Every now and then another restaurant will come up with the idea to serve a menu featuring “global cuisine,” with dishes cherry picked and compiled from cuisines from around the world. A little Italian, a little Latin, maybe some French.
It never works. No less a restaurant Midas than Manny Garcia tried it in 1988 with a concept called Latitudes, which had an airport lounge decor to suggest the diner could travel to faraway places through the menu. It didn’t work, and Garcia converted the restaurant into the Winter Park location of his already successful Pebbles.
Restaurants need cohesion and focus. It’s admirable to want to be all things to all people, but it’s better to be one thing to the people who want that thing, and to do it well enough that they’ll come back often.
El Vic’s Kitchen in College Park is the latest to make the “we are the world” mistake. (The name of the restaurant is another misstep, but I’ll come back to that.) And it’s unfortunate because the path the restaurant should take is obvious. And it would offer a much more satisfying dining experience.
At least if the Grand-Mamma’s Home-style Chicken Curry is any indication. It turns out that the owner, Sheetal Thakur, grew up working in her family’s restaurant in Mumbai. The experience shows in the lusciousness of the curry, layered with myriad spices, touched with a bit of bright cilantro, and served with both basmati rice and kulcha to soak up the sauce.
Market research would have shown that College Park is home to approximately 2,782 Italian restaurants but not one specializing in Indian cuisine.
So while the Spanish Albondigas, nearly indistinguishable from Italian meatballs except for the lime wedges that accompanied, were nicely formed and appropriately dense meatballs, they paled next to the curry dish.
And the Shepherd’s Pie Quesadilla, which tried to straddle two continents at once, was just a head scratcher. I think we can all agree that mashed potatoes smashed between flour tortillas is not a good idea.
But go back to India’s neighborhood and you’ll find more culinary bliss in the Asian Coconut Chili soup. A bowl of cool coconut milk broth dotted with dollops of chili garlic sauce, with lemon grass and basil floating therein. The chili gave the soup a brilliant bit of heat and each spoonful was a treat. It all looked like a strange petri dish but the flavors were spot on.
The space – previously occupied by Tartine – is small but comfortable. It’s nice to have black cloths covering the tables, some of which have metal backed chairs and some wood. Vases of faux flowers decorate that tabletops.
And the staff was exceedingly welcoming and accommodating. They made the meal more than pleasant.
Then there’s the name. Even for a “modern global cuisine” restaurant El Vic’s makes no sense. Is it Spanish? Conquistadorian? No. It’s a nod to the owner’s daughters’ names, Elizabeth and Victoria. (Side observation: The success rate of restaurants named after the owner’s children is roughly the same as restaurants featuring global cuisine.)
Thakur obviously has a talent for Indian cuisine. She would do well to retool the menu to accentuate those positives – the locals would appreciate it. In this case, don’t think globally.
El Vic’s Kitchen is at 2445 Edgewater Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. The phone number is 407-437-9937.