Chatham's has been wowing Orlando's fans of fine dining since 1988, an impressive feat for any restaurant these days, and that's likely due to a well executed combination of ambiance, service and culinary excellence. From lump Cajun crab cakes to filet mignon, Florida grouper to rack of lamb, the menu is not extensive, but laden with interesting spins on classic dishes. Whatever it is, it keeps diners coming back for special nights out. Attentive but unintrusive service allows diners to enjoy their meals quiety, intimately, and often with live piano accompaniment. Chatham's is an excellent choice for client dinners, as well, but when it comes to special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries and other potentially romantic occasions, it's an ultra-reliable go-to.
Chaimberg slides on black latex gloves and takes what looks like a giant eye dropper. He puts a droplet of a green sauce, made from organic serrano peppers by a company called Small Axe Peppers in the Bronx, on a cardboard tasting spoon and offers it to me. “How’s the heat on that?” Chaimberg asks. “On a scale of one to 10.” I tell him it’s about a four for me. “I’d use this one on Mexican food,” he says. “Or eggs.”
Hot sauce connoisseurship has changed over the past decade. “Hot sauce used to be a macho thing,” he says. “Fifteen, 20 years ago, I call that the Insanity Era. There was this arms race.” Now, he sees more people willing to spend more money than they would on a basic bottle of Tabasco. “When people get that education, they feel more confident investing in better hot sauce,” he says. “It’s just like with wine. Someone’s not going to buy a $200 bottle without some education.”
MEAT. It's what's for dinner (and breakfast, brunch and lunch) at this Mills 50 mecca of all things carnivorous. Grass-fed beef, pastured pork, goat, lamb, eggs, you name it - all of it locally sourced - is what goes into dishes like the Sloppy Jehosephat (loose beef and cheddar on a French roll), the arugula-and-cheddar-laden Crushinator breakfast sammich ("No, Pa! I love him!") and a medium-rare burger that the whole of Orlando's meat-eating community has unanimously raved about. Orlando Meats is open for all three squares; the breakfast menu features some creative spins on traditional offerings, but serious carnivores can order up that signature burger at 8 am if their lovingly clogged hearts so desire. Other delights, including sippable beef or chicken bone broth and house-made doughnuts, are also worth the visit.
What is considered gourmet is different depending on the time and geographic region. What is gourmet historically depended upon what ingredients the people of that region had access to and how easily they acquire them. For instance, seafood could be considered a luxury in an area that lacks fish, whereas it would not be seen as such in an area near the ocean or a great river. Gourmet tended, and still does in many parts of the world, to be revered by a person with access to wealth because gourmet food has always been expensive. The expense was the result of a scarcity of ingredients for a particular food in the region at the time. This fact meant they needed to be brought in from far away, which brought a variety of risks to the merchants. Merchants would have to deal with weather conditions, thieves, and broken equipment, intermediaries, and other such factors that could delay or interrupt the shipment of the good at the cost of their lives and fortune. Thus they asked for higher prices. For millenniums, about 10% of the population could eat food that may have been considered gourmet in their time. Potentially 80% of the global population worked in food production and would have eaten more typical meals to survive. The typical meal would be what they could most easily get their hands on. In Britain, for instance, that was gruels, vegetables, small amounts of wild game, and grains.
Why go: Take Cheena is for adventurous eaters. Flavors hail from all over Asia but are served in American style. Ever had a Korean beef empanada or an Indian butter chicken burrito? Definitely try the “JapaDog,” featuring Chinese sweet sausage, avocado-wasabi, fumi, cabbage mix and scallion. Just remember that you won’t find any yellow mustard here.
My training as a honey sommelier at the American Honey Tasting Society culminates with eight wineglasses filled with various honeys, lined up from light to dark. My instructor, Carla Marina Marchese, tells me that when we taste honey, we don’t do the ceremonial swirl — the wine expert’s ritual — before we sniff. Honey sommeliers smear. “Smear it on the sides of the glass like this,” she says, using a tiny plastic spoon. Once the honey is smeared, I can stick my nose in the glass to properly evaluate the aroma, then spoon a dollop onto my tongue.
When I move to the evaluation portion, however, I immediately realize I am in way over my head. Any hubris I had cracks when I pop my first sample, a soft-ripened cheese, into my mouth. I chew. It just tastes like … soft cheese. I am supposed to evaluate this based on 70 characteristics and flaws in four categories (appearance, aroma, texture and flavor). And not just the presence of, say, a nutty or herbal aroma or an animal or grassy flavor, but “much too little,” “too little,” “just about right,” “too much” or “much too much.” At the table in front of me I see another candidate spit into a bucket. Wait a minute! I think. Are we supposed to spit cheese when we taste it, like wine? I spit my soft-ripened cheese into the bucket on my table (which is gross, to be honest). Still, I gamely trudge on for almost three hours. When I get to the evaluation sheet for Emmental-style (i.e., Swiss) cheese, there is a category for “Eye Development,” with characteristics such as blind, underset, irregular and dead/dull eyes. So cheese has eyes? When I approach the cheesemongers for a sample of cheddar, I steal a glance at the clipboard of a bearded guy in a Hawaiian shirt and Birkenstocks standing next to me. He marks “seamy” on one of his score sheets. What does it mean to have a seamy cheese? I am so out of my league, I don’t even know what I don’t know.