blows, boleros and beck

jeff beck

jeff beck. photo by ross halfin.

The first tune that hit me was Beck’s Bolero.

It was broadcast over WHAS radio in Louisville after midnight one evening back in the early ‘70s, roughly four years after it was recorded. I didn’t know what a bolero was back then. I had never heard of Maurice Ravel, the composer whose famed work the tune was modeled after. I was similarly unfamiliar with the guitarist the music was credited to – an ex-Yardbird by the name of Jeff Beck. I remember the DJ who played it, though. Dave McCree. No one else on Kentucky airwaves would have touched a song like that back then. It was instrumental, for crying out loud.

But there it was – drums with a militaristic stutter, a furious acoustic rhythm and a majestically punctuated guitar line that morphed into outward psychedelia. It was unlike anything I had ever heard.

Where did Beck figure into this, though? The song wasn’t even written by him. It was penned by Jimmy Page. Everybody knew who he was, although Beck’s Bolero didn’t sound like anything he had going on in Led Zeppelin, either.

So it was with a smile of fond remembrance that I noticed Beck’s Bolero leading off a fine 2008 CD/DVD project by Beck titled Live at Ronnie Scott’s. By that time, I felt I had shared a lifetime with his music.

There were Beck’s two brilliant jazz fusion adventures – the 1975 George Martin-produced Blow By Blow and its 1976 followup Wired – that opened Beck’s music up to a new generation over two consecutive summers. Next up was the comparatively subtle There and Back from 1980 and the far crunchier Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop from 1989. A quick-witted tribute to Gene Vincent-style rockabilly called Crazy Legs proved a suitable diversion in 1995 before a trio of albums (1999’s Who Else!, 2001’s You Had It Coming and 2003’s Jeff) modernized Beck’s meaty guitar tone with splashes of techno.

But for the kickoff of Live at Ronnie Scott’s, we were back at the beginning with Beck’s Bolero. That the guitarist used the tune to dive into covers of two vintage fusion jams – the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Eternity’s Breath and Billy Cobham’s Stratus – suggested a wily sense of nostalgia. With Beck, though, music is never retro. It might be revisited. It might even be reinvented. But it is never a trophy piece or a reflection of past glories. With Beck, music employs tradition as a means of progression.

I witnessed that up close the first time I saw the guitarist in concert. It was the summer of 1976 and Wired was the rage among the fusion fanbase. A performance at Louisville Gardens (then Convention Center) paired Beck with a band led by former Mahavishnu keyboardist/future Miami Vice hitmaker Jan Hammer.

On Scatterbrain, a centerpiece tune from Blow by Blow, a blues jam that sounded like it could have emerged from the Beck’s Bolero days settled into a summery haze before it erupted into car chase-like arpeggios that gave the tune a dizzying, dramatic flair.

Then on the Wired workout Blue Wind, Beck and Hammer toyed with the song’s thematic riff and weaved it in and out of blues and boogie patterns before detouring into the concert’s only pre-Blow by Blow moment – the bone rattling guitar riff to The Yardbirds’ Train Kept a Rollin’.

Three-and-a-half decades later, such stylistic range and mischief remain earmarks of Beck’s music. Such cunning is plentiful on Live at Ronnie Scott’s during a time-tripping medley that matches Goodbye Pork Pie Hat (the Charles Mingus jazz staple initially re-imagined by Beck as a galvanizing electric blues on Wired) and Brush with the Blues (an equally crafty original from Who Else!). The album also boasted a respectful but seriously rocking treatment of the Beatles’ A Day in the Life (which won Beck his fifth Grammy earlier this year) and the sumptuously bittersweet whammy-bar finale, Where Were You.

That variety carries over into Beck’s current recording and touring projects. His first studio album in seven years, Emotion & Commotion covers rewired versions of two tunes from Jeff Buckley’s Grace album (Corpus Christi Carol and Lilac Wine), a keenly paced instrumental spotlighting current Beck keyboardist Jason Rebello (Never Alone), two rockish joyrides with singer Joss Stone (including a cover of the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic I Put a Spell on You) and a reading of Over the Rainbow that is as quiet and emotively hair-raising as Where Were You.

