Food Tours · Reviews

Orlando Cafe Tour: Doña Juana Coffee Shop

Today I stopped by Doña Juana Coffee Shop on my cafe tour of Orlando with Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More. The cafe is open Monday-Saturday from 7:30AM-8:00PM and serves a variety of coffee, smoothies, and snacks/food. They recently opened their doors back in December 2016.

Many of the cafes we hit up today in the Winter Park area and beyond were new to the area – it’s really amazing seeing so many cool shops in Orlando – the phenomenon is also happening across I-4 in Tampa.

Dona Juana Coffee Shop

We decided to try some smoothies during our visit – I had the Acai-Mix and the others had Soursop and and Strawberry-Banana.

Acai Mix at Dona Juana

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One cool thing I noticed is that all the smoothies tasted real – plenty of cafes sell smoothies and do not use fruits or have a terrible artificial taste to smoothies – Dona Juana has tasty smoothies and the prices are fair with most smoothies under $4. The sweetness level was also just right.

It would be cool to see them expand the smoothie menu, but for now I have my eye on mango on a future visit.

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The coffee options and decor of the shop definitely were enticing – I would’ve ordered a coffee, but am going to leave that for my next visit in the near future. The staff was friendly and the shop was fairly modern inside with lots of comfortable seating and couches – something you don’t see everyday.

Here is a video from their Facebook:

I’ll be back soon!

Dona Juana Coffee Shop. 6965 Piazza Grande Avenue Orlando, FL 32835. (321) 317-3760

Food Events · Restaurant News

Orlando chefs host Filipino kamayan pop-up dinner

Three chefs in Orlando, Florida teamed up this past weekend to host a Filipino “kamayan” dinner called “Kamay or die” at The Guesthouse Bar on Mills Avenue.

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The chefs who hosted the event include:

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Kamayan is an eat-with-your-hands style feast that is popular in Filipino culture and has spread to the United States through a variety of pop-ups and restaurant dinners being held from California to New York City. Food is spread on banana leaves and no plates or silverware are traditionally provided.

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Dishes ranged from traditional Filipino food to Filipino-inspired food fare. Guesthouse bartenders served up Tiki cocktails to create a Pacific food feast experience.

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The menu included:

  • Rice
  • Adobo shrimp
  • Filipino style ribs
  • Whole fried snapper
  • Pinakbet
  • Bok choy
  • Baby octopus
  • Lechon Kawali (crispy fried pork belly)
  • Longanisa (Filipino sausage)
  • Lumpia (Filipino eggrolls)
  • Turon with vanilla ice cream covered in a purple ube coconut sauce

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Around 60 guests attended the feast. The chefs hope to host more events in the near-future.

Bloomberg noted last week that Filipino food is projected to have a great year in 2017 and Filipino food fans like myself are hopeful that this is just the beginning of Filipino dining to come.

San Francisco-based, Filipino-American, Chef Charleen recently won the Food Network show Chopped using Filipino cuisine to guide her to victory and winning the grand prize of $10,000.

Now to get some more Filipino food out west in Tampa Bay.

Photography courtesy of Jeff Kraus.

Food Adventures · Reviews

Morimoto Asia Tasting @ Disney Springs

Last week I had the pleasure of heading to Disney Springs for a tasting at Morimoto Asia and STK. Both restaurants are fairly new to the area and part of the new developments happening all over the shopping, restaurant, and entertainment complex.

This year both restaurants will be participating in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month from August 29th, 2016 to October 2nd, 2016. Magical Dining Month features over 90 restaurants in the Orlando area with 3-course prix-fixe dinners for $33. This is a great way to try a restaurant and see if you want to go there for an anniversary or get-together without breaking the bank. Many of the restaurants are also in the higher-end category and would be costly as a regular diner. The prix-fixe choices matter – of course.

Here are my thoughts from the tasting:

Morimoto has 3 appetizer choices: miso soup + house salad, assorted dim sum, and kakuni pork buns. The soup/salad option are great for people who want a light start to their meal and offers plenty to start. Personally I was a huge fan of the kakuni pork buns. Kakuni is a Japanese braised pork dish meaning “square-simmered” – the pork belly in this bun literally melted on your tongue…it was exquisite. Personally I love pork belly, but there are still options available for those who may not be as interested.

Entree options include orange chicken, lo mein (meat or veggie), LA BBQ kalbi, and a sweet & sour branzino filet. All 4 entrees are appealing depending on your taste.

