuff!

But now on to the main courses! My friend Tommy had a combination dinner, Subgum Roast Pork Ding. This was diced roast pork that was stir-fried with assorted Chinese vegetables in a brown sauce. It was served with the egg roll, roast pork fried rice, and the soup. This was an excellent dish. The pork had a nice flavor, the vegetables were expertly wok-fried, and the gravy just present enough to add a rich depth of flavor. We both agreed, this was a home run! 

Finally, on to my main course. I had a hard time choosing because there were so many great items on the menu. But I finally decided to try the Szechwan Chicken. This was sliced chicken breast meat that was stir-fried iwith julienne vegetables in a spicy brown sauce. Now Szechwan food can be very hot, and i would call this one just "spicy" as the menu says, not mouth burning hot--though Chris did offer it as hot as I wanted. It was an exellent dish. The chicken was moiste and tender, not at all dry or rubbery. The vegetables were nice and crispy, though cooked and warm. The sauce complimented the vegetables and the Chicken without hiding or overpowering. I'm sure that whoever cooked this dish has done it many times before, and they certainly have perfected their technique.

Overall, we had an excellent meal here at Leanh's, and I'm anxious to go back. I note that they also have Thai and Vietnamese food on their menu, I'd like to try that as well. Our service here was very friendly, prompt, and attentitve. A manger came aound to check on things as well. And this is a well run place with well trained employees. One thing that stood out was Kyle, the buss boy. In most restaurants, buss boys appear, clean a table, and disappear. Not here. This buss boy filled water, took away plates, and also enquired if we needed other things. I was impressed by this, such efficient and well-trained staff. I enjoyed my experience at Leanh's and look forward to eating there again soon. Yumm!
Leanh's Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Alive After Five: Chili Cook-Off

On the second Thursday of every month, First Street in downtown Sanford is blocked up and vendors set up their tables in the streets for "Alive After Five" which runs from 5 - 8 PM. The event has grown over time and now attracts thousands of people, rain or shine. At one end there's live music. Off of a side street beer is served. And various vendors provide various food samples. It only costs $7 for a wrist band which allows you unlimited food samples and two beer tickets.

Each month has a theme, and in January they hold the anual Chili Cook-Off. Anyone can register and bring their chili. This year there were 23 entrants in the cook-off. When you pay your $7 fee, you also get a ballot and can grade each one on a 1-5 scale. There is also a judges panel who tatest them all. At the end of the evening, the people's choice winners were announced as well as the judges choice. The winner got a prize of $300-not bad!Many of them were notable, and some of those for good reasons.

Of the 23 entrants this year, I sampled 21 of them. I found a wide variety of interpretation of chili. For some, it was a white chili with white beans and chicken. For some, it was Texas style with no beans. One chili was more a mac 'n chili. Some used ground meat, a few were more purists with chunks of meat, diced nicely. 

I had five favorites, two of which won awards. Angelo's Pizzeria won both #1 for the people's choice and #1 from the judges for their White Chicken Chili, and it was indeed well done. The chili was rich and flavorful, the "gravy" a perfect consistency. I liked this one a lot. 

Two of the entrants stood out, in a good way, for interesting use of "meats." The first was Stone's Throw Bistro with their Joey Pork N Bambi chili. I do not think i need to explain what those three meats were. But it was a very good chili, rich and with a nice depth of flavor. It also had a nice heat to it. Nice job!

The second one that stood out was from Two Blondes and a Shrimp with their Okefenoke Swamp Chili. Think creatures that may swim in the water and make nice shoes and luggage.... Yes, it was unusual but pretty good. Not one of my favorites, but still tasty and above average.

Another of my favorites which was also unusual was Morgan's Burger Bistro's Lobster & Lager Chili. It was gosh-darned delicious indeed.

By the way each of the three preceeding restaurants have excellent food, I've eaten at each of them several times and plan on many more visits, so I was not surprise to find that they made excellent chili!

The judge's #3 chili was Mimi's Hell Hath No Fury Like Mimi's Chili, perhaps the hottest (as in pepper hot) chili there, which i had no problem with. It was very good indeed. 

The people's choice #2 chili was from Hollerbach's Willowtree Cafe, another very good restaurant, it was their Oktoberfest Beer Chili. This one was not one of my favorites, and I'd put it in the middle of the pack. 

There were lots of other good chilis there as well as some less memorable: One of the tasted burnt. Yuck, when that happens you need to start over. Another was very watery. Some of them suffered from a lack of time....chili needs time to slowly simmer to let the flavors meld. Some used paprika for a bit of a kick, some used chipotle peppers, and some chili powder. Some used jalapeno peppers, and some other peppers. 

In my mind, I was the real winner, because I got to sample a lot of good food. As a matter of fact, towards the end I was actively looking for the smallest size sample, i was stuffed. But that did not stop me from sampling as many as I could. But I will warn you now, next year, I plan on getting my game together and going for the big prize, because the Lake Mary Food Critic knows how to cook, and I've got a year to practice!  

