Thursday, December 30, 2004


This is a new section I would like to devote to restaurants. I will write reviews of places where I have dined. I certainly would like you to write to me and offer your opinions on all types of restaurants in your area. You will get full credit under the name of your choice and the date of your submission will be posted above the review. I will just make typo corrections and highlight certain items.

You may post your reviews in comments or e-mail me at



Yesterday, three of us from work went to the Amura Japanese Restaurant in Lake Mary, Florida, a suburb north of Orlando. The name "Amura" comes from a deviation of their original name. It was, at one time, called "Samurai" but someone had already registered that name. Instead of completely renaming themselves, they dropped the first and last letters. Amura is Japanese for "Asian Village."

Upon entering, we noticed it was nicely appointed. Not way too elegant, but, not at all shabby. Overall, it's a very nice interior and quite large inside. When the hostess seated us, we immediately noticed how loud the lunchtime crowd was. The open ceiling with exposed air conditioning ducts had a lot to do with that. It didn't bother us since we were three guys and there was nothing romantic about it. A cute and petite waitress came up and took our drink orders. In the meantime, we perused the regular menu and the requisite sushi sheet that we're all familiar with, if you like sushi. This one, though, had a very large selection to choose from, with little descriptions accompanying each item.

When the waitress, Tita, came back, we ordered three Seaweed Salads with Spicy Tuna from the regular menu appetizer list. We also ordered the Shrimp Tempura with Vegetables. The Seaweed Salads with Spicy Tuna were really good, with a decent amount of the raw fish. With it were slightly pickled sliced cucumber and julienned daikon radish. Very enjoyable. The Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura came with various battered and deep fried vegetables and two large shrimp. Kind of tough when there are three of you, but, we cut them up and there was no problem. The salads were $7.99 each and I don't remember what the tempura was, but, hey, I wasn't paying. Saturday is my birthday and they wanted to treat me.

From the sushi menu, we ordered nothing but rolls. Lots of them. They brought the feast out on one of those Titanic sized boats that took up much of the table for four. We ordered the "Brainstorm" ($10.99) which consisted of soft shell crab, shrimp, smoked salmon, cream cheese and scallions. Very good. We got the "Crunch Munch" ($6.99) with tempura crunch, crab, avocado and mayonnaise. Another good one. We had to see what their take on the "Dynamite Roll" ($7.99) was going to be. This was just tuna, yellowtail and wasabi. So far, no complaints. The "Hiroshima Roll" ($11.99) was a strange name to me. I don't think naming something after death and destruction was that appropriate, but, it was good. It had tuna, yellowtail, snapper and mayo stuffed in it. The "Kamikaze" ($9.99) was merely a spicy tuna roll, albeit, tasty. The "Super Crunch Roll" ($9.99) was loaded with tempura crumbs and I don't remember what else. The "Unforgettable Roll" ($10.99) was spicy tuna, eel and tempura crunch. They like using that crunch stuff a lot, but, it does add a flavor that, overall, enhances a little bit. Now, last, but, not least, we penciled in the "Volcano Roll" ($10.99) which consisted of scallops, real crab, which is sometimes hard to find these days, salmon and cream cheese, but for 11 bucks, it had better be the real thing.

Overall, all of the rolls were delicious. The fish was firm and very fresh. Obviously, you could put all of the rolls on a scale, listing from first to last. There wasn't one particular roll I would not order again. There wasn't anything any of us could complain about. Me? Personally, I thought the prices were kind of high, although, this particular location is in a high end section of town. There are expensive homes nearby, some of the costliest around the metro Orlando area. Heathrow and Alaqua come to mind. Plus, there are some pretty sophisticated office buildings all around, housing some business suit type clients.

There are over 70 rolls to choose from, including vegetarian. We got 8 rolls. There are so many, we could go back and never order the same ones for some time to come. One I'll order next time is the "Mexican Roll" ($6.99) which has tempura shrimp, avocado and jalapeno peppers in it. All of the rolls were large, so we ended up bringing a good part of our order back to the office. I never get sick of sushi, so, needless to say, I didn't cook anything for dinner. There is also a fine selection of Nigiri sushi to choose from, not nearly as extensive as the rolls, though.