The orange chicken was clearly prepared using the more authentic orange peel tart recipe and not the American sugary orange sauce. It was very enjoyable and cooked just crispy enough. The side bok choy was incredible too – the sauce on top of it excellent. Personally I am not a huge fan of lo mein – this one was better than what I am used to – but wouldn’t be my first choice on the menu.

The LA BBQ kalbi was easily my favorite. I am picky with my Korean food after living abroad and in general whenever I eat kimchi that I can enjoy (more restaurants get it wrong than right in Florida) and as a fan of Korean BBQ – this BBQ was true to the original flavor of LA kalbi while also spicing it up for a more classy experience. The cuts of meat were great and the dish was balanced. I would probably order the LA BBQ kalbi on every visit to Morimoto if possible (or the delicious peking duck not on this special menu).

I want to say that it is very interesting how Morimoto’s restaurant features a wide variety of Asian cuisines, but represents them all well. Sometimes chefs take too much liberty when preparing Asian dishes to the point where the actual root of the food is lost – but Morimoto Asia puts their own sauces and twists on dishes while keeping the authenticity there and I really like that.

Finally there is the sweet & sour branzino filet which features a seabass. This dish was flavorful and made well – but to me not my choice when I have Korean BBQ and great a great chicken option as well. Still – the sauce and preparation of this dish were far from what you’ll normally find.

Then on to dessert! Options include the MM soda float made with Japanese Ramune soda (my favorite!), boba, mixed berries, and gelato, churro fondue, and red bean sesame balls. There dishes also really depend on your preference. The churro fondue is the safest choice of the 3 – but is by no means lacking in flavor with nutella and vanilla cream.

I have never seen Japanese soda used for a dessert before and I really thought it was original to see on it on a menu at Morimoto. In fact, most restaurants don’t even carry Japanese soda – but personally I love it and prefer it against American soda brands. The MM soda float was fun to enjoy as well – pouring the soda over the gelato and watching it bubble up. Side note: If you’re feeling an alcohol drink at Morimoto – I really recommend trying the white lily martini which is made with Calpico – an uncarbonated Japanese soft drink…it is perhaps the best martini I have ever had.

Finally, the red bean sesame balls live up to expectations – but may be an acquired taste and something people who are not used to Asian flavors may be shy against trying – which is understandable – but definitely worth trying.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on STK!

Morimoto Asia. Disney Springs Marketplace, 1600 Buena Vista Dr, Orlando, FL 32830. (407) 939-6686.

Food Adventures · Reviews

Universal Studios Orlando: Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Three Broomsticks restaurant

In honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II’s release, I thought I’d do a write up on my first experience with Butterbeer (read my review Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow’s Part II here). One of the most exciting parts of visiting Universal Studios earlier this year was visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. One minute in this new land and we felt like we had left Universal Studios. Every detail was made to feel like a realistic representation of the Harry Potter franchise. You can read more about the park on my travel blog Carlos Abroad.

We really wanted to try the Butterbeer that everyone was raving about. There were stands around the park where you could line-up to buy some, but my friend suggested we visit the Three Broomsticks restaurant and avoid the lines. This strategy proved successful and within minutes we were ordering food and picking up our Butterbeer. There were two kinds of Butterbeer and I decided to go with the frozen Butterbeer (my theme park guru friend recommended it), in addition to a turkey leg combo with fry wedges.

The food was surprisingly good for theme park food and although I would have enjoyed some bbq sauce with my turkey leg, I was full within a few minutes. My friends didn’t hesitate to devour every last piece of my turkey leg I was unable to finish. The potato wedges were tasty as well. This interior of Three Broomsticks will remind you of a tavern you might find within the world of Harry Potter. There is a stairwell that seems to go up to higher floors, but it is all for show.

The frozen Butterbeer was sweet and tasty. It was sweet without being too strong. You’ll notice that almost everyone around you orders Butterbeer as well. There were elements that made me think of a butterscotch-like root beer float. It was definitely one of the most exciting parts of visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and something we HAD to do before left. No questions about that. I think everyone should give it a shot.

Three Broomsticks on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Three Broomsticks

Address: 1000 Universal Studios Plaza Orlando, FL 32819

Phone Number: (407) 363-8000

Website: http://www.universalorlando.com/

Reviews

Izziban Sushi (Orlando)

I have a friend who is a sushi guru. He eats sushi every single week, multiple times a week and one of his favorite places is Izziban Sushi. After hearing about it for the longest time, I finally had a chance to come to Izziban Sushi after the Orlando Japan Festival. My time at Izziban was memorable and quite a delicious food encounter!

