F&D Kitchen and Bar

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Crispy Pig Snacks is the defining dish at F&D Kitchen and Bar. It shows the creative promise that this Lake Mary restaurant could achieve, but it also demonstrates where it falls short.

F&D occupies a space that has in fewer than eight years has been home to four restaurants I can name off the top of my head, and I’m pretty sure I might have missed one or two. Some of them, such as Jinja, Shan and Rikka, all had menus with an Asian influence.

The menu of the current occupant is mostly anchored in North America, with a decided dedication to Central Florida, at least in terms of sourcing. The chef is Pete Morales, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University in South Florida, and an alumnus of the estimable Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami, as well as other popular restaurants, including Yardbird Southern Bar & Table and Swine Southern Bar & Table. (How did people come up with restaurant names before the ampersand was invented?)

Most of the menu is straightforward, though nothing I would call boring. There were several interesting selections.

But when you hear Crispy Pig Snacks you tend to perk up your ears. And ears is the operative word here, for the pig snacks in question are fashioned out of shredded pig ears. Not that it tells you that on the menu; you have to ask your server what that means. Perhaps Morales feared too many people would be turned off if it were spelled out. Not me. I first had pig ears as a delicacy at the Purple Pig in Chicago, and wondered then why so many people waste them as dried up dog treats.

But I’ll grant you, pig ears are a tough sell, even to intrepid diners. So when you sell it as an appetizer, you need to really sell it as an over-the-top treat both in terms of taste and presentation.

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But as you can see from the photo, the fried shreds couldn’t have been less palatable. And the quality and flavor were no more exciting. What a missed opportunity.

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The Chicken Liver Crostini appetizer featured an overpureed mousse topped with a dollop of strawberry jam. The runny texture and the sweetness of the topping didn’t play well together.

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Entrees were more appealing both in presentation and taste. I had the Beef Short Rib, a two-boned serving with the meat on top of pureed root vegetables and red wine reduction ladled over top. Big, chewy mushrooms added a nice texture for the meat, which was not underdone but could have stayed in the braise a bit longer.

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My companion had the Pork Belly, a big block of wonderful fattiness topped with crisped crustiness. A smear fashioned out of smoked bean puree decorated the plate (and offered little more) and spiced honey and almonds were a creative touch.

We went 50-50 on the quality of the service. The first person who greeted us was cool and unwelcoming and ultimately unattentive. She mentioned that she would be assisted by another person, and she turned out to be just the opposite. Perhaps the roles should be reversed so that the assistant could teach the lead waiter a few good graces.

TFD dininghe decor is comfortably eclectic. There are myriad styles of light fixtures and chandeliers, each one complementing the others. The raised booths that once ran along the window side of the room are gone, replaced by conventional tables that allow others in the dining room to also see out. A banquette runs along the other side of the wall. It’s a big space, and there is a large area for those who want to participate only in the D part of the name.

Oh, we didn’t discuss the name. F&D stands for Food & Drink. Clever, huh? Even more reason why the menu and the experience should be an absolute wow instead of just a generic shrug.

F&D Kitchen and Bar is at 1541 International Parkway, Lake Mary. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-915-5687.

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