This is the future of fine dining.
Peabody Orlando is known as one of the area’s luxury property. It recently completed its massive renovation -- more than 20 years in the planning! -- that included the addition of a new tower and meeting space. It also includes a new upscale restaurant, Napa.
For years Peabody’s top restaurant, and one of the area’s favorite special occasion destinations, was Dux, an ultra elegant dining room with white glove service and haute cuisine delivered beneath silver cloches. The hotel closed Dux a few years ago, ostensibly because of the imminent renovations. But it was only another in a growing list of fine dining establishments that had closed, including Arthur’s 27, Atlantis and Maison et Jardin. These closures had less to do with the recession, which hadn’t yet occurred, than with a national trend away from a style of dining that no longer appealed to younger, monied diners.
(When Charlie Sheen had his most recent meltdown and pictures emerged of him dining at Daniel in Manhattan, the thing that caught my attention was that he was wearing an untucked shirt. When I first dined at Daniel, in the ‘90s, I wore a sport coat and tie -- and I was underdressed. Every other man in the place, including several well-known actors, was wearing a dark business suit.)
So the days of Dux are gone. But luckily, only the style of dining has changed. The Peabody’s culinary staff, including Napa’s chef, Jared Gross, who formerly cooked at Dux, still maintains a high level of quality for the fare in its newest restaurant.
Napa embraces the current trend to feature fresh and local items. The mantra of its menu is “seasonal-local-organic-sustainable-whenever possible.” OK, let’s get this out of the way: yes, it’s a little odd to have a restaurant named Napa that features Florida produce. But let’s face it, Napa is better known for its wines than Florida.
Joining me on my recent visit to Napa, the restaurant, not the county, were Diana Bolivar, who had won the dinner in an auction at the Latin Food & Wine Festival, and her husband, Fabian Quevedo. One of the appetizer options is called “taste of the valley,” a sampler of four plates served on a tall display stand. Oddly, these samplers are completely different options from the appetizers listed on the main menu. We were served mussels, beef and veal, Vietnamese spring rolls and Napa meatballs. We all agreed that the mussels were terrific. They were Diana’s first mussels, so they were good ones to have. The veal, which was prepared sous vide, was another favorite, delightfully tender from the sous vide preparation, which allows for cooking at a lower temperature.
Our second course included more appetizers and salads. Fabian had the carmelized diver scallops, impressively large scallops that I thought had just a bit too much pepper but were otherwise pretty wonderful. Fabian thought they should have been cooked a bit more, but Diana and I both thought they were done perfectly. She had the chilled Maine lobster salad, which featured ad slaw of crispy cabbage (Napa cabbage, of course) that she declared delicious.
Mine was the butternut squash soup, which was fine but nothing extraordinary.
Our entrees included sauteed halibut, Berkshire pork chop, and housemade cavatelli. The halibut dish is something of a signature, and featured a fine, firm fillet served with spicy lump crab biscuits, Zellwood corn and cilantro cream.
The double-cut pork chop was served with carmelized apples, chard and a quince cider jus. The cavatelli pasta was fashioned with ricotta and crab and featured rapini, cippolini onions, pancetta and tomatoes from Waterkist Farms. “The pasta is flavorful and the texture is perfect,” said Diana.
For dessert, the Meyer lemon tart was my favorite. Simple, with an even mix of sweet and tart, it was a cool ending to a very nice meal.
Napa is down one level from the hotel’s new main lobby, beneath the also-new lounge called Rocks. The restaurant, which overlooks the hotel’s pool, it an open, flowing space, with walls fashioned out of wine racks. There are “green” touches in the decor, including bamboo flooring and cork walls. As you would expect, there is an extensive wine list, heavy on the California options, which is just fine with me, and the staff is quite knowledgeable on food and wine pairings.
For those who were hoping for a return to the days of Dux, well, as I said, those days are gone. But it’s good to know that the new age of fine dining will include such choices as Napa. With its attention to good quality and a commitment to regional ingredients, Napa will be a good choice for locals as well and tourists. (By the way, the restaurant will validate your valet parking.)
Napa is in the Peabody Orlando, 9801 International Drive. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Click here to download the dinner menu . This link will take you to the Peabody Orlando Web site. The phone number is 407-352-4000.