That finally brings us to this week, when Beck will perform at the PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati. Coming only two weeks after a pair of high profile tribute concerts to the pioneering guitarist Les Paul held at New York’s Iridium Jazz Club (where Paul was in residency during the final years of his performance life), the Cincy show looks to be a forceful mesh of past and present.

For his current tour, Beck has recruited Narada Michael Walden as drummer. Though known mostly as one of the foremost pop producers of the 1980s, Walden was a hardcore fusion drummer during the ‘70s having played in the Mahavishnu Orchestra and, soon after that band’s final split, on Wired. But the performance focus will be on new music from Emotion & Commotion, which Walden had nothing to do with.

A paradox? A contradiction? Another bit of artistic reinvention? The Cincy concert is likely to reflect all of that and more as it further expands the rock and fusion vocabulary of a guitar hero that first embraced a generation with a bolero.

Jeff Beck with Alana Grace perform at 8 p.m. June 23 at PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. Tickets: $39.40, $59.65, $81.20. Call (800) 745-3000.

2006 Foodie Awards.

The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, FL) December 3, 2006 Byline: Scott Joseph Dec. 3–African/Soul/Caribbean Readers’ choice: Jiko Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge 407-939-3463 Critic’s choice: Johnson’s Diner 595 W. Church St., Orlando 407-841-0717 Somehow Bahama Breeze, which has been your perennial favorite, fell off the radar this year. Instead, your award will go to the South African stylings of this upscale restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. I’m going with the soul interpretation of the category and once again giving the nod to Johnson’s, which moved to spacious new digs this year.

American Readers’ choice: Seasons 52 463 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs; 407-767-1252; Critic’s choice: Houston’s 215 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park 407-740-4005; This year, we asked voters to be site specific when nominating a chain restaurant. Seasons 52 is a recurrent favorite in a number of categories, but for this one the Altamonte Springs location won out over the original on Restaurant Row. (Both still do a nice job, truth be told.) I’m sticking with Houston’s for my chain American. And there still is only one location in Central Florida. Perhaps that’s part of what I like about it — it seems like a one-of-a-kind. American (nonchain) Readers’ choice: Hue 629 E. Central Blvd., Orlando 407-849-1800; Critic’s choice: Luma on Park 290 Park Ave. S., Winter Park 407-599-4111 Hue was your choice last year, too. I’m casting my vote for Luma more as recognition for the sea change the restaurant underwent following its disappointing initial opening. Now, under the direction of executive chef Brandon McGlamery, it’s a restaurant to rival some of the old-time favorites. Barbecue Readers’ choice: Smokey Bones Bbq 3400 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando 407-894-1511; Critic’s choice: Brothers and Sisters Bbq 1201 S. Vineland Road, Winter Garden 407-905-6912 This category was much more hotly contested than in years past. Several of you made the trip to Winter Garden to try out my choice and agreed with me that it’s among the best. But too many went with the familiar. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out next year if Darden executives go through with rumored plans to move beyond a barbecue theme. An interesting note: Wildside, a past choice of mine, wasn’t even on the radar with readers this year.

