Knife & Spoon, the much anticipated restaurant that replaced the estimable Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton, opened on Wednesday. Not surprisingly, its delayed debut was not caused by construction slowdowns but rather the pandemic that has affected so many restaurants. The upside, if pandemics are allowed to have an upside, is that the developers were able to engineer the space to meet safety protocols rather than having to retool, as so many other restaurants have done.
The knife of the name is an actual knife, a rather impressive Sambonet in this case, and signifies the steak specialty of the menu. Given the quality of the meat, however, an instrument with such a honed blade might be considered – you should pardon the expression – overkill. But we’ll come back to that.
The spoon of the name is not a spoon, or at least not a spoon found on polite tables. Instead, it references a fishing lure known as a spoon, which then leads to the seafood offerings. (More ancient mariners would tell you to look for largemouth bass, salmon or trout on a list of spoon-caught fish, but I saw none; it’s a clever name nonetheless.)
The Knife is also a nod to John Tesar, the Dallas chef and restaurateur, who owns Knife-named restaurants there. His accomplishments, as listed on the Knife & Spoon webpage, include being the pseudonymous Jimmy Sears in Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential”; appearances on the Today Show and Top Chef; and being “famously entangled in a feud with Dallas food critic Leslie Brenner.” That feud, which included a negative review from Brenner and Tesar’s two-word response, happened in 2014, so maybe it’s time to let it go.
This would be a good time to tell you that I was invited to experience a preview dinner before the restaurant’s opening to the public.
So then let’s talk about that meat.
Most of the beef is sourced from 44 Farms, a Texas producer, and all of it undergoes dry aging, some as long as 240 days. You’ll want to plan ahead for that one, and stop by the ATM: The 240-day bone-in ribeye fetches more than a dollar a day in the aging room, selling for $250 for a 32-ounce cut. And yes, as with most upscale steakhouses, side dishes are extra.
Other steaks may have been sitting around for 150, 90, 60 or 45 days. Succinctly, dry aging removes moisture and causes a concentration of flavor and a natural tenderization.
I made do with a relative newcomer to the aging box, a 32-ounce bone-in ribeye aged for 45 days. And it would be hard to imagine a better, more buttery piece of meat; a simple, unserrated table knife would have cut it. The steak was presented with the bone but the meat had been removed, sliced and fanned on the large platter. It was cooked perfectly – I will forever carry a photo of this steak to other steakhouses to demonstrate what a medium-rare steak should look like. The seasoned crust had a gorgeous sear and the red center was delightfully warm.
A 32-ounce steak could easily serve two people, something you may want to consider when you see the $130 price tag.
To experience the seafood part of the concept, I ordered the smoked sturgeon headcheese, because how can you not order smoked sturgeon headcheese? This is a dish Tesar featured at a former Dallas restaurant that you’ll be interested to know was called Spoon. Instead of pork (and without the use of a pig’s head), this dish features brined fish chopped and cooked in a dashi fish stock with aspic. It’s served as a gelatinous slice from a loaf, topped with dill cream and a dollop of sturgeon roe, so you might say you’re getting both ends of the fish. It was really quite delicious. The headcheese is brought to the table under a smoke-filled cloche, which is lifted with a flourish, revealing the appetizer through the clearing fog.
The live diver scallops came covered, too, but they were under a mound of shaved black truffles that hid the lemon shallot brown butter and wild mushroom dashi.
I wasn’t as taken with my choice of side dishes (don’t yell at me, chef). The financier french fries had too much going on, though it’s hard to fault more truffles and fish roe. And the kimchi creamed spinach seemed like a creative take on a steakhouse standard, which it was. But both introduced Asian flavor profiles that seemed out of step with the rest of the menu.
I chose to dine on the veranda and had a wonderful view of the sunset behind the golf course all to myself.
The main dining room occupies the rotunda space, which now features a cloud dome reminiscent of a cave opening to the sky. A mossy hillock sits beneath it. I’m not sure what its original purpose was meant to be but it serves as a nice social spacer.
The kitchen is open to the dining room and the overall ambience is less formal. It used to be that fine dining meant white tablecloths and low lighting – tables are uncovered and settings feature Chilewich placemats with a free-flowing metallic web pattern. Today, fine dining is defined by the quality of the food more than the surroundings.
Tesar says he plans to be at the restaurant often, but has as his full-time chef de cuisine Gerald Sombright.
This is definitely a special occasion restaurant for most, but you expect that at the Ritz.
Knife & Spoon is at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Resort, 4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando. It is currently open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations available through the website or at 407-393-4333.