September’s Visit Orlando Magical Dining Month is pure magic! With so many great restaurants, how do you choose?
**** An updated post with 2015 Information is right here. Although the information below is from 2014, it will still help you plan for Magical Dining Month as many of the same restaurants are back this year with similar offerings.
September is a great month to be in Orlando. The area’s best restaurants participate in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, offering a special 3 course menu at substantial savings, for only $33 per person. This is enough to make my inner foodie do cartwheels! On top of that, resorts offer Magical Nights deals in conjunction with Magical Dining for the perfect mini getaway, for visitors and locals alike. Plus, theme parks are less crowded and the weather starts cooling off from these scorching days of summer. It’s pure magic!
In its ninth year of Magical Dining, Visit Orlando has added more restaurants, with over 75 of the best Central Florida restaurants to choose from. Why? Because “More is better!” Here’s the challenge: unless you eat dinner twice a day, with so many great choices you have to narrow down your list. Here’s my tips for how to choose which restaurants to visit and get the most magic from Magical Dining Month.
Top 9 Tips To Get The Most Magic from Magical Dining Month:
1. GO Try Something New
You can afford to be more adventurous when spending less dough. GO try one of the new restaurants making a splash in the Orlando dining scene, such as:
^ Bistro CloClo: French bistro with authentic menu of Moules Marinieres, Vol Au Vent D’Escargots, Fish Meunière with black risotto and Mousse au Chocolat. Ooh la la!
^ Eddie V’s Prime Seafood: Restaurant Row, swanky hot spot with lake views, live jazz and upscale dining on Lobster Bisque, Filet Medallions with Shrimp and Hot Bananas Foster Cake.
^ Kasa Restaurant & Bar: Downtown Orlando favorite serving eclectic tapas menu with global flair from chef Sean Kaplan and Food Network’s Josh Lyons.
You can also finally #MakeSomedayHappen and GO to one of those restaurants you’ve always wanted to visit. You know, the Orlando institutions you often say “I’ll go there someday”? What restaurants are on your “Someday List”? Mine includes:
^ Le Coq Au Vin: Voted Orlando’s best French restaurant offering a traditional French experience with classics Soupe a l’Oignon, Beef Bourguignon and Crepe Suzette.
^ The Venetian Room: Classic fine dining at its best with impeccable service and award-winning cuisine which never disappoints. Can’t wait to try BBQ Duck Confit, Lump Crab Crusted Mahi and Apple Tart with rum infused Mascarpone and milk chocolate demi-sphere.
2. GO For Choices
Review the menus, conveniently available here, and GO for restaurants with the most dishes to your liking. More is definitely better and some restaurants are doing it right by offering more than 2 choices for each course.
^ Maxine’s on Shine: Orlando’s Dining Hall of Fame chef George Vogelbacher gives you plenty of creative choices – Drunken Mussels, Cheese Cigars, Poached Pear Salad, and Crabmeat Stuffed Mushrooms, just to start! Desserts like Ode to Elvis Brownie with bacon pecan brittle and vanilla ice cream, worthy of The King, will send you over the top! Plus, the fun atmosphere, created by owners Kirt and Maxine Earhart, and live music Tuesday-Sunday, make this Thornton Park neighborhood favorite a great place for friends to celebrate!
^ Seasons 52: Celebrating living well 52 weeks of the year, this month’s Magical Dining menu gives you four courses instead of three by starting with a shared flatbread appetizer – the Blackened Steak and Blue Cheese flatbread is a big favorite! A salad course, choice of 5 entrees, and for sweet ending you get 2 of their famous mini desserts. They started the mini dessert trend and still do it best! The wine list also offers unique varietals and you have two locations to choose from, Dr. Phillips and Altamonte Springs.
^ If you truly want an unlimited amount of great food with over 60 items to choose from, Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil, Brazilian style steakhouses where gauchos – lovely men wielding various grilled meats on a stick – come by your table non-stop to delight your carnivore side while the outrageous salad bar balances out the meal with starches and veggies. Dinner price is normally $48.50 not including dessert, so at $33 this is an incredible deal.
3. GO For Creativity
When offering prix fixe menus, some restaurants sadly miss the opportunity to showcase their creativity. Offering instead, safe options of soup or salad starters, beef, chicken or salmon entrees and mousse for dessert. Incredibly boring, unless they kick it up a notch! Other restaurants GO for creativity in a big way. Look at the menus and reward those that do it right.
^ K Restaurant: My favorite neighborhood restaurant, if only I lived in College Park, is worth the drive no matter where you are. Chef Kevin Fonzo – the “K” of K Restaurant – is one of our area’s top chefs and his ever-changing menu does not skimp on showing off the best this region has to offer. This is #SunshinePlate at its best. Thinking about the Seafood minestrone with clams, oysters and shrimp and bacon broth, Palmetto Creek Farm Pork with berry sage preserves and pinot noir sauce, and French Toast Bread Pudding with caramel on the menu is making me drool!
^ Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen: Chef Alexia Gawlak’s creative touch on this rustic Italian menu has garnered rave reviews. Simple dishes, where the ingredients shine, like Fresh Burrata and Tomato Salad, Bucatini ai Fruta di Mare with mussels, clams, shrimp and fennel sausage and Tiramisu, are brought to a new level. The bar program with craft “garden to glass” cocktails is also worthy of attention.