Best chain Readers’ choice: Seasons 52 463 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs 407-767-1252 Critic’s choice: Shula’s Steak House Walt Disney World Dolphin, Lake Buena Vista 407-934-1362; Just a few years ago, Seasons 52 didn’t qualify for this category. But the latest Darden project now has locations throughout Florida and has moved into Georgia. Tomorrow, the world. Continuing the same fine quality is now the challenge. I’ll admit my choice is a bit unconventional; one doesn’t usually think of high-end steakhouses as chains, but the fact is that just about all of them are part of a bigger corporate family. So why didn’t I choose Morton’s, my choice for best steak this year? Because in this category it’s important to consider all aspects of the dining experience, including atmosphere and service, in addition to the food. Shula’s did a good job in all areas, even if its steak was bested by Morton’s this time out. Next year, there will be at least a half-dozen chains new to the area competing for this award. Best restaurant to eat at the bar Readers’ choice: Seasons 52 Critic’s choice: Beluga 460 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park 407-644-2962 Sometimes eating at the bar at Seasons 52 is your only option if you don’t want to wait an hour or two. Luckily, it’s a big, circular bar and there’s usually entertainment. Plus, you’re within pouring distance of the bartenders and their terrific array of wines. Beluga, the Winter Park Village seafooder, has bar seating indoors and out, and entertainment is also offered. Others voted for Bonefish Grill, Kres Chophouse, Emeril’s and Smokey Bones. Breakfast Readers’ choice: First Watch Plaza Venezia, 7500 Sand Lake Road, Orlando; 407-363-5622 Critic’s choice: All American Cafe 1817 S. Ferncreek Ave., Orlando 407-897-2213 First and still Watching, you like the morning meals at this exemplary chain. For me, I’ll take the down-home, unpretentious All American, a small neighborhood cafe with full omelets, terrific biscuits and gravy and lighter-than-air pancakes. And real butter to smear on them. That counts for a lot. I almost went with a chain, too — Peach Valley Cafe does a nice job with breakfast.

Buffet Readers’ choice: New King Buffet 2157 E. Semoran Blvd., Apopka 407-814-9116 Critic’s choice: Boma — Flavors of Africa Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Lake Buena Vista; 407-939-3463; This is the second year you’ve voted for New King as your go-to glutfest. This year I’m choosing Boma, the African-style walkabout food court at Animal Kingdom Lodge. King seems to be the common thread, as in king-size waistbands. Others voted for the New England clambake at Cape May Cafe and Crazy Buffet, to which I’ll add no comment. Burger Readers’ choice: The Tap Room at Dubsdread 549 W. Par St., Orlando 407-650-0100 Critic’s choice: Johnny’s Fillin’ Station 2631 S Ferncreek Ave, Orlando 407-894-6900 As usual, the best burger race was a hotly contested one. And I believe this is the first year that the readers’ choice was not from a chain restaurant. You went with the patty from the Tap Room, and I agree that it’s worthy. Still, I’m going back to Johnny’s Fillin’ Station this year. Also making a good showing was newcomer Five Guys Famous Burger and Fries, which if you’re going to go with a chain is the one to choose. Chinese Readers’ choice: P.F. Chang’s 436 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park 407-622-0188; Critic’s choice: Ming’s Bistro 1212 Woodward St., Orlando 407-898-9672 You went back to your past favorite in this category, although between you and me, it really belongs in the American category, but I’m not going to argue. For me, I’m throwing my vote to the new Ming’s Bistro, which took up residence in the Asian district around Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive. Ming’s serves authentic Chinese dishes and traditional dim sum, available every day, not just weekends. Other vote-getters from readers included New King Buffet, Kim Wu and Eastern Pearl, which was my choice last year. Cuban Readers’ choice: Black Bean Deli 325 S. Orlando Ave., Winter Park 407-628-0294 Critic’s choice: Mambo 4579 13th St., St. Cloud; 407- 891-7022 Your choice was my choice last year, and you’ll get no argument from me that Black Bean serves wonderful Cuban food. But Mambo, which I’ve only recently discovered, takes the food up a notch and elevates the usual Cuban favorites to something special. And you get to sit down to eat. Deli Readers’ choice: Toojay’s 715 N. Alafaya Trail, Orlando 407-249-9475; Critic’s choice: Cavallari 1954 W. State Road 426, Oviedo 407-365-8000 Deli is a bit of a vague designation, so it isn’t surprising that nominations were all over the carving board on this one. In the end, readers decided to define a deli as a full-service restaurant with traditional Jewish cuisine. For me, it’s a great place to get a terrific sandwich or maybe some sliced meats and prepared foods to take home and cook. We may break out a new category for best sandwich next year. What do you think?

