Italian cheesecake, berries and mascarpone. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

Italian cheesecake, berries and mascarpone. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

Third in a Series
Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month is over for another year, but I have one more restaurant meal to describe because if next year’s selections were as wonderful as this year’s, Il Mulino New York Trattoria at the Walt Disney World Swan will bump up to our “must do” list.
Honestly, the quality of the meal, presentation and the above-excellent service by a team of servers came as a surprise. We went because we’d never eaten Read more

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month 2015: Ravello

2nd in a series

Grilled chicken with herbed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Grilled chicken with herbed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. photo by Karen Kuzsel

There have been a few misses during the years Russ and I have indulged in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month experiences, but none as sharply disappointing as the meal at Ravello, in the Four Seasons Resort. It’s not that our meals were bad; they were just so mediocre and unmemorable. Vastly different from our expectations.
This was our first time to the Four Seasons, so we arrived early to walk around the property. Gorgeous, especially the lobby entrance. Flanking both sides of an impressive curving staircase are tall black vases filled with flowers. Hanging over the staircase are an array of multi-dimensional Read more

Orlando’s Magical Dining Month 2015: Del Frisco’s

This is the first in a series.

Tender filet medallions with a red wine reduction, Chateau potatoes, and Haricot Verts. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Tender filet medallions with a red wine reduction, Chateau potatoes, and Haricot Verts. photo by Karen Kuzsel

My husband and I love Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month each September. This year the “month” expanded so that it began August 24. All the better to luxuriously dine for $33 for a three-course meal and celebrate birthdays, our anniversary, getting together with friends, or just having an elegant evening out.

Such was our latter raison d’etre for selecting Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House of Orlando. The International Drive location just blocks from the Orange County Convention Center, has only been opened since mid-August, so wondered if it would still be experiencing growing pains. If this is how Del Frisco’s does business after two weeks, I can’t imagine how much better it will be in a couple months. The only negative I could say is that it was raining and there was no undercover protection to get out of one’s car for the complimentary valet service. The newly-built restaurant is contemporary in design, beautiful in taupe tones, and with dimmed lighting that exudes warmth. The staff were first class. There wasn’t one who passed by who didn’t greet us in their own way, all sounding as if they meant it. There are a number of private and large dining room spaces, as well as an extensive lounge area when you first enter. We thought the extended lit faux fireplace we passed enroute to the dining room added an atmosphere of drama. I can hear you saying, “But what about the food”?

My Midwestern-raised meat-and-potatoes husband said it doesn’t get better than this, both in the quality of the juicy, tender steak and in the preparation. A loaf of warm bread and butter was brought out immediately while we pondered the extensive wine list. We both ordered the classic Caesar salad. I had thought about the day’s soup, but mushroom bisque is not a favorite. The salad was crisp, plentiful, with just the right amount of tang from the lemon married to the anchovy salt. The croutons were handmade. I rarely order steak and if this hadn’t been a top-rated steak house, I likely would have chosen the pan-roasted chicken or the pan-seared salmon. As it was, Russ selected the 8-oz filet mignon and I took the (6 oz) filet medallions served with a red wine reduction. They both were cooked exactly as ordered, and a server asked us to cut it open to verify that before leaving our table, and were plated with Chateau potatoes (dense mashed potatoes) and thin sautéed Haricot Verts (green beans). Dessert was a tougher choice. We wanted all three, even though I was full by then and really just wanted to take my generous portion of warm banana bread pudding (chosen over the chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce) home to enjoy. It was served with a large mound of vanilla ice cream and lightly lined with caramel sauce. Russ ate the ice cream, I took a couple bites of the gooey banana concoction and took the rest home. He chose the cheesecake with butterscotch sauce, not a combo one generally sees on menus. The cheesecake was double the size usually given and twice as light and creamy. We took half of it home as well.