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mariachi Restaurant

I was a bit disappointed after eating at Mariachi Restaurant in Daytona Beach recently. I was hoping to have found a third good Mexican restaurant in the area, but unfortunately Mariachi missed the beat in several respects. Some of the meal was good, some was lacking.

It was an uncharacteristally cold evening in central Florida and the restaurant was not very busy except for a large gathering in one area--a part of some sort it seemed, with a large group having a great time. The tables were elegantly set with white tablecloths and fancy napkins and the restaurant has a nice ambience. We were quickly shown to a table in a warm spot, as requested and Rafael was our waiter. He did take very good care of us. Almost immediate some tortilla chips and salsa appeared. The salsa was just OK, somewhat bland and watery. It was almost like a watered down tomato juice with a few bits of onion, a bit of cilantro, and a few bits of tomato in it. I've had much better salsa at other places.

For a drink, I threw caution to the wind and ordered a mojito. Though it took a bit to arrive, it did arrive. For the $7 price, it was just OK. There was some mint taste, a hint of alchohol, and it was a bit sweet. I am not a mojito expert, but I thought it mediocre at best. However, it was refreshing, I'll say that for it.

We started off with the Tamales for an appetizer ($5). Though they had a good taste, the corn was more pudding like in consitency and somewhat soggy, not firm and a bit drier as it should have been. Still, they had a good chicken flavor. The bit of pico de gallo served with them was good and had a slight kick to it, much better than the salsa.

For my dinner I ordered the Parrillada. Served sizzling on a platter, fajita-style, there was a chunk of chicken and a chunk of beef along with some onions and two long green pepper pieces, and two small pieces of tomato. The chicken was excellent, it was moist and tender and flavorful. The beef was good and had a very nice flavor, but was a bit on the tough side, especially as it sat a bit longer. This was served with three warm tortillas and so i ate it fajita-style. It was pretty good. For sides, there were beans, yellow rice, and guacamole/sour cream on a side plate. The guacamole was bland and tasteless--not good at all. The beans were only ok and also suffered from a certain blandness and needed some salt, among other things. The rice was OK. So overall, this was only an OK meal, and at $17, it was a bit overpriced, I thought.

My friend had the Chimichanga Dinner, a beef chimichanga served with rice and beans. The Chimichanga itself was pretty good and had a nice flavor, and he generally enjoyed it. At $10 it was an OK price, though I'd say a bit overpriced compared to comparable offereings at other places.

All told, our meal for two came to just over $41 with tax. I was not overly impressed. For the money, I'd expect better food. And there is better Mexican food in Daytona Beach, and not all that far away. Next time I'm in the mood for a little Mexican, I will pass this place by in favor of La Fiesta or Maria Bonita, much better Mexican food for the price.
Mariachi Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Slow Food Orlando's Eat Local Week 2010

I am all about eating in local restaurants using the finest ingredients (OK, so I do occasionally fall "off the wagon" and go to a chain), so when I got an email recently about  Slow Food Orlando's Eat Local Week 2010 asking me to pass on this information, I was happy to do so!

If you are not familiar with the slow food movement, check out the Slow Food Orlando web site to learn a bit more. Basically it's about local restaurants using ingredients grown in the central Florida area, preparing food that is healthy, nutritious, and definitely Good Eats! I suggest you take a look and find out what it's all about!

Carrabba's Italian Grill

I have always had a good meal at Carrabba's, and the meal I had there on New Year's Day was no exception. It is consistently good food done right in a pleasant atmosphere and with good service. Sure, it's a chain. And so sure, you expect a certain uniformity that comes from consisten recipes, some premade ingredients, etc. But good food it good food, no matter how it's prepared.

My friend and I arrive shortly before 5 PM, so certainly before the dinner rush. We were promptly greeted. When shown to a table, we asked for a booth and, after we returned with our waitress to the hostess station (I guess to check availability), we were promptly shown to a booth and told that Michael would take care of us. Menu promptly arrived, specials were recited, and a drink order taken, all in good time. 

My friend had soup and I had soup and a salad to start, all arrived at the same time. Always a bit of a conundrum for me--eat the salad first and let the soup get cold, or mix it up, hot and cold? A minor point, surely. The salad, a house salad, was very good, fresh and crisp. The tomato basil soup was excellent in every regard. I loved it a lot. We both agree that it was delicious.

For an entree my friend had the Chicken Parmesan with mashed potatoes. Both were very good. I had the Pollo Rosa Maria, chicken stuffed with fontina cheese and prosciutto, topped wiht mushrooms and a basil lemon butter sauce. Though I could not really see any prosciutto, the dish was nonetheless excellent. I did have the small portion, too. But it was very, very good, a nice sauce, good mushroom and cheese flavor. I'd say the chicken itself was just a tad bit dry, the the sauce and other flavors compensated well for that. For my side I had the broccoli. It was a bit mushy. I much prefer the broccoli at Red Lobster, just lightly blanched and crispy. Still it was not bad, just could have been better.

Overall, we had a very good meal here, once again. I like Carrabba's and I'll keep going back! One last comment, however. The exterior has got to be the plainest I've ever seen for a Carrabba's. Could be zoning or the plaza's rules, no doubt. But still, great food and always busy, a testament to good food.
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