LMF foodie reviews of 3 Orlando restaurants

Dec 7th, 2003, 08:12 AM
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LMF foodie reviews of 3 Orlando restaurants

We went to Orlando for Thanksgiving and stayed at the new Grande Lakes resort. There is a huge JW Marriott and a Ritz Carlton side by side on a Greg Norman golf course and a 60k sq. ft Ritz Spa on the property. This resort opened this past July.

The resort is lovely and both hotels are wonderful. The spa was outstanding. I had made reservations at the two signature hotel restaurants and Thanksgiving dinner at Citricos at the Grand Floridian. Here is my foodie review:

Primo: This was my favorite of the visit. Seemed to have the atmosphere I am looking for in a fine restaurant: a beautiful but relaxed decor. Different levels keeping the sound under contol. Good view of the kitchen. Pleasant and friendly but not intrusive service. Gorgeous murano glass lighting fixtures made everyone look great under their diffused light. The executive chef of Primo is Melissa Kelly whose main restaurant is in Maine. Organic produce and meats are the hallmark of this restaurant. Flavours melded together well and gave meaning to the dishes rather than being just another ingredient to list on the menu.

First courses: parfait of toasted organic beets, heirloom apples and Turtle Creek goat cheese was light and delicious. Maine Jonah crab, hearts of palm and avocado timbale with lemonbalm vinaigrette had a great crunch and the avocado played off the crab very well.

I had a pansoti pasta main dish that was stuffed with butternut squash, maine lobster and brown butter sauce. This was a wonderful dish that I would order again. My husband had a dry aged Niman Ranch steak with fresh vegetables and a goat cheese smashed potato cake that was a sensation. He pronounced it one of his best steaks ever and he is difficult to please in this regard.

We had fruit and cheese for dessert and a lovely moscato. The wines at this restaurant are superbly chosen.

LilMsFoodie is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 08:13 AM
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Citricos: I should know better than to dine at Disney on a holiday. The problem wasn't the children. The children at this restaurant were very well behaved. A table of eight cousins were seated next to us and it was wonderful to watch how they interacted with each other and observe the lovely table manners they all had. I had to wonder at one point if they had been ordered from central casting at Disney studios.

The room at Citriicos is light, open and brightly and pleasantly decorated. The service was just adquate reminding me of the kind of service you might get at a Carrabas or Outback or similar chain. Definitely not up to the venue. All of this would be fine if the food had been wonderful. It was definitely not. The chef here has a good reputation and this meal certainly did not show his talents.

The restaurant chose to do the first course and dessert buffet style. These were mediocre and worse. The first courses were quite poor and not all that unique. Rock shrimp salad with Israeli cous cous was bland and insipid, pale pink and beige with nary a seasoning. The aspargras salad was unpeeled and basically raw aspargras with a very cheap feta and kalamata olives. There was a huge pile of roasted caluflower that had some seasoning and was tasty but not very festive. The best was the duck salad with wild rice and cranberries. Indifferent bread with no interesting textures or tastes.

The entrees were to order. I ordered medallion of pork tenderloin with polenta and my husband ordered the turkey with dressing. Both of these entrees were terribly disappointing. The turkey was steam table bland with flaccid skin and overcooked white meat. There was no sage or thyme in the seasoning. There was not even an effort at creative seasoning. There was little flavoring other than onion. My pork was tender& tasty but the polenta was an unpalatable glue with the parmesan providing a discordant flavor.

Dessert was appalling. Just a bunch of partially thawed food service pap. Little cheesecakes, some sort of breakfast pastry, little petit fours etc. All removed from their freezer trays a little late. The wines were well chosen and reasonable. At $45 prix fixe this dinner was an disappointment. I also will note that the Grand Floridian lobby seems to be overdue for refurbishment. The cushions on all the seats are compressed and worn and the decor looks faded at this point. Too bad for this grand dame of Disney World.

