If you required any more proof that the age of fine dining, at least as defined by posh surroundings, fine linens and what it generally referred to as white-glove service, is a thing of the past, you need look no further than the Four Seasons Resort Orlando.
You know the Four Seasons, for surely its reputation precedes it. Its hotels set the standard for luxury properties. Four Seasons hotels are where wealthy people choose to stay just to ensure they won't have to put up with common riffraff.
As if to emphasize that point, the Orlando property, which opened last year, is set inside the gates of Golden Oaks, a residential community where the minimum price for one of the mini mansions is said to be above $2 million. So you might expect the signature restaurant to be ultra elegant, refined and to not only set a standard for excellence in its own service and cuisine but to also expect a certain quality of style from its guests.
Well, you'd be wrong. Oh, the food at Capa, the Spanish steakhouse on the hotel's 17th floor rooftop, is excellent. And service is trained and professional if not white-glove refined. But the decor is decidedly casual, albeit with some killer design elements, which I'll tell you about it moment. And the "resort casual" dress suggestion means that the restaurant will pretty much accept any manner of attire. So get ready for the table next to yours to be full of people in shorts and flip-flops. The wealthy, it would seem, have become their own riffraff.
The menu, as I said, is Spanish, Basque region, to be exact. With last year's opening of Txokos Basque Kitchen, that cuisine would seem to be trending. Except for the names of dishes, which are expressed in Spanish, you won't find anything overly exotic — remember that it also identifies as a steakhouse. But you will find an unusual preparation or two, and you'll also find plenty of good things to enjoy.
The menu can be a bit of a mystery without guidance from the servers. Some things are meant to be tapas and others are full entrees. Among the smaller plates, the pulpo, or octopus, was a favorite, as was the coliflor, known in these parts as cauliflower (though I think I prefer their spelling). The octopus, beautifully grilled with a smoky-wood note, was sliced into small coins then presented assembled on the plate with alternating coins of celery root. The two textures together was quite pleasing. The pistachio puree wasn't necessary other than to provide a swash of color.
The cauliflower was wonderful, roasted so that the florets were brown, tossed with capers and served with an egg in the middle, its yoke begging to be pierced. Honestly, I could have enjoyed that as an entree.
Instead, my companion chose the butifarra, grilled sausage served with lentils, potato and Brussels sprouts. Although the sausage, made in house, was well executed, it was a fairly modest entree. (One that will be attractive to others dining there for its relatively lower price point of $27.)
I selected the New York strip, a 12-ounce piece of prime beef dry aged for 30 days. The exterior had a nicely charred crust and simple but forward spicing. It was an excellent steak, as well it should be for $54.
And could we just stop here for a moment to go back to the topic of the surroundings and ambience? It seems incongruous to place a plate with such an expensive hunk of meat on a bare wood tabletop — and not an especially attractive tabletop, to boot. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't a hotel of this size and calibre have its own laundry facility? Would it be so wrong to incorporate tablecloths into the design?
That price was only for the steak; sides were extra. I did not order any, but the manager brought three to my table for us to sample. We found the verduras (carrots and celery root) and the patatas (creamed potatoes) both rather modest. The Setas, however, wild mushrooms sauteed and buttery, were excellent. I also sprang for one of the sauces to go with my steak, the Rioja, a reduction made with one of my favorite wines. It wasn't necessary to enhance the flavors of the steak, and at $4 for the oversized thimble a bit much.
I was also given a sampling of desserts, and from them I found the olive oil cake to be the most enjoyable. Chocolate lovers should go for the guindilla, with chocolate cream, hazelnut and spicy chocolate ice cream.
The restaurant features an open kitchen, which, of course, adds to the overall casual ambience. The decor, which was under the direction of the Puccini Group out of San Francisco (which also did the recent redo of California Grill), features charcoal walls with swirls of white — if you could use smoke to paint, this is what it would look like. And overhead is a stunning sculpture by Peter Genetenaar, and artist from The Netherlands who works in long-fiber paper. The crimson crumple runs the length of the area between the kitchen and the tables next to the doors to the verandah and adds a striking touch of elegance.
By the way, that verandah boasts views of all four Disney parks, and the Four Seasons is touting it as the vantage point to observe the nighttime fireworks. The shows at both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot occurred simultaneously while I was dining. Our server asked if we'd like to step outside to watch them and I said no because, frankly, I've seen them many times.
And that's what makes me wonder about Capa and its ability to attract local diners. Is it special enough to warrant the drive not only to WDW but then to the Golden Oak property, through the security gate and along the road to the hotel? If the curious make the trip once, will they find it worthwhile to go again?
To say I was disappointed would be an overstatement. I enjoyed the expertly executed food and found the service to be appropriately professional. But I yearned for a dining experience worthy of the Four Seasons brand. No one knows better than I do that the type of restaurant I had in mind is all but gone, redefined by the moneyed clods at the next table.
But, seriously, would a tablecloth be too much to ask for?
Capa is at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, 10100 Dream Tree Blvd., Lake Buena Vista. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-313-7777.