Though it's not technically September yet, Magical Dining Month Orlando is underway. Get out of the house now! Go! Eat! Don't wait! Sponsored by Visit Orlando, Magical Dining Month Orlando involves 70+ restaurants--many of them terrific--serving three-course dinners for $33.
While there's no wrong way to take advantage of this opportunity to try the town's best meals at discounted prices, I do have some words of advice. While you read on, note that the photos are of Magical Dining Month Orlando dishes being served at Txokos, a modern Basque restaurant in the Audubon Park District's East End Market. I got to sample them at a media dinner.
Don’t be shy. Some restaurant hostesses and servers will hand you the Magical Dining Month menu along with the regular one. Others don't, probably hoping you'll order the more expensive dishes usually served. Speak up! You're entitled. Plus, the restaurants participate because tables are empty this time of year. Your seat would probably reap a 0 percent tip on a $0 bill if not for your presence.
Shop for bargains. Some Magical Dining Month Orlando meals are much bigger bargains than others. Some are true deals. Other restaurants package regular menu items together at essentially the same price as always. Save those places for October. I'd choose the ones that offer their signature items, maybe in smaller portions, at a lower price, and those eateries where chefs created menus specially for their Magical Dining Month Orlando menus.
Look for specialties. If it’s a seafood restaurant, make sure it’s serving seafood. Same for steak. It seems silly to visit a Cajun restaurant, say, and have no Cajun options. To keep prices low, restaurants tend to offer chicken, pasta, and chicken again. That's fine if the chicken or pasta dish sounds amazing and is prepared in a way that represents the restaurant, but not if it's a choice just because the ingredients are inexpensive.
Don’t go just because it’s a bargain. Make sure the restaurant is serving something you’d like. All Magical Dining Month Orlando menus are on the website, so take the time to do your research.
Think local. Independently owned restaurants tend to shop locally themselves. By visiting one, you’re supporting several local businesses. Plus, you’re getting food prepared from the heart, not a corporate recipe. The upscale chains participating in Magical Dining Month Orlando can be terrific too, but why not give the little guy a chance? It's only $33. Do good while you feast.
Be bold. Leave the neighbhorhood! Try a new cuisine! Or a new sauce, or a new protein … This is an amazing opportunity. Make the most of it.
Magical Dining Month Orlando Menus to Try
I did some homework for you. I scoped out expensive restaurants, not chains, and chose what I think are the most interesting appetizer, entree, and dessert choices. So, this is what Rona recommends ...
A Land Remembered—hand-breaded fried oysters, filet mignon, and Key lime pie with a toasted meringue topping
Ravello—beef carpaccio, pan-seared salmon with pancetta, and sweet grape focaccia with Nutella gelato
Artisan’s Table—lamb meatballs with mint, pepper- and spice-rubbed flat-iron steak, and maple-bourbon banana pudding cake
The Rusty Spoon—deviled eggs (they're amazing here; I order them all year long), Dirty South (a seafood stew that I adore), and grown-up ‘smores (trust me)
The Smiling Bison—smoked summer sausage (The Smiling Bison chefs stuff their own sausage), grilled duck breast, and banana pudding tiramisu
Big Fin Seafood Kitchen—half-dozen raw oysters, lobster tail, and Ooey Gooey “pie cake”
Christini’s Ristorante Italiano!!!—roasted red peppers, veal Marsala, and cannoli. Christini's is one of the Orlando's single most expensive restaurants. Usually the roasted red pepper appetizer is $14.50, the veal Marsala $46.50. Now that's a bargain at $33 with dessert
Mama Della’s—fried calamari ($14), mushroom ravioli ($24), and tiramisu. Plus, you get the fun entertainment of roving musicians. I like this place a lot.
Hamilton’s Kitchen—corn soup ($9), pan-seared salmon ($24), and bread-and-butter pudding
Txokos Basque Kitchen—smoked oyster stew, serrano-wrapped cobia, and coffee flan
Luma on Park—squash-fennel soup, rainbow trout, chocolate panna cotta
Cease cooking. Hop in the car. And start eating. You only have 36 evenings to go. That'll only get you to half the participating Magical Dining Month Orlando restaurants.
Eat enthusiastically and at a bargain price,