LilMsFoodie is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 08:20 AM
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Norman?s at Ritz Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando

This restaurant is drop dead gorgeous. The main dining room is domed with a center table surrounded by wine cabinets. The lighting is even and luminous at a low level that is conducive to conversation and romance. The service is modified French style. The headwaiter (a lovely woman on loan from Maisonette in Ohio) was warm and welcoming but a little too attentive for our tastes. It seemed we were approached at every bite asking how each mouthful tasted. The service was spot on and not fawning however.

Norman's had two menus: a 5 course tasting menu and a 3 course prix fixe menu. We went with the latter which at $55 seemed quite reasonable especially contrasting with the Thanksgiving fiasco at Citricos.

My husband ordered Yuca Stuffed Crispy Shrimp with Sour Orange Mojo,
Torn Greens and Habanero Tartar Salsa which was two large shrimp served on a mesclun base. Very good but not earth-shatteringly so. I had a cold seafood salad that was watery and surprisingly bland. I am hard pressed to describe this 10 days later.

My entree was Lapsang Souchong Tea and Shallot Stuffed Grilled Salmon Spiral with a Confit of New Potatoes, Steamed Spinach, Lemon Butter Sauce "Mer Noir"
I enjoyed this entree but it was a little rare for my taste, especially as it was stuffed. The stuffing did not properly heat in order for the kitchen to serve it rare. Odd, I thought, and the spinach added nothing other than color.

My husband had "Mongolian" Barbequed Marinated and Grilled Veal Chop with
Grilled Chinese Eggplant and Thai Fried Rice. This was very delicious and the best thing we tried all night.

Desserts were also surprisingly dull: Tres Leches, Passion Fruit and Pineapple with Meringue Glacé and Cinnamon Ice and
Panqueques de Manzana" Apple Stuffed Crêpes with Dulce de Leche, Créme Frâiche Sorbet.

Wine list was not as exciting as I expected.

All in all, I have to recommend Primo as the standout of the three. We decided that our next time at the spa (and we will definitely go back to this spa), we'll just eat at Primos and forget the rest.

LilMsFoodie is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 08:44 AM
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Thanks a lot. I think I just gained three pounds reading this!!
I'm curious about Citricos. Did that replace another restaurant at Grand Floridian? Like Victoria and Albert, maybe. Someone told me that one had closed.

You have a way of making even a dull meal sound wonderful!! I'm especially disappointed about Norman's not being simply wonderful. I know there is a new one opening in LA (or maybe has opened by now). I hope it's not another example of a simply wonderful chef spreading himself too thin -- Roy Yamiguchi comes to mind!
Patrick is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 08:48 AM
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Oh, and wanted to say how amused I am about the overly attentive waitress from The Maisonette. While that was always the "perfect" restaurant in Cincinatti, its one drawback was that I always felt the service was too attentive -- just as you describe.
Patrick is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 08:53 AM
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Victoria and Alberts is still there. I think it is a huge bore. Citricos in in the main building and replaced another restaurant whose name escapes me.

The Wall Street Journal weekend edition proclaimed Normans in Coral Gables the most overrated restaurant in America. He had Chez Panisse on there as well and the Mansion at Turtle Creek. Can't remember the rest.

I do have to say I was disappointed in the Ritz version.
LilMsFoodie is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 10:07 AM
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Wow, if the WSJ ranks those as over-rated, I wonder what they like. I don't know about Norman's, but Chez Panisse is wonderful as is the Mansion. I can't imagine missing it on a trip to Dallas. I thought those two were the top of everyone's list. What gives?
earl30 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2003, 10:25 AM
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FWIW, I kind of agree with the WSJ's assessment. You'd have to read the whole article. I'll just give you the Chez Panisse comment and Norman's since I mentioned them. I think Turtle Creek is past its prime.

snip: from the Wall Street Journal:
"Chez Panisse, Berkeley, Calif.
The Rep: The Vatican of New American cuisine
Our Take: A dinner party thrown by aging hippies with a really great vegetable garden

The first thing that struck us as we revisited Chez Panisse is how dated it seems now. Back in 1971, this was a revolutionary outpost of French cuisine in Le Far West. Founder Alice Waters soon brought in influential chef Jeremiah Tower (author of the gossipy "California Dish"), and mixed French tradition with American ingredients, specializing in local, often very small vegetables. Chez Panisse deservedly won hearts and palates, and by the late '70s excellent clones around America were fetishizing fingerling potatoes and chipotle mayonnaise.