Dessert Readers’ choice: The Dessert Lady 4792 S. Kirkman Road, Orlando 407-822-9919 Critic’s choice: Costa del Sol 12200 Menta St., Orlando. 407-240-2095 This year we asked you to name a specific dessert along with the name of the desserter. The Dessert Lady, with a nod to her carrot cake, was your overwhelming choice. Patty Schmidt was my choice last year, and I’m certain that I enjoyed several of her creations this year (the Dessert Lady supplies many area restaurants). But I just couldn’t get the creme caramel from Costa del Sol out of my head. Early-bird dinner Readers’ choice: Straub’s Fine Seafood 5101 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando; 407-273-9330 Critic’s choice: Palma Maria 1015 E. Semoran Blvd., Casselberry; 407-339-2856 A carbon copy of last year’s results. The choices seem to be fewer this year. Maybe early-bird dinners are going the way of, well, carbon copies. And just before I get old enough to enjoy them. As far as reader votes, nothing even came close to Straub’s.

French Readers’ choice: Le Coq au Vin 4800 S. Orange Ave., Orlando; 407-851-6980 Critic’s choice: Le Coq au Vin Isn’t it great that Darden hasn’t developed a French concept. Le Rouge Escargot, perhaps? Even if there were a chain in the running, it would meet its Waterloo with Le Coq au Vin. Nothing else was even close, although some readers wanted to recognize Chez Vincent, Chefs de France, Cafe de France and Paris-Bistro, all fine restaurants in a tough category.

German/East European Readers’ choice: Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe 205 E. 1st St., Sanford; 407-321-2204 Critic’s choice: Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe Hey, look — we agree on another one. And just like in the French category, this one wasn’t even close. Willow Tree Cafe is not a very pretty place — in fact none of the local restaurants specializing in Eastern European food is exactly elegant — but the food is good enough to make your heart go oom-pah-pah.

Greek Readers’ choice: Greek Flame Taverna 1560 Semoran Blvd., Winter Park 407-678-2388 Critic’s choice: Mayerion Mykonos 2401 W. State Road 434, Longwood 407-788-9095 This is the second year in a row that you’ve chosen the Flame as your favorite, and in another run-away vote. My choice — another multiple-year winner — was your second favorite. Other votes went to Cypriana, Athena Cafe and old-timer Olympia. One to watch: The Greek Corner on Orange Avenue in Orlando’s Antique Row is showing signs of improvement. Ice cream Readers’ choice: Lita’s Divine Creamery 1541 International Parkway, Lake Mary 407-333-3536 Critic’s choice: Lita’s Divine Creamery Lita’s left the competition cold, taking far more votes than any of the others, which included Marble Slab, Il Gelatone and Cold Stone Creamery, which took the reader award last year. Indian Readers’ choice: Memories of India 7625 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando 407-370-3277 Critic’s choice: Memories of India We both chose Memories last year — remember? — and it’s still doing good enough for us. It’s interesting that all votes for MOI were for the original location in Bay Hill Plaza. The newer location in Lake Mary, which offers a somewhat different dining experience, went unnoticed. Something to consider in the next year: Can the quality at the original keep up if the owners are focusing attention on the Lake Mary restaurant? We’ll see. Italian (chain) Readers’ choice: Carraba’s 1001 Sand Lake Road, Orlando 407-888-2727 Are you sitting down? For the first time in the history of the Foodies, a restaurant other than Olive Garden has taken the prize in this category. And the votes for the Sand Lake Road Carrabba’s were nearly 3-to-1 over the Olive Garden with the most votes. Other restaurants you considered were Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Buca di Beppo and Timpano. This is a category I leave entirely up to you. Italian (nonchain) Readers’ choice: Circosta’s 2960 W. State Road 426, Oviedo 407-699-7499 Critic’s choice: Terramia Winebar e Trattoria 1185 S. Spring Center Blvd., Altamonte Springs 407-774-8466 Another upset by a newcomer. It’s so new that I haven’t even been to it yet. (I’ll correct that soon with a full review in my Table Matters column.) Last year you chose Bravissimo on Shine Avenue, and that cute little neighborhood trattoria still got several votes this year. Il Pescatore, Stefano’s, Pizzeria Valdiano and Mama Della’s at Portofino Bay also were big in this popular category. Also well-represented was Enzo’s on the Lake, which lost its namesake owner a couple of months ago. Japanese Readers’ choice: Tie: website animal kingdom lodge

