Meliá Hotels International is a big hospitality chain – seventeenth largest in the world – and yet the Spain-headquartered hotelier has only two properties in the United States: Innside by Meliá New York Nomad, in Chelsea; and, just recently opened, Meliá Orlando Celebration.
Both stateside hotels feature a seafood centric restaurant called The Wilson. Both restaurants have a similar designed (I stopped in to the Manhattan location in October), with plenty of white subway tile on the walls, comfortable blue barstools at the counter, and bare wood tabletops.
The Orlando restaurant is a bit more spacious – because, Manhattan – and its outdoor seating area overlooks a pool rather than 27th Street.
Despite a large framed photograph of the 28th president, the restaurant is not named for Woodrow Wilson. Instead, I was told, a fisherman’s mascot bulldog is the eponymous inspiration. (Why does it seem like a huge relief that the restaurant is named for a dog rather than Woodrow Wilson?) I saw multiple bulldog stuffed toys in the New York restaurant but none in Orlando – who let the bulldogs out?
The executive chef in Orlando is Nicolas Mut, who has likely had to endure too many bulldog jokes for me to add another. Barry Tonks is the culinary development manager for IGC (In Good Company) Hospitality of New York, which operates both restaurants, and was in Orlando on one of the two visits I made.
On one visit I started with a small plate of raw oysters, perfectly shucked so that the plump dollops slid easily from the shell into my mouth. They had a wonderful briny note.
Brussels sprout tacos was an inventive appetizer that had flash-fried sprouts in crispy shells dressed with sweet Thai chili and caramelized yogurt.
Salmon a la plancha featured a moist and flaky fillet with a well-crisped skin, served on top of a wonderfully spicy salsa roja.
The rigatoni bolognese, Tonks told me, is a paean to a chef from the New York restaurant who had come up with the recipe but then died suddenly. (It’s called Chef Adrienne’s rigatoni bolognese on the New York menu but just rigatoni bolognese in Orlando.) It had house-made pasta with just enough meat sauce to coat it, a bit of ricotta blended in and dusted with shaved grana padano that looked like fallen snow.
The setting is lively but not frantic. On one of my visits a musician sang and played guitar on one side of the room, adding a nice bit of ambience.
The Wilson is at the Meliá Orlando Celebration, 225 Celebration Place, Celebration (map). It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-964-3258.