Meeting Planners, club and party hosts: this is for you. As I said, there are many dining room group options. The Eagle’s Nest, up to 10; The Executive, up to 28; the Barrel Room (half cellar), up to 45; and the Oak Room (half cellar), up to 35. The Grand Cru (full cellar) can accommodate up to 80 for sit down and 110 for reception. Presentation A/V available, as are flat screen TVs, and WiFi access.

This is the first of our Magical Dining Month experiences for 2015. I’ll be writing about each of the ones we try.

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI and is now serving on the 2015 – 2016 MPI Global advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events.;; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.


The rooftop bar opens July 9, 2015 and has 360 views

The rooftop bar opens July 9, 2015 and has 360 views

The Hotel Zamora Castile Restaurant

The Hotel Zamora Castile Restaurant

Full disclosure: I have not actually been to The Hotel Zamora, but was introduced to its amenities and styling modeled after Zamora, Spain, at a press lunch held at Kasa Restaurant and Bar in Orlando, FL. While this review is to introduce you to the recently built The Hotel Zamora on St. Petersburg Beach, FL, I must also recommend you try Kasa Restaurant’s fare.
Think of The Hotel Zamora as a gangly teen struggling to keep up with his/her unprecedented growth spurt. Though open only since July, 2014 and the first new hotel to be built in St. Petersburg in decades,  The Hotel Zamora’s 72-room Mediterranean styling and Read more


The Venetian Room's version of Caprese Salad. all photos by Karen Kuzsel

The Venetian Room’s version of Caprese Salad. all photos by Karen Kuzsel

Romance  in The Venetian Room whispers like butterfly wings across the white linen tables, ornately carved dark woods, dim lighting and the hushed tones of the tuxedoed wait staff. Yes, we could have been part of the post-convention corporate crowd meeting at the Caribe Royale Hotel (Orlando, FL) where The Venetian Room is secluded behind heavy wooden doors and a whimsical entry, but instead we were one of the many couples cuddled in plush booth seats, curtained from the other tables by etched glass and wood walls. We were there to recapture the romantic aura emitted by both the elegantly sophisticated décor and the artistically divine creations of Chef Khalid Benghallem that we had first experienced last September for our anniversary.
Our first visit to the Four Diamond restaurant– routinely voted the most romantic restaurant in Orlando in various foodie surveys and publications, was during the Visit Orlando-sponsored Magical Dining Month when the prix fixee’ 3-course meal was $35. We’ve tried to return many times, but each time they were already booked up, so we were thrilled to get this reservation. Imagine how significant my husband Russ and I felt when two head waiters who had served us six months prior greeted us warmly and remembered roughly where we had sat and when we had been there. It doesn’t matter if their “remembering” had anything to do with our being in their customer system now; we felt “special.” Our main server for the evening was Matsi, a well-spoken knowledgeable server who proffered wise meal suggestions.
Once again, the ambiance created the mood that we were in for a sensory treat. The meal began with an amuse bouche of a delicate pesto cream gently tucked into a tartlet and kissed by a balsamic reduction. Five Read more

Orlando Dining Districts go Magical in September


roasted beets surround the Duck Confit Salad. photo by Karen Kuzsel

  Some people eat to live. I live to eat. OK, so maybe I should qualify that a tad. I vigorously exercise on a fairly consistent basis so that I can eat what I want, (and almost) when I want. When travelling, I studiously ponder restaurant menus, ogling descriptions of mouth-watering dishes combined in an inventive manner that utilize that region’s flavors and locally-produced ingredients. Food fascinates me. I want to taste, touch, smell, and ingest ethnic flavors and chef-crafted creations.
            You only have to watch the Food Network for a day, or peruse the limitless selections of cookbooks pandering to diverse diets to know food has become so much more than a simple meal prepared quickly. A hamburger doesn’t raise eyebrows unless it’s been stuffed with artisan cheeses, farm-fresh bacon, shredded glazed meats, exotic mushrooms, caramelized onions, or sauces. Even with a suffering economy, a fine dining experience (and whatever that means to your personal palette) is still a beacon that draws one through a restaurant’s doors.
            I am not alone in wanting to awe my taste buds. Convention & Visitor Bureaus and city governments have discovered that defining dining districts attracts arts, entertainment and shopping businesses, which then creates a community persona that’s easy to market.   
            Fort Worth has the West 7th Street Corridor, formerly a light industrial space converted into hip eateries and bars that becomes a raucous block party for private groups. Uptown Charlotte (NC) is actually their downtown, Read more

Simple & Savory Fall Faves from Spa Chefs focus on Healthy(er) Choices

Individual Vegetable Pizzetta from Golden Door (Spa)–a savory snack to put a smile even on a meat-lover’s face!

