Archive | March, 2012

Chef’s Table at the Edgewater

11 Mar

I got a telephone call on a recent Thursday afternoon, inviting my wife and I to join some friends on the following Saturday and try a restaurant that was garnering a lot of praise from local foodies – The Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden, Florida.  Winter Garden is a sleepy little citrus town 15 to 20 minutes west of Orlando.  The town has seen a recent renaissance through the renovation of its downtown, which is both bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, and lined with interesting little boutiques and restaurants.

The restaurant, although called ‘The Chef’s Table’, is a standard restaurant, with a twist.  After years in high-end kitchens in New Orleans and Orlando, health issues have made it impractical for chef/owner Kevin Tarter to work the long hours in the kitchen, so his wife Laurie, who worked the front of house for Disney’s California Grill, suggested that they hire someone to cook food Kevin’s way.  This allows the chef to greet each table, spend some time explaining the overall menu, the ‘ins-and-outs’ of each dish, and giving the whole restaurant the feel of being at the “chef’s table.”

The menu is a three course prix fixe, with three to four options per course.  Thoughtfully selected wine pairings are available for an additional fee, and the restaurant allows diners to bring their own wine, with a $20 corkage fee.

We began our dining experience with a 2002 Philliponat Champagne, and decided that the optional cheese plate would be a good place to start while we pondered the rest of the evening’s fare.  The plate offered five cheeses, consisting of a triple cream brie, aged gouda, and Spanish manchego, as well as a cheddar and a blue.  Accompaniments included candied walnuts, apricot preserves, dates, figs, and housemade lavosh crackers.

After Chef Kevin explained the menu to us, we made our selections.  My wife chose a mushroom and chive crepe torte, with a roasted shallot cream and truffle salt as her appetizer, while I chose the foie gras crème brulee.  These were the popular choices with the rest of the group as well.

Readers may recall that I had seen foie gras crème brulee offered on a menu recently, and had been disappointed with the execution.  After hearing the chef’s description, I decided it was time to get back on the horse.  The custard was slightly sweet and contained pieces of sautéed apple and shallot and, once bruleed, was topped by a seared slice of foie gras.  The chef had noted during his description of the dish that he had originally spike the custard with diced liver, but had not been happy with the consistency of the dish given the temperatures necessary to set the custard.

This version of foie gras crème brulee was everything the earlier dish was not.  The custard was rich and flavorful with the bits of apple and shallot, and the seared liver was perfectly done.  This dish was not short on foie gras flavor.

The torte was full of mushrooms and had a nice bite from the chives, and the shallot-flavored sauce added just the right touch.  The only negative voiced by the table was that the dish could have used a touch more salt.  We mentioned it to Chef Kevin and he noted that he is a “salt monster,” and therefore tends to scale back a bit.

There were three options for the main course – pan-seared yellowtail snapper with roasted fingerling potatoes, baby bok choy, house-made eel sauce, and cherry and peppadew peppers; braised beef short rib Wellington with a blue cheese/red wine demi-glace; and, a house-cured smoked Kurobuta pork chop, with habanero-peach chutney, white bean cassoulet, candied collard greens, all topped with a strip of pork belly.  Given the group and our diverse tastes, all three dishes ended up on the table.

I had chosen the Wellington – it came to the table split open, dressed with both the demi and blue cheese 9melted from the residual heat of the dish), and topped with wilted spinach.  The meat was fork tender, succulent, and perfectly accented by the sauces.

My wife had opted for the pork dish – probably the best of the three mains…  The pork was cooked to a moist, slightly pink, medium rare, the chutney had the just right balance, but I think the star of the plate were the greens, especially to a Mississippi girl like my wife.  The collards had been prepared in the style of German red cabbage, with sugar and red wine vinegar,  so that the yin-yang balance extended to all aspects of the dish – tender pork and soft rich cassoulet with the crispy skin, sweet and sour in the greens, and the sweet and heat of the chutney.

The fish was a thick, skin on filet, again cooked perfectly so that the fish was moist and fork tender.  The spice and mild heat of the peppers over the top of the fish played a nice counterpoint.

Our tastes were varied when it came time for the dessert course – we selected three of the four options.  Chocolate mousse cake with fresh berries, almond amaretto marscapone cake, and port poached pears with citrus-vanilla French toast all appealed the diners at our table.

I think that the best of the desserts we tried was the almond cake, again showing the exquisite balance of flavors and textures that characterized the entire meal.

The poached pears were also good, with a balance of sweet from the port and the French toast, and tang from blue cheese, although given the poaching, and the subsequent24-hour maceration in the poaching liquid described by Chef Kevin, one would have presumed that the fruit would have been softer – it required a knife to cut them.

The chocolate cake was dark, dense, and rich, layered with the mousse, and then sauced with a red fruit coulis and sliced strawberries and raspberries.

All in all, we enjoyed the dining experience and the insight into each of the dishes provided by the interaction with Chef Kevin, Laurie, and their staff.  I would recommend the Chef’s Table to anyone looking for a high-end dining experience.  The added bonus is that this experience does not necessarily come with a high-end price tag.