Disney's Grand Floridian Restaurant Continues Serving Fine Food
The reason for my most recent visits to Citricos was the installation of a head chef to replace the hugely talented Gray Byrum, who recently accepted a position out of state. Byrum took the floundering Citricos, which in its earlier days lacked focus and direction, and gave it both. He created a menu that was imaginative and upscale, with nuances of citrus that were meant to be part of a restaurant called Citricos in a resort called the Grand Floridian.
Filling Byrum's empty toque is Phil Ponticelli, who had been executive chef at Narcoossee's, also at the Grand Floridian. My experiences at Narcoossee's have never been memorable, but perhaps Ponticelli has grown as a chef, or he has just been waiting for the right venue to demonstrate his skills. Either way, his menu keeps Citricos in the upper echelon of area restaurants.
The menu is mostly Mediterranean with only hints of citrus notes in sauces or garnishes. A favorite was the braised veal shank ($35), an impressively large hunk of tender meat served with a puree of carrots and potatoes and roasted vegetables.
The grilled swordfish Provencal ($32) was another winner, a firm filet lightly seasoned and accompanied by pearl pasta and grape tomatoes plus clams in a tomato and saffron-tinged broth.
Tile fish ($31) also was done nicely -- seafood apparently is something Ponticelli knows well. Here the fresh-tasting fish had a crispy crust over perfectly white flesh. It sat atop a mushroom risotto, not nearly as well-executed, and a cabernet-butter broth.
The citron rotisserie pork chop ($32) was a disappointment, not only because it was tough but also because it was so blandly presented. The Citricos filet Sicilian ($36) would have been fine, a lovely filet of beef grilled over oak, but the veal glace that surrounded it was too salty.
From the list of appetizers I enjoyed the gateau of crab ($12), exceptional crab cakes of sweet lump meat served with an orange fennel cream. There was a little crabmeat in the roasted butternut squash bisque ($9), a seasonal soup, thick and aromatic.
Arancini ($8) were little balls fashioned out of risotto and deep-fried, not the best way to enjoy a risotto. Winter antipasto ($14) was an odd and disappointing platter of eggplant caponata, ham, asparagus and buffalo mozzarella. Boring to both the eyes and the palate.
The same could not be said of any of the desserts. Because Citricos is in the Grand Floridian, it has the services of the talented Erich Herbitschek, pastry chef extraordinaire. His creations are not only delicious but served with flair, decorated with moulds and figures that sometimes look like tiaras. You don't know whether to eat them or wear them. I loved the warm chocolate banana tart ($8), and the tropical fruit creme brulee ($8), a Citricos mainstay, has become a classic.
Service was good once my guests and I were seated. But the treatment at the host stand, which included another query about a meal plan, was less than welcoming. There also was a bit of a guest-relations meltdown when my guests and I said the first table the greeter showed us to was not to our liking, and we would rather sit at another vacant table near the open kitchen. But things got better. I also appreciated the chef coming by the table to discuss the food allergies of one of my guests, a nice personal touch.