International Drive is home to a polyglot of restaurants, presenting ideal choices for NBAA convention attendees, whether they seek a quick lunch or a convenient dinner stop. Pointe Orlando, just across form the Orange County Convention Center, has become home to a bevy of dining “establishments,” some that have been therefore a while, and some that are now roosting in renovated perches. Then, just a stone’s throw down the road is the Rosen Centre Hotel, home to even more. AIN has chosen to describe some that are interesting and where the menu items are priced for today’s recession-racked wallets. We’ve also included a few that are off the Drive.
98Forty Tapas and Tequila, 9840 International Drive (Rosen Centre Hotel), (407) 996-9840, Reservations (800) 204-7234, rosencentre.com, $$
Ole! If your taste buds yearn for something from south of the border, then 98Forty Tapas and Tequila might fill the bill. The tapas bar takes its name from the 9840 address of its locale–the Rosen Centre Hotel. The theme then leaps into the restaurant’s presentation of 40 premium tequilas.
Chef Emeterio “Telo” Luna has created authentic Mexican dishes, blending old-world techniques with modern culinary skills. He uses imported Mexican spices ground by hand using the carjeta, or stone method.
For ceviche, you might choose a shrimp/bay scallops/octopus combo; or a jumbo lump crab and mango creation. Particularly interesting among the salsas are the watermelon, with roasted jalapeno, tomato, red onion and cilantro; and the roasted corn-and-black-bean variation.
98Forty also offers unique fillings for quesadillas and tacos: cumin-rubbed chicken marinated in Meyer lemon, lime and orange juices; chili-sugar rubbed skirt steak; and margarita shrimp marinated in tequila, lime and agave nectar and topped with tropical salsa of papaya, mango and pineapple.
Banshoo Sushi Bar, 9840 International Drive (Rosen Centre Hotel), (407) 996-9840, rosencentre.com, $$
With its rich heritage in the Land of the Rising Sun, Banshoo, meaning “sunset” in Japanese, infuses its décor and menu with the warm amber and ruddy hues typical of the end of a Florida day. The sushi bar offers a panoply of rolls and ceviches, and cocktails such as the Banshoo Sunset Punch and the Asian Mojito.
Not to be missed are Banshoo’s Signature roll–a blend of lobster, crab and scallops topped with tuna and salmon; and the HaRo Surf and Turf roll, a combination of lobster and seared sirloin.
The chef’s favorites include a citrus-infused Japanese-style Ceviche Usuzukuri, made of thin slices of tuna, white fish, fresh salmon and octopus with a lime ponzu sauce, and the Alaskan Cucumber Boat filled with spicy scallops and lump crab. Also a highlight is the Tataki Duet, crushed black- pepper-seared tuna and sirloin beef sliced Tataki style. (Foods prepared in the tataki style are quickly seared on the outside, then marinated briefly in rice vinegar and thinly sliced) “Tataki” (also known as tosa-mi) means “pounded”; the word refers not to the meat or fish but to the ginger condiment, which was originally pulverized by pounding it with a mortar and pestle.
Café Gauguin, 9840 International Drive (Rosen Centre Hotel), (407) 996-9841, rosencentre.com, $$
The style and spirit of post-impressionist Paul Gauguin are carried out in the style and spirit of Café Gauguin. The artist’s Parisian influence and his time living in the Marquesas Islands are reflected in the restaurant’s setting and menu.
The casual buffets–dinner, which features a prime rib carving station; and lunch, which offers a create-your-own deli sandwich station and salad bar–could be a convenient quick stop for NBAA convention attendees.
The artistic “palette” of salads on the menu and the nuances of the French onion soup are bound to please. And they could be perfect for the quick convention lunch or a light dinner.
Entrées include a selection of pastas, glazed salmon, pot roast, fish and chips and more, joining ubiquitous sandwiches and burgers. An interesting and attractive starter is rosettes of smoked salmon.
