It’s easy to tell when the owners of a restaurant are passionate about what they do. It shows in all aspects of the business and it radiates to the people who work for them; they become passionate about it, too. And when the owners also happen to be the people who cook the food, the pride of good quality is evident to the guests. It becomes a very pleasant experience for everyone.
That was what I oserved at Finesse, a restaurant in the Lake Mary dining district at County Road 46A and I-4. The owners and chefs, husband and wife team Alex T. Brugger and Autumn M. McCoy, appear to be having a ball with their lovely little restaurant. And should you ask them about the ingredients of a particular dish or inquire about the preparation of an entree, you’ll discover how passionate chefs can be about their food.
And why not when it’s this good? Everything I sampled on a recent visit was first rate. There wasn’t one thing I wouldn’t order again. My absolute favorite thing, however, was the appetizer of grouper cheeks, those sweet little dollops of meat found in each fish. These tender nuggets were marinated in buttermilk, lightly dusted and then fried. Absolute heavenly bites all by themselves, and the chipotle aioli added a devilish note.
I also loved the saffron mussels, mainly because nearly every one of the black mollusks also had a chunk of chewy chorizo inside. The liquor had just a touch of saffron that made it most sippable.
There was chorizo in the black bean soup, too, that added a spicy touch to the thick beany flavor. The lobster crab soup was rich on its own but entered another realm with the brandied cream stock.
I chose the chimi skirt steak, a grilled angus cut with cabernet infused onions and a piquant chimichurri sauce. It was, as you expect with skirt steak, chewy but not tough. It was served with regular shoestring fried potatoes, but I asked if I could try the duck fat fries that were listed with some of the other entrees. There was no comparison. The duck fat gave the potatoes such intensely rich flavor. I never want to have any other kind of fries again.
My companion had the pumpkin swordfish, which supposedly gets its orange colored flesh from a diet of shrimp. There’s nothing to confirm that, but I can attest to the wonderful flavor and the rich mouthfeel of the fillet, which was served with couscous and charred tomato salsa.
For dessert there was an amazing chocolate orange molten cake. Served more akin to a souffle in its own dish, it was made with super rich Ghirardelli chocolate and had a ganache center into which the server poured peanut butter anglaise. I’ve always prided myself with being able to take one bite of a dessert and push it away, but I’ll admit to a few more bites of this one.
There are a couple of things about Finesse I would change. One has to do with the ambiance, which is quite nice and casually elegant -- once the sun has gone down. While it’s still light out, the front wall of windows floods the room with light, which sucks all the mood out of the room. When the interior lighting is able to take over, you’ll notice the hot-red booths, alabaster bar with back lighting, and the walls that are covered with raised lettering that spell out culinary terms and their dictionary definitions.
The other thing I would change is the dictionary definitions trope, which is played to the nth degree, and by that I mean that every listing on the menu is done as it might be seen in Webster’s, with its part of speech designation -- they’re all n: for noun -- and the ingredients as the definition. I like it as a wall motif, but on the menu it’s a bit much.
But when that’s the only thing a critic can find to criticize, you’ve got a pretty darn good restaurant. And that goes back to the zeal of Brugger and McCoy. There are many dining options within a few blocks -- even a few steps -- of Finesse, but you’ll find none where the entire experience is imbued with this kind of passion.
Finesse is at 7025 Country Road 46A, Lake Mary. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Tuesday through Saturday and brunch Sunday. Dinner entrees range from $16 to $25 with the majority under $20. This link will take you to the Finesse website. The phone number is 407-805-9220.