Park Plaza Gardens has started offering a new dining experience that’s a twist on the usual chef’s table. Park Plaza Gardens has a chef’s table, albeit not in the kitchen, which, for my money, is where a chef’s table should be.
But now PPG has taken the small room off the main atrium dining room that has traditionally been reserved for small parties and designated it the VIP Themed Dinner Room. Guests can reserve the room for a special dinner featuring one of three themed menus: 1940s Supper Club; East Meets West; or Southern Decadence. I visited recently with a few friends to experience the Southern Decadence dinner. And by the time we left, I was reminded how talented — and under-sung — chef John Tan is. It was an extraordinary meal from start to finish.
The start, keeping with the theme, was a mint julep, the classic cocktail of bourbon and muddled mint leaves. I’ve never been much of bourbon drinker but it made an interesting sipper, sweet but with a bite.
Our first course was the Key Largo, an appetizer of jumbo lump crabmeat drizzled with Key lime vinaigrette and served on a fried green tomato platform and accompanied by blackened jumbo prawns and micro greens. The crabmeat was cool and sweet, and the vinaigrette was a perfect counternote.
Savannah salad was next. It featured a strip of cucumber wrapped to form a dish out of which sprang a plouf of chicory. Beneath it was a salsa of sweet corn, black-eyed peas and Vidalia onions, all dressed with sweet and spicy
If I’ve had a more satisfying fish course than the red fish Biloxi that followed, I can’t recall it. The fillet was dusted with cornmeal, which formed a golden crust. The fish itself had a firm texture and a sweet flavor. The addition of tender-firm
Gulf shrimp in a Creole sauce, served of cheddar cheese grits, sent the dish over the top.
I really didn’t need anything after that, but it’s hard to stop a Midnight Train, which was the name given to the next course, a tenderloin filet crusted with pecans and accompanied by a sweet potato mash infused with bourbon. I could become a bourbon man if it’s delivered this way. A demiglace fashioned in the manner of red-eye gravy graced the dish. No one asked any of us how we preferred our meat to be cooked, but the slightly under medium turned out to be fine.
I could have predicted that bread pudding would be the dessert. It’s almost stereotypical that a Southern themed meal must end thusly. But this was no typical bread pudding. The texture was much lighter than most, and the taste was buttery sweet. It was served with praline ice cream and glaze of Southern Comfort. More bourbon!
The room was decorated for the theme and even featured a flat-panel television on one of the walls with a static shot of a sunny, fern-bedecked front porch. Yards of cloth draped the table, and each course was served on elegantly ornate china. The table was set with all of the flatware that would be needed throughout the meal. It’s always so outrageously stylish to approach a table with so many forks, knives and spoons all lined up and waiting. Draperies were pulled to isolate the room from the atrium space and to give an air of intimacy.
Each course was paired with an appropriate wine. Torre la Morierra Albariño was served with the first course and Domaine Girard Sancerre with the salad. ZD chardonnay was perfect with the fish, and a cabernet sauvignon from Chimney Rock went well with the filet. (Bourbon was just right with the bread pudding.)
The VIP themed dinners are offered at $150 per person, which includes the wine pairings, and is available for a minimum of six people and a maximum of eight. A two-week advance reservation is required.
Park Plaza Gardens is at 319 Park Ave. S., Winter Park. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. VIP themed dinners require a two-week advance reservation. Here’s a link to the Park Plaza Gardens Web site where you can see the menus for the other themed dinners. The phone number is 407-645-2475.