This is the second of a two-part recap of the Curated Experiences sponsored by the Ritz-Carlton at Grande Lakes Orlando. You can read the first part here.
On Saturday evening, the Da Vinci Lawn was staged for a more formal dinner with large round tables, no more than five people to a table, with each place elegantly set with all the forks, knives, spoons and stemware that would be needed for the five-course meal.
The dinner began with an amuse bouche of foie gras mousse served under a glass cloche with bits of sweetened popcorn and shaved truffles accompanied by Veuve de Vernay Champagne. I was disappointed that the dish was too deep for my tongue to reach the bottom so I could lap up the last licks of rich mousse.
The first course was a chilled celery root puree over smoked sturgeon that was also graced with two types of fish roe. This chilled dish was presented by Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch, the California caviar producer that was featured at so many of the weekend’s food events. Quintessa’s 2018 Illumination sauvignon blanc was an apt pairing with a bit of peachiness on the palate (and delightfully little grapefruit flavor, which ruins so many sauvignon blancs).
Knife & Spoon chef John Tesar presented the second course, lobster-stuffed agnolotti surrounding a hunk of butter-poached lobster, dotted with lobster roe and sitting in a bisque that had a taste that reminded me of a burnt outside of a toasted marshmallow (in the best possible way). The lobster was paired with a 2018 chardonnay from Flowers Sonoma Coast. I had sipped this wine during the reception before the dinner and found it a bit lightweight. But it found its voice when paired with food, the flinty and floral notes standing up well against the forward broth.
Smoked pastrami beef short rib was the main course, from visiting chef Bruce Kalman. The meat had been braised into tender submission and was served topped with a slaw fashioned out of apples and celery and was sitting in a puddle of swiss cheese fondue. It was paired with an exceptional and hard to obtain Quintessa cabernet, a big, bold and fruity wine with wonderful notes of black cherries. The wines for the evening were curated by Alex Valdes of Nunneus Vintners.
Ritz-Carlton executive chef Franck Steigerwald’s dessert featured a petit gateau made with Dulcey, the Valrhona chocolate; rich and delicious, accompanied by bourbon caramel ice cream. Leviathan Red Blend was the final pour.
Following dinner, Joey Fatone presented a concert on a stage set up in front of the lake.
The following morning I wandered by the falconry school, avoiding the yoga and mimosa bar, and then headed to the final event of the weekend: a Chef’s Table Caviar Brunch at Knife & Spoon.
The setup was reminiscent of the brunch of yore at La Coquina, with entrees on display on the cooks’ line, meat and fish carving stations, omelet station, and even a buffet of chilled seafood, including lobster, crab and oysters from both the east and west coasts. (Latex gloves were provided to use while handling the tongs.)
And Passmore was at it again with his caviars, pushing a cart from table to table, and offering rich and salty toppings for whatever we had put on our plates.
It was that sort of extravagance that justified the $750/person cost for the weekend of dinners and events. (Note: I was an invited guest of the Ritz-Carlton, which is an advertiser on SJO.)
The Grande Lakes team is still putting together the next array of Curated Experiences, which is tentatively scheduled for April 23-25. The plan is to have one each quarter. I have learned that Tesar has committed to take part again and Melissa Kelly of Primo will fly in from Maine.
I should note that careful attention was paid to assure proper social distancing. I never felt unsafe, even at the indoors events, and hand sanitizer dispensers were always just a few steps away.
It’s the kind of attention to details that you expect from the Ritz-Carlton.