It's getting harder and harder to find an upscale restaurant of the old school type. The Venetian Room, however, is one very nice holdover.
The Venetian Room is a re-imagined space in the six-year-old Caribe Royale resort in extreme south Orlando. The previous restaurant was a standard breakfast, lunch and dinner eatery, but the hoteliers believed there was a market for something a little finer.
The menu is under the supervision of chef de cuisine Khalid Benghallem (cq), a former sous chef at Emeril’s and the opening chef at Shula’s Steakhouse in the Dolphin hotel. The fare features all the standards you would expect to find in such a place – foie gras, crab cake, lamb rack, veal chop, etc. But the preparations are anything but standard, and some are downright inspired creations.
We may as well get this bit of business out the way right now: this place isn’t cheap. Appetizers range from $14 to $17, and six of the seven entrees are over $30 (there’s a $28 chicken item). Is it worth it? Good god no; what is? But that said, the food is very good.
The lump crab cake ($16), for example, was perhaps 99 percent crab meat binded with just a bit of mustard and pan-fried perfectly. With such a pure specimen of crab cake, it was a shame that it was served sandwiched between a slaw made with black sesame and savoy cabbage. Eating the slaw with the crab was the same as having more filler. I simply dusted the cabbage off and feasted on only the meat.
I enjoyed the appetizer of foie gras ($17), which had two seared lobes layered in an alternating stack with cakes made with smoked polenta. A bit of balsamic syrup added to the overall enjoyment, but the mango fan would have been better if it hadn’t been so unripe.
For a soup course I tried the lobster bisque ($12), a creamy concoction tempered with just the right touch of sherry and served in a marmite under a dome of puffed pastry.
My favorite among the entrees was the tenderloin of beef ($34), two thick slabs of seared meat served with marrow, barley rhubarb chard, fennel strudel and red wine reduction sauce tinged with black truffles.
My guest’s confit of duck ($31) was an interesting presentation that had the leg quarter in a pastry tartlet along with caramelized guava choucroute (cq). The meat was appropriately moist and tender, and the dark cherry and port wine sauce was a nice accompaniment. However, the dish also included rare duck breast meat, fanned across the plate, that was as tough as jerky.
Instead of a tableside preparation, the Dover sole ($32) was brought to the table already filleted. I don’t take umbrage with that, but I thought it a bit silly to serve it with the fish bones arranged just so, only to be plucked away by the server as soon as the silver cloche was removed. The fish itself was sufficiently firm albeit a bit dry, even with the white wine, vermouth and butter sauce.
For dessert, the Grand Marnier souffle ($12) was nicely done, but the spiced roasted pear ($9) was as hard as the mango was earlier. Black magic dome ($11) had a bittersweet chocolate mousse cake on top of a chocolate platform with a hazelnut butterfly. The design elements of that one escaped me, but it was a satisfying dessert.
The staff was well-trained if not completely polished. One fellow felt the need to describe various dishes to us and went into such great detail on the preparations that I almost expected him to tell us what the chef preheated the oven to. The servers all had ear pieces that made them look as though they were with the secret service.
The wine list was well thought out and there are even some relatively moderate priced selections, although the wines by the glass were poured rather stingily.
The dining room is quiet and tastefully decorated. There are semi-secluded banquets with etched glass dividers. Tables are done up in the requisite finery. Entrees are delivered on a cart under silver domes, but other courses are served and cleared on chintzy plastic trays.
Perhaps the only thing Venicelike about the restaurant is that it sits at the foot of a staircase that is reminiscent of the Rialto Bridge.
The Venetian Room will no doubt appeal to business travelers on an expense account looking to impress clients with a big ticket meal. But the owners are making a concerted effort to market the restaurant to locals. Those who have grown weary of the usual special occasion dining rooms may well want to consider the Venetian Room for their next splurge.
The Venetian Room is at the Caribe Royale Resort, 8101 World Center Drive, Orlando. It is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Here is a link to TheVenetianRoom.com. The phone number is 407-238-8060.