The latest in a line of swank Euro-style boîtes anchoring South Eola Drive marks the realization of a vision for Steve Kodsi. The condo mogul has focused his sights on redefining the city’s skyline, but his dining destinations – Fifi’s Patisserie and Graze, along with Jason Lambert’s Beacon (see below) – signify a high point in urban eating in Orlando and a terminus for upwardly mobile foragers.
Sleek, streamlined and streaked with silver, Graze’s design evokes the icy mystique of Monica Vitti with the aloof dignity of Greta Garbo. I couldn’t stop caressing the vinyl-satin seats, which, unlike the grazing platter of skewers ($32), proffered endless amounts of pleasure. That’s not to say the trio of skewers of beef tenderloin, sesame chicken and shrimp were hopeless, but the gamy tang of the beef and the somewhat desiccated texture of the chicken had me lamenting my decision. Shrimp, lanced with cherry tomatoes and snow peas, proved to be the lone offering worthy of the inflated price tag; that, and the ginger-tamari butter dip.
The plush consistency of the roasted beefsteak tomato soup ($7) was spot on, but a marriage of baby dill and Parmesan croutons jilted the essence of tomato, its sweet astringency lost amid the bowl of creamy summer bisque. The complimentary loaf of bread, however, was simply outstanding.
Entrees are meant to reflect “globally inspired American cuisine,” with serious attention paid to seasonal and local/regional ingredients, so Key West yellowtail snapper ($36) capped with pico de gallo and cilantro-lime butter seemed a good choice, and it was. The fillet was superb, and the side of mango-avocado rice flecked with diced tiger shrimp added a little fleshy goodness to what otherwise would be a dull carb.
A dramatic “ta-da!” when unveiling the pad thai ($17) was a nice touch. The lid-lifting revealed a wealth of noodles stir-fried with a mother lode of ingredients – tiger shrimp, chicken, red chilies, broccoli, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro and Thai basil, not to mention spring onions. The flavors here are nothing new to the palate, but the elements meshed well together, and you can’t really ask for much more than that.
The same could be said about the service – it was top-notch. No doubt management runs a well-oiled machine. The wait staff quietly and unobtrusively slink about, and when they do appear, they’re nothing but cordial, professional and accommodating – though not so accommodating as to magically conjure up a plate of freshly-out-of-stock chocolate lava cake ($7). The recommended substitution of baked apple crisp ($8), presented in a single-serving-size cast-iron skillet, was appreciated.
The “split” ($9) was even better, with banana slices singed, or “brûléed,” atop a peanut butter brownie and served with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries. (Given the restaurant’s affiliation with Fifi’s, it would be nice if some of those fresh-baked goods – especially the cupcakes – from next door were made available to diners here for dessert.)
One wouldn’t expect to hear anything else but the cool sounds of lounge amid all this postmodern posh, and that’s what you’ll hear. Coupled with the slick service and a just-long-enough wine list to keep the cocktail crowd satisfied, Graze poses a welcome option for local gastronomes – and those with a penchant for feeling up furniture.