Tucked off the main Park Ave,Winter Park thorough fare of high end shops, boutiques, restaurants, and everything designer fancy is the much anticipated chef driven contemporary Mexican kitchen of Cocina 214. This very modern contemporary space boost a very large covered patio, private room, swanky dining room, and bar. The build out is very chic in cool colors, textures, leather coverings, eclectic lighting, stained concrete floors, and open ceiling.
The kitchen is under the watchful eye of Chef Francisco (Chico) Mendoca. His specialty is combining bold flavors from around the world in a refined setting. The food menu has a fair amount of regular Spanish named dishes with English descriptions. No specialty sections. There is a generous wine list with new world, very few old world wines, and 3 “splurge” bottles. Special “214” named Margaritas and Cocktails adorn the spirits side, the chef even makes his own sangria.
The ever flowing chips was crisp and fresh accompanied by a very balanced and fresh salsa. This item is brought out to the table right when one gets seated and refilled when down to one quarter.
The 214 Ceviche–fresh seasonal fish, jalapeno, cucumber, tomato, and citrus was very balanced and delicate. The flavors married well together and all ingredients were served at appropriate texture. Beautiful combination. This combination of serving plate does not really go together. The bottom of the bowl is flat and the inside of the plate has a wavy surface creating a rocking action every time one dips into it. Bad delivery.
Camarão com Piri-Piri–fried rock shrimp, grilled lemon, with piri-piri sauce on the side was a knock out. The rock shrimp was lightly battered and crunchy. Perfection. The piri piri sauce was a delicate balancing act between hot and buttery. Chef Chico definitely has taken a simple dipping sauce to a whole new level.
Taqueria (two to an order with rice and beans) Street Tacos–seared chile rubbed skirt steak, chopped onion, cilantro, de arbo, roasted garlic salsa was disappointing. The skirt steak was dry and tasteless, tacos were nice and soft. Rice was dry, grainy, flavorless, and cold. Beans were mushy, slimy, tasteless, and lacked salt. Very disappointed.
Tres Leches Cake–three-milk cake was moist and milky. It was not overpowering, yet very delicate and spongy. Nice ending.
My wine of choice was the Alamos Torrontés, Argentina. What a delightful little number. Torrontes white wine variety in my opinion has the characteristics to stand up to Chardonnay anytime. It is often overlooked and under appreciated. Thank you Cocina 214, for carrying this gem on your wine list. This wine worked wonders with the citrus flavors in the ceviche and cut the acidic peppers in the piri piri sauce. The only drawback was the unpolished wine glass and the server pointed out that I was ordering the “house wine” when nowhere on the menu indicated that.
For a restaurant of this magnitude and depth to over look something as simple as polishing a wine glass is unacceptable. Hold on. The silverware was unpolished also. Upon entering the restaurant the greeter was very cordial and welcoming. She was under the watchful eye of an older lady who paid no interest in our arrival nor made eye contact nor offered a welcoming gesture. Another guest or someone in charge? Our server made a hurried greeting and immediately asked what we wanted to drink. No time to even look at the menu. My companion asked for water. He brought water, but none for me. I must order something or ask? Maybe their policy is if one doesn’t ask one doesn’t get. Order something! I get it build the check average, right? Or go green, save water.
We placed our small order and advised him that we will share everything. He was very dismissive and wanted to take the menu. When I asked to keep the menu he made a smirk and asked if we were going to order more. He repeated if I wanted to order a drink. I ordered the glass of Torrontes. He walked away and left us with the feeling as if we were taking up his time.
At the same time we were there, there were two tables inside, three tables on the patio, one being us, and a couple of people at the bar and more servers, bussers, and food runners to go around. There was a gentleman who appeared to be the manager bussing a table outside that some one from inside the restaurant came out and spoke with. The same gentleman ran food the next table outside where one of the chefs was conversing with the patrons. With so many staff standing around, why was the gentleman bussing and running food? Was he training the staff? There was no one around to watch him. Was he keeping busy? He is overpaying a lot of people. From among the staff there were glances and eye contacts that clearly indicated something was going on. I am not at all envious that he did not touch our table, wait that is his main job right? Check on everyone not just the ones that people in the restaurant knows. There were five tables…..
After our meal, the server asked if we wanted dessert, we ordered the Tres Leches. He immediately asked if we were ready for the check. We had not even gotten nor eaten the dessert! Hurry up and get out! Poor showing.
Upon leaving we encountered two guest trying to enter the restaurant through the patio gate. They had no idea there was a main door. Oh no, there are no signs. The very small sign on the building is not even noticeable from Park Av. I also did not see any signs for the restrooms.
Overall, plating and presentation were simple, clean, unfussy, and not over the top. Textures and temperatures were a hit and miss. Some items were on point others not so much. The service has a lot to be desired. Separation of duties and roles has to be streamlined. Having been opened for a few weeks this restaurant has a lot to work on. Just having a good Chef is not all that it takes to being a good restaurant. There are many other factors that combines to make a great restaurant. Good luck. Wish you all the foodie best.