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Written By Scott Joseph On September 10, 2013

Lotus salmon

I’m not sure where to begin. Let’s start with the name, Lotus.

Lotus is the latest to occupy the space in the first-floor corner of the Sanctuary Condominiums that originally was Graze and most recently the home of Prickly Pear. What do you think of when you hear the name Lotus? I think Asian. A friend, when I asked him, said vegetarian. It’s neither, really, though I’d be hard pressed at this point to tell you what it is, other than, at this early stage, rather a warm mess.

It’s self-described as “farm-to-table fusion,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, other than to incorporate two current buzz terms, which is a fusion of its own. I’m only grateful they’re not calling it a farm-to-table fusion gastropub.

Whose farm is never spelled out on the menu. Though couldn’t any restaurant claim that its food originated on a farm? And the menu is less fusion than it is confusion.

On a recent visit my guest and I ordered appetizers of fried oysters and pork belly tacos. If there were indeed oysters involved in the flat, hard, crusty things that were presented you couldn’t prove it by me. The texture was more akin to a tostone. Hey, maybe that’s the fusion part! They were accompanied by a small salad of dressed arugula that was much more appealing, and edible.

Now I ask you to picture a taco. Corn, flour, it doesn’t matter, your choice. It’s my guess that the image you have is one of a folded device, a tortilla with meats and cheeses and lettuce within. The tacos at Lotus are presented flat. And, yes, I’ve seen tacos that are served this way in some of the most traditional Mexican restaurants. But in those cases its always on a flat, thin tortilla. The platform for the tacos here had more in common with a thick Boboli pizza crust than a tortilla. Folding was out of the question; only a knife and fork would do. The flavors of the small chunks of pork belly with onions and fresh cilantro were good, arguably the best of what I sampled here. But why set your guests up to expect a taco and then serve them a tostada/pizza?

lotus tacos

I liked the ribbons of pappardelle in my entree, called simply “hand cut pappardelle” on the menu, tossed with wild mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella. But the overall impression of the dish was blandness. No distinguishing flavors. Pass the salt, please.

But I fared better than my companion’s entree of Atlantic salmon burger. It was a dry fish patty served on a bun that had seen fresher days topped with cubes of avocado. It was accompanied by a container of fries, or as the menu calls them, pommes frites. Yeah, sure, why not throw a French term in there? Perhaps the translation is warm, greasy sticks of mushy potatoes.

I had no issue with servers and other staff. We were greeted warmly both at the front door and at the bar, where we chose to dine. This space has always presented somewhat of a design problem. The bar and lounge area is quite appealing, but the designated dining area that stretches along the storefront is less so. So that’s why the bar area was abuzz with chatter and the table area more sedate. The arena-style array of tvs over the center of the bar remains; a projection television has been added to the bar area, too, and why it was showing only images of the food at Lotus is yet another mystery.

Can Lotus get better? Sure. But it will take all involved to step back and reassess the purpose of the restaurant. Tell us who you are — in clear terms, not buzzwords — and why you exist. Let that identity drive your menu, and make the food a memorable experience.

Lotus is at 100 S. Eola Drive, Orlando. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. Website alert: music plays with no obvious mute button available. The downloadable menu has no prices. I paid a ridiculous $10 for the oysters, $9 for the “tacos.” The salmon burger was $11 and the pappardelle $12 — reasonable prices if the quality improves. The phone number is 407-781-2539.

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