Gone are the fun house mirrors and Ferris wheel parts of its predecessor, Disney-fan favorite the Flying Fish Cafe. The newly minuted version comes with a shortened name and some exceptionally swanky decor that pairs beautifully with its sustainable seafood. Plancha-seared scallops, wood-fired Spanish octopus, crispy soft shell crab and Maine lobster nero pasta are among the phenomenal entrees. Got a dining companion who's less than keen on joining the Little Mermaid "under the sea?" Turf items such as Wagyu filet mignon should do nicely. Walking in on a busy evening? The restaurant's elegant bar is an idea spot to wait, imbibe and peruse the evening's catch, or you can head next door to the steampunk-Houdini haven of AbracadaBar where the drinks are imbued with so much Disney magic, you'll want to make a couple disappear.
This downtown bar looks like a cross between a library in an old mansion and a barn, with antiques and vintage furniture everywhere and bartenders dressed in suspenders. While it’s definitely a unique space, they also make some of the best cocktails in the city. Mathers also has a small food menu, which includes everything from chili rice cakes to charcuterie boards, and a general store for the times when absinthe and candy sound like the right combination to end a night.
Located just a block from Lake Eola in Thornton Park, Soco is one of the best places in Orlando to spend an afternoon eating and drinking outside. This place serves high-end comfort food, like grilled meatloaf with lobster mash potatoes, Southern fried quail and waffles, and a weekly TV dinner special that yes, gets served on an actual tray covered in foil. Drinks-wise, they have a huge wine list, along with plenty of cocktail and beer options. When you want to pretend like you don’t have responsibilities, come to Soco for a long weekend brunch or to spend the entire day on a patio.
Just one in a string of joints to offer street eats with a pan-Asian bent, Kai has been luring them in with the sticky crunch of Korean-style chicken wings; crispy fries loaded with kimchi and bulgogi; and tacos stuffed with everything from chicken satay to deep-fried fish (cá). Owners Isra Sunhachawi and Quan Van traveled all over Asia in an effort to perfect their recipes and, after months of experimenting and tweaking, that commitment and drive certainly shows.
Located in Winter Park, part of Orlando’s sprawling suburban area, Ethos Vegan Kitchen does exactly what it says on the tin: serves up ethically sourced, vegan food while showcasing the potential of vegan cooking. Working with environmentally conscious local farmers and producers, and using organic ingredients as much as possible, the restaurant has built up a loyal following in the area. No wonder – it offers anything from pastas and pizzas to salads, sandwiches and mains, with a menu that is both tantalizing and rewarding, and which features regularly changing specials. Beer lovers will not be disappointed either, as Ethos Vegan Kitchen has sourced several high-quality organic brews to pair with any meal option.
Landlocked Central Florida is not Italy, but when you want to temporarily forget that, go to Prato. This always-packed restaurant in Winter Park serves modern Italian food, like mustard spaghetti cacio e pepe and a variety of wood-fired pizzas, and has retractable doors and a patio, which almost makes it feel like you’re getting a nice breeze from the Mediterranean. There’s always a wait if you don’t make a reservation, but just grab a drink at the bar and start debating with your friends about how many pastas to order in the meantime.
After lunch, there is a tour of Murray’s caves, where the cheese ages. Then we’re led through the tasting of eight more cheeses by Tyler Frankenberg, the company’s customer experience manager, also a Certified Cheese Professional. This tasting is about comparing variations in cheesemaking: the differences between cheese near the rind vs. the tip, washed rind vs. ash, unaged vs. aged (“older doesn’t necessarily mean better,” we’re told). At one point we compare two versions of a funky pasteurized sheep’s milk cheese called Hollander with an aroma that people describe as earthy, mineral, “like mom’s basement” and even redolent of ammonia. “With this one, the bark is worse than its bite,” Frankenberg says.
“You can’t study the day before and take this test,” says Jane Bauer, the certification manager for the American Cheese Society. The professionals taking this test need at least 4,000 hours of work experience in the cheese business. “There’s a difference between certification and certificates. A lot of people try to call things certifications, and they’re not.”
These programs prepare you to be a taste authority, a sensory expert, an arbiter and evangelist in the field, but you’re likely not producing anything. Even so, they’re in demand. What is it about this epoch that values such mastery over taste? Were we all truly so clueless and naive about these matters once upon a time? Has life become so fraught and complicated that even decisions over our smallest pleasures now require expert intervention?