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Written By Administrator On March 10, 2009

Lago Baldwin Park

 Some people just don’t get it.
They don’t understand that when you’re in the restaurant business you’re in the people business. It is necessary for you to interact with your guests. And by the way, guest is the preferred word, not customer. A guest is someone you cater to, someone you make feel welcome.

Not at Lago, a gorgeous new restaurant in Baldwin Park. There they convey an attitude that they are annoyed to have people come through the door.

On my visit it started with the dour hostess who showed me and my guests to our table. Never once did she smile. When one of my friends told her that another in our party was celebrating a birthday, she replied, “You can tell your server.”

That’s the sort of response you expect from an uncaring bureaucrat , not someone in the restaurant business. But hey, she’s just a paid employee. It’s not like she’s the owner.

No, that would be the dour, unsmiling man wearing a white chef’s jacket standing next to the open kitchen. All throughout our meal he stood there, occasionally pacing a few steps either direction. And never did he interact with any of his guests, or, as he might refer to them, customers.

The only person he had any contact with was a young man wearing faded jeans and an untucked shirt.

Now, let me tell you something about the way the place looks. It’s beautiful and stylish, with a lakeside location. The large dining room has spacious and comfortable booths, most of which have a view of the well-appointed open kitchen where several cooks toil away. At a far end of the room is a bar and lounge where a pianist provided appropriate jazz that could be heard throughout the restaurant. The ceiling is high, but attention to lighting keeps it from feeling like an expanse. It’s very comfortable, and it is decidedly upscale. In fact, a surprising number of men dining that night were wearing sport coats.

So back to the guy in dungarees with his shirttail hanging out: he’s the manager. And the son of the owner. Why would you build a gorgeous, upscale restaurant and allow your manager to dress like he’s going shopping at Home Depot? And for the record, this gentleman did not visit any tables either. Nor did he even deign to grunt an acknowledgment or look a guest in the eye when he passed one.

But you want to know about the food. Most of it was good; none of it was great, certainly not enough to make up for the rudeness.

I was very excited to see ribolilta ($7) on the menu. Ribollita is a Tuscan soup that I fell in love with in Florence. Calling it a soup is a bit of a misnomer because the use of bread in the making all but absorbs the broth. It’s traditionally made with day-old bread because it was a way for peasants to reduce waste.

 I’ve seen it on only one menu in America, in New York. The reason it can’t be found in abundance is that it requires black kale, which is hard to come by in the states. Sadly, it can’t be found at Lago either. What is served as ribollita here is a brothy stew with beans, carrots, spinach and potatoes. And on top, some croutons. Croutons!

The stuffed meatball ($10) was a more satisfying appetizer, in fact the tomato sauce it sat in was deliciously full-flavored and well seasoned.

Grilled pork loin ($18) was a nice entree. The tender meat was served over mushroom, lardon and ramp risotto and finished with an apple Madeira sauce. Stuffed veal involtini ($21) was also good, the meat filled with a mix of pinenuts, raisins and sausage. Seared snapper ($25) is served with shrimp and crab mixed with arugula, kalamata olives and capers; mozzarella-stuffed chicken breast ($18) is simple but dressed up with prosciuotto and sun-dried tomato sauce.

It should be mentioned that our server was quite pleasant and did her best to make us feel like guests. The kitchen, for all its occupants — we counted nearly a dozen — was inexplicably slow in getting the dishes out.

The restaurant was well attended and buzzing with the sort of activity that makes one question whether we’re in a recession. But in a recession we most definitely are. People are still going out to eat, but they will be very careful with their dining dollars. Lago has the advantage of being new. Everybody wants to check out the new place. It’s getting them to return that is the key to survival.

If I were the owner of Lago, I would be working that room, thanking each and every person for coming to my restaurant, and I’d make certain I did everything to ensure they wanted to come back. 

And if I were the manager I would dress at least as nicely as my customers, whom I would treat as guests.

Lago is at 4979 New Broad St., Orlando. The phone number is 407-331-5246. The menu can be viewed at the restaurant’s Web site.

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