Amura 950 Market Promenade Ave., Lake Mary; 407-936-6001 Kobe 468 W. State Road 436, Altamonte Springs 407-862-2888 Critic’s choice: Hanamizuki 8255 International Drive, Orlando; 407-363-7200 Ties are rare in Foodie World. Your top choices offer disparate dining experiences, but both have loyal customers. My selection takes me back to Hanamizuki, where authentic cuisine is offered in a delightfully nontourist environment. Other favorites among readers included Fuji Sushi, Benihana and Ichiban. Kids menu Readers’ choice: The Kitchen Hard Rock Hotel, 5800 Universal Blvd., Orlando 407-503-2431 Critic’s choice: Boma — Flavors of Africa Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Lake Buena Vista 407-939-3463; Red Lobster has been your etched-in-stone favorite in the category for years, but this time it barely registered on the vote meter. I’m not sure why you chose Hard Rock’s oddly themed Kitchen, whose kids menu has the usual suspects of chicken tenders and cheese pizzas, but those of you with kids know better than I. But I always think about my friends who say they like to expose their children to new tastes, so I’m sticking with Boma. And let’s challenge some of the area’s ethnic eateries to come up with better fare for the kids before next year’s Foodies.

Korean Readers’ choice: Korea House 977 W. State Road 434, Longwood 407-767-5918 Critic’s choice: Korean Kitchen 3255 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando. 407-295-8522 Your assignment for the following year is to get out and discover Korean cooking. This is by far the category with the fewest ballots cast. Your choice took more than 80 percent of the vote for a decisive victory. My winner is a new discovery for me, one I told you about earlier this year. Besides offering an authentic Korean dining experience, including some rather unusual wines, the family-run Korean Kitchen makes diners feel as though they’re dining in someone’s home. But Korea House, the area’s oldest Korean restaurant, is still a fine and deserving choice. Late-night meal Readers’ choice: Kres Chophouse 17 W. Church St., Orlando 407-447-7950 Critic’s choice: Midnight Blue 900 E. Washington St., Orlando. 407-999-9012 You want to know how far Central Florida has evolved? Denny’s received only four votes this year. Kres was your grand slam winner this year; I chose Jephanie Foster’s new Thornton Park restaurant, whose name gives a clue to its closing time. Latin American/Puerto Rican Readers’ choice: Latin Quarter Universal’s CityWalk 407-363-5922 Critic’s choice: Mi Viejo San Juan 7229 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando 407-382-6579 Once again you have selected the pan-Latin cuisine of CityWalk’s Latin Quarter as your representative on this category. I’m going with the Puerto Rico specific food of Mi Viejo San Juan. Latin Quarter can be a lot of fun, and live music adds a certain allure. But try to get out and explore some of the mom-and-pop cafes that have been opening with increasing regularity. Mexican Readers’ choice: Taquitos Jalisco 1041 S. Dillard St., Winter Garden 407-654-0363 Critic’s choice: Los Primos 1 W. Silver Star Road, Ocoee 407-905-0224 With your votes this year, you’re starting to show an understanding of the differences between authentic Mexican cuisine and Tex-Mex. Besides Taquitos Jalisco, you also showed support for Beto’s, El Potro and Garibaldi’s. There also were several votes for Chipotle, which means we still have some people who don’t quite get it. I had named Los Primos my favorite a few years ago, and I’m happy to return the award to Ocoee. Middle Eastern Readers’ choice: Cedar’s 7732 Sand Lake Road, Orlando 407-351-6000 Critic’s choice: Cedar’s This one was a cut-and-paste from last year’s results. But watch for Cedar’s to get more competition from Bosphorus, the Turkish restaurant in Winter Park, which took a number of the votes away from Cedar’s this year. Ali Baba was another favorite. Outdoor dining Readers’ choice: Press 101 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando 407-351-2101 Critic’s choice: Hot Olives 463 W. New England Ave., Winter Park 407-629-1030 I would be dubious of the validity of your selection if I hadn’t visited Press 101 on a balmy night and witnessed for myself the crowds of diners enjoying the outdoor patio. Never mind that it offers no better view than a parking lot, people just enjoy being outside there. I usually prefer a view myself, but this year I’m choosing Hot Olives, which has an outdoor effect even if you’re confined to an inside table. Maybe next year we’ll add a companion category for best doggie dining. Pizza (chain) Readers’ choice: American Pie Pizza Co. Varous locations, including: 2912 Edgewater Drive, Orlando 407-648-8835 Critic’s choice: American Pie Pizza Co. A double upset for this new entry, a home-grown pizza company with a terrific pie. It bested all the giant corporation pizza joints but had stiff competition from Giovanni’s, Mellow Mushroom and California Pizza Kitchen. Pizza (nonchain) Readers’ choice: Pizzeria Valdiano 510 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park 407-628-5333 4886 New Broad St., Orlando 407-895-0025 Critic’s choice: Stefano’s Trattoria 1425 Tuskawilla Road, Winter Springs. 