Just as we know Spring for the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, Mardi Gras at Universal and the Seven Seas Food Festival at SeaWorld, so Autumn becomes a time of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Halloween Horror Nights and the Halloween Spooktacular.
Within that ‘season,’ we have the month of September, which, for the last 12 years, has included Magical Dining Month and is now a firm part of the calendar when it comes to Orlando’s essential annual events.
So, what IS Magical Dining Month, we hear you ask. Good question. MDM, to use its acronym, is a month of the year beloved by us locals and a boon for all our visitors.
As you may already know, Orlando is a great place for food. We have in excess of 4,000 restaurants, and an increasing number of them are of the fine-dining variety, which means there has never been a better time to be in touch with your inner foodie here in central Florida!
But, with all that choice comes a dilemma – how do we get to sample all that dining deliciousness without breaking the bank? And the answer is – MDM. More than 100 restaurants – many of them from the upscale end of the spectrum – have signed on for this year’s September extravaganza, and that means anyone can get a three-course taste of their wares for a bargain $35 per person.
Each restaurant in the programme will offer a special prix fixe menu, with a choice of starter, main course and dessert, and it is a truly great way to Dine Around Orlando at a relatively modest price.
This year’s catalogue of culinary delight includes no fewer than 10 in Walt Disney World itself (including the new Wine Bar George and Terralina Crafted Italian, as well as the excellent steakhouse of STK, all at Disney Springs), four at Universal Orlando (including Mama Della’s at Portofino Bay Hotel and The Kitchen at the Hard Rock), and fully 24 along International Drive and the surrounding area, most notably the exquisite steakhouse of A Land Remembered (inside the Rosen Shingle Creek resort) and the fabulous seafood of The Oceanaire (at Pointe Orlando).
There are also 19 restaurants completely new to MDM, from Disney to the chic Omni Orlando Champions Gate Resort (where their lovely Asian-fusion venue Zen is now on the menu, so to speak). Every one will provide a full array of tastes from their regular menu, and every one will demonstrate just why Orlando is now one of the Top 50 Foodie Capitals of the World according to the UK’s highly regarded travel blog from legal eagles Bott + Co.
We had our own MDM preview last week, ahead of the big September 1 kick-off, at Big Fin Seafood at the Dellagio complex on Sand Lake Road (which actually boasts five restaurants you can sample in this month’s grand event).
Hosted by Visit Orlando, we were introduced to this year’s two local charities that have been chosen as the prime beneficiaries of the event, as $1 of EVERY meal that is served during participating restaurants during the month goes to these highly worthy causes. Last year, the sum raised was a staggering $208,620.
This year’s charities are both ones we think do some great work and will benefit enormously from the financial boost, namely Best Buddies, which aims to enrich the lives of youths and adults with intellectual and development disabilities (and is actively supported by American Football superstar Tom Brady, among a number of celebrities), and Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida, which looks to support individuals with Down Syndrome, as well as their families.
After being introduced to Big Fin’s head chef, James Slattery – who has had a distinguished career in Orlando’s restaurant scene, including Emeril’s restaurant at Universal’s CityWalk and A Land Remembered – we were allowed to partake in that essential media ritual for any restaurant event – the mass photograph-taking! This must look pretty odd to anyone watching from outside, as all the dishes are wheeled out for us to immortalise on our various digital media, and then ‘serve up’ for our readers.
We do, eventually, get round to tasting them, but only after the samples have been photo-d to death! Happily, the restaurant does bring out fresh plates of food for us to try and, in this case, it was clear there will be no stinting on quantity as well as quality at Big Fin. Together, we tried the Fresh Oysters, Casesar Salad, Filet Mignon, Shrimp Orleans, ‘Apple Pie’ Bread Pudding and Ooey Gooey, Chef Slattery’s trademark layered chocolate pie-cake that can best be summed up as outrageously scrummy.
Every dish came up flavourful and succulent, and with no small amount of style. Steak lovers will definitely want to take note of the Filet option here, while those who enjoy their seafood will be spoiled for choice between the rich Shrimp dish, Broiled Lobster Tail and Big Fin Trio (deep-fried popcorn shrimp, scallops and catfish). We can also vouch for the fact they mix a mean martini, and the wine choice is excellent, too!
It was most definitely an evening to remember thanks to Chef Slattery and his team, and, even though we have been fairly regular visitors since it opened in 2009, we hadn’t been back for a while and it served to remind us that the Dellagio remains a great choice for some memorable seafood, whether you go all-out for the Lobster or just want to sample that Trio of delights.
And, while we heartily recommend Big Fin, you have to make a really tough choice about all the other possibilities for a truly Magical Dining Month here in Orlando, including three of our all-time local faves in Urbain 40 (on Sand Lake Road), Morimoto Asia (at Disney Springs) and Hamilton’s Kitchen (at the Alfond Inn in Winter Park).
Do remember, though, that this is a mega-popular event with us locals, hence it is highly advisable to book in advance for most restaurants (you can check out the full choice on Visit Orlando’s special MDM section here). But the only thing you need to bring is your appetite!
Want to know more about Magical Dining Month or any other aspects of an Orlando holiday? Come and ask your questions – or tell us your experiences – on the ATD forums!
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