Sunday, September 26, 2010

Norville Barnes' American Fare

We were attending the Deland Fall Crafts Show on a recent Sunday afternoon and came across Norville Barnes' American Fare, a quaint little restaurant right in downtown Deland. Deland has a number of seemingly good places to eat, I'll have to return soon. But what drew me to Norville Barnes' was the mention I saw of their Beer and Cheddar Cheese Soup. I'm a sucker for that. So, we looked at the rest of the menu and decided to give them a try.

We enjoyed our meal here, but there were two disappointments, neither major. The first, however, was that they did not have the Beer-Cheddar Cheese soup on this day! Oh no, dang! But, the menu did look good and so we decided to stay and give them a try, and overlook this minor transgression.

I thought we'd try an appetizer, so ordered the Potsmokers. Yes, a clever play on the potential for weed-flavor, if you know what I mean. The menu said that these were "hand rolled and filled with spicy sausage that will put you under the influence." I'm not sure exactly what that was supposed to mean, but this was my second disappointment. They were just OK. Whatever the spicy sausage was supposed to be, it was not spicy and didn't taste all that much of sausage either. They weren't bad, they just weren't what I expected. They were served with a sour cream sauce of some sort. It was very mild. Had these "potsmokers" been indeed spicy, the sour cream would have been a welcome relief. But as it was, it was not needed. I would not order these again as they were just average and ordinary, nothing at all special like I was expecting.

Having gotten over my earlier soup disappointment, my friend Tommy ordered their soup of the day She Crab Soup. It was actually quite good, with a lot of crab and a lot of crab flavor in it. Up until this time, our favorite She Crab Soup has been from Two Blondes and a Shrimp in Sanford. Theirs is more chowder-like. But the soup Tommy had here was equal to that, and perhaps even the best She Crab Soup he's ever had. That's a good compliment. My earlier disappointments were erased by now!

For his main course, Tommy ordered a special of the day, a Chipotle Chicken Wrap. It was served with a choice of regular potato fries or sweet potato fries, he chose the regular fries. The wrap itself was very good, and a large portion. It had a very good flavor with lots of chicken, cheddar cheese, and a nice chipotle flavor as well, not too overpowering, just right. It was a real hit. The fries, too, were very good. They were cooked just right and served nice and piping hot. Overall, this dish was a hit.

I asked for a side salad in place of fries with my sandwich and ended up with a very delicious salad, full of romaine lettuce, walnuts and craisins. It was also topped with quite a few cherry tomato halves. For a dressing I chose a Feta Viniagrette and it was an excellent choice as it complimented the salad's ingredients very well. I'd rate this salad and its dressing as first class, all the way!

For my main course, I had a sandwich--or Sammich as the menu puts it. I had the Roast Beast Peppercorn sammich, and it was very large and very filling. A large portion of nice and tender, shaved roast beef was piled on a roll and topped with provolone cheese, and grilled. It was served with a side of a sort of jus--I guess this was the brandy and peppercorn dressing. It was very, very good. Now i have a confession to make: I ate the whole thing! Yes, it was that good, I loved it. So I overcame my earlier disappointments and really enjoyed my meal here.

During the course of our meal, we had really good and attentive service, both from our waitress and from the manager, who stopped by several times to make sure we were taken care of. Now, there are a few other places in downtown Deland that I'd also like to try, but I'd certainly go back to Norville Barnes' anytime. Next time I will call ahead to see if they have the Beer-Cheese soup, and also I'm going to try their version of tomato pie next time--it sounds very intriguing. A very nice place, I recommend it!
Norville Barnes' American Fare on Urbanspoon

Rikka Asian Bistro

I received a flyer in the mail recently for Rikka Asian Bistro. The address indicated it was quite close to home and I guessed that it must have opened in the space recently vacated by the closing of another Asian restaurant, Shan. I was right. So on a recent evening, my friend Tommy and I decided to give it a try, knowing they had not been open long, and a bit wondering if they'd have their act together yet. They did!

We were there rather early on a Saturday evening, it was barely 5 PM. We entered and were immediate greeted and shown to a table. Rikka is not a huge place, but is very nice inside and has a defininte Asian feel to it (having never been to Shan, I have no idea if the interior underwent a lot of renovation or not). It was dark, and soothing, and inviting. There were not a lot of tables occupied, but plenty of staff on hand. And each greeted us as we walked by, very friendly. In short order our server, Goon, appeared and took drink orders and offered to answer questions. We did keep her busy with the questions, but she did know the menu and the answers. Well trained staff, for sure! I will also note that several times during our meal a manager came by to check on us as well, I appreciated that. 