407-659-0101 With only two locations, Valdiano still qualifies as a nonchain restaurant. Although most people don’t go to Stefano’s specifically for the pizza, I thought it was Foodie-worthy when I dined at the new location this year. N.Y.P.D. was another favorite of readers, as were Anthony’s, Circosta’s and Alfonso’s. Place to dine alone Readers’ choice: Panera Bread 296 E. Michigan St., Orlando; 407-481-9880 Critic’s choice: Roy’s 7760 W. Sand Lake Road (at Dr. Phillips Boulevard), Orlando 407-352-4844 This is another ditto’d category from last year. Readers like the casual living-room seating at Panera where they can pretend to be absorbed in a book. At Roy’s you can sit at the large communal table in the bar area or sit at the counter overlooking the kitchen. Either way you don’t have to worry about not having anyone to talk to because you wouldn’t be able to hear them anyway. Place to spend a lot of money Readers’ choice: Victoria & Albert’s Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, Lake Buena Vista 407-939-3463; Critic’s choice: Norman’s Ritz-Carlton 4000 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando 407-393-4333; Vickie & Al just barely beat out the Venetian Room. How expensive is Disney’s top dining room? If you don’t have a credit card to hold your reservation, you’re not allowed to dine there. My choice was one of the fewest vote-getters this year. But when you consider that others named the Melting Pot, Sam Snead’s and Cafe Tu Tu Tango, you begin to understand that “a lot of money” has different meanings for different people. Power lunch spot Readers’ choice: Press 101 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando 407-351-2101 Critic’s choice: Hue 629 E. Central Blvd., Orlando 407-849-1800 I recently reviewed Press 101 and liked it a lot. But I think if I wanted to do some business dealing I would choose someplace with a bit more substance than sandwiches. But then my original choice for this category was Adair’s, which closed a couple of months ago, so what do I know about business? Go to Hue any weekday lunchtime and you’ll see lots of suits and Blackberries. Romantic dinner Readers’ choice: The Venetian Room Caribe Royale 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando 407-238-8000; Critic’s choice: Manuel’s on the 28th 390 N. Orange Ave., Orlando 407-246-6580 This year, you clearly went with elegance and high-end dining to convey a romantic atmosphere. The Venetian Room won with a commanding lead. Victoria & Albert’s came in a distant second; my choice was third. This category had one of the highest vote counts of the Foodies. Can you feel the love? Wine list Readers’ choice: The Venetian Room Caribe Royale 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando 407-238-8000; Critic’s choice: Seasons 52 7700 Sand Lake Road, Orlando 407-354-5212 Because the classic definition of romance is a loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou, it stands to reason that your choice for best romantic dinner would also have the best wine list. How’s the bread there? Seasons 52 was your second choice, with the Sand Lake location getting the most ballots. Seafood Readers’ choice: Lee & Rick’s 5621 Old Winter Garden Road, Orlando 407-293-3587 Critic’s choice: FishBones 7005 County Road 46A, Lake Mary 407-581-3474 Another amazing upset! You didn’t choose Red Lobster! The Crimson Crustacean has dominated this spot every year. But even if you add up all the votes for all the Red Lobster locations they don’t beat Lee & Rick’s, one of Orlando’s oldest eateries. My choice is site specific. The differences between the Lake Mary and Sand Lake Road FishBones are numerous. The Lake Mary dining district’s restaurant is splashy and elegant and serves some of the freshest and finest seafood around. Lee & Rick’s and FishBones are about as different as they can be, but they’re both worthy winners as far as I’m concerned. Secluded spot Readers’ choice: The Venetian Room Caribe Royale 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando 407-238-8000; Critic’s choice: Journeys 1831 W. State Road 434, Longwood 407-629-2221 Both of these choices are three-peats. The Venetian Room, which is a multiple Foodie winner this year, is hidden well within the Caribe Royale hotel, which itself is off a path that is not usually beaten by locals. Journeys