My Orlando Trip Report
Well, I'm happy to say that there is actually good food to be had in Orlando. In the past I've complained that Orlando is a chain restaurant hell with very little to offer those with a discerning palate. A little background is in order. For the past six years or so, I've made an annual pilgrimage to WDW along with several members of my family who are Disney Vacation Club Members. While Disney is another topic for a different day and forum, I've hesitated returning year after year due to the lack of interesting or original dining offerings. In years past I've tried such restaurants as the California Grill and Roy's and while decent neither "blew me away". This year however, I heeded the advice of this forum and decided to try the following and came away very happy indeed:
1) Primo - Just a perfect meal in all manner and respects including the food, decor and service. The room is beautiful consisting of two distinct sections or tiers - one with hard wood flooring running parallel to an open kitchen and one more formal and carpeted. We arrived and were seated at a four topper next to the open kitchen (my preference). The problem with this table however was that it was situated below several A/C vents which blew cold air in our faces. This was remedied by moving us to an adjacent two-person booth. The problem however was that the table was too short making us both have to lean in to reach the table. Not wanting to be pests we decided to just grin and bear it.
As for the food, you could see Chef Kelly's influence in this kitchen. All the ingredients were fresh and locally sourced while most items seemed to be made in house. We were first presented with an amuse of fava bean crostini which while uncomplicated was very "fresh" and nice. Next we ordered a half portion of the homemade ricotta cavatelli with mushrooms. This dish was fabulous from the small but perfect pasta to the assortment of mushrooms to the delicate sauce and finally the generous shavings of winter truffle. My wife couldn't stop commenting about the dish (which was her choice BTW). Next came an appetizer of fried mozzarella "cutlet" atop unbelievable heirloom tomatoes of various colors with a balsamic dressing. Again while not complicated, the Chef was allowing the freshness of the ingredients to ring true. Here the tomatoes threw me for a loop. Coming from NJ, I believe I know a bit about tomatoes but these were just amazing. Next came a beet salad that we agreed to split. While I don't recall much of the specifics of the salad (except that it was fabulous), I do remember being wowed by the beets. While in the typical beet salad, the beets are usually served cold, these were in fact warm. When I questioned our server about this fact, I was advised that the beets were roasted (I assume to order) in the open pizza hearth. I was starting to really appreciate the dedication this restaurant had to the quality and preparation of its food. The salad was obviously followed by our entrees. My wife had the grouper while I had the yellow snapper. As with the appetizers, both entrees were excellent. If I had to choose the better of the two I would give the nod to the grouper which consisted of a perfectly pan seared filet sitting atop some of the best risotto (spinach and pea I recall) I've ever tasted. My entree was no slouch either. This was a thinner piece of fish perfectly prepared in a broth reminiscent (I know this may sound crazy) of Manhattan clam chowder. Pressing our luck we decided to order dessert; she the zeppole rolled in sugar and cinnamon while I had the pastry chef's take on cannoli. My wife deemed the zeppole "to die for" while I truly enjoyed the two small cannoli (think something like an almond tuile stuffed with a very light and satisfying vanilla creme accompanied by some sour cherries). Everything about this meal was perfection and I would not hesitate recommending it.
2) Lee and Ricks - One afternoon I left the wife and kids and made it over to L&R for a late lunch at the "bar". Talk about a dive in all sense of the word. I arrived to find the place somewhat deserted save for a few patrons and discovered that I just missed the 3 PM cut off for the $15 bucket special. I sat down ordered a beer and a bucket and waited and waited and waited for the nice young lady to shuck my oysters. I think from the time the bucket appeared to the time she started to open them took at least a half hour. To the girls defense she was helping the lone other patrons on my side of the bar. The oysters however were fantastic and I had no problem downing the bucket and second mug of brew in no time. For those not in the know, you are presented with a full sleeve of saltine crackers, squeeze bottles of cocktail sauce, hot sauce, lemon juice and a small dish of horseradish. Oysters are shucked in front of you and placed not on a plate but on the bar top in front of you. Discarded oyster shells are tossed by the patron in the trough behind the bar. Some obviously may have a problem with these hygiene issues but not me. Having explained my meal to my wife she implored me to pick up an order to go the following day. Regrettably, on three successive calls I was told: a) that they don't do buckets to go only dozens and b) they were way too busy to take my order. These gruff service issue somewhat tarnished my experience. Service issues aside (which some may consider its charm) I would not hesitate returning to L&R.
3) The Ravenous Pig - Hoping to go three for three, I again abandoned the family one afternoon for lunch at the Pig. I was somewhat disappointed with the limited lunch schedule (closes at 2:30 before it reopens at 5 PM) and almost missed it due to some bad traffic on RT 4. I decided to sit at the bar and struck up a nice conversation with the bar keep who I believe is named Larry (related to the owner?). Larry explained that while the lunch menu was limited in comparison to the dinner selections, he was sure I would enjoy a sandwich. I decided on the pork sandwich with truffle fries along with a nice mug of white ale. Minutes later I was presented with this beautiful sandwich consisting of perfectly smoked (?) pork (tender and expertly cooked) in between a fresh ciabatta roll and topped with a homemade slaw and a mayo of some sort. The fries were also fantastic. These shoestrings were nice and crispy and perfumed with truffle oil. My only disappointments with the Pig were as follows: 1) no biscuits were available as they sell out very quickly (why not prepare more?) and 2) Although I inquired of dessert (wanting to try the pig tails) I was left with the impression by Larry that either desserts were not available for lunch or that it was too late to make them. While somewhat disappointed that I was unable to try more items, I left the Pig wanting to return for dinner on some future date.
All in all a very good trip food wise for Orlando. I will no longer dread returning to your faire city.
BTW, for the purpose of being complete, I must advise that I was also dragged kicking and screaming to Tutto Italia at Epcot. While the Cold Antipasto Platter was acceptable, my Osso Bucco was downright bad. Instead of being falling off the bone tender, the meat was tough. So much for braising. The "gluey" and underseasoned polenta that accompanied this dish offered no redeeming qualities. On the other hand, the hot fudge sundae at Ghiradelli in Pleasure Island was very good as usual (more the fudge than the ice cream).
We also had a wonderful experience at Primos, in Oct. Another thread at Chowhound. You were able to try so many wonderful items, that I am jealous. My stomach got filled up with sharing the wonderful beet salad, and we each had a marvelous fish entree , if I remember correctly I had Sea Bass!
Thanks for the great review. I've also been pleasantly surprised with the dining options in Orlando. I've gone down a lot over the past few months since my girlfriend is temporarily down there, and have had some great experiences. I'll actually be going to Primo's for V-day, so following your review i'm excited for it.
Right next to Primo, i also highly suggest Norman's. While it was extremely pricey, it was one of the best meals i've ever had, not just in Orlando. Really the only meal i think i've ever enjoyed more is Babbo.
I did the Pig on my last visit too for dinner, and while i was so excited about it, it wasn't really all too memorable.
Thanks MInh. Norman's (along with Le Coq Au Vin) was also on my short list for this trip. Having to choose one I decided on Primo due to the many positive reviews. I also thought Norman's might be a bit too formal for what we were looking for that night. I will definitely consider it on my next trip.