And, in the spirit of geographical détente, the dessert menu includes Florida’s traditional key lime pie and New York cheesecake.
Capriccio Grill, 9801 International Drive (Peabody Hotel), (407) 352-4000, peabodyorlando.com/, dining/capriccio-grill, $$
At the Capriccio Grill, authentic Italian ristorante meets American steakhouse. An open kitchen and pizza oven coexist and flourish alongside premium U.S. steaks and chops from Creekstone Farms in Arkansas City, Kan., home to premium Black Angus beef “born and bred in the U.S.A.” The Milan-inspired lounge is perfect for savoring wines from Capriccio’s extensive, award-winning wine cellar.
After enjoying an appetizer of diver scallop or iced fresh oysters, you might want to experience one of the chef’s signature dishes: Tagliolini Pescatore–prawns, calamari, clams, mussels and jumbo lump crabmeat in a simple white wine and lemon butter broth. The seafood is delivered daily from Cape Canaveral.
For the carnivores among us, the grill boasts interesting toppings to complement Capriccio’s signature Cowboy steak and its petit filet: diver scallop, caramelized onion and lobster, among others.
Another grill favorite, and an unusual one, is spice-crusted elk chop. Also interesting are some of the sides: roasted wild mushrooms and truffle-and-parmesan scented steak fries.
Copper Canyon Grill, 9101 International Drive (Pointe Orlando), 407-363-3933, ccgrill.com, $$
Copper Canyon Grill’s mission–to provide classic American comfort food–is realized in its eclectic menu, which ranges from mac-and-cheese straight through to filet mignon. Highly rated are the short-smoked Atlantic salmon and the chicken/BBQ ribs combo topped with Curley’s BBQ sauce. The rib-eye steak with cabernet mushroom sauce is well received. The fish of the day, which is always fresh, is often a good choice.
Copper Canyon could be a good alternative to convention center lunch choices. You might choose the soup of the day–if it’s Tuesday, it’s clam chowder! Copper Canyon also offers a salad selection. Special among them are the sesame-seared ahi tuna salad and the wood-grilled steak salad.
Also from the comfort food list, prepared from scratch daily using seasonal ingredients, are the traditional chicken potpie and Eastern Shore crabcakes.
And, for sandwich lovers, if you bypass the bacon cheeseburger, you might choose the blackened chicken and avocado club or the prime rib sandwich.
Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar, 9101 International Drive (Pointe Orlando), (407) 226-1600, cubalibrerestaurant.com, $$
Cuba Libre is “dedicated to a continued exploration of Cuban heritage, art, music, flavors and traditions” of that storied island paradise. The open-air setting takes advantage of the tropical ambiance, vintage décor and Latin music. And for a full experience, the chef offers a tasting menu: 15 Tastes of Cuba ($39.95 per person).
The full menu is segmented: modern and traditional. From the modern, you might enjoy Plato Cojimar–quick-seared shrimp, mahi-mahi, pork rib ropa vieja stuffed squid, mussels and Baja Bay scallops pincho. Or, if you are sharing, choose the Plato Gaucho for Two–a mixed grill of New York strip steak, skirt steak, jumbo shrimp, herb marinated chicken breasts and Spanish artisan chorizo sausage.
On the traditional side, there’s Paella de Mariscos–a paella of shrimp, clams, mussels, mahi-mahi, squid and baby octopus, and arroz con pollo–saffron short-grain rice, boneless chicken thighs, wild mushrooms, green peas, Manzanilla olives and hard-boiled egg, finished with a splash of Estrella Damm beer.
Jack’s Place is dedicated to the memory of Jack Rosen, father of the president of Rosen Hotels and Resorts. Jack had helped with the family restaurant, but subsequently worked as an engineer at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and, having an art background, sketched caricatures of the celebrities he saw there. He also volunteered with the “52 Association,” a veteran’s organization whose motto was, “The wounded shall never be forgotten.” He visited VA hospitals throughout the U.S. and was invited to Vietnam during the war, spending several months doing caricatures of wounded military personnel. Upon his return, he received the Medal of Commendation from President Lyndon Johnson. There are more than 100,000 caricatures in his collection, and a small fraction are on display here.