If money and time were as plentiful as the weeds trying to overtake my yard, I’d take cooking classes around the world from culinary master chefs –particularly if they share delectable but low-calorie recipes, and I’d wallow in spa service treatments bent on improving my emotional spirit while unknotting muscles cramped tighter than a woman wearing high heels during a day-long shopping binge across tiled floors.

With the impending escalation of activity that scurries in with Fall, time seems to becomes as stretched thin as a resistance tube just before it snaps harshly apart. Menu selection and preparation becomes as painstakingly deliberate as planning battlefield strategy: how many people, what’s the occasion (school lunches, executive dinner, client meal, tail gating party, or holiday banquet), the budget, the environment, and for goodness sakes, how many different dietary selections should be offered?

Don’t panic. Even if you’re not a gourmet cook, don’t have the budget Read more

Dragonfly: a Zen Garden of Taste, Texture and Ambiance

Cobra Kai sushi roll

 “If you’re expecting Dragonfly to be a traditional sushi restaurant, then you need to think again,” utters my friend Julienne, a once-a-week sushi-holic with whom I recently dined at the year-old hot Orlando spot. “Sushi restaurants usually focus on the food, not on the décor. This place has the ambiance you’d expect in a San Francisco restaurant, with mood lighting and modern high-style. The music is contemporary and low enough you can have a conversation. The long couch in the lounge bar area invites mingling. This place is visually stunning. Perfect for date night or with all the indoor and outdoor private space, great for groups wanting to meet in a fashionable, comfortable setting.” 

 Dragonfly does indeed have ambiance. The restaurant is designed with three key elements in mind: sensual, spiritual and savory. Sensory is easy. There are those deep red spots of color on pillows, seat backs or drop down curtains that shield private spaces for group dining and the contrasting smoothness of river rock crusted cabinets and scalloped baseboards.  Cork flooring pads against clicking heels. Latticed wood screens contribute to the gentle flow of the restaurant. A European walnut tree previously cut down was creatively reimagined into an expansive sushi bar counter. “We believe in sustainability, both in our décor and in our food,” notes Dave Talpasz, GM for Dragonfly. Even the restrooms havea zen spa quality, with stall walls of hand-painted gold swirls and stone basins.

Read more

With Seafood this good, I don't have to learn to fish!


Mahi Mahi Picatta

                I was willing to celebrate my anniversary night celebration on the wrong night just so I could indulge in Big Fin Seafood Kitchen’s Monday night $13.95 special for a one-and-a-half lb steamed Whole Maine Lobster. I even fantasized about eating two of them by myself just to mark the occasion as extra special. My husband had a better idea as it turned out. Celebrate on the correct night, but begin the feast of food during Big Fin’s daily happy hour, from 5-7 pm. Big Fin is located in the Dr Phillips area at the Dellagio Town Center. Whether you dine in at the Trophy Bar or outside at the Bar-A-Cuda Patio and Bar, cocktails and appetizers were a pocket-pleasing $5 each.
                As the weather was muggy that night and we dressed up, we chose to sit inside at the Trophy Bar, a casually-friendly eclectic mix of décor. Rich dark woods frame contemporary light fixtures that render a subdued glow.  A large blackboard states the night’s fresh offerings. An eye-popping checkered black & white floor design runs into the white marble bar counter and the column bases separating the bar area from the main dining room. I like the whimsy of Big Fin. The food is seriously good, but the décor has a relaxed feel Read more