I’m also not sure what it is, besides a lovely restaurant with some very nice food. But is it Japanese? Or French? Or something else?
First let’s get the issue of the location out of the way (and out of the way is a perfect description). The best way I can describe it is that it is on the “far side” of the Universal Orlando property. (I suppose for those living in Bay Hill and Windermere that’s considered the near side, but there you go.) Arriving at Wa’s address from downtown Orlando involves a circuitous route. And here’s a warning: your GPS unit may not get you there. And even after you’ve found the physical address, you may think you’re in the wrong place. Wa is situated in a complex of newly constructed multi-story buildings, called the Promenade at Universal Plaza, that looks as though they will house mostly professional offices rather than retail and restaurants. I say “will” because it appears to be mostly unoccupied at the present.
And Wa is not readily visible to those who find the address. The entrance to the restaurant is in the center of the complex’s courtyard. But find your way there and you’re in for a pleasant if somewhat head-scratching experience.
It’s head-scratching because one is set up to expect a Japanese restaurant, even though Japanese is not in the name. But you sort of anticipate as much when a restaurant features a sake lounge and a sushi bar. And there are items on the main menu that you’ll find in other Japanese restaurants, such as gyoza, edamame, teriyaki and tempura.
But then take a look at the special menu, with pork belly served with southern style sesame cole slaw; sweetbreads with grilled endive leaves; bacon and date stuffed French quail with foie gras; and beef stroganoff. How could you not be confused?
But if you eschew these items to concentrate on the traditional Japanese dishes you’ll be missing out on some of the best that Wa has to offer. (Whenever I say the name of the restaurant I hear Lucy crying because Ricky Ricardo scolded her.)
Some friends and I convened at Wa recently and ordered an array of appetizers, including the gyoza, lobster tempura and kaki fri panko fried oysters. The lobster tempura was the favorite at the table, the bits of sweet meat jacketed with a light batter and crisply fried, served with both a traditional soylike dipping sauce and salt infused with curry seasonings. Both the gyoza dumplings and the oysters were good, but they were mundane next to the lobster.
From the special menu we ordered the items labled truffle fries, but they were not what we were expecting. Instead of french fries, these were more like thick potato chips, served stacked, drizzled with aromatic truffle oil and grated parmesan cheese. And they were fantastic.
We also shared a rainbow roll from the sushi bar, a deftly prepared roll of various fish, including salmon and tuna. I wouldn’t mind going back for an all-sushi visit.
For our entrees we ordered from the regular and special menus. From the former there was tonkatsu deep-fried pork and chicken teriyaki. The pork cutlet had a delightful breading but ultimately it was a bit dry. The teriyaki was teriyaki, rather boring, even with the fried pineapple and Fuji apples served with it.
But the bacon and date stuffed quail was extraordinarily good, served with a small lobe of seared foie gras and a tiny fried quail egg. Those tastes and textures would be feast enough, but the accompanying sauce of truffled chocolate cream sent it soaring.
Also from the special menu, the miso marinated rack of lamb at least had Japanese grace notes in the miso, as well as in the Japanese style agrodolce (agrodolce is an Italian sweet and sour sauce). The lamb chops were tender and delicious.
Dinner also included an amuse bouche (in Japanese, amyuzubushu) of monkfish with sultanas, salad and soup, your choice of miso or clear (the clear soup was wonderful). And this would be a good point to mention that prices are fairly reasonable, especially those of the special menu. The stuffed quail was $16 and the lamp was $15. On the other hand, the teriyaki and pork tonkatsu at $18 and $20 respectively, were a bit high. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of prices, a special wine list had some really terrific bargains, so good that I had to ask if the prices were for bottles or by the glass.
Service was exceptionally polished, and everyone greeted us graciously. There’s one little bit of business I had not encountered before: guests are offered their choice of chopsticks from an array that includes basic wood, stained wood and glass. It’s something that could be pretentious but here is kind of cute.
The dining room is modern and features a lot of tile and wood, but with good lighting it has a warm feel.
Wa may have an identity crisis, and its choice of location is curious. But those who seek it out will not be disappointed.
Wa is at 5911 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando. It is open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday. Beer and wine. Click here for the Web site.