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Written By Scott Joseph On October 11, 2012

Heming diningWith the closing of La Coquina — and let’s face it, La Coquina has been closing for some time, we’ve just been in denial — I got to thinking about Hemingway’s, the other upscale restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress. It had been years since I last visited Hemingway’s, and since it has become the de facto signature restaurant for the luxury hotel, I figured I should go back and see how it’s doing.

Pretty damn good, as it turns out. And I say that with not a little surprise. I had never been much of a fan of Hemingway’s. I’ve always liked the Key Western feel of the restaurant, which resembles a fine home that sits apart from the main high-rise hotel, overlooking the pool area. It’s a house of floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to the landscaped grounds. Those outside look into the various rooms that give off a soft glow in the night.

It was always the food I had a problem with. It was never as good as the surroundings. Or at least it was the last time I did a full review of the restaurant, in August of 1997. 

Yeah, it was time to go back. And I’m so glad I did. The ambience was every bit as casually elegant as before, but this time the food — and the service — rose to the same level, and maybe a bit higher.

(By the way, back in 1997 the name of the restaurant was Hemingways, without an apostrophe. Now it’s Hemingway’s. Don’t know why.)

Hemingway’s is under the direction of Kenneth Juran, executive chef for the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, and his chef de cuisine at Hemingway’s, Eric McBride. What’s most surprising is that in reviewing my review of 15 years ago, I saw a number of items that are still on the menu today, with similar preparation and ingredients. What’s different? Maybe all it took was for these two able chefs to focus their attention to improving the quality.

My guest and I were treated to a chef’s selection of dishes, beginning with a sampler of appetizers that included a compressed cube of watermelon topped with a cube of tuna covered in foam. Delicious. So was the scallop, one of the hold-overs all these years, this time perfectly cooked and tinged with applewood smoked bacon and toasted pinenuts.

Heming oysterA cornmeal fried oyster, plump and succulent, was served in the half-shell next to its raw, unbreaded and unfried cousin. Can’t say which one I liked more.

Duvall Street shrimp scampi featured a tiger shrimp atop a platform of fresh pappardelle pasta, scented with truffle oil, and crispy, thick and firm fried green tomato. Everything about it was a delight, but I could have eaten a plateful of the pappardelle.

I think my favorite was a dish of lobster chunks sauteed with tomatoes and fresh herbs. It was served on opt of angel hair pasta that had been rolled to resemble the shape of a lobster body. A whimsical presentation with seriously good flavors.

heming lobsterThe menu is, as it was, seafood heavy (“Old Man and the Sea” and all that) but there are some good meat choices, as well, including the Papa’s filet mignon and the Havana rib-eye.

With all the good food that proceeded I was hopeful about the Key lime pie, but sadly it wasn’t up to the standards of the rest of the meal. Served as a tart with kisses of meringue on top, the pie was more than a bit over sweetened and unlimey.

Service was very good — just the right combination of professionalism and friendly demeanor you want visitors to experience (not to mention locals).

I’ve been getting asked a lot lately about when La Coquina will be brought back to life. The Hyatt Regency folks have told some regulars that the restaurant’s signature brunch might be revived for special occasions and holidays. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you. It might happen for Thanksgiving or maybe Christmas this year. But after that, I trust my sources who say it will be turned into a spa. That’s not to say there isn’t some hope on the brunch front. Juran says there are other plans in the works to institute another brunch at the hotel next year, so stay tuned.

As for Hemingway’s, it’s a suitable replacement as an upscale close-to-fine dining restaurant. No, it doesn’t offer the elegance that La Coquina did, but few restaurants anywhere do anymore. The best we can hope for is good food served in pleasant surroundings with excellent service. Just what you’ll find at Hemingway’s.

Hemingway’s is at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, 1 Grand Cypress Blvd., Orlando. It’s open for dinner daily. Entrees range from $23 to $39, so it isn’t an inexpensive meal. This link will take you to the Hyatt Regency’s website where you can see the menu. The phone number is 407-239-1234.{jcomments on}

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