Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Ever do that whole “Living in the moment” thing? You know, when you stop and take a breath and appreciate the good things in life? Some call it “Stopping to Smell the Roses” or the “Finer Things Society” or even “Pulling an Oprah”. But in all honesty it’s difficult for many to do. Personally, between working two jobs and the gloominess of a non-existent retirement, it’s a rarity for me. When it does happen though, it hits like a bombshell and is always accompanied by good company and an outstanding meal experience.

Sitting at Norman’s last weekend, I realized that I was having one of those moments.

I saw Norman Van Aken do a demo a few years ago and was not only impressed with his technique, but also his general laid back personality. The same goes for his food. It's really a subtle sort of perfection. His website describes his menus as blending "exotic ingredients and rich cultural heritage from Florida, the Caribbean, and Latin America, with touches Asia". And all of those influences are apparent during the meal.

We started the meal off with a round of Tapas:

The Salt and Sugar Cured Yellowtail with Orange Dressing and Cucumber was a light way to start the meal. It was very reminiscent of the Yellowtail Sashimi Ceviche I had up at Nobu, but could’t really compare. The dressing had a perfect tanginess but was on the oily side.

The other highlight from our first course was the Turks and Caicos Cracked Conch-a conch ceviche with pineapple and coconut all atop avocado cream. The finishing touch of the Truffle foam was a pleasant but heavy and came very close to overwhelming the entire dish. Be wary if you’re not a fan.

But, for me, it was really the second course that really began the meal:

First and foremost was the Ahi Tuna Tartare. First off, it looks beautiful, right? The tuna was formed ala sushi rolls and accompanied by a tamarind dressing and peanut crisp. But what really set this dish apart was the quenelle of coconut lime sorbet. The freshness of the tuna with the slightly sweet and slightly acidic sorbet really brought new meaning to ceviche. I’d go back for this dish alone!

The Beet Salad was also a hit and again beautiful. The perfectly roasted beets were a sweet contrast to the Maytag Blue cheese and, surprisingly, the sunflower seeds. The salad was finished with a mild Adobo crema (which I wish had a bit more of a kick) and a tangy Balsamico dressing (fancy Italian balsamic).

Not pictured but quite impressive was the Creamy Cracked Conch Chowder with hunks of conch, a subtle Saffron flavor and a Coconut Cloud (foam).

The entrees continued to impress:

The Pan cooked Filet of Key West Yellowtail (Snapper) was described as the restaurant’s signature dish. And the server sold it perfectly with a description of the fresh fish being personally brought up from the Keys a few times a week by the fisherman who caught them. And that sometimes when they filet the fish, they find the food that the fish are caught with-oatmeal and corn. It was deliciously rich with mashed potatoes, asparagus and a citrus butter (which also had hints of truffle).

I was having trouble deciding what to order for my entrée and went with my first choice-the Butter Roasted Chicken. And was amazed at how perfect it tasted. It’s not a secret that I’m a fan of the sweet/savory combo and it almost seems like this dish was created for me. The chicken was perfect cooked on served with a sweet parsnip puree, a savory corn pudding and a surprise of black olive tapanade. The corn pudding was heavy on the butter, but the saltiness of the tapanade and the sweetness of the puree provided an outstanding contrast. Also, the portion was quite large and I could only finish about half of my meal.

So in all of my foodie experiences, I’ve never actually taken the time to get a cheese course. There, I admit it. And don’t get me wrong; I’m a huge fan of cheese, so this first time experience was definitely a treat for me. Even the whole process made me grin: the server wheeling over the marble topped cart and letting us choose among the large variety (I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store…or an adult at Total Wine). We had a Garlic and Pepper infused Camembert, a hard Pecorino, and a fancy goat cheese (forgive me, I forget the name). All were served with an assortment of jams: Fig, Strawberry Balsamic and Red Wine Apple. Really, there are some things that words cannot describe.

We finished off the evening with two desserts (sorry no pictures…both my eyes and my camera were a bit blurry at this point). First was the grown up version of Smores with a large layer of Ganache that made me going back for bite after bite. We also had a baked meringue dish with lemon pound cake and Meyer lemon ice cream. Both were delicious and a perfect ending to the meal.

So there you go-a summary of one of the best meals that I’ve had in Orlando. I’m glad the Norman’s franchise in Orlando is doing well. With its location and constant influx of wealthy tourists, I’m sure it will continue to do so. And I also hope it does, so that maybe one day I can again stop and smell the roses.

Lastly, a personal thank you to the G family for extending their gracious offer to me for this meal. I truly appreciate your constant warmth and generosity. Oh yeah, and Happy Birthday Annette!

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astronette said...

I'm so glad you were there to share the meal! It would not have been the same without you!

Lynda Lippin said...

Yum! Interesting that you can more easily get Turks & Caicos conch in Florida restaurants than you can in Turks & Caicos restaurants. Hmmm...

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Amy said...

Ditto to Astronette! I loved the cheese course, it was so much fun. I wish we could have tried ALL the cheeses!

Matt said...

Thanks for the review. I have never been to Norman's and have wondered what it was like. I'll definately go now!