For some time now — almost 14 years to be exact — I’ve been saying that Everglades is one of the area’s most under-appreciated restaurants. Back when it opened, in late 1995, Everglades was the signature restaurant of the Omni Rosen Hotel. Now its location is simply called the Rosen Centre Hotel, but it is still the top restaurant.
I last reviewed Everglades in 2003 and declared then that it was one of our hidden gems. But a lot can happen in six years, so I figured it was time to take another look. So I returned recently with a couple of guest reviewers to see how the restaurant is fairing in its second decade. Joining me were Mike and Marian Peters, who purchased the dinner with me at the annual gala for Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Partnership with UCF. Many of you will be familiar with Mike’s name as a syndicated political cartoonist and author of the Mother Goose & Grimm comic strip. The Peterses are relative newcomers to the area, and they had not been aware of Everglades. The restaurant, I mean; they had heard of the national park.
We were greeted warmly and shown to a table in the front of the restaurant next to a large aquarium, which gave a luminous glow to the setting. Fred Vlachos, executive chef Michael Rumplik’s sous chef, sent out an amuse bouche of foie gras on a crostini with a small cordial of 2000 DeLoach Gewurtztraminer. This was an inspired pairing. Too often chefs try to offset the earthiness of the liver taste with a sweetish fruit sauce, resulting in a cloying clash. Here, the sweetness of the wine was the perfect complement to the foie gras, and we were tasked with sipping it to the appropriate balance.
What did the Peterses think? “This is orgasmic,” declared Marian. I would say our bouches were properly amused.
For our proper starters we shared the rock shrimp appetizer and the signature gator chowder. The shrimp dish was listed as being served with a risotto but in fact it was a risotto, and a darned good one, too. “That’s wonderful,” said Mike.
We also liked the gator chowder, which is sort of like a conch chowder but with gator meat where the conch would be. The gator was just chewy enough (it tends to be tough, though truthfully not as tough as conch) and the broth had a delightful spicy note. (By the way, I have the recipe for the gator chowder here.)
As a surprise between our appetizers and the main course, Yoshi, the master sushi chef at Banshoo in the hotel’s lobby, presented the Peterses with an array of rolls and nigirizushi. He had noticed them admiring the sushi on the way in, and thought they might appreciate a few fresh nibbles. They did.
For entrees Marian ordered a surf and turf combo with filet and lobster; Mike chose the Thai style red curry seafood stew. I went with the tenderloin of buffalo, trying to visualize whether buffalo roam the Everglades.
My dish was a dark one thanks to the ragout of wild mushrooms and zinfandel that covered the meat. A bright purple orchid garnish did what it could to add a little color to the plate. I found the meat a bit mundane, but my guest critics declared it wonderful. “That buffalo was out of this world,” they said.
There wasn’t anything special about the surf and turf, although the steak was expertly prepared and sufficiently tender. The little slipper of lobster meat, however, was disappointing.
The stew was a big hit. It had plenty of clams, scallops, shrimp and lobster simmered in a coconut curry broth. What impressed us, though, was the spiciness of the curry. It was hot but not just for hot’s sake. The flavors were balanced, and the taste of the seafood came through despite the spice. “If you like real Asian curry spice,” said Marian, “that’s the real stuff.”
The Key lime pie was also a hit. “They did not use green food coloring,” said the Peterses, which they saw as a plus. The taste had a nice tart limeyness and the graham cracker crust was just right.
Service was first rate. Our needs were anticipated and we wanted for nothing.
In my original review of Everglades I made mention of what I called the odd decor. Fiberglass manatees “float” overhead, and an alligator slings down a half wall. And there is a massive mural of the restaurant’s namesake that appears to have been produced with an airbrush. I found it rather tawdry back then, but it seems to have grown on me — it didn’t bother me this time.
“The food was all very good, and it wasn’t very heavy,” was the final appraisal of Marian. She also called it a “triple Lipitor dinner,” which I take to be high praise.
I enjoyed it, too. Especially in the company of the Peterses.
Everglades is in the Rosen Centre Hotel, 9840 International Drive, Orlando. Dinner is served nightly. The phone number is 407-996-2385. Here’s a link to the Everglades’ Web site.