Sunday, September 16, 2007

Magical Weekend

They say you’re supposed to feed a cold, right? I decided to take their advice and pretty much ate myself through the entire weekend.

Friday night my bro and I took advantage of the Magical Dining Month and went to Baldwin Steak House for a quick (and cheap) dinner.

I really like the idea of Baldwin Park, a seemingly tight knit community where you can walk to dinner and drink as much as you want only to walk home amidst the outdoor musicians with their acoustic guitars and computerized beats. But at the same time the cookie cutter atmosphere kinda freaks me out, so I’m glad that I live near it, but not in it.

Back to the food, we each ordered Caesar salads, Filets and dessert. Oh, FYI, the Magical Dining Month, or whatever you call it, is (participating) Orlando restaurants doing prix fixe 3 course menus for $29 for the month of Sept. It’s worth it, if only to try out some new places without really laying down too much cash.

Anyway, the Caesars were Caesars, but the Filets were pretty impressive. Perfectly cooked and topped with a delicious herb butter, I ordered mine with sautéed veggies and my bro got his with a baked potato. For dessert we shared a Hazelnut gelato (it was really ice cream topped with a walnut) and Apple Fritters (which were fried and dusted with cinnamon and quite yummy).
My bro summed up Baldwin Steakhouse when he mentioned it’s probably a great place to go for a quick bite, order a burger, and watch a game. We polished the evening off with “million dollar” coffee, basically decaf spiked with Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, Kahlua and Amaretto. Now that was good.

Saturday night I met M Lu for dinner at Jeffery’s on Sand Lake to continue on my Magical Dining tour of the City Beautiful. I rarely make the trip down to restaurant row, but I had heard good things and was curious about Jeffery’s. Plus, what else was I going to do on a Saturday night besides go for a nice meal with good company, right?

The atmosphere and décor were muted, understated and extremely comfortable, thankfully missing the pretentiousness of the infamous Sand Lake row. The fantastic lounge singer added to the comfort, and we settled down for our meal. We both ordered the House Salad, very petite with strawberries, julienne bacon and a sweet balsamic glaze. I had the Artichoke Stuffed Chicken served with Israeli couscous and baby carrots. The presentation was a la Bettlejuice (envision the shrimp hands) and juvenile. While the couscous was delicious and buttery, my chicken was stuffed with frozen spinach (with no artichokes to be seen) and dry. And I really didn’t get the zucchini/squash circular cutouts, but that’s a whole different story. M Lu ordered the Short Ribs, which were tender and served with a flavorful Syrah reduction.

We both finished our meals with the Crème Brulee (although the other choice was vanilla ice cream, so which would you pick?). After our post dinner drinks we popped our heads into the (“slammed”) kitchen to say Hi to old students, none of whom I recognized. The evening was capped off with a quick glass of wine at Timpano, where I have never dined, but after that visit it is certainly on my list (for décor only….how cool!).

Sunday I spent the day doing something I rarely do….I played tourist! A(my) G and I made ressies for lunch out at Emeril’s Tchoup Chop (yep, you guessed it, part of my Magical Tour with three courses at $19!!). We went out early and rode The Mummy and then took the boat over to the Royal Pacific Hotel. I have to admit I’ve never been to Tchoup Chop before, the last time I went to one of Emeril’s places (in NOLA) I got food poisoning, so I’ve really avoided them. Tchoup Chop was really a breath of fresh air, focusing on the element of water and quite relaxing. Yet hip and modern at the same time.

We shared apps: the Crunchy Shrimp and Homemade Dumpling Box. The shrimp, lightly fried and served in Bibb lettuce, was bland and unimaginative. It tasted like shrimp and nothing else. The pork and ginger dumplings were fantastic. Fresh and gooey, they were served with a sweet Sake-soy sauce that pulled all the flavors together in one of those “magical” kind of ways. With a larger serving I could have easily called the dumplings an entrée.

My luncheon companion had the Clay Pot with Corvina for a main dish. With hints of a tomato broth, the fish, shrimp and mussels were flavorful and cooked perfectly. I was delightfully surprised with the Salmon. Covered in a fine dusting of toasted macadamia nuts, the salmon was served with a ginger beurre blanc, sticky white rice, enoki mushrooms and a sprig of broccolini. I was really floored by the flavor combinations, but then again we all know how I feel about the sweet and savory combo. The small serving of salmon was perfectly cooked and served skin on for an extra boost of flavor. I literally ate every single bite of my entrée, even the sweet white sticky rice that set me up for my extreme dessert.

They were out of the Peanut Butter Chocolate Cake that I really had my heart set on….so they forced me to eat the infamous Banana Cream Pie. Wow. To start with, it was huge and my one piece looked like it contained an entire banana. Needless to say, it was a perfect not-too-sweet custard like pie with a sweet graham cracker crust. We also had a Coconut Crème Brulee that was served free form and really was on the verge of being a flan. It was ok, really too much of an eggy custard for my taste.

We had a couple of great martinis along the way, and a beer (or two) at Margaritaville. It’s funny, but it really is days like this one when I’m reminded how much I enjoy living in Orlando. Yes, I know, the tourists can often be a pain in the ass, but if you think about it, how cool is it that we can just hop in the car and be in a place where people all over the country dream of being? People plan years and save loads of money to come spend it in our city. Yet at the drop of a hat we can be there, even if it is just for one day. So, yep, cheers to Universal and my mini-vaca, I really had a great time.

Emeril's Tchoup Chop on Urbanspoon

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