I took avail of its participation in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month to visit Amatista Cookhouse at Sapphire Falls, the new Loews resort at Universal Orlando.
The hotel’s website says that it “transports guests to a paradise in the heart of the tropics.” But with its austere and cold decor and vast, open dining room, I thought more about the icy Fortress of Solitude from “ Superman” than anything equatorial. (It might be more solitary than than the operators would like, given the low number of guests on the evening I dined.)
The menu is ostensibly Caribbean but the food is presented in a creative and stylistic way.
My guest chose the Sancocho soup as a starter, with beef and pork plus casava and potatoes, all quite mild.
I chose the Bacalaitos appetizer, the Puerto Rican salt cod fritters. These were as thin as potato chips and much too greasy. This was the only item I sampled that was a complete failure.
Both entrees were quite good, especially my Pan-fried Caribbean Snapper, as pretty a dish as you’re likely to find within a five-mile radius. The red-scaled fillet sat atop a bed of braised quinoa and cannelini beans and was topped with chunks of tomatoes and avocados, peppers and onions. It was accompanied by a couple of tostones, which were superfluous to the presentation but had more substance than the bacalaitos.
My guest’s Seafood al Sofrito was just as satisfying. A sort of Caribbean bouillabaisse, it featured squidlets, shrimp and mussels along with onions and thick slices of green olives in sofrito, the sauce that serves as a base for many Latin American dishes. A large scoop of rice sat in the middle of the seafood pool with a few flutters of fresh cilantro, probably a nod to coriander, typically used to make sofrito.
The Chocolate Tres Leches dessert was an unusual, but tasty, presentation. Instead of the usual cakelike texture, Amatista’s was presented as rectangular logs.
The Pineapple Rum Cake wasn’t quite as impressive in its appearance but every bit as enjoyable as a meal ender.
Service was just OK. A couple of times we had to get up from the table to seek assistance. That’s as much a problem with the vastness of the place as it is with inattentiveness. One of those times was to request a spoon for the soup course, something a server should have thought to set out as soon as the order was placed. Also, it’s always a bit annoying to be assumed a tourist.
So should locals go there? The quality of the entrees was recommendable. But the overall atmosphere and dining experience isn’t all that welcoming, even with a table overlooking the Universal waterway and the incoming water shuttles. I probably wouldn’t suggest it as a place to meet, but if someone else invited me, I’d certainly go back.
Amatista Cookhouse is at Sapphire Falls Resort, 6601 Adventure Way, Orlando. (It’s an easy exit from I-4.) It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-503-3463.