I’ve got your next date night all planned for you. It’s that classic combination of dinner and a show, and it’s going to take you to the romantically charming Winter Garden.
If you haven’t visited Winter Garden lately you’re missing one of the more happening places in Greater Orlando. The downtown area along Plant Street is so perfectly quaint that you expect the buildings might be Potemkin Village facades propped up by two-by-fours from behind.
But this place is the real thing. And it’s apparently not a big secret, judging from the crowded restaurants and lounges I encountered on a recent Friday evening. Downtown Winter Garden is home, of course, to Flog favorite Chef’s Table at the Edgewater, but other restaurants now line the two or three blocks, making this one of the richer mini restaurant rows in the area.
I dined at Thai Blossom, which, to be honest, was not my first choice. However, the other restaurant, Moon Cricket Cafe, was so packed that getting a table would have been a time-consuming proposition. And my guest and I had tickets to the production at the Garden Theatre, so we had an 8 o’clock curtain to catch. (I’ve always loved saying that to my server: “I have an 8 o’clock curtain to catch; will we be able to get out on time?”)
Thai Blossom was just across the street, and while it was doing a pretty good business, too, it did have a couple of open tables and we were able to be seated and served immediately.
We started with a soft-shell crab appetizer that was a bit too crisply fried. It was tiny — certainly not worth the $8.95 charge — and had nothing crablike in the taste.
Things were better with the entrees. I liked the hunks of cleaved duck that were part of the ginger duck special. The meat and veggies were served in a rather muted chili sauce with less ginger than the name of the dish would suggest. The duck was juicy and the fatty skin added flavor. Not sure I found $17.45 value in this one, either, but it was satisfying.
The basil in my Thai basil beef was muted, but the mix of vegetables, including broccoli, crinkle-cut carrots and chewy mushrooms was good. The light gravy was nice when spooned over the rice, which came to the table in the shape of a heart (the Valentine kind, not the one with valves and aortas).
Our server was quick and attentive, and did what she could to make sure we were on time to the show.
The interior, like most of the restaurants along Plant Street, is an old storefront and still looks like one. But the old-timey atmosphere adds to the experience.
The play, by the way, was outstanding. It was Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations and starred Peg O’Keef, who is arguably the area’s best actor. (I saw her in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Mad Cow a few years ago and her Martha was better than the one I saw Kathleen Turner do on Broadway — and her’s was outstanding.) I had gone expecting to see a community theater show, but everything about this Beth Marshall Presents production was as professional as anything you’ll see in New York. Matt Palm’s review in the Orlando Sentinel can explain the show for you. Matt and I both urge you to see this play.
At intermission, we popped next door to Pilars, a big bar with live music (but an atmosphere that could use the help of the theater’s lighting director).
And afterwards, we walked down the block to the Tasting Room, the sister restaurant to the Chef’s Table. There was live music there, too, so it’s a perfect place for after theater sips.
So there’s your date night. All you have to do is get your theater tickets and make your dinner reservations (don’t make my mistake and plan to just pop in someplace on a weekend night).
Thai Blossom is at 99 W. Plant St., Winter Garden. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-905-9917.