Despite having its headquarters in Orlando and an inventory of 15 or so brands, Tavistock Restaurant Group has only recently opened a restaurant locally. If you consider Lake Nona local.
Not to diss on Lake Nona. It’s certainly one of Central Florida’s most vibrant regions, with the growing Medical City, including UCF’s medical school and a new VA hospital, among others, and the new headquarters of the USTA. (I hope one of those medical facilities is planning to specialize in treating tennis elbow.) And there’s no argument that Lake Nona has been in need of some good restaurants to serve the residents moving into the mushrooming communities.
So now they have Canvas, a dinner-only restaurant featuring “American cuisine influenced by Florida’s Southern and Latin roots.” I’m not at all sure what that means, but I enjoyed my dining experience at Canvas.
The menu, under the direction of executive chef Bryan Thoman, isn’t easy to summarize. Yes, one can find the Southern and even Latin influences, but there are also a few Asian ones.
Such as with the Oak-charred Octopus, which had the hunk of tentacle with a sherry braise accompanied by bok choy with soy and ginger and a sweet chili-mango puree. The flavors were all good, and the octopus had a delicious char. If it had been just a tad less spongey it would have been a winner.
The Apple-Bourbon Braised Short Ribs were terrific. The tender meat was just short of melting and was served with chewy wild mushrooms and tomato confit. It all sat in a puddley plump of ricotta cheese and was served with triangles of sourdough bread slathered with olive oil and toasted over an open flame.
My companion chose the entree of Cured Pork Shank, a substantial serving of meat with an aromatic smoky note. It wasn’t the prettiest presentation, with some curiously placed apple crisps and tendrils tossed about, but neither of us cared what it looked like when it tasted so good. A cast iron cocotte held ham infused collard greens that were equally as good.
I chose the Pan-roasted Meyer Lemon Scallops, big discs of tender-firm scallops with just enough marmalade fashioned out of the sweeter version of lemons to give a hint of citrus to it. The scallops were accompanied by a couple of massive asparagus logs and sunchoke puree.
Service was amiable, but with so many moving parts on the bill of fare the staff could do some boning up on menu knowledge.
There was also confusion when I attempted to make a reservation by phone and the young man who was trying to help me had to keep asking someone nearby for help. After a few minutes he told me there were no available reservations for the time I preferred but I could just show up.
I did — something I don’t necessarily recommend, especially for those of us who do not call Lake Nona home. It turned out there were some tables available on the deck overlooking the lake. (The website says that Canvas is “one of the only waterfront restaurants in Orlando,” which besides being curiously worded is just plain wrong.) We wondered if the patients at Nemours Children’s Hospital across the lake could hear the live amplified music.
But instead of taking one of the outside tables, we opted to sit at the food bar overlooking the grill station and the open wood burning oven. The cooks there greeted us when we were seated and continued to entertain us with their skills throughout the dinner.
In between the two areas are a freestanding bar and some conventional dining tables. While the bar looked nice, and would be another optional place to dine, the tables and booths looked oddly unappealing.
By the way, the Market in the name is a reference to counter service food available for breakfast and lunch. There is also a curious curio retail space that seems strange for a neighborhood restaurant. That sort of thing belongs at a Tommy Bahama Cafe, not here.
Despite the notion that Lake Nona is on the other side of the world it’s actually just on the other side of Orlando International Airport and is about 25 minutes from downtown Orlando. That’s about the same distance as to Disney. And none of it on Interstate 4.
Canvas is at 13615 Sachs Ave., Orlando. It is open for dinner daily. The phone number is 407-313-7800.