Amura has three locations in the Orlando area. This one is located in the Colonial Town Park at 950 Market Promenade Avenue, in Lake Mary. The phone number is 407-936-6001. I didn't ask if they take reservations. Next time, I want to ask the cute little Thai waitress if she wants to marry me.



Spatz is one of those neighborhood type bars with pool tables, electronic darts and golf. They have an eclectic blend of blue-collar workers, professionals and college coeds as their regular customer base. The bartenders are beautiful. Already, from gathering this information alone, you can pretty much conjure up a good idea of what's on the menu. They offer the usual bar type grub, from Jalapeno Poppers and Cajun Curly Fries to Burgers and Wings. There is a small but nice selection of stacked high deli type sandwiches. Spatz's House Rack ($6.95) is loaded with roast beef, ham, turkey and cheese, for example. And all sandwiches come with chips, a pickle and several other options, like what type of bread you want. The Philly Cheese Steak with grilled peppers & onions ($6.50) is a really good sub and quite filling. If you like Mushroom & Swiss Burgers ($6.50) don't pass this one up. We're talking about a half-pound of top grade ground beef here. The only complaint with it is that it depends on who's doing the cooking if you want it a certain way, like rare. Not that there's any talk of state law regulating how it's cooked, mind you, because there isn't. It's just that some people don't know how to grill a burger just right. And that leads me to Bill...

Bill is the lunchtime chef, and I do not use that term "chef" lightly here. Bill comes with high-end credentials, having spent many years in some of the finest restaurants around the country. Why on earth would someone want to leave the security and confines of world class dining? Well, take the word "confines" for instance. After so many years indoctrinated into a corporate realm, one could quite conceivably understand the burnout. Spatz happens to be the lucky outfit he’s settled in on. Not that he's in any immediate hurry to go anywhere else right now. Job offers still flow, but he's pretty content right where he is, and it shows in the quality of his work.

Until he started cooking at Spatz, the food was nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part. Don't get me wrong, the menu items are very good, but, bar food is bar food is bar food. You can only eat so many burgers and wings until you're left with tuna salad and onion rings. Not that there's anything wrong with their versions, either. But, where Bill excels, and it's a true asset to the restaurant he works for, is in his professional style of cooking. Everything he makes is delicious. Soon after he started there, he brought me a sample of gumbo he had concocted. I'm not a real gumbo aficionado, but this stuff was great. The okra wasn't slimy at all. I could clearly detect buttery notes instead. The shrimp were not overdone. I savored what few bites he allotted me. That got me started, and since then, I've tried his Clam Chowder, Vegetable Beef and other soups he's made whenever I go in. I've yet to find something I don't like. Homemade soups are not his only specialty. One day, I went in and the special of the day was Beef Stroganov. Just the right blend of sour cream and other ingredients over a bed of noodles. He had Grilled Trigger Fish one day. I had never heard of it before. It was spiced just right and was, indeed, a very nice piece of fish. Last week, he offered an 8-ounce NY Strip Steak for $7.95. All of his specials come with two sides. This one had French Fries with Gravy as one of the sides. For those of you who have never had that, you don't know what a treat you're missing. The other day, I tried Beef Burgundy. Yum. You don't know what to expect when you go in there, but I guarantee it will be excellent, and it will be very affordable. Prices vary due to the variety of offerings. Don't be fooled by the ambience. Believe me, the quality of the food belies your surroundings. You can peruse the regular menu, but don't go in there without asking your server what the specials of the day are. Or call Bill over. Ask him if he can whip up a new special for you one day. He brings a vast amount of knowledge blended with years of experience into the kitchen and he's certainly brought the level of the bar up quite a few notches.

Remember Bill when you are thinking about catering your next function.

Spatz of Winter Park is open Monday through Saturday, 11am-2am, Sunday, 12-12. It is located at 1025 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, Florida. The phone number is 407-647-3354.

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