It’s going to be a while, I’m afraid, before I return to indoor restaurant dining. But when I do, I’m heading directly to Russell’s on Lake Ivanhoe.
Although I didn’t dine in, I did step inside the front door to pick up my order, and I was able to see that the former Mesa 21 and Gargi’s Lakeside space has been transformed into a beautiful two-tiered space with a three-sided bar at the entry level and a step-down dining room with windows overlooking the lake. It’s casual but with that touch of elegance that tablecloths can provide. Comfortable, welcoming.
Oh how I miss dining in such spaces and enjoying the kind of food that is coming out of Russell’s kitchen.
And enjoy it I did, albeit in my own home.
The menu does not read as French but there is classic Frenchness in its execution, as you might expect from executive chef Emmanuel Clement.
Among the appetizers I sampled, the tuna & avocado tartare was a favorite. Sushi grade tuna chopped, lightly dressed with soy and ginger, and sitting atop chunks of creamy avocado. The house-made sesame crackers that were served on top were two ethereal to lift the tartare, so my companion and I devoured it with our forks.
Scallop ceviche, too, was a simple but delicious starter.
And I really liked the roasted beets & burrata Napoleon, stacked layers of piquant beets and creamy cheese, served with a vinaigrette with basil and pine nuts.
Wild cherry clams is listed as a starter course, but with its stew of white beans and carrots it was hearty enough to be an entree.
But among the actual entrees, the crispy duck confit was a standout. The skin had a wonderful brittleness while the meat retained its juiciness. It was served with slender fries and a side of sauteed spinach.
The roasted swordfish was about as good a piece of fish I’ve had in awhile. The thick steak was cooked just so and accompanied – in a separate container for takeout – by a creamy sorrel sauce. Roasted carrots, zucchini and squash rounded out the dish.
For dessert, we had the white chocolate bread pudding, served with Russell’s sweet and spiky whiskey sauce, and the restaurant’s signature pineapple Foster on caramelized banana bread.
Pineapple is something of a theme here and even adorns the restaurant’s logo. It’s a nod to when pineapple grower George Russell, in 1910, built a pavilion and swimming area with waterslides on that part of the lake and called it Russell’s Point. You could say it was Orlando’s first water park. (It was later renamed Joyland. If it had been called JoyWorld they might have been on to something.)
I’m glad to see part of Orlando’s history incorporated into this new business. I’m even happier to see a restaurant with such high quality food move into one of the area’s best dining venues.
Can’t wait to return and watch the sunset over the lake.