Is longevity the stamp of greatness? In a town where restaurants change as fast as costume characters, Emeril’s Orlando has stuck a winning recipe. The ever changing and demanding world of destination theme parks almost dictates the short life span of most restaurants. Returning guest are drawn to new attractions. But in Emerils case, guests come for the genius of a man who blazed the culinary path of a generation.
The classical culinary talents of many revered chefs who silently toiled in their kitchens were known only to the privileged few. Until Chef Emeril Legasse stepped in front of a TV camera and BAM! Just like that the phenomena that has swept a nation of chef personalities, celebrity chefs, cooking shows, food shows, all became accessible to the regular Joe.
But before he became this larger than life TV personality with phrases like “Bam”, “Kick it up a notch”, and “Oh yea babe”, Chef Emeril honed his skills into a respected professional chef and humanitarian. His formal education at Johnson and Wales University and stints in kitchens that span Paris, Lyon, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans prepared him to ownership in New Orleans. From the helm of world famous Commanders Palace Restaurant in New Orleans some would say that Chef Emeril’s own signature cuisine took shape. Having successfully opened several restaurants, it was only a matter of time before Orlando got a sighting of culinary genius.
In 1999, Emeril’s Orlando opened. I was still a young pup breezing through Valencia Community College and working at a hotel’s front desk. Word of an Emeril’s restaurant opening was headline for the most part of several months. Prior to opening, the reservation list was six months in the waiting. Six months! Lucky for me at the time, my hotel concierge, knew a person, who knew a person, and I waited only a month to dine.
At the time I celebrated a birthday with my sister. We had a table that sits along a glass wall with views of City Walk and passersby wishing they were in my seat. The evening was itched into my young impressionable brain. I had salmon, my sister had shrimp, I can’t remember what her then boyfriend had. But we polished off a great bottle of wine, and smoked a couple of cigars. Service was impeccable. This was to become a standard I aimed to cherish. I never returned to this restaurant because it was a memory I wanted to last forever.
Fourteen years later, a little less sentimental and eager to relive the memory, I immediately jumped at the gracious staff invite to sample the restaurant’s June Prix Fixe menu featuring recipes adapted from one of Chef Emeril’s Cook Books, From Emeril’s Kitchens. (purchase on Amazon here)
Upon arrival we were greeted and led up a stair case to the second floor, through an award winning wine storage case, and into a corner room with three tables, The Cigar Room.
Immediately a little sparkler was served followed by an offering of BBQ Shrimps. (not included in June Prix Fixe Menu)
BBQ Shrimp There is nothing that wakes up the palate like a New Orleans BBQ Shrimps. Chef Emeril’s Signature BBQ Shrimp was plumb, succulent shrimp, in a thick silken, spicy, delicately balanced sauce. The soft spongy biscuit acted as a perfect vessel to sop up that mouthwatering sauce. When no one was looking, I’ll admit that, I cleaned the plate with my fingers. Ssh!. A complex marvel that begs to ask what is next.
Poached Oysters in Herbsaint Cream, Black Pepper Crème Fraîche, Flash Fried Spinach. Oh yea babe, now I see where the expression comes from. Take a second look at the size of those oysters. Not bragging here, I have eaten oysters all along the Florida Turnpike, I-75, I-95, I-4 and the Gulf Coast. Oysters does not get this big unless you are in New Orleans. Distinct anise flavor from the Herbsaint cream sauce nicely added to the slight crunch of fried spinach. I patiently spooned all of the sauce. Maybe it was the alcohol?
Braised Beef Short Ribs, Cheddar Polenta, Cole Slaw. This slab of short ribs was too much for me. I devoured half of it and was done. Mildly flavored with sweetness, delicate texture that pulls apart with a fork. Polenta was a marvel with rich cheddar. Cole slaw was fresh and crunchy. A solid honest to good dish.
Poached Salmon, Mango Salsa, Smashed Avocado, Coconut Rice Pilaf, Black Bean Sauce, Tortilla Chips. Remember the nostalgia why I never returned to this restaurant? Here is exactly the same fish texture I tasted fourteen years ago. The delicate silken oiliness of salmon slide right over my tongue. Coconut rice was a little on the hard side, but contrasted well with tiny bits of grated coconut. Fresh mango on bean sauce added that touch of moist to the rice. Tortilla chips and avocado was fresh and bold in flavors. This is a tropical party, perfect offering for the hot June month.
White Chocolate-Buttermilk Cake, Strawberry Sauce. Full disclosure here, I shared with my dining companion and took mine home. Moist, delectable goodness dipped in sweet strawberry sauce made a perfect topping to induce food coma. Guess what was for breakfast the next day? Uh huh.
These choices for the June menu, 3 courses for $30 is an awesome steal. Put aside price point for a minute. The portion looks seemingly same as most other restaurants of this caliber, but the flavors are bold and clean. A true reflection of the chef who created them. The freshness of ingredients stood out. Simple ingredients “Kicked up a notch” to create these wonderful dishes. Now add back in the bargain price. Hello June!
I am glad that the memory I held on to for so long was actually topped. My last view was from downstairs. Remember where I am seated now? In the Cigar Room, upstairs. The Cigar Room, as it is still called, is probably the one change that happened. No more cigars in restaurants. The bird’s eye view of City Walk is mesmerizing. We sat at a good time when there was still light. But as the night progressed that natural Florida sunlight gave way to the Universal Studios lighting spectacle. The things we take for granted surprises us every so often. I haven’t dined in all of City Walk nor Orlando restaurants, but I am willing to say that this view has to be among the very top. There is just one table in that corner. I was told by our server, who started out with Chef Emeril in New Orleans and is now here in Orlando, that this table is constantly booked. I can see why.
Service at this establishment is a very orchestrated balancing act. Be ready to encounter numerous people coming by to check in and make sure every little detail is in place. Yes, I know what you are saying, “but you were invited”. Well I peeked and eavesdropped on the other tables, it was the same pampered yet unobtrusive service. They were not putting on an act, that genuine hospitality comes from within. Who uses a “crumber” anymore? Have you ever seen one of those? The same service standards that awed me a long time ago is alive and still awing.
As a Florida resident we park for free at City Walk after 6pm. If you haven’t made it out to Emeril’s or is thinking of revisiting, I strongly encourage you to go. If you are a visitor to Orlando, make it a dinner date to treat yourself for one night. If the June menu is this awesome, I can only imagine what the July Three courses for $30 will taste like. Let loose and “Kick it up a notch”!