A little Spice in Winter Park, FL


Due to the availability of “babysitters” (a.k.a. Grandparents), the Husband and I have been able to go out to eat and do whatever we want most nights this week. Friday night, we went to one of my more favorite destinations in this area… Park Avenue in Winter Park — which is just North of Orlando. Park Avenue is about as close as it gets to Newbury Street around here.After a difficult departure (think screaming, crying, child — who will not let go of your leg), we opted to just ‘wing it’ and head to Park Avenue to see if we could find a place to eat. It was taking a chance, since it was Friday night, but neither of us was in the mood for anything in particular.Spice, a “modern steakhouse” with a three locations throughout central Florida.The service at the beginning of the meal was very quick, but slowed as the evening progressed and the bar crowd increased. Our server, Joe, was also a bartender… so he was juggling both jobs, which I thought was a little weird. He was very nice — from Staten Island — and quite knowledgeable re: the wine list and pairing with the menu. Though, he never did bring us a bread basket.

 

There are only a handful of places to choose from (maybe 5 or 6 that I know of), so we were psyched to see an empty outside table at

With several awards under their belt, Spice’s wine list has been recognized by Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and others. They also have live entertainment Thursday through Sunday. Friday night was an acoustic guitar player, who covered songs from John Mayer to the Beatles. He was quite good.

 

I started with the Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc ($8) and D. had the Groth Sauvignon Blanc ($10). For appetizers, I had the Caprese Salad ($8), tri-colored tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with evoo and basil and D. went with the Calamari ($10), lightly breaded and fried calamari served with a cilantro citrus dipping sauce. Both portions were ridiculously huge… almost too big.

My salad had two stacks, each containing three very thick cuts of tomato and three cuts of cheese and sat atop a salad of mixed greens. The cheese was delicious and very fresh. The tomatoes had been refrigerated, which is a huge pet peeve of mine… as it kills their flavor. And, the green tomato was not even close to ripe. It was inedible. The balsamic glaze was very tasty though and I really enjoyed the salad as a whole. The problem was that I was almost full when I was done… and I didn’t even come close to finishing it.

The calamari’s breading was quite good… it had a tempura-like quality to it and the dipping sauce was mayonnaise-based and really good. Many of the pieces were very tough… especially the big ones. So much that I couldn’t even cut them with my teeth. The smaller pieces were good — though I wouldn’t call them ‘tender’.

 

calamari A little Spice in Winter Park, FLDinner showed up at our table before we had finished our apps. Another huge pet peeve of mine and the second time it happened to us dining this week. The food runner immediately noticed our uncleared table, cursed to herself and brought our plates back to the kitchen. A few minutes later, our server returned — plates in tow. He swapped out the dishes without acknowledging the overlap. Annoying.

I had the Blackened Grouper ($24), which was pan-seared with a lemon butter cream sauce and was served over a bed of Parmesan orzo pasta. The fish was very good… delicate, cooked well and the seasoning was not too overpowering. I didn’t notice any sauce and the orzo was nothing special. Basically, just orzo glued together in clumps by the Parmesan cheese.

grouper A little Spice in Winter Park, FL D. had the Shitake Macadamia Nut Stuffed Pork Chops ($21), two HUGE hand-cut pork chops, stuffed with shitake mushrooms, macadamia nuts, onions, garlic and toped with a shitake mushroom cream sauce. The chops were a bit overcooked, with the top being too tough. The sauce was very rich and the pork chops sat atop a huge pile of mashed potatoes, so low fat it was not. D. enjoyed them, but it was really two meals worth of food.

pork+chops A little Spice in Winter Park, FLWith dinner, we switched drinks and I ordered the Turnbull Sauvignon Blanc ($10) and D. ordered “The Home Body” flight of red wines ($16). Our server came back to tell me that they were all out of the Turnbull, but would bring me ‘one step down’ (which I thought was odd language) and assured me his selection was a yummy one.A few minutes later my drink arrived… a Buehler Cabernet Sauvignon ($16). I didn’t say anything… but was like “dude, I had been drinking white wine, not red!”. I decided that he misunderstood my original order and must have only caught “Turnbull” and “Sauvignon” assuming I wanted the Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon… which I’m glad they were out of… as it goes for $26 a glass! Now I understood what he meant by ‘one step down’.

 

D.’s flight was Okay, but not as good as he had hoped. Overall, we had a nice evening and enjoyed sitting outside and listening to the music. The food was Okay — it tasted good and was priced nicely for the huge portions. It just didn’t feel like a “good” restaurant to me though. It’s clearly popular among the locals and seems to draw a huge bar crowd. It must be one of the “it” places.

flight A little Spice in Winter Park, FLAt this point, I am hard pressed to believe that there are many (if any) cool, bistro-like, fabulous restaurants down here. We have tried many places and have always thought they were good… but never great. I guess beggars can’t be choosers though.

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