We started out with two appetizers, the Pork Gyoza and Rikka Spring Rolls. They were both very good. The Pork Gyoza--Potstickers, in other words--were good with a nice flavor and had been nicely fried. The soy based dipping sauce was nice and light, maybe a bit on the sweet side, but very good. The Spring Rolls likewise were very good, drizzled with a more hearty sauce with just a bit of heat and some garlic. I really liked these. The presentation was very nice as well.

I started my meal with a bowl of the Tom Yum Soup, one of my favorites because of its heat and lemony flavor. First off, the presentation was very nice, it was served in a sort of mini-cauldron, nice and heavy, which helped it retain its heat. It really could have served two people and two bowls were brought, but Tommy is not a fan of spicy food. He did taste it, though. I liked it a lot. I've had it a bit more spicy at times, but it was very nice, with a few nice large shrimp in it, and some nice pieces of mushrooms. The star of it for me was the lemon flavor from the lemongrass. It was very good and certainly hit the spot. I'd order it again.

For my main dish, I ordered the Imperial Shrimp, labeled as one of about a dozen or so Signature Dishes. It was very good. About 10 large shrimp had been sauteed in a nice light sauce with some asian vegetables, notably zucchini, carrots, mustrooms, and onion. It was served with white rice on the side. The presentation, too, was very nice with the food somewhat "contained" by some half-moon cucumber slices, Very good looking and the taste was very good. The shrimp were cooked well and not overcooked. This was a very good dish and I ate every bit of it!.

Tommy ordered another Signature Dish--he had the Thai Mango Chicken.  The chicken itself was very tender and had a nice flavor, indicating that it was properly cooked with the dish, not thrown on as an afterthought (we've seen that before at some other aisan restaurants!). The chicken had been sauteed in a light and flavorful sauce that got a lot of its flavor from the mango. The sweet and sharp of the mango lent a lot to this dish. Other vegetables that were a part of this dish included zucchini, carrots, and onions. All in all, it was a very good dish.

From start to finish, we had a pretty darned good meal at Rikki Asian Bistro. They also have a nice selection of sushi and sashimi. And quite a few lunch specials. I think I'll be coming here for lunch sometime with some of my coworkers who enjoy both Asian food as well as sushi/sashimi. Our experience here was very good, from friendly, fast, and competent service to good food. One of the better Asians restaurants I've dined at in the area. And they've only been open a month. I wish them luck and longevity. Keep up the good work!
Rikka Asian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Eastern Pearl

My friends Joe and Ewa invited me and my friend Tommy to join them at Eastern Pearl the other night. It's a good half-way point for us as they live in College Park and Eastern Pearl is in Altamonte Springs. It was a pretty good choice. Pretty decent asian food, I'd say.

Tommy and I started out with some appetizers, a set if two Spring Rolls served with a peanut sauce. They were pretty good, nice and refreshing. That said, they were nothing overly special, either, just good spring rolls with a nice peanut dipping sauce, though for my taste a bit too sweet.

Joe and Ewa ordered the Asparagus and Beef Roll as an appetizer (no picture, sorry). This was a real winner! The asparagus was extremely flavorful and the beef was very good, too. It was a real hit, I'd order it again--and again!

I started my meal with the Hot & Sour Soup. It was just OK, nothing too spectacular. Usually I expect a fair amount of heat from my hot & sour soup, and this was pretty mild, I'd have liked it hotter. Yes, I could have asked for some more spice to add to it, but I like to eat food the way the restaurant intends it. I found it to be good, but no where near the best I've ever had. 

Tommy tried the Won Ton Soup. His comment about it was that it was very ordinary and somewhat bland. It did have a fair amount of "stuff" in it, but if the broth is bland, what does all the "stuff" bring to the dish? Won Ton Soup should build on a flavorful broth, and this did not.

We did eat family style, but each of us had a favorit dish that we ordered. For his, Tommy took Ewa's suggestion and got the Orange Beef. This was a very good choice. The beef was nice and tender and the sauce had a nice hint of orange flavor to it but was not overpowered by the orange. There was some orange peel in the sauce which was a bit difficult to eat, but did contribute well to the flavor.

For My entree I had the General Tao Chicken. According to the legend on the menu, and according to the way I've had it many times before, this was supposed to be a spicy dish. Perhaps the spice chef had taken a night off, but this was not spicy at all and was a bit of a disappointment. The sauce was overly sweet for my taste. Now if it had been properly spicy, then the sweetness of the sauce would have been a good balance to the hot of the spice. But with "spicy" missing, it just became too sweet. I would not order it again here. I've had this dish many times at many places. For me this was a real miss. Bummer!

