We started our cavalcade of to-go containers with the Roquefort cordon bleu ($8.95) appetizer. This interpretation came as thick plugs of lightly breaded Roquefort stuffed with ham, Gouda and Parmesan.
The potato knödel ($6.95), a staple of German cooking, was amped up with chopped bacon. (You can choose caramelized onions too.) The thick dumplings came to life with the accompanying sauerkraut and sour cream.
The golden lobster bisque ($7.95) was a full-flavored salute to the sweet shellfish. The spoon stirred up nice pieces of lobster meat with every scoop and swirl.
All entrees start with a house salad, a small plate of ultra-fresh greens resplendent with cubed mango, sweet-tart dried cranberries and walnuts. Lightly adorned with a thin veil of creamy dressing, it showcased the kitchen's attention to detail.
The Kirsch chicken schnitzel ($17.95) topped with plump cherries and flambeed with cherry liqueur could feed a small family. A whole breast was pounded thin, breaded and pan-fried. (It helped create two additional meals at home.)
The Hungarian goulash ($16.95) was a mix of sirloin tips that were slow-simmered in Burgundy wine with tomatoes, onions and green peppers served with spaetzle (baby dumplings). The smoky Hungarian paprika that seasoned the stew bloomed slowly on the palate with a nice lingering earthy after-taste. The beef could have been a tad more tender.
The rack of lamb ($24.95) lacked the luster this indulgence usually gets from seasoning. The meat was cooked to a perfect medium, but it had little flavor for the price.
For the chicken paprikash ($14.95), breast meat was bathed in a sour cream sauce. As it had with the goulash, the spaetzle soaked up the sauce.
The Black Forest cake ($6.95) did not overwhelm. Chef Han's interpretation is more like a humongous gourmet Hostess Ho Ho than a traditional slice of layered cake — not that there's anything wrong with that. But you must have the cheese strudel ($6.50). The delicate layers of pastry encase a lovely creamy filling. And the dusting of powdered sugar was perfectly judicious.
My first visit was early on a Friday evening and I feared my guests and I would be the only diners. Slowly the neighborhood regulars trickled in, saying "Hello" to the only server on duty and finding their favorite spots. During the second visit — also on a Friday night, the threat of a pending downpour seemed to keep the regulars away.
The decor is simple and unpretentious at Chef Han's but the kitchen speaks the loudest in the most welcoming undertones of comfort fare. And on a rainy day, isn't that what we all really want?
The dish on diningChef Han's Cafe
Where: 3716 Howell Branch Road, Winter Park ( 1/2 mile east of State Road 436 between Eastbrook Blvd and Betty Street in the Howell Branch Shoppes next to a convenience store).
When: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 9 a.m-3 p.m. and 5- 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Monday and Tuesday open by special arrangement.
Wheelchair access: Easy.
Entree range: $15-$30.
Beverages: Beer and wine.
Noise level: Quiet.
Credit: All major.
Dining on a budget
Dinner for less than $20: Order the stuffed chicken breast ($16.95), a neat package of cheese and spinach that's drizzled with a sauce made from Hungarian dessert wine.
Dinner for less than $15: Thick split pea soup ($6.95) and "almost a schnitzel" ($6.95). The latter is fried ham and Swiss cheese bread on sauerkraut.