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Hemisphere Reopens at MCO

Written By Scott Joseph On November 17, 2016

Hemisphere preview window

The view is about the only thing that hasn’t changed at Hemisphere, the restaurant at the top of the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. The space, which had been closed for renovations, has been back to serving guests quietly and has its official reopening Thursday.

The $3 million redo pretty much gutted the two-level dining room on the ninth and tenth floors of the hotel inside the airport’s main terminal. I had a chance to see the new decor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday. Hyatt Regency management and officials from the airport all oohed and aahed over the renovations. Frankly, I found it to be austere and cold.

Mind you, this is not a review of the restaurant — I’ve not yet dined at the new Hemisphere and sampled the menu from executive chef Jeffrey Powell and Jason Moltz, the chef de cuisine. I am looking forward to having dinner there — I’ve liked Hemisphere in the past and considered it one of those local gems, not so much hidden as in full view.

Hemisphere preview longview down

And speaking of views, the two-story glass windows still afford commanding vistas of the runways of MCO. But the space now makes me think of CDG.

Specifically, the Air France lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. It’s not a space I have fond memories of. Every time I visit Paris I’m struck with how unfair it is that the French have a reputation for being rude; that’s never been my experience. And then I head for the Air France lounge before flying home and the staff there tries its best to perpetuate the stereotype.

But it wasn’t the staff at Hemisphere that made me think of the lounge — I’m sure they’re all warm and welcoming — it was the ambience. There are a lot of hard surfaces and I can’t imagine what the noise level will be with a full house.

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Hemisphere preview enomatic

Floor-to-ceiling etageres loom and trisect the main room though glass shelving allows one to take in the whole place — except in those spaces where an Enomatic wine-dispensing machine has been placed. It’s those machines that first brought images of an airline lounge to mind.

Hemisphere preview breakfast area

The other thing is the space to one side of the restaurant that is designated for the self-serve breakfast that Hemisphere offers to hotel guests. Toasters and towers of cereal dispensers don’t harken fine dining. Replace the cereal with nut mix and you’d swear you’d wandered into Delta’s Sky Club.

Hemisphere preview bottle holder

There are some pleasant bits of whimsy, such as the wine bottle holders in the shape of cartoonish airplanes. And an installation by local artist Damon DeWitt called Paper Planes that features renditions of origami flying devices on stretch cables. But these are fashioned out of metal, not sheets of paper, so don’t try sailing one. (On these, your mother was right: You really could put out an eye with one of those things!)

Hemisphere preview paper airplanes

The Paper Planes sculpture wraps around the staircase that used to be a main feature of the original Hemisphere. When it first opened, in 1992, guests rode the glass-enclosed elevator to the 10th floor, entering on the upper level, and then led to a table down the sweeping staircase. With the expanse of the view, it made for a dramatic entrance.

Now (and even before the renovation) guests exit the elevator on the ninth floor, eliminating the the opportunity of a Norma Desmond moment.

Hemisphere started as an Italian restaurant and then went a bit more global, though the last time I reviewed it, more than 13 years ago, it leaned Asian.

Powell’s menu also aspires to worldly tastes, with such items as Burrata, Tamales, and Poussin.

I’m looking forward to sampling the menu. And hey, if I don’t like it, I can always help myself to a bowl of cereal.

Hemisphere is at the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport. By the way, the restaurant continues the little-known feature of offering complimentary valet parking at the hotel’s entrance. No need to deal with the airport’s parking garages or even walk through the terminal, Very nice.

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