Soco, the Thornton Park Southern contemporary restaurant, recently celebrated its fifth anniversary with a collaborative dinner. Chef/partner Greg Richie invited Venoy Rogers III of American Kitchen, Patrick Tramontana of Antonio’s Maitland, and Stuart Whitfield of the Glass Knife to join him in the kitchen, and the result was a special dinner of great food and wine.
And cocktails, too. PJ Smerechansky of the Nomad Lounge in Animal Kingdom offered guests a choice of welcome drinks: Tea Time with Prudence, Sipsmith VJOP Gin, Earl Grey Tea, King’s Ginger Liquor, honey and rosemary; or Bootlegger’s Basil, Basil Hayden Bourbon, fresh blackberry, basil, Angostura Bitters, and orange peel. I managed to taste both of them and decided I liked the Bootlegger’s Basil best, even though I prefer gin to bourbon.
The dinner’s first course was from Tramontana and included Hickory Smoked Scallops with Uni on top of popcorn “polenta,” with fermented kabu turnips with brown butter hollandaise, sage sprouts, radish, crisped parsnip ribbons on top and a moat of bright green parsley oil surrounding. The scallops were nicely pan-fried and I loved the polenta and parsley together.
Rogers was up next with a course of “Pork and Pumpkin,” which had Koji-cured heritage breed pork paired with cannelloni filled with pumkin puree. Crunchy pistachios dotted the tender tenderloin and a creamy chanterelle sauce graced the cannelloni.
The host chef was next. Richie offered Venison Loin served on top of a plank sawn from staves of an old bourbon barrel. (Richie did the sawing himself.) The tender and tasty meat was accompanied by cornbread and collard greens plus beech mushrooms and fermented blueberries. The wooden stave imparted some flavor, just as one might use a cedar plank to grill salmon. But it had a double meaning: wood is the symbol of a fifth anniversary.
Whitfield’s dessert course was a luscious Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding with salted caramel, cocoa nib tuile and chocolate whiskey creameux. The salted caramel is what did it for me.
The anniversary dinner was something of a takeover of the restaurant for the evening. Instead of one seating, guests were able to make reservations throughout the regular service hours, but instead of ordering á la carte from the regular menu, all guests were served the same table d’hôte. The Soco staff kept things moving nicely.
It’s been fun to watch Soco grow from its inception to the anchor restaurant it has become for downtown’s Thornton Park. Happy anniversary, and here’s to many more to come.
Soco is at 629 E. Central Blvd., Orlando. It is open for dinner daily and brunch on weekends. The phone number is 407-849-180.