Showing posts with label Orlando. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Orlando. Show all posts

Saturday, January 22, 2011

BlueZoo - Orlando, Florida

Orlando is not exactly perceived as a dining destination. But we ate exceptionally well during our quick visit before the New Year. After finally making our first trip to The Ravenous Pig, we went the following night to BlueZoo in the Swan and Dolphin Resort. BlueZoo is nominally a Todd English restaurant, but given that there are more of those than you can count on all your fingers and toes, I'm not quite sure what that really means. What I do know is that Chris Windus is the Executive Chef at BlueZoo, and he put out a meal for us that was genuinely exceptional.

I met Chef Windus about a year and a half ago when he cooked with Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano for one of their much-missed "Paradigm" dinners. In fact, I got to spend the night in the kitchen with the chefs, an experience I wrote about in this epic three-part series. After that meal - more specifically, after tasting Chef Windus' ravioli with a liquid corn filling - I declared "One bite and I know where I’m eating next time I’m in Orlando." It took a while, but I finally made good on that vow.[1]

BlueZoo is a posh, swanky place which struck me as more Vegas than Disney (though it's sometimes hard to tell them apart). There's a long bar/raw bar along one side as you walk into the restaurant, with lots of blue mosaic tiles and a metallic school of fish swimming along the back wall. The centerpiece is their "dancing fish" grilling contraption, with spinning skewers circling over an open flame (and for display purposes, a poor fish being mercilessly torched throughout the night, like some piscine auto-da-fé). The main room is dramatically wide open with high ceilings, gigantic pillars and dangling glass sculptures throughout. It's designed by Jeffrey Beers, who is also responsible for the recent refurbishment of the grandiose Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

The menu has a strong seafood focus - fully three-fourths of the items, both among appetizers and entrées, are aquatic - and yet Chef Windus has an abiding, if incongruous, obsession with charcuterie. After starting us with a beautiful simple amuse bouche of a silky, fatty hamachi crudo, topped with a leaf of perky, tangy red ribbon sorrel, he sent out a sampling of some of his latest cured creations: mangalitsa coppa (I've borrowed the picture below from Chris' twitpics); duck rillettes, wrapped with a strip of mangalitsa lardo (just in case it wasn't rich enough); and a house-made "hot dog," sliced in rounds and topped with some pungent mustard. They were all fantastic, some of the finest cured meat products I've sampled anywhere.

mangalitsa coppa - picture via bluechefs
We tried a few other starters. The "Broken Rockefeller"[2] was a deconstructed take on the classic Oysters Rockefeller: the oysters lightly battered and fried, and nestled back in their shells; the spinach, a vibrant green purée spiked with garlic and bacon, dotted around the plate; smaller dots of a gelled mornay sauce; and a sprinkling of tapioca maltodextrin-ed bacon powder (the picture below is a prototype version from Chef Chris' blog, bluechefs). Unlike many deconstructed dishes, which seem to do so just for the sake of doing so without attention to flavor, components here were actually enhanced in their own way (the delicately fried oysters and the smooth spinach purée in particular) while still combining with the same effect. I also thought it was a great touch to plate the dish with one traditional Oyster Rockefeller, like a reference point for comparing the original version to its contemporary recreation.

oysters rockefeller - picture via bluechefs
(continued ...)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Ravenous Pig - Winter Park, FL

Ever since rave reviews began appearing a couple years ago on Chowhound, I've been meaning to get to The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park, just outside of Orlando, Florida. It sounded like my kind of place: it's got "Pig" in the name, it styles itself as an "American Gastropub," its menu shows a strong focus on locally sourced product and in-house charcuterie - what's not to like? It took a while for the stars to align, but they finally did a couple weeks ago as we took a two-day jaunt up to Orlando before New Years'. All the raves proved completely justified: this is a place that does what it sets out to do exceptionally well.

The Ravenous Pig doesn't really look all that much like a pub, rather more like a tony suburban restaurant: lots of burnished wood, brick walls, and taupe fabrics. There is indeed a lively bar as you walk in, though, with overflow perching itself around a long bar-height table. A second dining room is more civilized and peaceful, with an assortment of booths and tables. Winter Park is apparently far enough away from the amusement park tourist magnets that the crowd seemed to be made up much more of locals than out-of-towners. And the menu holds pretty true to the "gastropub" concept. It's an assembly of mostly hearty, straightforward dishes, using carefully selected ingredients and prepared with panache. Much of the produce comes from local farms, many meat products are cured in-house.

We were torn on whether to start with the house-made soft pretzels or the gruyere biscuits, and so opted for both. The pretzels were good - toasty, with a litle bit of crispy bite to the outside while still pleasingly chewy within, and served with a grainy mustard and a tallegio-porter fondue for dipping. But they were outshined by the biscuits, warm and perfectly flaky, with a nice whiff of salty, nutty gruyere, almost like cheese gougeres. The smoked sea salt butter that came with them was a superfluous but welcome addition. Salads include a "Farmer" or a "Gatherer" - the former turned out to be a frisée aux lardons in drag, with some sprightly bitter greens tossed with house-smoked bacon and a Caesar vinaigrette, crowned with a perfectly poached egg and a dusting of grated parmesan cheese. It was, according to Mrs. F, the best frisée aux lardons she's ever had, and that is not a short list.

There was a charcuterie plate, all house-made, and really quite impressive. It featured several different thinly sliced cured meats - a soppressata, a coppa, a salami redolent with spiced orange - as well as a nice rich country pork terrine, topped with some stout-macerated cherries. The plate was rounded out by a couple different cheeses (one a rich triple-cream, the other not quite as memorable), some nice mustard, pungent house-made pickles, and grilled bread draped with melted lardo. It was all very well done, nearly on the same level as the boucherie plate I'd had at Cochon in New Orleans.

(continued ...)