I must say I was more than a bit disappointed when Hamilton's Kitchen opened last year in the also-just-opened Alfond Inn. It had been a long dry spell without many significant new restaurants, and one in proximity to Park Avenue — one that we all hoped would be a restaurant that would compete with and complement the neighboring likes of Luma and Prato — was met with great anticipation.
Perhaps I was setting too high a standard. My initial review reflected how let down I felt.
Today, Hamilton's Kitchen has a new chef, Marc Kusche, and a freshened menu. It's like the reset button has been pushed. And now the experience is more along the lines of what I was hoping for a year ago.
Kuche comes to the Alfond Inn by way of the Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara in Carlsbad, California. His menu makes good use of the bounty from local growers and has a nice mix of seafood and meat, though it seems that the former is the forte.
That was evident in the crab cake appetizer, which features a large puck of mostly lump crabmeat with a crispy exterior. It was served with saffron fennel and a tangy citrus tinged aioli atop corn relish. A very nice crab cake.
My olive oil-poached snapper was also a winner. The olive oil bath leant the fish flesh a wonderful full mouthfeel. The flakes of the snapper were moist, with a delicate flavor. It was served over caramelized cauliflower with oven roasted potatoes, chives and fennel.
My companion chose the braised short rib, which was prettily presented with caramelized Brussels sprouts, a dollop of mashed potatoes as a platform, and rainbow carrots, graced with a flavorful demiglace. The meat was not as fall-apart tender as some short ribs can be, but it was very good.
For dessert we shared a blueberry cobbler, served in a square cast-iron pan with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. I liked the heat and cool and the not-too-sweetness of the fruit.
Service was attentive and knowledgeable. And the wine list offered several interesting choices by the glass as well as by the bottle.
I can't say that anything in particular has been done with the dining room since it opened last year, but it seemed to be different. It didn't have that college dorm dining hall feel — maybe it was that it wasn't as crowded this time, or maybe there have been enough subtle changes in lighting to make a difference. Whatever, it was more comfortable now, even with open kitchen. (It is called Hamilton's Kitchen, after all.)
I was happy to make the return visit to HK and I'm even happier to now put it on my list of recommended restaurants.
Hamilton's Kitchen is at the Alfond Inn, 300 E. New England Ave., Winter Park. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (breakfast and lunch menus don't offer much in the way of creativity). The phone number is 407-998-8090.