Mare and foal, just two of the thoroughbreds residing at Hermitage Farm

When you think of Kentucky, do you immediately think bourbon and horses? Add culinary innovation to the mix and you will understand why Hermitage Farm is transforming a horse farm into an agritourism destination. Located just 25 minutes from downtown Louisville, owner Steve Wilson says his desire to showcase the best of Kentucky was the motivation to convert the horse farm into a farm-to-fork restaurant featuring menu items grown in the onsite five-acre garden, country store stocked with local farm products and picnic lunches, and specialty bourbon retail and tasting rooms. Groups will enjoy an art walk instillation and hayloft event space for approximately 200 guests. Planned to be open by Kentucky Derby Day 2019 will be the unique ability to dine inside renovated horse stalls, offering both communal and private dining opportunities. The 700-acre homestead, which Read more


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 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


California Grill Dragon Roll with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and chili-soy glaze.  California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. (Jimmy DeFlippo, photographer)

California Grill Dragon Roll with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and chili-soy glaze. California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. (Jimmy DeFlippo, photographer)

September in Florida (where I’m based) is hot, sticky, humid, rainy and for those of us in the hospitality, meetings & events, and entertainment industries—it’s a time of hanging on til convention season reappears. September also means Magical Dining comes to Orlando for the entire month, whereby upscale restaurants host a three-course prix fixee’ meal for $33 and my husband and I celebrate our anniversary by enjoying as many of these meals as we can. Visit Orlando and the participating restaurants partner to both highlight their cuisine to locals during this corporate and leisure shoulder season and to raise money ($1 from each meal) for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

I know most of you aren’t in Orlando, but for those of you who are, I’ll talk about these restaurants later in this blog. Last year I covered them after the month ended and by then it was too late for you to personally check them out.

So, with food ever-present on my mind, I think I’ll just jump into news about a hotel whose opening I’ve been eagerly awaiting, with dreams of spending a bit of time there.


The hotel is called Epicurean and it officially opens in December in Tampa, FL. As you may expect by the name, food will be a central theme of the 137-room boutique hotel. There’ll be cooking classes in the Epicurean Theatre, wine tastings, craft cocktail courses and celebrity appearances. The food-centric Epicurean Hotel, the first newly constructed property in the United States to join the Autograph Collection®, is in collaboration with Bern’s Steak House, a Tampa gastronomic icon since 1956. Epicurean Hotel’s website has launched and is taking reservations for stays, booking meetings or social events in the 2,000 sf Grand Cru Ballroom, the Epicurean Theatre or the second Read more


House Hotel Galatasaray is a 19th-century boutique hotel in Instanbul

House Hotel Galatasaray is a 19th-century boutique hotel in Instanbul

When I was a child, my family travelled on a pretty regular basis. We moved on a fairly regular basis from one end of the country to the other, or from one country to another, depending on the whims of the Air Force, to which my dad belonged. I knew even then that our worldly adventures, geographical awareness, and exposure to many cultures was something to be relished like a fine wine paired with the right piece of cheese. My love for travel continues today, even when I find the vagaries of airline restrictions often inconvenient. I feel blessed to share travel opportunities with you. May you find the opportunity to pack your bags for an exciting learning and fun experience in the near future.
If you left your heart in San Francisco and are yearning to go back for it, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis would like to check out their $90 million redo of the lobby, meeting space, fitness center, Bin 55 Restaurant and Wine Bar, Mission Grill, Starbucks Cafe, second floor atrium, and all 1,499 rooms and suites. The 39-story Marquis lies next to the Moscone Convention Center and just steps away from Yerba Buena Gardens, renowned museums and cultural attractions, world-class shopping in Union Square, and AT&T Park — home of the San Francisco Giants. 415-896-1600 or
If I can’t get to San Francisco (one of my favorite cities), then will someone please book me passage to Istanbul so I can stay at The House Hotel Galatasaray. This place looks stunning. Tucked away among the antique stores of Read more