California Grill Dragon Roll with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and chili-soy glaze.  California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. (Jimmy DeFlippo, photographer)

California Grill Dragon Roll with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and chili-soy glaze. California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. (Jimmy DeFlippo, photographer)

September in Florida (where I’m based) is hot, sticky, humid, rainy and for those of us in the hospitality, meetings & events, and entertainment industries—it’s a time of hanging on til convention season reappears. September also means Magical Dining comes to Orlando for the entire month, whereby upscale restaurants host a three-course prix fixee’ meal for $33 and my husband and I celebrate our anniversary by enjoying as many of these meals as we can. Visit Orlando and the participating restaurants partner to both highlight their cuisine to locals during this corporate and leisure shoulder season and to raise money ($1 from each meal) for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

I know most of you aren’t in Orlando, but for those of you who are, I’ll talk about these restaurants later in this blog. Last year I covered them after the month ended and by then it was too late for you to personally check them out.

So, with food ever-present on my mind, I think I’ll just jump into news about a hotel whose opening I’ve been eagerly awaiting, with dreams of spending a bit of time there.

HOTEL HAPPPENINGS     

The hotel is called Epicurean and it officially opens in December in Tampa, FL. As you may expect by the name, food will be a central theme of the 137-room boutique hotel. There’ll be cooking classes in the Epicurean Theatre, wine tastings, craft cocktail courses and celebrity appearances. The food-centric Epicurean Hotel, the first newly constructed property in the United States to join the Autograph Collection®, is in collaboration with Bern’s Steak House, a Tampa gastronomic icon since 1956. Epicurean Hotel’s website has launched and is taking reservations for stays, booking meetings or social events in the 2,000 sf Grand Cru Ballroom, the Epicurean Theatre or the second floor Terrace. (855) 829-2536; sales@epicureanhotel.com; www.EpicureanHotel.com

When The Epicurean Hotel in Tampa opens this December, it will have its own kitchen for classes, tastings and presentations.

When The Epicurean Hotel in Tampa opens this December, it will have its own kitchen for classes, tastings and presentations.

Good news for the Hyatt Hotel Corporation and sad news for the millions of visitors who have loved the daily ducks parade at The Peabody Hotel next to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. The Hyatt just bought the 1,641-room Peabody for $717 and will be the Hyatt’s sixth hotel in the area. As we’ve reported in past blogs and magazine articles, The Peabody had recently finished a $440 million renovation. No worries about the ducks: they’re going to a farm for a life of leisure and free food.

It is not too late to take advantage of late-summer sales at DesignHotels.com. There are deals for luxury hotels in Sofia, Bulgaria; Saint-Tropez, France; London, England; and Frankfurt, Germany. These hotels are individually gorgeous, and that’s even without counting the fantastic views of these fabulous renowned cities’ sky-scrapes.

I promise not to just talk about Orlando today, but did you know our area won the #1 spot among the top 50 cities for meetings and events in the U.S, according to meeting and event booking activity in the National Cvent Supplier Network. Visit Orlando President and CEO George Aguel said the distinction came about because of Orlando’s “flexible convention space, a wide range of accommodations, top-rated airports, convention center, and sophisticated retail, dining and entertainment districts.” Cvent evaluated nearly 5,600 U.S. cities featured on the Cvent Supplier Network with activity tracked between July 2012 and June 2013. Criteria included unique request for proposals received; total room nights; awarded request for proposals; awarded room nights; and percentage of qualified meeting venues.

And yes, the news from Orlando continues. Our very own Gaylord Palms continues the holiday magical tradition of ICE! This year pays homage to Christmas Classics, featuring Frosty the Snowman and oh yes, two million pounds of ice and two million twinkling lights. http://www.marriott.com/hotel-info/mcogp-gaylord-palms-resort-and-convention-center/gaylord-palms-entertainment/gwzd4ug/seasonal.mi. Word to the wise: it’s 9 degrees in there. Don’t show up in your sandals and shorts. They’ll lend you a parka, but wear closed-toes shoes and bring gloves, scarf, and hat.

 They’re baaaaaaaaaaaaaaack! Disney’s Contemporary Resort has remodelled and re-magined its 15th floor California Grill, known for its innovative cuisine and the most spectacular possible evening views of Disney fireworks. You can pop up for an evening drink, appetizers or full course meal, but corporate groups are what brings in the hefty revenue. With the newly updated décor and menu, groups will be able to indulge in baked local prawns or oak-fired filet of beef from the restaurant’s wood-burning oven located in the new onstage kitchen. Two private rooms feature the restaurant’s signature décor and panoramic views. The Napa Room accommodates up to 70, while the Sonoma Room seats 40. New communal tables seat 10 each. The always-popular sushi bar has been expanded as has its extensive wine collection. Twenty sommeliers are available to assist with selections from the 250 wines, including 80 by the glass. www.disneymeetings.com; 321-939-7221.

The re-imagined California Grill atop Disney's Contemporary Resort features a new design inspired by mid-century modern California, and a new menu showcasing seasonal ingredients and a lighter touch.   (Kent Phillips, photographer)

The re-imagined California Grill atop Disney’s Contemporary Resort features a new design inspired by mid-century modern California, and a new menu showcasing seasonal ingredients and a lighter touch. (Kent Phillips, photographer)

I have some meeting planner friends who spend a lot of time in Las Vegas, so am always happy to find new activities for them to try and new venues for them to consider for future bookings. The 2014 opening of Food Network Celebrity Chef Giada De Laurentiis’ first restaurant may be enticing. The 300-seat as-yet-unnamed restaurant on the second level of the new Gansevoort Las Vegas (also opening early 2014), in the heart of the Strip, will have great city views and Italian cuisine influenced by lighter California styling. An open and airy kitchen will invites guests to watch preparation of the day’s specialty pasta. There is private dining space.

