I could begin this review of American Kitchen Bar & Grill by telling you what I think of the chef and restaurant at the B Resort — after all, that’s what you pay me for (cough).
But instead, let me share what Greg Richie, chef/partner of Soco Thornton Park, recently wrote on his Facebook page:
“There are plenty of restaurants and chefs in town (Orlando) that get their fair share of buzz and hype. You know who’s not getting their share? Chef Venoy Rogers III at American Kitchen Bar and Grill. This guy and his crew (sous Jacob Rios) are doing great things! Don’t sleep on this, folks. Go check it out. (Note- the dining room and atmosphere don’t do justice to the level of food. No disrespect intended.)”
My thoughts exactly. But let me go into some specifics.
Originally from the San Diego area, Rogers cooked in recent years in Miami, earning accolades for the cuisine he cooked while at Essensia on South Beach. He brought several of those dishes north with him to Orlando. For his part, Rios won my first annual Sous Chef Challenge cooking competition last September. There is indeed real talent here.
The menu offers an array of choices, including Small Bites that that would suit a group that wanted to share a meal tapas style, and Provisions that offer more substantial meals. (The Small Bites Tour gets you three appetizers for just $25.) Both categories have varied selections but most of them proudly proclaim local ingredients: Canaveral shrimp, Florida corn, Kissimmee mushrooms and such.
I’ve eaten at American Kitchen in the past and enjoyed just things as Chicken Fried “Oysters,” a little morsel of meat found in the thigh. And Firecracker Rock Shrimp, featuring that Cape Canaveral haul coated with a spicy chili-garlic aioli. And Beet Root Ravioli, with house-made pasta (like all the pastas here) filled with ricotta, also made fresh.
I stopped in for a look at what’s on offer currently. I started with an appetizer of Tempura Avocado, wedges of just-soft avocado coated in a very light batter and served with a tomato-chipotle jam that adds just a touch of heat and cilantro lime creme fraiche that cools it back down. (Watch for an upcoming Compliments of the Chef with Rogers demonstrating how to make this one.)
For my main course I chose the East Coast Bouillabaisse, which was described to me as a combination of the Provence stew and the West Coast’s Cioppino. The differences are minute but the combination is delicious. An unctuous lobster broth served as the base with tender-firm Florida rock shrimp, scallops, hunks of local fish and several mussels. As befits a bouillabaisse, purple potatoes were included. A long plank of crusty bread with just a hint of garlic slathered on was perfect for sopping up the sauce.
For dessert I went with the Apple Pie — it’s called American Kitchen, after all. But this was a stylized version, served in a cast iron cocotte, with salted caramel gelato and a crisped Granny Smith slice on top.
And not so incidentally, the bar has a nice craft cocktail menu. I enjoyed the Florida Old Fashioned, localized with St. Augustine Florida Straight Bourbon. Just right after a long day at the office.
Now, to address what Richie referred to in his post regarding the dining room and atmosphere. No, it doesn’t match the level of the cuisine. A main focus of the decor, prominently located inside the door from the lobby entrance, is a large and very red truck. It’s used mainly for daytime dining when buffet items are placed on its flatbed. When the resort originally opened, the restaurant had a barbecue theme and several of those theming elements remain, including a sign over a wall that says smokehouse. The metal chairs and Mason jar drinking glasses fit a roadside mien.
And that coupled with the location inside a hotel will keep many locals away. Not too many years ago, restaurants inside hotels were indeed places to avoid. Today, they offer some of the best dining in town. (Think Fiorenzo, Victoria & Albert’s, California Grill.) They serve tourists, it’s true, but the smarter operators actively attract the local trade, and many offer, as does B Resort, such things as complimentary valet parking to make it more attractive.
So as Richie said: “Don’t sleep on this, folks. Go check it out.
American Kitchen is at the B Resort, 1905 Hotel Plaza Blvd, Lake Buena Vista. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-828-2828.