My first critique of the then-new Hemisphere restaurant, in November of 1992, in the just opened Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport had one recurring word: grand.
The restaurant is on the ninth floor of the hotel, but diners entered on the tenth and descended a curved staircase that allowed them to take in the sweeping vista from the dramatic two-story windows. The lighting was golden and the decor posh. And the cuisine, Italian in the early days, was high quality. I encouraged readers to experience this new restaurant even if they had no travel plans (the complimentary valet at the hotel’s entrance made it hassle free).
Economics and changes in customer demands caused the restaurant to evolve over the years. The stairway entrance was scrapped; just take the elevator to the ninth floor and walk in, basically under the stairway. The cuisine focus shifted, as it has at many restaurants in more than 25 years.
Late in 2016 the restaurant underwent another redo. The decor is now cold and austere. There is little to remind you of its sumptuous beginning. Except for the windows overlooking the runway, it looks like the breakfast room you’d find in any hotel. And indeed, one corner of the dining room is set aside for hotel guests to serve themselves cereals and such in the morning.
Most disappointing, the food is inappropriately overpriced and not worth even half the cost.
I had had the “new” Hemisphere on my list to check out since the November 2016, reopening. When my late night flight to Paris recently was delayed, my companion and I headed to the top of the Hyatt to relax and have a meal. We left hoping for better food on our flight.
The menu prices are gasp inducing. The least expensive item on the menu is Avocado Toast at $8.95 (no, apparently that doesn't include an egg). Even desserts are at the $10 mark. Instead of appetizers and entrees, the menu lists Tastings and Helpings, for some reason. Helpings are priced from $20.95 for Grilled Cauliflower (!) to $46.95 for Steak (freakin') Frites. I couldn't think of a restaurant at my destination that would charge that much for what is essentially a pedestrian dish.
We focused on the Tastings and ordered the Soft Shell Crab and Kalbi Short Rib Slider.
The crab was tiny and tasted as though it had not been properly cleaned. It had an earthy, bilious taste that was quite unpleasant. It was served with two slices of fried green tomato, in the same cornmeal breading to give the illusion that there was more crab, I'm guessing. They were placed atop Boursin-infused risotto that was easily the best thing I tasted. Why a decision was made to serve this dish on a slab of black slate escapes me.
The sliders were served as baos, in puffy steamed buns. The meat was oleaginous and was topped with "quick cucumber kimchi," which apparently means pickles. A half of a grilled lime sat next to the baos daring us to figure out what to do with it.
Our server was detached and rote. The dining room was understandably underpopulated with guests.
It's hard to believe this restaurant is under the same direction as McCoy's, the lobby-level restaurant that is still one of my recommendations for delayed fliers looking for a pleasant dining experience away from the hustle of the airport's other travelers.
But I can't recommend Hemisphere. Not only is it less than it was -- a demisphere? -- it is less than it should be.
Hemisphere is at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport, 9300 Jeff Fuqua Boulevard, Orlando. It is open for breakfast and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-825-1344.