Diners can views the caricatures before or after they sample some of the house specialties, including Jack’s Land and Sea–a six-ounce petite filet paired with broiled half-pound cold-water lobster tail; rack of lamb horseradish; and broiled twin Australian cold-water lobster tails.
Marlow’s Tavern, 9101 International Drive (Pointe Orlando), (407) 351-3627, MarlowsTavern.com, $$
Marlow’s Tavern is described as an American tavern created for the 21st century, with rich accents, exposed Chicago brick, dark woods, large communal tables and cozy booths. It is brand new, having opened on October 9.
This neighborhood gathering spot offers traditional pub fare, and one of its specialties is sweet spicy Smithfield James River St. Louis-style ribs draped in a Jack Daniel’s glaze or tangy Carolina mustard bbq finish. It also boasts the Ribs & Whiskey hookup–ribs plus drunken chicken with Granny Smith Apple cabbage slaw. A recommendation is to top that off with a bourbon.
Daily specials include shrimp-and-grits, a center-cut filet served on a wild-mushroom potato cake, adorned with baby broccoli and garlic tomato fondue with Harvey’s Bristol Cream-scented veal jus and crumbly gorgonzola.
Also on the menu are what Marlow’s proclaims are “soon to be classic” cocktails and libations–for example, a pomegranate martini and a skinny ginger margarita.
The tavern also offers a wide variety of bottled beers, including local favorites from Orlando Brewing and the Florida Beer Company.
Taverna Opa, 9101 International Drive (Pointe Orlando), (407) 351-8660, opaorlando.com, $$
Opa is a password that conveys the festive Greek spirit. Every day is a celebration of good food and wine at Taverna Opa, which is not a place for those looking for a quiet dinner in a relaxing atmosphere. Belly dancers gyrate on tabletops, napkins fly though the air with abandon. Think Hollywood: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
But while the customers in the octagonal dining room are intent on having fun, the chefs in the kitchen are serious about the food.
The menu offers traditional Mezé appetizers: tzatziki, hummus, spanakopita, octopus, scallops and more. Souvlaki platters and wood-fired meats ranging from lamb chops to porterhouse steaks round out the selections. Traditional Greek entrées follow, from Kleftiko through lamb shanks and Pastitsio–a grand mac-and-cheese-cum ground beef living in a Greek cheese béchamel sauce.
The taverna is not for the meek and mild. Throw caution to the wind and unwind and enjoy. Opa!!!
The Pub-Orlando, 9101 International Dr. (Pointe Orlando), (407) 352-2305, experiencethepub.com/orlando, $$
Need a place to unwind after an exhausting, but fascinating, day exploring the convention center exhibits? Consider heading over to The Pub-Orlando–after all, it is Oktoberfest! You’ll find draught and layered beers joining their bottled brethren, along with a host of other libations designed to enhance the pub food.
The Pub’s Gastropub Plates feature traditional fish and chips, Shepherd’s pie and bangers & mash at this “British-inspired, American-crafted” scene. You might start with a Scotch Egg, a pub favorite: hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage and Parmesan bread crumbs, fried and garnished with the Pub’s own mustard.
Or, perhaps you’d enjoy bacon-wrapped dates: Medjool dates filled with fresh goat cheese and served with red pepper aioli. The fruit is said most likely to have originated from lands around the Persian Gulf.
Some of the desserts carry on the “liquid” pub theme. If you are inclined, you might try the Tipsy Laird: Tipsy berries, brandy, fried pound cake and English custard. Or consider the Whisky Bread Pudding: custard-based bread pudding, whisky sauce, raisins and vanilla bean ice cream.