Adventures in Dining

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The Chef’s Table at the Edgewater September 20, 2009

Filed under: Winter Garden — hpandaw @ 6:45 pm

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We’d been hearing good things about The Chef’s Table at the Edgewater, so we decided to try it out for our anniversary. We had a bit of trouble finding the restaurant; there was a car show going on, and Plant Street was closed down to auto traffic. Once we arrived, however, we were greeted immediately by Laurie.

Chefs Table Interior

Chefs Table Interior

We were the first ones to be seated that evening, which was nice for us, as it gave us a bit of quiet time before the restaurant filled up. There were only 6 tables in our dining room: three two-tops and three four-tops. An adjoining dining room had one large table, and Laurie told us that they were expecting a large party later on that evening. The atmosphere was intimate, but it wasn’t the hushed, romantic atmosphere of Victoria & Albert’s restaurant. When a party of four was seated next to us, we could hear every word of the men’s descriptions of their various car accidents. As one man had been in nine different accidents, this topic of conversation went on for quite a while. All of the diners were in business casual attire: slacks and collared shirts for the men, and dresses for the women.

The menu is a three-course prix fixe for $49.99, with optional additions like the wine pairings for $21.99 and a five cheese tasting course for $14.99. We opted to add on the cheese course, and my husband opted for the wine pairings, while I, as the driver, chose to sip on one glass of wine throughout dinner.

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartare

My first course was my favorite of the whole dinner: a tuna tartar with avocado and mango. This was absolutely delicious and very light. The tuna was soft and fresh, and it contrasted nicely with the crispiness of the diced cucumber. The creaminess of the avocado and sweetness of the mango rounded off the concoction beautifully. The tartar mixture was tossed with sesame oil and sesame seeds, and it was nice and salty, without being unpleasantly so. I chose the wine recommended as a pairing for this particular dish: the Now and Zen Wasabi White. This was a great choice; I’m usually not a big fan of white wines, but this was off-dry, fruity, and very easy to drink.

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

My husband chose the savory foie gras crème brulee for his first course. In order to make this dish, they seared the foie gras to render the fat off of it. They then added the fat, onions, and apples to the crème brulee dish. They chopped up the foie gras, added it and butter to this mix, and they cooked it all in a water bath. After that, they lightly caramelized the top of the foie gras to brulee it. The caramelized sugar was sweet but not cloying, and this dish was much lighter than it looked or than my husband expected. The temperature was cool, which he found off-putting, but it tasted very good. It was nice and creamy without being greasy. He did wish that he’d been given more toast points with which to eat the crème brulee. His wine with this was a Lynskey Gewurztraminer. It smelled and tasted of peaches and honey.

Mirleton Crab Gratin

Mirleton Crab Gratin

My main course was the one that Kevin, the chef and owner, had recommended, the mirleton and crab gratin with shrimp and scallop, Cajun hollandaise. He told us that he was from Louisiana, and this was very much a Louisiana dish. It tasted like something my grandmother would have made. The creamy gratin was baked in a casserole dish and topped with panko, and the scallops and shrimp were seared and placed on top of the gratin. This was very well-seasoned, with heat that I only felt in the back of my throat, not in my mouth, so it didn’t interfere with my tastebuds. It reminded me of my childhood, so I enjoyed this dish very much.

Beef ShortRib

Beef ShortRib

My husband’s choice was a braised beef shortrib with creamed leek mashed potato. The portion sizes came as a bit of a surprise to us. They were large, and we’re used to having many small courses when we eat out, so it was definitely different. The beef was tender, well-cooked, and had very little fat. However, it was underseasoned. The leek mashed potato was really good, and he thought it was probably the best part of the dish. The asparagus were cooked very well, with some bite to them still, and a vibrant green. The dish needed salt to pull it together, though, since otherwise it came across as a bland pot roast dish. His wine with this was a Prazo de Roriz Douro, from Spain. It was a very interesting wine, which we both enjoyed. The finish was short, but it was a smooth, easy-to-drink wine.

There was a little mix up over our desserts. I had ordered the warm peach bread pudding, toasted nuts, with caramel cream cheese ice cream. My husband ordered the tropical tapestry of mango pineapple salsa with coconut macaroon, vanilla ice cream. They switched desserts, though, and because of this, my husband ended up with the wine that was paired with the bread pudding. This wasn’t a problem, as he very much enjoyed it, a Santa Alicia late harvest muscatel. It tasted like grapefruit, and wasn’t like the typical honeyed, ubersweet dessert wine. It had some nice acid to it, which we both liked.

Peach bread pudding

Peach bread pudding

My bread pudding was great: warm, soft, and sweet, and the caramel ice cream melting over it added a lovely sauce. There was a ring of balsamic vinegar around the edge of the dessert, which I thought added some nice depth to the bread pudding.

ChefsTable_20090919_203My husband enjoyed the pistachio in his dessert; he thought that it added both a nice flavor and a nice texture. The macaroon was good, very coconutty, but the vanilla ice cream didn’t wow him. He gave me a bite of this, which I had trouble tasting because the ice cream was so cold.