continues to do well without the sort of high visibility, walk-by traffic that many other restaurants rely upon. Black Hammock Fish Camp, Blue Dahlia and Jinja Bar and Bistro also had votes, but my favorite entry was “nice try, but I’m not giving you any of my secluded spots.” Steakhouse (family) Readers’ choice: Outback Steakhouse 1927 Aloma Ave., Winter Park 407-679-1050 Critic’s choice: Outback Steakhouse This is a duplicate of last year’s results. At that time, I said that Outback was just barely holding on to my vote. There was a slight improvement this year, but I still think they need to do a better job. And I’m surprised that no one else even comes close to offering as good a steak for a fair price. I thought this might be the year Smokey Bones made a move for steak-lovers. One of the rumors floating around is that the floundering chain will move away from barbecue and focus on steaks. But if the steak I sampled recently is any indication, the company needs to learn a lot about meat first. Steakhouse (high-end) Readers’ choice: Ruth’s Chris Steak House 610 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park 407-622-2444 7501 Sand Lake Road, Orlando 407- 226-3900 Critic’s choice: Morton’s the Steakhouse 7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando 407-248-3485 Ruth’s Chris beat out Del Frisco’s by only one vote. You also liked Kres Chophouse, Fleming’s and, amazingly enough, Pearl Steakhouse. I was certain my vote would go once again to Shula’s Steak House, and indeed when I revisited this year I found the steaks to be every bit as good as they have been in the past. So was the atmosphere and service, which combined one year to earn Shula’s my best restaurant overall Foodie. But before I committed I thought I would give Morton’s another try. As good as the steak was at Shula’s it was that much better at Morton’s. Ruth’s always has been a third or fourth choice in my steakhouse book, but we’ll see how things are when the Lake Mary-based company opens a new flagship restaurant next year. Sunday brunch Readers’ choice: La Coquina Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Resort 1 Grand Cypress Blvd., Orlando 407-239-1234 Critic’s choice: La Coquina Still a sumptuous spread, and easily the most expensive brunch in town. But this year it had some heavy competition from Midnight Blue, Hue and Dexter’s, representing a variety of brunch styles. Sushi Readers’ choice: Amura 7788 Sand Lake Road, Orlando 407-370-0007 Critic’s choice: Fuji Sushi 1449 Lee Road, Winter Park 407-645-1299 Each year, it seems, there is one category that causes more angst than others, at least as far as I’m concerned. Not finding my previous choice to be worthy this year, I set out to find a suitable replacement and ended up eating more nigirizushi and California rolls than one person really should. I finally settled on Fuji in Winter Park. The surroundings aren’t what you’d call attractive, but the sushi was fresh, properly prepared — not hastily, as with so many others — and the rolls were impressively large. It’s interesting to note that while you chose Amura for both Japanese and sushi, you selected different locations in each category. Other top choices were Ichiban, Nagoya, Seito and Orchid Court at the Royal Pacific Resort. Most curious vote in this category went to Red Lobster, which makes me wonder if someone’s cod came out a little undercooked. Takeout Readers’ choice: American Pie Pizza Co. Critic’s choice: Cafe Laura 1875 County Road 419, Oviedo 407-977-0010 This one had some odd votes this year, including several for the Dessert Lady. I went with the wonderful food of Laura Lewis. And even though I love the pastries of the Dessert Lady, I think I might drive all the way to Oviedo just to have one of Lewis’ brownies. Tex-Mex Readers’ choice: Amigos 740 Alafaya Trail, Orlando 407-823-7138 Critic’s choice: Amigos Amigos is a perfect example of Tex-Mex cuisine, which takes many of the ingredients found in classic Mexican food and gives them a Lone Star twist. And the folks behind Amigos are good Texan stock, so at least that side of Tex-Mex is well-represented. Thai Readers’ choice: Thai House 2117 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando 407-898-0820 Critic’s choice: Royal Thai 1202 N. Semoran Blvd., Orlando 407-275-0776 Thai House was your favorite last year, as well. I’m returning to Royal Thai after a few years with other favorites. It has been my observation that too many Thai restaurants are starting to slack off, and they just don’t try hard enough to keep putting out wonderful Thai dishes. Royal Thai, however, has had a steady consistency of quality. Other contenders in this category were Tasty Thai, Soong Thai, Napasorn and Red Bamboo, which was the critic’s choice last year. animal kingdom lodge

