At 7:30 on a Thursday evening, with a Broadway series show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts a couple of blocks away nearing curtain time, pre-theater diners should have been pouring out of the Golden Knife.
But instead my guests and I encountered an eerily empty space. Was it so new that no one had found it yet? Or had others come before and found the experience to be as disappointing as we soon would?
The Golden Knife bills itself as a chop house. Its menu is light on appetizers, unless you consider salads to be starter course material. My eyes were drawn to an octopus option, until I also saw that the price was $20, which was the same as some of the entrees.
So I settled on the Marinate Lax Salmon [sic] ($10) for the four of us to nibble on. The menu said it was prepared with citrus and vodka, but there was no indication that anything but salt had been used. And, it had apparently been left on the cure for too long. A saliva sucking saltiness filled the mouth, and the texture had been reduced to leather. Or as one of my guests said, "This is like salmon jerky."
Things weren't as disastrous with the entrees. Indeed they were all perfectly acceptable if not wonderful.
The lamb rack ($24) offered nothing new to the genre except that the nicely cooked and tender chops were served with a yummy yucca mash. (The menu called it a yucca entremet, a term generally used to describe pastries.)
Golden duck ($20) was disappointing. It was overcooked and dry (odd since the menu specifies that it is prepared sous vide, which should reduce the chance of overcooking). The leg was coated with an almond crust and plopped atop a pumpkin puree.
You might expect an item named One Great Chicken ($16) would offer something more than a simple breast served with mashed potatoes. Kudos to the marketing team, but a more truthful menu would list it as one simple chicken breast. The bacon-wrapped white asparagus spears that accompanied were greater than the other parts.
The pappardelle lamb featured a hearty ragout that might have soared with a bit of attention to the seasoning. But even as it was it was arguably the best of the entrees sampled. A side order of Brussels sprouts with diced was forgettable and not worth the $8 charge.
For dessert, an item curiously called Caramel and Sea Salt ($8) satisfied a sweet tooth at the table with a sort of cheesecake-style caramel pie wedge served with a rather hard scoop of ice cream.
Our server was tentative and nervous but seemed genuinely to be trying his hardest. We all wondered if maybe he was new to the waiting game.
One note must be made. My guest who ordered the rack of lamb asked if the kitchen might have mint jelly, a throwback to a last century lamb accouterment. The waiter offered to check, and when he returned he said that although there was no mint jelly (I certainly wouldn't expect there to be) the chef had offered to whip up something special. The result was a sort of mint-based chimichurri sauce that more than sufficed as a replacement. Nicely done.
The restaurant occupies a space on Pine Street that many downtowners know as a perennial breakfast venue. Black cloths cover the tables, which are arranged a bit too linearly. A single rose on each table offers a nice stab of color against the black. The decor could be improved greatly if someone would flick off the harsh LED spots that line the walls.
During the course of our meal only two other parties came in. Granted, Pine Street isn't the highest profile corridor, and the restaurant is still so new that perhaps the buzz that usually happens when a restaurant opens hasn't had time to bring out the curious. Maybe that's a good thing. Perhaps those involved here can come up with a Golden Knife 2.0. Downtown Orlando is undergoing a renaissance. We're going to need more restaurants of the caliber of The Rusty Spoon and Artisan's Table to serve theater- and concert-goers and the professionals that will occupy the offices and populate the apartments and condos that are part of the new growth.
The Golden Knife is at 63 E. Pine St., Orlando. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Sunday and for dinner Tuesday through Saturday. The menu on the website, which, by the way, is beautifully done, does not include prices. The phone number is 321-352-7785.