Joe ordered a Seafood dish which was also supposed to be spicy. However, all of the spice appeared to be in the fresh jalapenos that were added onto the dish, not in the preparation of the dish itself. Still, it was pretty darned good, I'll admit. It just appears to me that Eastern Pearl has a spice issue, at least they did this night!

Last but certainly not least, Ewa ordered the Crispy Beef. It was very, very good. The beef was nice and crispy and the sauce complimented it well. I also loved the carrot-flower garnish, very clever. Of all the dishes, this and the Orange Beef were my favorites, no doubt about it. 

Overall, my experience at Eastern Pearl was OK, but not overly impressive. I'd probably go back, but I'm still left wondering if there is any real kick-ass, killer Chinese food available north of Orlando. The best yest is still in Daytona Beach, at Leahn's. C'mon north Orlando area, where's there some really great Chinese food? As for Eastern Pearl, it was good, but just not great!
Eastern Pearl on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fourth Friday Art Walk

Once again it's that time: the Sanford Fourth Friday Art Walk will take place Friday, September 24th, 2010. This month's theme is "red" so I'll be interested in seeing all the "red" art there. Hope you can join me, downtown Sanford, 5:30-9 PM. I'll be hanging out across the street at Art Affair Gallery, come on by and say hi!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Orlando Magical Dining Month


ORLANDO, Fla. – This September, Orlando residents can savor and save at more than 60 restaurants during the 5th annual Orlando Magical Dining Month. This culinary celebration, presented by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. (Orlando/Orange County CVB), features more than 60 of the best Orlando-area restaurants offering three-course dinners for $30, with $1 from every meal benefiting a local charity.

From Sept. 1 – 30, 2010, locals and visitors alike can indulge in Orlando’s haute cuisine for this exceptional value at some of the destination’s most popular restaurants, including The Ravenous Pig, Norman’s, Todd English's bluezoo and Emeril's Tchoup Chop.

“With Orlando growing as a culinary community, Orlando Magical Dining Month is a natural fit for the destination,” said Gary C. Sain, president and CEO of the Orlando/Orange County CVB. “The program showcases some of the finest cuisine at Orlando’s top restaurants at a great value only available during the month of September. Both local and visiting diners will discover that Orlando features an array of distinctive restaurants that cater to every palate.”

Orlando Magical Dining Month restaurants offer a diverse assortment of atmospheres and cuisines including:

• The Ravenous Pig – In the tradition of London “Gastropubs,” the Pig offers not only traditional pub fare, but also a seasonally driven menu, as it changes frequently depending product availability and chef inspiration.

• Norman’s – Chef and cookbook author Norman Van Aken presents sophisticated cuisine inspired by the flavors of Latin America, the Caribbean and the southern United States in a luxurious dining room with marble floors, floor-to-ceiling windows and views of The Ritz-Carlton Orlando’s championship golf course.

• Todd English's bluezoo – Celebrity Chef Todd English combines fresh seafood with coastal cuisines from all over the world at bluezoo, which has been named one of Orlando’s top three restaurants by “Orlando Magazine.”

• Emeril's Tchoup Chop – The TV chef’s legendary energy translates into this unique and exotic journey through the Pacific Seas with bold flavors of Asian and Polynesian influences, a perfect complement for Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

Among the more than 60 participants, other restaurants include: The Capital Grille, Charley's Steak House, Chatham's Place Restaurant, CRAVE, HUE Restaurant, Luma on Park, The Oceanaire Seafood Room, The Palm, Primo by Melissa Kelly and Roy's. More information about Orlando Magical Dining Month, including participating restaurants, menus and reservations, is available at

“We love to feature the foods that make Florida one of the most exciting places to cook in the world,” said Chef Norman Van Aken of Norman’s at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando. “Orlando Magical Dining Month has provided our culinary team with a fantastic opportunity to showcase our distinctive dining experience to more guests than ever.”

This year’s charitable beneficiary of Orlando Magical Dining Month is the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Central Florida, an organization that provides arts and cultural awareness and access to residents and visitors in the Central Florida region. For more information about the Arts & Cultural Alliance, visit

This year’s official radio station of Orlando Magical Dining Month is MIX 105.1 FM. Listeners can tune in to The Morning MIX with host Scott McKenzie to hear about his own Magical Dining experiences as well as have the chance to win dining giveaways throughout the month of September. For more information about MIX 105.1 FM, visit