ACTIVITIES NOT FOUND AT RESORTS

My skeet and clay enthusiast husband is completely envious of Woods’ Silver Fleet’s new corporate offering, a shooting day cruise. The British charter boat, Silver Sturgeon, includes a breakfast cruise with scenic views of iconic London landmarks, exciting team challenges, ‘game day’ cocktails with canapés and game and four-course forager menu created for us by renowned Chef Jamie Oliver’s events team. Up to 50 participants will board at Savoy Pier, enjoy a Brain Food breakfast, followed by competing in three teams from the 150-sm top deck for two hours of clay pigeon shooting, with instruction from the teachers at the West London Shooting School. Menu, activities and wine tastings are customized. 0207 759 1900; sales@silverfleet.co.uk; www.silverfleet.co.uk

You have until February to take advantage of two rare 2-for-1 offers from Visit East Anglia in the U.K. First is to see the globally-acclaimed ‘Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia’ exhibition’. Co-partnered by Visit East Anglia and the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, the exhibition encompasses over 270 masterpieces across the media, including painting, furniture, sculpture, design, jewellery, and textiles. Not into art? Visit East Anglia has a second 2-for-1 offer with Broads Nostalgia’s cruiser, The Admiral.  This day-long adventure begins with a morning walk to Oulton Broad along the Angles Way before joining the 1950’s broads cruiser for a river trip back to Beccles. You can also do the trip in reverse. The morning departure is at 10:30. The roughly 9 mile walk can be omitted by catching the Greater Anglia hourly service between Oulton Broad South and Beccles stations (at customers own expense). Change of shoes required. http://www.broads-nostalgia.co.uk/ga.htm

Marinated and grilled chicken breast with spinach, garlic cream sauce and gnocchi at Park Plaza Gardens. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Marinated and grilled chicken breast with spinach, garlic cream sauce and gnocchi at Park Plaza Gardens. photo by Karen Kuzsel

I promised you a report on Magical Dining Month experiences I’ve so far had. We expect to get to three other restaurants this month, including the Venetian Room (reputedly one of Orlando’s most romantic restaurants) in the Caribe Royale Hotel, Hemingway’s at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, and Mama Della’s at Portofino Bay in the Universal Orlando Resort. Our first night out was at Park Plaza Gardens in downtown Winter Park. The restaurant itself could be updated, but I just love sitting indoors (especially in Florida’s humid summer) but feeling as though I’m outside. The room is lit by twinkling lights in trees, the soft glow emanating over white linen cloths and quiet chatter. I had a scrumptious baked rock shrimp dish that reminded me a lot of French-styled escargot. The hints of garlic, lemon herb butter, weren’t overshadowed by the light touch of panko and aged parmesan. Russ had a healthy portion of mixed greens topped with a small wrapped brie, apple and candied pecans in a wild orange honey thyme vinaigrette that had just the right amount of acidity. He followed with a pan-seared pork rib eye, a hefty portion of meat served on crisp pancetta and herb polenta. There was also a tasty portion of sautéed summer squash, one of the few veggies he will eat. I thought I was eating healthier by having the grilled chicken breast with roasted mushroom and spinach in a garlic truffle cream sauce over gnocchi. I’d asked about the amount of sauce and was assured it was minor. That didn’t turn out to be the case. Though we both ate from our own dishes, we finished up each other’s leftovers the next day. The meal was completed with one selection each of vanilla bean crème brulee, garnished with fruit, and southern pecan pie served with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Do I need to tell you those didn’t make it home as leftovers?

Our second meal was a perennial favorite: Capital Grille. There are now two Capital Grilles in Orlando and we chose the one located at Mall at Millenia, which we think is more intimate than the one on International Drive. The food is fabulous no matter where you are. He had the filet. I had the kona-crusted sirloin. Both were cooked to perfection. We shared the clam chowder and the Caesar salad appetizers as well as the two sides: family-sized portions of creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. Our server, Franko, honored our anniversary with a glass of champagne each and took a Poloroid picture of us clinking glasses, with the rose and card the restaurant had given us in the backdrop. We capped the meal off with their to-die-for creamy, flourless chocolate cake and crème brulee. And we did polish off the leftovers the next day, just in case you wondered about the size of the portions or our appetites. Both are large.

CHARITABLE ENDEAVORS

This isn’t something I would typically cover, but I think teachers need all the help they can get from a society that values athletes more than those who inspire and fuel the minds of our future generations. I’m giving a big Whoop! To Caesars Entertainment and The Caesars Foundation for their Teacher EXCHANGE, a re-use resource center for Southern Nevada public school teachers offering learning tools that enhance classroom projects and curriculum. Donations of new and reusable items are collected from businesses and individuals, and are provided to teachers at no charge for in-class use.  On average, the initiative saves teachers $1,600 a year in materials they would have otherwise had to purchase with their own money. Meeting planners can organize free pickup of large items like office equipment, construction materials and exhibit furniture, while smaller items like office supplies, books, t-shirts, tote bags and lanyards can be dropped in convenient Teacher EXCHANGE bins at each property. http://www.caesarsfoundation.com.

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady

 

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