We showed up just in time for their Happy Hour Special (5-7PM) and were able to have sushi rolls for $3.99 and appetizers as well! The dumplings (pictured above) were quite appetizing. But what was REALLY AMAZING was…

Their cream cheese (crab rangoons) were just the BEST I have EVER had hitting my taste buds without being to creamy but just right…they were quickly devoured by my friends and I and this is when I decided Izziban was a pretty awesome place. If an appetizer can make a place then that is quite a feat in itself. If only someplace closer to home had these…

The atmosphere at Izziban was nice, though quiet. A pretty big restaurant with plenty of seating both a tables, booths, and a sushi bar. The televisions there were playing K-Pop videos and I found out later that the place is actually owned by Korean people and that Izziban has an excellent Korean food menu as well. One thing I noticed while looking around the restaurant was that they had “irrashaimase” or いらっしぁいませ (Japanese for “welcome” frequently said at Japanese businesses when you enter) written in hiragana in the front, I love it when restaurants go that extra mile.

One of my good friends and I.

All the rolls were appetizing and didn’t need much soy sauce added to them, I think Izziban’s sushi gives you way more than your moneys worth during this early bird special.  Service was average, although the waiter could have been a little more attentive to our table.The place was slow customer-wise (probably because it was a Sunday), but still with prices like this and quality like this I would be here everyday if I lived in Orlando. I really liked their Golden California Roll and the masago tasted great.

We couldn’t resist trying some of their Tempura Ice Cream. It was pretty tasty, but couldn’t match-up to the excellent Tempura Ice Cream my friends and I eat at Dragonfly Sushi. Overall, Izziban Sushi had some excellent sushi, appetizers, and dessert all at affordable prices and any opportunity I have to return here will be utilized.  Until we meet again Izziban…

Izziban Sushi on Urbanspoon

Restaurant name: Izziban Sushi

Cuisine: Japanese, Korean

Address: 1700 W Sand Lake Rd Ste D124 Orlando, FL 32809

Phone Number: (407) 850-5088

Website: http://www.izzibansushioforlando.net/

Food Adventures · Reviews

Benihana

This past weekend was my step-father’s 50th birthday. To celebrate we went to our timeshare in Orlando and had dinner at the Benihana on International Drive. I used to eat at Benihana in San Francisco’s Japantown all the time as a kid with my father, so I was excited to go to this Benihana and re-experience it. The tall hats, shrimp that goes in your pocket, umbrellas in your drink,  koi fish, among other things are ingrained in my childhood memory.

My Mom made the reservations and we all arrived fairly on time. This location was pretty small compared to the one in San Francisco. The chefs also seemed to have shorter hats, though I’m not sure if this is different or I just have forgotten that detail since my last time in San Francisco. They had to separate our twelve person party in two, which sucked a bit.

I went with the Rocky’s Choice which includes steak and chicken among the other things served with most meals at Benihana. The chef was friendly…but really was the most disappointing part of my experience. Maybe he wasn’t trained enough, but every trick he tried to pull off failed pretty bad. He was quiet and all his jokes seemed forced. He dropped his cooking instruments during a trick and when he tried to do the popular shrimp in a pocket he missed and the shrimp just fell. After awhile I think we all got bored with him and started to look at my parents chef, little did I know that they were looking at the chef at the table next to them as well…It was also one of the shortest shows I have seen and we found ourselves eating our food instead of watching the chef do his job, which quite frankly is the opposite of how my visit to Kobe’s was when I went for my birthday last year.

The soup and salad were decent, but nothing to brag about. The chicken and steak were both bland and despite constantly dipping them in their ginger and mustard sauces, the taste just would not come. I tried their Orange Sorbet and really disliked it. After a few bites I was just poking at it.  For $26 it is pretty disappointing to not be able to taste any flavor.  I understand that most people visit these restaurants for the show, but since that wasn’t going to be any good this whole visit was pretty much spoiled.  I will say, however, that that their green tea is quite good. Maybe the only thing I enjoyed there.

To make matters worse after the shows were over they came out to sing Happy Birthday to my Step-Father and my Mom and half of the party were in the bathroom. They came out of the bathroom to find that the singing was already over…that is not a great way to treat someone who made the reservation to go there in the first place.

Overall just a really disappointing experience. Reviews seemed favorable, but none of them seemed to mention these things. Most reviewers claimed that Benihana beats any other Japanese steakhouse such as Kobe or Arigato’s, but after this experience I have to disagree at least about this location.

Restaurant Name: Benihana

Cuisine: Japanese

Address: 12690 International Drive Orlando, FL 32821

Phone: (407) 239-7400

Website: http://www.benihana.com/

Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/benihana-orlando-3

Benihana on Urbanspoon