Napa for Magical Dining Month

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Napa cioppino

Well, this review couldn’t have been timelier.

For a couple of weeks now I’ve planned to run an updated review of Napa as an introduction to Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month, which begins Sunday. Napa, of course, is at the Peabody Orlando, which has been sold, it was announced yesterday, to Hyatt Hotels and will be rebranded as the Hyatt Regency Orlando Convention Center.

What does that mean for the restaurants, not only Napa, which is just a couple of years old, but also Capriccio and B-Line Diner? No one knows, or at least no one is saying, not the folks at Peabody Orlando or at the parent company in Memphis or in the Hyatt organization. But it’s safe to say that Napa will remain Napa at least through September, so let’s get on with the review.

Napa first opened in late 2010 as part of the Peabody’s expansion. It replaced, to some extent, Dux, which went the way of most of the area’s ultra chic fine dining venues. Napa went more for the upscale casual category, though certainly more on the casual side. It’s goal was to be seasonal, local, organic and sustainable whenever possible. Don’t get me started on how a restaurant in Florida with a California name can be local.

From the beginning the chef of the restaurant has been Jared Gross, who also cooked at Dux. His food in 2010 was good, but it has only gotten better in the past few years.

I was invited with other members of the media to sample some of the items that Napa will be featuring on its $33 Visit Orlando Magical Dining menu in September. (Yes, Magical Dining menus are $3 more this year than last; I’ll have more details on MagDinMo tomorrow.)

Napa soup pour

I started with the fall squash bisque, which featured a toasted sage marshmallow in the center of the bowl around which the velvety smooth broth was poured. It was a delightful harbinger of hope that autumn and squashy soups are just around the corner.

Napa steakI chose the grilled beef filet as my entree course, but because I had conspired with the others at my table I was able to sample the other two dishes as well. Good that, too, because the filet, though a perfectly fine piece of meat, deftly grilled and served with Brussels sprouts and smoked bacon risotto, was the lesser of the options.

The cioppino, a seafood soup with mussels, squid, crabmeat, rock shrimp and mahi mahi in a tomato broth tinged with fennel and leeks, was much more interesting.

So was the forest mushroom and roasted shallot lasagna, much to the surprise of everyone at the table. We figured it was a token inclusion to quiet any vegetarians in a group, but the tangy tarragon tomato sauce and the “meatiness” of the mushrooms were so good that I would order it again instead of the filet.

Third course, of course, is dessert. (I’ve almost given up lobbying that the three courses should include a choice to have an appetizer and a salad instead of dessert. Almost.) Warm apple crumb cake with vanilla ice cream would be my choice over the nutty brownie.

Now, listen up because this is important. When you pull on to the Peabody property, drive on up to the valet and hand over your keys. But be sure to have your ticket stamped at Napa and parking is free for up to three hours, long enough for you to have dinner and an digestif at Rocks, the lounge directly above the restaurant. If you don’t get the ticket stamped it will cost you $26 to get your car out of hock. Or at least another trip downstairs to get it validated.

Napa lasagna

But here’s another option. The Peabody is one of a handful of hotels that are offering a dine and stay package. For $159 (plus tax) you get a room and two Magical Dining dinners. Not bad. And it may be your last chance to say that you stayed at the Peabody Orlando.

Although no one is certain what will happen with the Peabody restaurants, I’m pretty sure they’ll stay on the same course, at least for the foreseeable future. But there may be one major change: the chefs will no longer be forbidden from putting duck on their menus.

Napa is inside the Peabod...the hotel at 9801 International Drive, Orlando. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; the Magical Dining Month menu is available for dinner only every day during September. Note: you may have to request the Magical Dining Month menu when you’re seated. The phone number for dining reservations is 407-345-4570.

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