Vivo

Universal CityWalk® – Orlando 6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando, FL 32819 • (407) 224-3663 • https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/vivo-italian-kitchen/index.html?__source=ban.dfa.142900316;315030842;68637547

I know it’s ridiculous to expect much from a restaurant at Universal Studios, but with places like Flying Fish Café, The Brown Derby and Kouzzina over in Disney, I figured maybe the Yelpers were onto something. Well, more like “on something.”

And while the décor is quite stylish and the service is friendly, the food is exactly what one might expect. Overcooked short rib and pastas, so mushy it defeats the purpose that they apparently make it fresh every day.

It isn’t without it’s hits though. I found the fried calamari to be quite good. As was the bread pudding. But if you truly want great Italian, do yourself a solid and make a rezzy at Prato in Winter Park. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but remember, you put this stuff in your body. Isn’t it worth it?

Oh! One last thing I almost forgot. If you should decide to eat here anyway, do NOT sit outside. There are speakers right next door that are so blaringly loud you can feel it in your ovaries. Even if you’re a man.

The Salt Lick

18300 Fm 1826 Driftwood, TX 78619 • (512) 858-4959 • saltlickbbq.com

I haven’t seen a restaurant of this scale since Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa.

It’s like a compound with a parking lot that rivals most shopping malls and lines so long they could teach Disney a thing or two; the wait for a table was two hours long, yielding an outdoor waiting area that is the size of most large restaurants. Even the line to return your buzzer when you actually do get a table was crazy long. In fact, the only reasonable wait was to place a take out order, which only took a mere 35 minutes. And then we ate at our “waiting table.” Also, fortunately the line to get booze while you kill time is much more civil.

Naturally after all of that hype and anticipation, you have to be wondering if it was worth it? And my honest answer would be… ish. The sausage is a bit of a letdown. As are the pork ribs. And the slaw and bean sides are nothing more than placeholders. But hot damn are the beef ribs good. As is the brisket with bread as soft as a baby’s bottom and the pickles to boot.

For dessert the chocolate pecan pie is decent, but is no competition to the one at Chili (not the chain, the restaurant in Austin). Whereas the blackberry cobbler proved to pack some serious complexity in it. Mucho me gusto!

But food aside, that’s not why you have to go to The Salt Lick. It’s just one of those seven wonders, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it kinda places. There’s a vineyard and a bocce court and live music and a grilling pit the size of a Sherman tank (pictured). Sure, it’s a bit of a drive and in the middle of nowhere, but the scale and awe will make it all worthwhile. Particularly if you stick with the beef ribs and the brisket.

 

Yellow Dog Eats

1236 Hempel Ave. Windermere, FL 34786(407) 296-0609 • yellowdogeats.com
 
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Located in Gotha, wherever the hell that is (technically Windermere)- just plug it into your nav and you will find this shack de barbecue that apparently a lot of other people seem to have found as well, because the place gets packed fast. Hence why they have two large, dirt parking lots around back, which is still not enough to hold all of the cars during a peak mealtime rush (obviously a lot other people know where Gotha is, that, or they also have navigation systems). And while all of this attention seems like a good sign for greatness, I can’t say Yellow dog hit it out of the park.

I dig the vibe though. An oasis unto itself, with a terrific outdoor seating area, complete with live music and mosaic tables. Inside the shack itself, it’s counter ordering style with laminated menus that are loaded with some of the best names I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. Names like What the Fig?, The Holy Crap, Hong Kong Fooey, The Thin Elvis, White trash, and my personal favorite, The Pig with Benefits.

Of the ones I’ve tried, I had to go purist and start with the Dog’s Famous Pulled Pork. “No tricks. No weapons. Just skill against skill alone.” (a movie quote for all you pop culture buffs). And while it is most certainly good, I can’t say I’m in love with their Fish’s Gold BBQ sauce. It’s a little too sweet for my tastes and whatever else is in it doesn’t quite net out as spice for me, falling somewhere closer to tang, which is an “also ran” in my eyes when you’re up against heat.

And speaking of heat, I have also done me a Fire Pig, which kicks things up a notch with the help of Srirracha, but I still can’t say it’s amazing. Definitely better, because the heat helps balance the sweet a bit, but in the land of pulled pork this doesn’t even pull a top twenty on my list.

There’s fun for the kids as well, with sammies like the Fluffy Love. Basically a peanut butter and banana with marshmallow whip, but not the jarred crap, the real homemade deal. It’s also just okay, however (Yes, I stole a bite from my three-year-old daughter. And yes, I’m a horrible father). One caution though, it’s messy as all get out. We’re talking marshmallow in the hair and peanut butter up the sides of the face like Heath Ledger as The Joker. And that’s just me! My daughter needed power washing! Told ya I was a bad father. So bad, in fact, that after this debauchery, we even shared a slice of coconut cake, but sadly that was the nail in the coffin for Yellow Dog, because once again they delivered below expectation.

All in all, Yellow Dog is a fun adventure, if you simply crave solace from hotel food and/or the Disney scene. But I would definitely keep the expectations lower than the Yelp star count. There’s much better BBQ to be had in Orlando, not to mention better sandwiches. Just not better names for them.