Vegetarian Readers’ choice: Ruby Juice 101 W. First St., Sanford 407-322-4992 Critic’s choice: The Lotus Cafe 521 S. Park Ave., Winter Park 407-456-3234 This is the second eatery in this year’s list of winners that I have never been to. Seeing as how it specializes in smoothies, I’m not surprised that it has slipped my notice. But congratulations to the Ruby Juice supporters for getting out the vote. My Foodie goes to a new resident on Park Avenue. For the past several years, I have given the veggie Foodie to Woodlands, a meatless Indian restaurant on Orange Blossom Trail. And the food is still quite good there. But I like Lotus this year because it offers more than just a single cuisine, changing the specials daily to offer a variety. And, Indian food is offered once a week, so it’s a logical choice. Vietnamese Readers’ choice: Lac Viet 2021 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando 407-228-4000 Critic’s choice: Lac Viet Congratulations. You went out and tried something new. I can’t remember a year when Little Saigon wasn’t the winner in this category. But it seems you have discovered what I did earlier this year: that Little Saigon has lost a bit of its previous luster. Lac Viet offers authentic Vietnamese cuisine in a charming atmosphere. All winners should take note here: You can’t just rest on your laurels; we demand continued excellence.

Best overall restaurant Readers’ choice: Seasons 52 Critic’s choice: Le Coq au Vin Several readers sided with me in recognizing the continued excellence of Le Coq au Vin. Louis and Magdalena Perrotte and staff, whose restaurant has won the French category hands-down each year, graciously serve some of the finest food Central Florida has to offer. This year, I want to recognize their efforts with the Critic’s Choice award for best restaurant. Seasons wins your vote again this year, but not by a huge margin. The Venetian Room, California Grill, Blue Bistro, Hue, Jiko and K Restaurant were some of the other worthy names mentioned. An argument could be made for any one of them, and it’s a wonderful thing that each year this and other categories get harder and harder to decide. Central Florida’s dining scene has improved greatly just in the past nine years of Foodie Awards. You can see that in the list of winners here. As we enter the campaign for next year’s Foodies, we can expect new and wonderful restaurants to challenge the best, and force them to keep the quality up. We demand excellence now.

Scott Joseph can be reached at 407-420-5514 or Read his past reviews at

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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