Cheese plate

Cheese plate

After dessert came our cheese tasting, which was probably the most disappointing part of the meal. Heresy! Nonethess, it is so. We’d appreciated the fact that their wine list had interesting wines that we couldn’t find in most supermarkets, but the same could not be said of their cheeses. The five cheeses on the plate were provolone, gouda, Roquefort, asiago, and brie. Blah. We would have appreciated the opportunity to try something that we couldn’t normally get ourselves, or at least something that wasn’t carried at the local Publix. The accompaniments were very good, especially the quince jam, but we were really disappointed by the cheese selection.

To summarize, we liked the business model of the chef/owner who was very approachable and his wife who was knowledgeable about wine and also very approachable. We liked the fact that there were very few tables, so everyone got personal attention. However, we felt that, with a little more attention to the kitchen, our dining experience would have been great instead of just very good.

 

Tijuana Flats, June 16, 2007 June 17, 2007

Filed under: Winter Garden — hpandaw @ 11:06 pm

Tijuana Flats is one of our favorite affordable, fast-food restaurants. As non-carnivores, we appreciate the diversity of the menu here. Most, if not all of their dishes here are offered with the option of having either black beans or refried beans as the protein, instead of meat. The beans here, unlike those at some other restaurants, are not cooked with lard, so they are 100% vegetarian.

From the exterior, this looks like any other restaurant in a strip mall:

The vibe is very casual, family-friendly (Winter Garden location – corner of 50 and 535) or Gen X friendly (Kirkman location), and comfortable. Up-tempo music plays over the speakers, loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to impede conversation. In keeping with the tradition that it was started by college-age guys, it’s staffed with younger people. The TVs are usually set to sports channels, and there is a lot of risque double entendre in the literature, with discussions of “heat” and “wetness.” While this restaurant acknowledges the word play, they don’t revel in it or shove it in your face. This is no Hooters.

The decor is colorful and trendy, with the focus of the restaurant being a hot sauce bar:

The sauces range in heat levels from Sissy Sauce up to their hottest sauces. Our personal favorite is one called “Smack my sweet ass and call me Sally.” We refer to it simply as “Sweet Sally.”

For those of you, like us, who don’t tolerate heat well, this sauce is great. It is very sweet, almost like a duck sauce with more flavor. It’s mild enough that even I can pour it right onto a chip and eat it as dip.

The prices for entrees here range from $4.50 to around $8.00, and the burritos come in three sizes: Regular, Tijuana, and Megajuana. We each have our favorites that we order. For my husband, it’s a Tijuana sized black bean burrito. He has it “wet” with chipotle sauce, though other wet options include queso or salsa. The chipotle sauce is very nice, with a smoky flavor, without being too spicy. The Tijuana size burrito is quite large, and usually has enough left over for him to take home and have as a side with whatever we’re having for dinner that night. It’s well-stuffed, and you can tell that it’s made to order and hasn’t just been sitting around waiting for some poor sap who’s in too much of a rush to care that his dish has been under a heating lamp for 6 hours. The burrito also comes with a side of chips.

My favorite entree is the refried bean flautas. The flauta shells are flour, not corn, and they’re always nicely done, with the ends crispy and great to dip into the accompanying queso. The queso is very good, creamy and melty, and I “compose” each bite by adding queso, guacamole, sour cream, and a drop or two of Sweet Sally.

Why, you may be asking, don’t we order any of the appetizers like chips & salsa or chips & queso? For two reasons: 1. Our entrees alone are substantial enough to fill us, and then some. 2. The one time we ordered salsa here, it was DRASTICALLY under-salted. We are not the kind of people who salt our food at restaurants, and we had to pour salt into this salsa to make it even remotely tasty. While we highly recommend the entrees here, we find the salsa to be sub-par.

A few notes about etiquette: about $1/person tip is appropriate here, or, alternately, 10-15% of the total tab. Though you place your order at the counter, the servers bring it out to you and are very quick to offer refills of your drink or anything else you might need. On one occasion, a child about 4 years old at a table near us told his server, “I don’t like this,” referring to the entree that he had chosen. She asked him what he’d like instead, and she brought it out to him, without charging his mother for his culinary whims.

Children are NOT allowed at the hot sauce bar. This is for their own safety; many of these sauces are very, very hot and can burn dreadfully if rubbed by dirty little fists into curious little eyes. My pet peeve is that, every time we are there, despite the large sign on the hot sauce bar stating “No children allowed,” invariably there is a family who allows their 3 year old free rein at the bar, so the munchkin walks around grabbing the hot sauce tubes, serving him/herself, and spilling sauce on his/her clothes. My favorite was the kid who kept roller skating around and around the hot sauce bar, running into patrons and servers. The Winter Garden branch of this restaurant has a superabundance of children, so this is a much more common scene than at the Kirkman branch, which seems to be more of a professional or collegiate crowd.

I would definitely recommend this restaurant for off-property guests of the Disney World resort who are seeking to escape the exhorbitant prices and usually mediocre quality of the counter service food in the parks. Our tab for 2 people usually runs around $17-18, including tax, tip, and those extras like upsizing the burrito and adding the chipotle sauce.