^ Emeril’s Tchoup Chop: Emeril Lagasse and local celebrity chef Ryan Vargas know how to “kick it up a notch” in this Asian-Polynesian fusion menu full of inventive choices. Start with Ahi Poke Nachos or Fried Green Tomato Grilled Cheese. Bistro Steak with Maui onions, Seafood Cobbler and Veal Osso Buco for main course and finish off with Baked Hawaii meringue with Coconut Dacquoise and Pineapple gastrique, or Passion Fruit Lilikoi Guava Rum Baba and Tropical Boba Pearl Salad. Creative, fun and flavorful!
^ Luma on Park: The creation of James Beard Award nominee Chef Brandon McGlamery, has never disappointed and is still on my all time Orlando favorites list. The menu changes regularly based on seasonal ingredients. Start with Yellowfin Tuna Tartare or Steakhouse wedge with bacon gastrique. Entrees like the Idaho rainbow trout with forbidden black rice will blow you away, and the chocolate panna cotta with salted caramel is heavenly. The wine list with half glass options is perfect for pairings.
4. GO For the MVP
A three course meal for $33 per person at a great restaurant is already a fantastic value across the board. However, some restaurants truly have the MVP – Most Valuable Proposition. If entrees on the regular menu are $30 or more, you have a steal with Magical Dining. Some of the best values with plenty of choices on the menu, include Capital Grille, The Oceanaire Seafood (Filet & Lobster Surf & Turf at $33!), A Land Remembered Steakhouse, Eddie V’s and The Venetian Room. Live entertainment is a great bonus at Maxine’s on Shine, Eddie V’s, Seasons 52 and Bistro CloClo.
5. GO Make a Night Of It!
Why not get away for a mini vacation (or staycation)? The area’s best resorts are offering Magical Nights packages including one night in deluxe accommodations and Magical Dining for two, at a fraction of the cost.
^ For a relaxing resort getaway where, in addition to a great dinner, you can indulge in spa services, lounging by the pool and a round of golf, check in at Rosen Shingle Creek ($185) and dine on Ahi Tuna, Center Cut Rib Eye and Shrimp Scampi at A Land Remembered Steakhouse. Getaway to Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress ($179) and sample their Key West inspired cuisine such as Cayo Hueso Crab Cakes, at Orlando favorite, Hemingway’s.
^ Enjoy a romantic weekend exploring the picturesque city of Winter Park with a stay at the new boutique hotel Alfond Inn ($249) and dinner at Hamilton’s Kitchen, a farm to table experience sampling Fall beet salad with house made ricotta, Steak with Barolo Sauce and Grandma’s Bread & Butter Pudding with Heavens to Betsy berry compote and vanilla ice cream. Plus for added bonus receive romantic turndown service, admission to the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, and Charles Hosmer Morse Museum.
^ Disney is always magical. Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel ($220), located on Disney’s boardwalk, offers the best foodie getaway. Dine at Todd English’s bluezoo one night, walk or ride the ferry to Epcot and dine around the world the next day!
^ In need of a girlfriend’s getaway? Take advantage of all the outlet malls shopping nearby International Drive and indulge in world-class spa services and relaxing pools at Rosen Centre Hotel ($165) with dinner at Everglades Restaurant noshing on Orlando Dining Hall of Fame Chef Fred Vlachos’ Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with mango salsa, Florida Grouper with smoked tomato grits and Key Lime Pie. The Hyatt Regency Orlando ($169) paired with dinner at Napa with inspired California cuisine such as Deconstructed Vichyssoise with smoked pork belly & potato croquettes and Seafood Cioppino is a great option.
6. GO Bev Pairing
Take advantage of special wine or cocktail paring offers with the Magical Dining menu or create your own. At Maxine’s on Shine receive $2 off wines by the glass and 15% off bottles. Siro: Urban Italian Kitchen is offering three 5oz glasses of wine, three 16oz craft beers pairings or the bartender’s hand-crafted cocktail paired especially with the Magical Dining dish you select. Luma on Park offers half wine glass options on their regular wine list, perfect for creating your own custom wine pairing menu or you can just ask your server for recommendations. Magical Dining is also a great opportunity to splurge on a nice bottle of wine.
7. GO Share with Friends
Magical Dining is a great opportunity to get friends together, celebrate life and create lasting memories over a great meal. Plus, the more friends, the more you get to sample different dishes. Around my table its tradition to pass plates around. Sharing is caring!
8. GO Off Peak
Many restaurants on Magical Dining are popular on weekends so I prefer to dine mid-week and have a more leisurely evening. Reservations are always recommended, regardless of when you choose to go – many offer online reservations. Also keep in mind, some restaurants will gladly present the Magical Dining menu, and may even offer extra perks and bonuses for you to return. At other restaurants, you must specifically request it.
9. GO Just Ask
Looking for vegetarian dishes? Worried about food allergies? Is parking additional? Do they offer wine pairings? Call and just ask. Every restaurant participating in Magical Dining does so as an opportunity to gain new customers. Ask about any concerns or wants and chances are they will accommodate. Those that don’t, you can cross off your list. Most hotel restaurants will offer complimentary parking including valet. Every restaurant will accommodate vegetarian requests and food allergies, some do it better than others. Again, just call ahead, ask and then be the judge. One thing you don’t need to ask about is the prices offered for Magical Dining and Magical Nights do not include tax and gratuity. It is always advisable to take good care of your servers.
I hope you will GO take advantage of Visit Orlando Magical Dining Month. It’s not only a fantastic value and a fun opportunity to dine out with friends but it’s also a great way to support local businesses and dine for a good cause. The Foundation for Foster Children will receive $1 from every Magical Dining meal which helps support local foster youth with tutoring, typical childhood experiences and mentors. This definitely makes dining out much more magical.
Have you made your choices yet? Please let me know which restaurants are on your list in the comments below.
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