I’ve had a long and recently tumultuous affair with the romanticism at this restaurant. Back in the early 90s this was the happening place on International Drive. The founding company dissolved and sold the restaurant a couple of years back. It has since been an uphill battle to keep my interest. My last visit left me wanting. I made another attempt to reconcile….
There are significant changes to the physical layout. Most notably is the addition of a funky, open and inviting outdoor patio. Walking inside, the bar has relocated from deep inside the restaurant to the very front right. It shares a counter with the patio. This is very functional and efficient. The greeter desk has moved from left to right. Going towards the back of the restaurant where was once the bar, is now high top banquets. The great grazing sofa area is gone and replaced by a big communal table with solid plank bench. All of the seating are replaced with higher pub like tables and chairs. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I sort of miss the old layout. But this new layout is welcoming and inviting.
The basic small plate menu concept remained the same. However, there is an evolution of new items and a sampling of old favorites. I always enjoyed the complimentary sampling of hummus and chips. That has long disappeared from this restaurant. It seems that is now an orderable item on the menu. Salads, soups, pizzas, and a mis match of items reminisce the artistic loft. There is still a very intriguing wine list with almost all by the glass treasures. It is great to see that some things remained the same.
RIESLING, AUGUST KESSLER, “R” CUVEE, GERMANY – Great floral bouquet, with sweet notes, clean crisp on the mid palate, with a short finish.
Argentinean style Orange Chimmichurri Steak BEEF TENDERLOIN SKEWERS, LEMON-Manchego Grits – Hard little rocks of dried flavorless meat. Nothing of note on the chimmichurri and grits. Plantain was crisp and fresh. A total disappointment.
Alligator Jambalaya LOCAL FLORIDA WILD ALLIGATOR, Red Peppers. Poblano pepper, tomatoes, chorizo, Yellow Rice – Flavorless, tasteless, mush on a plate. Another disappointment.
HAND TOSSED GRILLED MEATBALL PIZZA house-made albondigas, calabrese sausage, asiago cheese, ricotta salata, caramelized shallots, fra Diavolo sauce – Finally something to rave about! Nice rustic crust hearty meatball and sausages, explosive sauce. Great pie!
DYNAMITE SHRIMP spiced CRISPY SHRIMP, SWEET CHILI AIOLI – Had to try an old favorite. Crust was spot on crispness, shrimp was well cooked. aioli started to settle at the bottom but that could be because we were taking our time towards the end. What do you know, the old item stood the test of time.
DALI HORCHATA BRULEE Horchata crème brulee, alfajores (Latin American Macaroon) – nice crust, good texture and sweetness. Macaroon was too floury for my taste. Great presentation.
I’ve always subscribed that a restaurant is not only the physical plant, nor the food, nor the drinks, nor the staff. It is a combination of these elements working in harmony. Yes, I’ll give that some elements can pick up the slack of others. Diners can be carried away with certain parts and overlook others. Yes, this restaurant is on International Dr, the tourist mecca of Orlando, chances are this is a one time deal for most guests and they might never go back. Really?
When I walk into a restaurant and is confronted by a greeter desk occupied by three people and no one bothers to stop their conversation to even acknowledge my presence, it sets a precedence. The object of conversation was when one server was going to get a table and what section was given. Why did I need to be present for such a conversation? Then, the greeter never even looked up but turned to the other person and announced our table number. The other person grabbed menus and motioned to follow. What, no one speaks around here? In a very nonchalant, almost slow motion-like manner we were walked over to a table, menus plopped down and walked away. Are we interrupting a special time?
After what seems like eternity, a server ambled over, only to inform us they’ll be right back. Another waiting period, drinks anyone? While we were waiting they seated another table right next to us. After another eternity our server went by, drinks anyone? That table placed a order. Moments later, what do you know, the server who was so consumed with section and seating at the greeter desk showed up. Oh no, it was our server who doesn’t understand, it really was the other server’s table. Really? As a guest do we really need to know that there is drama going on within the staff? Can I mention the very abrupt food runner, who plops food down and walks away? Not just these staff that we had one on one encounter, as we looked around the restaurant, it just appeared that the others were more interested in themselves and their concerns than the guests.
I fully embrace relaxed casualness in a restaurant, but does that equate to sloppiness? I walked in with high hopes and an openness for another opportunity, I walked out still hungry and a sinking feeling in my stomach. Did I just had my last meal at Café Tu Tu Tango?