My most recent visit to the restaurant at the corner of Orange Avenue and Virginia Drive, just across from Lake Ivanhoe, had me thinking that the name should be Still instead of Stir. It was very quiet and largely unattended.
Actually, I think we’re meant to present the restaurant’s name as STIR. According to the About Us page on its website, the name is an acronym for Sip, Taste, Indulge and Relax. And you may do all those things at this restaurant and bar, which is located in the space that most recently was Nova (whose name was a syllabic abbreviation of North of Virginia). Whether you’ll want to is another question.
The first time I went to Stir I did not intend for it to be a reviewing visit. I was meeting a colleague to discuss a business venture and the just-opened restaurant seemed like a convenient place to meet for drinks. As I often do, I ordered a negroni, the cocktail made with equal parts gin, Campari and sweet vermouth. What I was served tasted nothing like any negroni I’ve had before. And in fact when I mentioned this to someone, I was told that the bar did not stock Campari, so something was substituted.
Dear bartenders and beverage managers: You are not required to stock every bit of liquor, liqueur or mixer known to every drinking man or woman. And given your proclivity towards creativity, I understand your desire to play variations on a tippling theme. But for crying out loud, if you don’t have the ingredients for a classic cocktail or your presentation strays from the original recipe, you might want to mention it to your customer ahead of time. “I don’t have the ingredients for a negroni,” you might say, “but I have something you might like instead.” With that information at hand, I can either choose something else or go with your creative juices, so to speak.
I was also recognized on that visit, and even though I had not intended to eat more than a nibble, food was brought to the table throughout my meeting with my friend. That puts me in an odd position. Do I mention that the calamari I did not order looked like fish sticks or that the spinach and artichoke dip was so thick that it couldn’t even be spooned onto one of the tri-color chips let alone be dipped in it? And would this be the time to ask why a chef would present something in puff pastry and then place it in a puddle of broth, turning the puff to a soggy glop?
I wish I could say things were different on my official visit. The Buffalo Calamari this time did not look like something Mrs. Paul would concoct, but neither did the appear to have been freshly breaded. The ringlets were surprisingly uniform. The Buffalo aspect had nothing to do with the breading or frying. Instead, two sauces, a red garlic and a blue cheese, were provided as a do-it-yourself Buffalization kit.
My companion ordered the Bonified Pork, described on the menu as bone-in prime pork. It was dry, and I don’t think the bits of gristle were meant to be part of the bone-in description. The side dish of collards was fine if simple.
I had the Southern Stir Fry, which did not look like any stir fry I’ve had before. And it wasn’t all that Southern, either. It was a gloppy concoction, which is not necessarily a negative thing. It had sausage, shrimp and chicken with bell pepper and onions tossed with fettuccine in what the menu describes as Cajun cream sauce. Let me know if anything about that says stir fry. Maybe it was supposed to be STIR Fry, but I think you’ve got the equivalent of a Campari-less negroni here.
There was one bona fide (if not bonified) success from the kitchen. A Bean Soup presented as the soup of the day was delightfully thick and beany and tasted as though it had been made on the premises.
The night after that visit I was dining at a trendy restaurant on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale. The food was high quality, well seasoned, thoughtfully prepared and expertly served, and we had cloth napkins instead of paper. I was struck when I received that check: It was almost exactly the same amount as the one I received at Stir, though the two experiences couldn’t have been more disparate.
Stir Restaurant & Bar is at 1409 N. Orange Ave., Orlando (you will not find that detail at the restaurant’s Facebook page). It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-723-8976.