2 teeth

 

Hacienda La Paloma

443 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 864-1750 haciendalapaloma.com

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There are two schools of Mexican, old and new, and while I am much more partial to the more inventive, more refined, more Tex Mex side of the campus, I can also appreciate the merits of the cuisine in its more traditional state. And as far as authentic Mexican goes, Hacienda does muy bueno.

By authentic I am not, however, referring to the Disney-esque hacienda you see in the photograph above. I actually go in spite of that, which should say something about the offerings within. Such offerings as good food, friendly staff and generous portions. In fact, most entrees are big enough to serve two or three people and still have leftovers. Case in point, the highly recommend fajitas. Loaded with veggies, three different kinds of peppers and enough rice, beans, tortillas, salsa and chips to max out the stomach capacity of a large, ravenous coyote.

Other worthwhile dishes include the Bistec a la Tampiquena (steak with onions, cactus salad, a cheese enchilada, guac, rice and beans- told you they were generous) and the arroz con pollo. Neither are quite as impressive as the fajita, but they get r done. The only laggard for me would be the camarones en salse verde (shrimp in green salsa). It’s atypically normal sized and asadly not all that great.

So, if you’re not all that close to Bar Taco or Truck, or simply don’t feel like making the shlep, but you’re still jonesing for something South of the Border, then hop in your coche and head on over to the Hacienda, arriba! It’s not great, but as Goldie Locks would say, it’s just right.

3 teeth

The Hollywood Brown Derby

Disney’s Hollywood Studios • Walt Disney World Resort • Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 • (407) 939-2267 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/hollywood-studios/hollywood-brown-derby

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Ever since I used to work at Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and yes, that sentence just came out of my mouth, I have always wanted to eat here. Widely considered to be the best restaurant in all of the theme parks combine (not including hotels).

Well, some 25 years later, and no longer a turtle, I finally made it to lunch here, and I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. Well, at least the food is, the service quite annoyingly slow. But after waiting 25 years, what’s another hour, right?

In terms of décor, while fake to the bone like all things Disney, it still passes as MUCH nicer than any other restaurant in all of Disney, hotels included this time, with the only exception being Victoria and Albert. Set to make you feel like you are back in the 50’s, eating at some Hollywood movie star favorite, the Derby delivers an experience that truly rivals The Palm. Granted I don’t love The Palm, so perhaps that isn’t saying much.

Now on to the grub! Which is more surprising than learning that Mickey Mouse is more often than not played by a girl. For example, their waygu beef burger holds its own amongst many of the so-called best burgers in the country. Topped with gruyere, pastrami, Cognac mustard and a fried egg this crazy-ass messy burger will take you right to the threshold of embarrassment as you will meld with this bun-filled beacon of beef like you were soul mates. Also, it comes paired with a beer called La Fin du Monde, which I also highly recommend for the melding process. It’s a French Canadian tripel, which means it’s a very strong ale… which means 9% alcohol… which is nearly twice that of a regular beer… which means you’ll need a nap later.

And equally impressive, but vastly different was the andouille crusted chicken sandwich with smoked bacon, white cheddar and veggie slaw all sitting on an onion Kaiser roll.

Now I’m not about to run back to Disney again anytime soon, but if I do, this will be higher on my list than that 3-D Buzz Lightyear shooting game, which really is quite fun, I have to admit.

4 teeth

 

Coral Reef

Epcot’s Living Seas Pavilion • Walt Disney World Resort • Lake Buena Vista, FL 32856 • (407) 824-4321 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/epcot/coral-reef-restaurant

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When you enter a theme park the likes of Disney, your expectations quickly plummet somewhere between high school cafeteria and prison food, so much so that sustenance takes over as the main objective. Almost as if you were on the show Survivor. And if you’ve ever done Disney with two children under the age of six, it’s a lot like Survivor in more ways than one.

But the touristy masses of chicken nuggets, hot dogs, burgers and turkey legs, were no match for the Ferocious Foodie, who saw past the sea of crap food to a different kind of sea, of the food variety.

Yes, there’s actually a decent seafood restaurant tucked away in a corner of Epcot right next to the Nemo ride. I know, part of me is dying inside just having to type these words, but truth be truth.

Inside the restaurant the décor is too cavernous to ever be considered nice, but the novelty of giant fish tanks that would make most major aquariums swoon, certainly adds a little something extra to the experience.

As for the “decent” food I mentioned, the rainbow trout was surprisingly moist, with a nice balance of flavors between the starch of the white beans and the salty, savory accent of bacon.

Unfortunately, the other fish, the Mahi Mahi, wasn’t quite at the same level, being more what you might expect from a place founded on the fame of a six-foot mouse.

And while the kids had a typical children’s menu staple, mac and cheese, they licked the bowls clean, so I’m assuming that it’s pretty damn good, at least by the standards of my Ferocious progeny (when they order mac & cheese they usually never finish).

