I’ve now been to DoveCote, the new brasserie in downtown Orlando, a half dozen times. I’m pretty sure that’s a pre-review record, especially considering it opened just over a month ago. The previous record was five visits, to a forgotten restaurant many years ago that required the extra scrutiny to break the tie between good experiences and not-so-good. (Ultimately, it tipped in the not-so-good category, which is probably why the restaurant is forgotten.)
That wasn’t the case with DoveCote, and to be clear, not all of the visits were purpose-driven with this review in mind. Some were a matter of convenience, needing a convenient downtown venue for a meeting, and at least one visit was from an invitation from friends.
And no tie-breaker was needed because in fact I liked DoveCote. There were a few missteps along the way, but nothing too unusual for a new restaurant or anything that portends trouble in the longterm. DoveCote is a welcome addition not only to downtown Orlando but to the Central Florida dining scene at large.
Much has already been said about the impressive pedigrees of the partners in the venture. They include executive chef Clay Miller, whose resume includes stints at the estimable French Laundry and who was the opening executive chef and pastry chef at Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton; and Gene Zimmerman, owner of the downtown craft cocktail lounge The Courtesy, who oversees the front of the house operations for DoveCote, including its beverage program. The two of them are the co-owners, but Ravenous Pig’s James and Julie Petrakis are involved as advisers and investors.
But one of the most impressive things about the new restaurant is the space itself. It has undergone a transformation that is, well, transformative. Occupying a corner of the imposing Bank of America building, the restaurant space has held many tenants over the years, all of which kept the same basic decor dominated by the cold, gray sandstone walls. That look and feel is fine for the bank across the lobby but hardly made for a comfortable dining atmosphere.
(For history buffs, other restaurants that occupied the space have included Bakerstreet, Ettore’s, and Harvey’s Bistro, which stayed for the longest stretch, from 1992 to 2009. Then came a handful of failed ventures, including Terrace 390 and Terrace 390 Bistro. As for the structure itself, it has been known as the DuPont building, the First F.A. Tower and the Barnett Bank building before B of A came in.)
With the reimagined interior, designer Drew White of Lot 1433 has covered all of the sandstone and created a post-modern brasserie. On one of the larger walls is a splashy mural, by Brigan Gresh, in deep blues and gold leaf that seems a mashup of Klimpt, Chagall and Miro styles. False frames have been added to the large windows to add a bit of quaintness and white-glass globe light fixtures offer an iconic note.
The bar has been expanded, mostly to allow more room behind it, and the kitchen is now open and visible from the side dining area, known as the Livingston Room. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of all of the design choices, though I love that someone was daring enough to make them — not sure what the white steel girders are doing there, other than to bring down the feel of the voluminous ceiling and to allow a perch for a fake bird. Dovecote is a French word for a pigeon sanctuary, so I guess we should be grateful that chicken wire wasn’t employed in the decor.
And before you ask, no, squab is not on the menu.
Frog legs are, however, and they’re quite good. I’d be prepared to call them the best in the area if I knew of anyone else who was offering them. Tiny, tender and with a crisped exterior, these cuisses de grenouilles were as nibbleable as any American chicken wing.
Chicken Leg Confit was another winning appetizer. True, confit is a process usually applied to the legs of ducks, but Miller’s rendition gives this dish a distinct countrified flair, especially with the bacon-larded lentils that sit underneath and the fried egg draped over the top. Did I say appetizer? Order it as a lighter entree and you could be quite happy.
For that matter, the Caramelized Onion Soup Gratiné was more substantial than your usual French onion soup, and not just because of the large crouton under the heavy layer of melted gruyere. The darkly rich broth also contained big hunks of meat, presumably the oxtail that was used to make the stock.
Both the Beef Tartare and Salad Niçoise showed creative license with classic dishes, the former served with a sorbet flavored with Worcestershire and the latter featuring tuna tartare. (Worcestershire sorbet is certainly creative, but as presented it looks like a nod to something too commonplace on Paris streets; just sayin'.)
I might say that the Croque Monsieur was also a creative take on that sandwich, but only because the French don’t take the classic bistro offering nearly as seriously as DoveCote does. It was thick and meaty and covered with a perfectly executed bechamel mornay’d with grated gruyere. Served with a fresh salad of frisée lightly dressed in a vinaigrette and it was a satisfying lunch. I'd like to see DoveCote and Mon Petit Cheri in Winter Park have a croque off contest.)
The Fines Herbes Omelet was deftly executed with the fluffy scrambled eggs enclosed inside a smoothly sautéed exterior. Creamy Boursin cheese was the filling.
This is as good a place as any to point out a niggle. Servers in a French restaurant should be coached on proper pronunciations. Feen airb for that omelet, for example. But then the menu itself is laden with misspellings (including fines), so where does one point blame? Also odd: A server announced that the Caramelized Onion Soup Gratiné (not grantinee; that’s closer to what the Worcestershire sorbet would be) was the “Best south of the Mason-Dixon Line,” which… well… OK.
An entree of Butter Roasted Chicken was a winner, but what part of “butter roasted” would indicate otherwise? It was served with a light side salad and was underneath a sunnyside-up fried egg. (In this particular instance one assumes the chicken came before the egg.)
As with typical brasseries, DoveCote offers a Fruits de Mer bar, though, so far, it isn’t impressive, neither in its display nor in its quality. The oysters I sampled on two occasions were disappointing.
As one might expect under Zimmeman’s guidance, the wine list and bar menu are intriguing. There are a number of appropriate wines offered by the glass, the majority of them French, and some creative cocktails, as well. Also appropriate for a brasserie, craft beers are available.
Despite the examples of errant elocution, the brown-leather-aproned servers comported themselves well with only a few pas of the faux variety. They helped make the experiences pleasant.
DoveCote is at 390 N. Orange Ave., Orlando. It is open in the mornings for coffee and pastry service Monday through Friday, and lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Complimentary valet service is offered at the Livingston Street entrance during lunch and dinner. The phone number is 407-930-1700.