Sunday, September 18, 2005

new Orlando restaurants

I've tried two restaurants recently, one new, one new to me. The one that's been around for awhile is Lupita's, which a number of people have mentioned is the closest thing we have here in Central Florida to authentic Mexican. It's in a strip mall, but once you're inside, you forget that fact with the colorful decor of bright primary colors. I tried chicken enchiladas with mole sauce, their signature dish, which was pretty good-- mole sauce is with chocolate*, for those who don't know. The dish was very complex and smoky, with just a hint of sweetness to take away the bitterness of the chocolate. We also had some chicken tamales, which were a good appetizer. It's the type of restaurant where the owner and his wife (wearing a traditional sort of house dress) wander around talking to customers throughout the evening, making sure everything is acceptable. I definitely found myself wanting to go back and try more of their dishes.

The other new place was a chain creation, but it was pretty good. Pei Wei owned by PF Chang's, and they call themselves an Asian diner. This isn't a very descriptive phrase-- it looks nothing like a diner inside, but in fact has a sleek, dark, and modern Asian decor. Unfortunately it's located on a stretch of Colonial Drive that is one of the blights of Central Florida-- close to a Target and a Payless shoe store, in an area characterized by discount furniture shops, auto detailing, car stereo shops, and roads that haven't been repaired since the Eisenhower era. But never mind that fact. Once you're inside, you forget about Colonial. Everything was very clean, and you can see the guys cooking your food in tremendous woks behind the counter. You place your order, sit at a table, and someone brings you the food, which I enjoyed very much. It is a big step up from the cheap Chinese places around here, meaning less greasy, no MSG, and a good ambience, all for about the same price. And they have more than just Chinese food on the menu-- Thai and Japanese cuisines are also represented. We had a terrific lo mein with chicken, with very sticky, slightly sweet noodles, crisp vegetables, and mushrooms. The spring rolls were also excellent-- perfectly fried, not greasy, and with each vegetable inside holding its integrity. Their version of "General Chu's" or General Tso's chicken was just OK-- less greasy than the strip mall version and nicely spicy, but nothing out of this world. I'll definitely go back, though. It's affordable and clean, and they also have beer, which is a nice extra.

*The combination of chocolate with sugar is a Western invention, related to the increased consumption of sugar after the discovery of the New World. Until that point, sugar was a rarity, something only the elites and royals could afford, but plantations and slave labor changed all that. Sugar cane was actually imported to the Caribbean; it wasn't indigenous. Until the late 18th century or so, sugar was used in medicine, in small quantities as a spice, or as a way for the wealthy to show off their wealth in giant sugar models they displayed at parties. All of these facts are courtesy of Sidney Mintz' wonderful study, Sweetness and Power.

1 comment:

Jon (was) in Michigan said...

Funny, I've never tried mole before. I had a friend that told me that he had technically been cooking with chocolate for 10 years because 10 years ago he made mole. Wierd story but the mole made me think of it.