Shockingly enough, the cupcake that came with the kid’s meal was also surprisingly good. Moist and not too sickly sweet on the frosting.

Now don’t get me wrong here. It’s not like I’m comparing this to the likes of La Chevre D’or in the South of France or anything, but amidst the recalibrated expectations of theme park cuisine, it’s gourmet.

3 teeth

 

Boma

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge • 2901 Osceola Pkwy. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830(407) 938-3000 disneyworld.disney.go.com

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Like most buffets it is over-priced and underwhelming. That said there are a few bright spots. I highly recommend the Bread Pudding French Toast- but be sure to use the drizzle next to it. Sometimes with bananas. Sometimes with nuts.

The other thing that rose above the norm were the eggs with feta, tomatoes and baby spinach. It’s a little on the runny side for my tastes, but at least it has more flavor than most buffet eggs.

Skip all of the pastries. They are all pretty atrocious. As is most everything else I didn’t mention, which made up about 98% of the buffet.

And speaking of bad, in general, across the board at Disney restaurants we were CONSTANTLY seated in shitty seats. By the kitchen or the wait station or the bathroom. Even in restaurants that were 90% EMPTY!!! Not sure what the deal was, but when you are dropping the kind of coin we did to stay in that very hotel, it’s a bit insulting. And no, we are not freakish looking or smelly- at least I don’t think we are.

That said, my advice… Skip this place and just head straight to the parks. You’ll get a better meal for about a quarter of the price.

1 tooth

Sanaa

Animal Kingdom Lodge 3701 Osceola Pkwy. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 • (407) 939-3463

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I’m guessing Indian and African fare is few and far between in the rest of the country, but by New York City standards, there’s a place this good, or better, every ten blocks. But that’s only in reference to the food. The service was actually pretty slow. They took us late for our reservation and ultimately sat us across from the service station in a half empty restaurant.

Now as for the food, skip the lamb sliders. They are VERY dry and therefore don’t “slide” anywhere. They just sit their in your mouth begging your saliva ducts to bring a little moisture to the party.

Then there is very mild fish curry dish that is so mild it’s not even worth remembering the name. Apparently mild means boring to the chef. Fortunately there is a spicy curry dish as well, and it is MUCH better, meaning I actually ate it. In fact, it was so much better than the fish, I dumped the fish into the spicier sauce just to make it worth opening my jaws.

The only other thing we had at the table was a special fish dish, which was a solid good, but a far cry from the stars people are throwing down on TripAdivsor and Yelp in praise of this extremely mediocre restaurant. But please don’t think I’m just some New York Foodie Snob (granted I am) hating on Disney. There are two other restaurants over at The Boardwalk Hotel, that blow Sanaa out of the water jungle, Cat Cora’s Kouzzina and Flying Fish Cafe.

2 teeth

Flying Fish Café

Disneys Board Walk Orlando, FL32830 (407) 939-3463
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Not just the best restaurant in all of Disney, one of the best in Orlando. This place brings it in every single way. Nice décor. Great service. Great presentations. Fantastic food. If you truly want fine dining (yes, at Disney)- this is your place.

My only nits, and there aren’t many, were the wait, even though we had a reservation, and the fact that they sat us by the wait station (the third time in a row at a Disney restaurant- WTF?!?).

But beyond that, our waiter was a real pro. Quick. Spot on with his recommendations. Attentive to the kids. He literally made me forget about whatever I was bitching about before. Either that or it was the mussels app- WOW!!! So good. So fresh. And fresh is really the theme here- all of the fish is incredibly so, and impeccably prepared to order.

The salmon entrée was literally the best I’ve ever had. Such a complex layering of flavors and textures- including mustard, which admittedly I am a sucker for.

The tuna entrée my wife had was also quite good. The only miss, and by miss I mean “just okay,” certainly not bad, was the scallops and risotto. Skip it. It sounds better than it is, and it was our only stray from the waiter’s recos.

Wine was also a fantastic complement. We had the white Chateauneuf du Pape.

And for dessert, both the chocolate thing and the bread pudding were superb. But being that I am partial to bread pudding, I found myself gobbling it down like Jabba to a frog.

Now I know some of you might still be skeptical of a Disney restaurant being this excellent, but take it from a hardcore NYC foodie, this place is the real deal.

5 teeth

Kona Island Sushi Bar

Polynesian Dr. Bay Lake, FL 32836

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This is everything you fear when you think about Disney hotel restaurants. A cheap touristy vibe surrounds you from the walls to the people to the plates. Almost as if the Hawaiian Punch dude from long ago got sick and died, but just before passing away, he vomited up this place.

Sure, there are a few things that were good, like the pot stickers and the duck entrée. But apart from those, everything else fell somewhere between mediocre and pretty darn bad.

From blah to worse were the Chinese noodles, the crab cakes, the pork and the apple crumble. The dessert was even a recommendation by our server, but was so bad we literally only had three bites between three people.

On the plus side, the signature cocktail comes with a glowing cube inside that is programmable to different colors. I highly recommend for the kids. We got two and they were in heaven playing at the table as if they were light sabers.

1 tooth