When one enters a hotel restaurant, whether it be inside the confines of the Central Florida tourist corridor, or in a far-flung locale, one usually expects certain intangibles. The stigma these mega-resorts have been branded with can be categorized as follows. First, and most common, is good food in a somewhat formal setting, sometimes amazing food, maybe even with a celebrity chef at the helm, but completely out of the common mans price range. The second being a frightening amalgam of bad food while retaining the obscenely hefty price tag.
There has however, been a surge in the amount of hotels throughout the country experimenting with the insane concept of a more inclusive dining concept. One that attracts locals and hotels guests alike. An idea that a resort can offer the same kind of meal that you’d find at your favorite bistro, without breaking the bank.
Although I try to keep myself abreast on almost every new restaurant opening in the greater Central Florida area, I sadly do not get to eat at each one of them right away. I have my short list of places that pique my interest and are at least worthy of a meal in the, hopefully, near future. The Mrs. and I probably only get to dine alone once every two months or so. So when we got that chance last week, I pulled out my list. It’s a little bound paper notepad. You remember, the stuff people used to record ideas before they invented technology? (As I type this on my iPad) the notepad sits in a drawer next to my bed in the off-chance I dream up a recipe in my sleep.
The notepad has categories that aid me in my decision-making when a night out is imminent. I have a list of places we like in town, places that I want to try in town, places out-of-town that are worth the drive, depending on mood, attire required and craving. And then the list I spoke of earlier. Places I have yet to sink my bicuspid into.
There sat Siro right at the top. I didn’t know exactly where it was, only that it was a new contemporary, small plate focused Italian bistro that had recently opened. I read about it briefly in the local cultural paper I got at Whole Foods month or so ago. As we began to dress for our night out, my wife and I took turns reading menu items to one another. We began to salivate more and more over as each subsequent dish was read. It was abundantly clear that Siro was going to be a big fat bullseye in each of our wheelhouses.
As we plotted our course to Siro, my temporary ignorance to its location, brought on by the dazzling menu, was lifted. It was stated clear as day on their website, the Orlando Marriott World Center Resort.
Do not be afraid when you pull into the resort. The behemoth will not swallow you whole. Do not be afraid of the almost main course like cost for self parking. The price almost scared me away, but it was too late to turn back, so I prepared myself to pay the troll toll. Fear not, for Siro will validate your fee as a guest of the restaurant.
This will be a good time to forget where you are, as you would never know otherwise once you pass the hostess stand. Pass this point and you are instantly transported to the neighborhood eatery you wished made its home in your town. Decor is welcoming, hip and vibrant, leaving lots of positive things to discuss throughout the space as every detail seems to be in its rightful place. Even the lighting was just so. Well maybe not great for the camera on my phone, as I failed to pack the better digital SLR. It was date night for goodness sakes. I didn’t want to kill the mood if you will.
As my wife browsed the cocktail list, I was hard at work trying to do cull my choices from the myriad of tantalizing menu items. It broke my heart to turn any of them away, as I would have gladly eaten every single item on the list.
The lady ordered the Artisan which had vodka, limoncello and a nice bit of basil. I however dismissed the thought of alcohol consumption so I could order an extra dish. As the waitress brought her drink, which was served in a classic champagne glass, (by the way from here on out I declare champagne should only be served in this vessel. We as a society need to boycott flutes. Nobody got time for trying to maneuver bubbly liquids from one of the most inefficient contraptions known to Rube Goldberg) she let us know how they prefer you to order your food. She made it clear that the goal is for the guests to relax and hang out. Maybe order a few starters and some antipasti or a salad. Then later order some pasta or a pizza. The whole idea is to have a casual meal without feeling like you are on some deadline. Nobody is rushing anyone out the door.