By now, Alice Waters is no longer the mother of modern American cooking, but its grandmother. And our meal was great but no longer edgy. (Ms. Waters, for her part, says her restaurant is still one of few with a commitment to sustainably farmed foods.) The set menu began with a farmer's market beet salad, the essence of garden and season. Sea scallops with a saffron risotto exemplified the rich strength of slow-cooked, small-grain rice. Grilled rack of lamb showed the virtues of grass-fed, free-range livestock. The message was clear, but it is a message that has been received and acted on elsewhere. If you're going to Berkeley, speed-dial a month ahead for booking. If not, look closer to home."

"Norman's, Coral Gables, Fla.
The Rep: American and Caribbean traditions, creatively interpreted
Our Take: A hodgepodge of ideas and ingredients

When I stopped at a gritty gas station in Miami's Little Havana and recited an address, the men there knew instantly I was going to Norman's. Norman Van Aken is a star in these parts -- just ask him. Still and video images of Norman fill the restaurant's Web site, Norman is immortalized in a life-size painting in his eponymous restaurant, and he is the fulsome chronicler of his own dishes. During a "recent spate of interviews," he wrote in October's menu, he had recalled to journalists how he had hitchhiked to Key West many years ago -- and so he was inspired to devote the month's tasting menu to that other creative wanderer, Jack Kerouac.

The Kerouac menu -- $85 for five mini-courses, plus $55 for matching wine flight -- bore the unmistakable stamp of Norman's febrile genius. The North Beach Cioppino was a perfect distillation of the San Francisco tomato-and-fish soup -- except for the addition of a generous dollop of sea urchin roe, whose powerful flavor made you wish it had been saved for another occasion. (Norman's, like most restaurants on our tour, said afterward it was sorry to hear the meal didn't meet expectations.) Lest you think such a dish was atypical, Norman's regular menu includes the Mexican classic, Veracruz red snapper -- Normanized with oyster mushrooms, mustard gnocchi and huitlacoche sabayon. I was not able to taste this improvisation. Perhaps next time. As Jack Kerouac puts it on the menu: "...we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies." " snip ends.


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LilMsFoodie is offline  
Dec 8th, 2003, 04:33 AM
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I really enjoy food, but guess I can never be a true "foodie". I've never eaten at Chez Panisse and always wanted to, and this next summer will be traveling to San Francisco with friends, (the wife is a vegetarian) and we were already thinking it would be a perfect place to dine one night as we'll also have a car.

But what bothers me about that article on Chez Panisse is the attempt to put down the idea that classic is bad. Sure it was "edgey" when new and started some major trends. Now it is no longer edgey, yet the food is great. Why should that be a bad thing? Can't classic be inspiring as well, or does everything have to change to be the latest "trend"? There was not a single unfavorable comment about the food there except that it has been copied elsewhere. So? Why is that a bad thing? If every bite is great, I'm happy. I don't really care if it isn't currently "the" cutting edge of cuisine.
Patrick is offline  
Dec 8th, 2003, 07:35 AM
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regards the cutting edge, I totally agree Patrick. I want food that tastes like food and is properly prepared and beautifully presented. This can be a classic like quenelles de brochette or some newer style food with coulis of this and melange of that. The simpler the better for me at this point. I think the flavours should blend to create something wonderful. The proliferation of cooking schools and the rise of the celebrity chef has created a monster of sorts. I'll be happy when it subsides as it always does.
LilMsFoodie is offline  
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