For my first Orlando Magical Dining Month experience I chose Circa in Winter Park. I had not been to the Park Avenue restaurant since James Slattery, the opening chef, left. (On Circa's Web site, the "Our Chef" tab links to an empty page. Slattery is now at Big Fin Seafood Kitchen.)
I presented myself to the hostess and was shown to a banquet seat in the front dining room. I was not, however, offered the Magical Dining Menu, and had to specifically request it. Keep that in mind if you visit during September.
And you’ll definitely want the MagDinMo menu because it represents a huge savings. First course offerings on the three-course $30 menu include Asian pear endive salad ($10 if ordered a la carte), roasted beet salad ($9) and yellowfin tuna tower ($14). I think you know which one I chose.
The tuna tower was a timbale of sorts that had tartar-like bits of raw tuna in a mold with avocado wasabi cream on top, accompanied by a salad of wakame seaweed. Although the avocado was taking on that darker hue that avocados tend to do after they hit air, the flavors were very good, and I especially liked the forward spicy notes of the wasabi. The dish could only be better if the tuna itself hadn’t been so tough. It was almost as chewy as the seaweed.
Entree choices included miso salmon ($24), lemon zest chicken ($20), New York strip ($26) and crusted lamb chops ($28). I went with the chops, of course. They were pan-seared and crusted with bread crumbs. The menu says they’re crusted espelette of peppers, which is odd because an espelette is a pepper. I wonder if it wasn’t just someone’s attempt at sounding sophisticated by using a fancy word; you know, like calling a mold a timbale. Whatever, the chops were good, though a bit beyond the requested medium-rare. They were accompanied by some chewy green beans and a rather dry risotto cake.
My pineapple upside-down cake dessert was a bit on the dry side, too, but even more remarkable for its too-subtle pineapple flavor.
Service was first-rate -- friendly and attentive. I do wish servers would ask if a guest wants a slice of cucumber in the water glass. And maybe they could explain why in hell anyone would even think of putting a cucumber slice in a water glass. Water should be refreshing. I don’t like mine smelling vegetal. On another visit, my companion specifically asked for a glass of water with lemon. The young woman who served us brought him cucumber instead.
Circa (which used to be known as Circa 1926 but seems to exclude the year in most of its references) is on the corner of Park Avenue N. and Canton Avenue. There is a front dining room and a back room; only the front was in use on my visit. Here, the floor resembles mottled concrete, and tables are topped with glass. Those touches tend to take the atmosphere a few notches down from upscale. But on pleasant nights, such as the one when I visited, the wall of doors to the walkway on both sides of the restaurant are opened, and the ambience is quite pleasant.
Circa is at 358 Park Ave. N., Winter Park. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-637-5903. Here’s a link to Circa’s listing on the Orlando Magical Dining Month Web site, and here’s a link to Circa’s site.