I decided to start out lightly with an order of marrow bones and grilled bread, as my significant other opted for the kale Caesar. My bones came split lengthwise next to some expertly charred grilled bread and a simple small arugula and watermelon salad dressed only with olive oil, salt and lemon. There was also a small bowl of what appeared to be confit onions agrodolce. They were sweet and sour, which cut the intensity of the rich meat butter known as marrow. A great beginning for me and an even better one for my wife as I always am worried she isn’t going to like a new place as much as I want her too. Her salad was presented to her with slabs of fresh white anchovie filets strewn across the top with a soft-boiled egg on the side. One of her greatest loves other than me of course, is a proper Caesar with the correct accoutrements. She was not disappointed. She was even tempted to sample the marrow on toast which, to her delight and surprise, was delicious, duh.
We made quick work of that course and when our waitress came back to check on our progress, we quickly spouted off a few more items we wanted to try. We went with crisp risotto balls and an order of the frites with truffle mayo. We are both fry aficionados, pair that with anything that includes the word “truffle” and it can’t be overlooked. The risotto balls came out first, swimming atop a pool of deep red arrabiata. One firm swipe of my fork into the globe of golden brown fried arborio and I was met with a cascade of melted Robiola cheese like a mini volcano erupting in the serving crock. Rustic Italian comfort food at its best I tell ya!
The fries arrived shortly afterward. Kind of an odd menu item for the cuisine, but we ordered it with ease. The fries were skinny and cooked till they were almost hollow. I don’t always like them to be that far done, buy they hit the spot. Extremely crispy and an easy transportation device for the mayo as well as what I’m assuming was house made ketchup. We both agreed the mayo was superb. Very airy and light (possibly because of the addition of whipped egg white?) but lacking deep earthy presence of truffle that we so craved. This isn’t a complaint more than stating it was a flavor that did not really need to be present as the mayo stood up on its own.
I got the attention of our waitress yet again to order the frito misto of rock shrimp and banana peppers. We both adore pickled banana peppers as we eat them often along with nachos or red beans and rice. I think we both were more excited about eating the peppers than the shrimp as odd as that may sound. Our premonition was correct as the corn meal crusted banana peppers were more of an epiphany than the crustaceans were. The pairing of Meyer lemon aioli was a grand achievement. I think though if I had the option I would have paid double for a bowl sans shrimp as they were that good. It’s not often that pepper trumps protein. Common sense dictates otherwise. You won this round my frenemy.
Fullness began to set in.
I had been eyeing the pasta dish all night. I made it a point to retrieve a menu for my studies as the meal progressed, and the arugula malfatti had been singing a siren song to me all night. Not knowing what malfatti was I ordered blindly assuming it was some sort of pasta that had the bitter luscious green woven in there somehow. It was decided this would be the last savory order of the night. Happily, it turned out to be the best thing we had eaten in recent memory. The real kicker? It was completely vegetarian. The bowl came to us with thick, hand cut ribbons of bright green tinged pasta. A thin lemon broth sat at the bottom of the shallow bowl. Just barely blanched fresh fava beans and green peas were strewn about, intermingling with a dusting of Parmesan snow and a final sprinkle of fresh arugula. My life was complete. It is astonishing to see what can be done with fresh vegetables in the right hands.
We could not skip dessert even though the pasta was starting to expand in our stomachs to near fatal proportions. Everything on the sweets menu appealed to us, so we asked someone who had tasted them all (our waitress) which ones were the clear stand outs. It was suggested the italian cookie jar and any of the sorbetos, would be a wise choice. We opted for passion fruit as they have a short harvest season and we just so happen to be in it. The cookie jar was full of Italian specialties that brought me back to childhood at my grandmother’s house, where these kinds of cookies were always in stock. A smile spread across my face as I remembered my time with her in the kitchen dunking amaretti into coffee ever so gently. The sorbet was just as memorable as it tasted of nothing but pure passion fruit essence. A wonderfully refreshing way to end our fantastic meal.
I can’t wait to give the rest of the menu a go as I eagerly anticipate my next visit. This new trend of large resorts and hotels bringing a sense of locality, not only from the produce procured but also in the immense talent in the kitchen, should be welcomed by those who live nearby, so that hopefully, the trend will spread. The addition to any new reasonably priced quality dining establishment, regardless of where it’s located, is always a good thing.