There are pen and pencil drawings of some of the most recognizable landmarks on earth surrounding the main dining room of Journeys, their evident purpose to underscore the restaurant’s claim of offering “world inspired cuisine.” As I sat identifying each of the works hanging on the lemon meringue colored walls (Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, St. Louis Arch, Lake Eola to name a few), the repetitive lyrics of Daft Punk’s “Around the World” invading the mp3 player in my head, I thought to myself that instead of an absurd (and irrelevant) rendering of Lake Eola, a drawing of the restaurant itself would be a more fitting titivation.
Sure it may be a tad egotistical, but Journeys is a landmark restaurant and has been for the better part of four years thanks to the vision of owners Geraldine and Bram Fowler. Their excursionist lifestyle has spawned a menu harmoniously fusing disparate ingredients from across the globe, with chef Jeffrey Kainz, a CIA graduate, being the skillful executioner.
Fried slivers of sweet potato added visual allure, and a Southern twist, to a bowl of killer wild mushroom bisque ($6), a smooth puree poured tableside from a sauceboat. Complimentary crusty bread with sun-dried tomato tapenade made for a serendipitous complement. Hydroponic arugula ($7) lent a freshened base for heirloom tomato discs, pickled Vidalia onions, caramelized almonds and manchego cheese, the greens given a glisten with a light stoneground mustard vinaigrette.
As a marinade for flank steak ($12), the Worcestershire sauce worked wonders, but as a tenderizing liquid, it was woefully inept. Even perfectly cooked white truffle Parmesan risotto and a whimsical plantain chip garnish couldn’t redeem this tough and chewy starter.
The Fowlers’ African heritage (she’s from Mauritius; he’s from South Africa) is reflected in the prawns peri-peri ($26), a fiery main course that diners can order mild, medium or hot (don’t be a wuss – order it hot). The pleasant crunch of subtly sweet king prawns bathed in a buttery blood-red sauce infused with scorching African bird’s-eye peppers underscores Kainz’s prowess in creating dishes marked by contrast.
Red meat is given prominence among land-based entrees with such dishes as pan-roasted Montana elk ($29), veal osso bucco (a special the night I dined, $26), pan-roasted duck breast ($26) and rack of lamb ($28). Seared filet mignon ($30) will appeal to both bold and traditional carnivores alike with its herb and goat cheese burgundy reduction and healthy serving of seasonal vegetables. Accompanying truffled green-pepper mashed potatoes are impossible to spurn.
Spongy apple angel cake ($6) served in a parfait glass with fresh cream is absolutely heavenly and ideal for those who don’t like their desserts too sweet. A substantial wedge of the chocolate-macadamia kona coffee torte ($7) was satisfying enough, but could’ve used more chocolate and coffee.
Though cool and cordial, the waitstaff failed to meet expectations which, admittedly, were fairly high. Failing to inquire as to whether a steak was cooked to order; not filling empty water glasses; and taking away dishes without asking if a to-go box is needed were just some of the minor infractions that served to sour the mood. Such miscues may be tolerated at some dining establishments, but if allowed to fester in a landmark restaurant such as Journeys, they can only serve to taint its legacy.