Alfond Inn, 300 E. New England Ave., Winter Park | 407-998-8089 | thealfondinn.com | $$$$
As far as boutique hotels go, Winter Park’s Alfond Inn is a stunner. Its airy spaces, Art Nouveau flourishes, contemporary artwork and Mediterranean-Revival architecture give cause to roam, explore and gaze, which we did prior to approaching the hostess stand of the hotel’s restaurant, Hamilton’s Kitchen. As we were led to our table, it was like walking from the hallway of the Grand Vizier’s palace and straight into the refined rustic kitchen of a well-to-do Southern politico.
The styles are markedly disparate, yes, but that doesn’t make the dining room, with its farm table, wood floors and whimsical industrial lighting, any less inviting. Sliding doors open out onto an outdoor courtyard where guests may opt to dine alfresco. We sat inside, at a table looking out onto the lush grounds, and just rested for a few minutes, taking in the utterly relaxed scene.
Thanks to some yip-yap emanating from chef Chris Windus’ open kitchen, we were roused from our meditative states in time to be greeted by our gracious, professional and well-spoken server. Listening to his descriptions of two specials – a starter of lightly fried Kumamoto oysters on the half-shell with an Old Bay remoulade ($12), and an 8-ounce filet with shaved black truffles ($48) – proved irresistible. The menu itself is a study in austere editing, which we found refreshing; just six starters and six entrees are listed (along with four sides), so making up one’s mind doesn’t take
Neither does wolfing down fluffy, doughy rolls served with … wait for it … bacon butter! Tamping down our desire to ask for more rolls was difficult, yes, but wise insofar as elevated triglyceride levels were concerned. Besides, the Kumamoto oysters offered an additional dose of buttery smoothness, and the delicate fry and light remoulade allowed the sweet flavor of the shellfish to shine through. Do yourself a favor and pair it with a glass of Conundrum 2011 ($12). And look, $13 may seem like an egregious amount to pay for a kale Caesar salad, but this was one damn fine salad, with baby dinosaur kale, shaved Parmesan and olive-oil croutons.
For the $48 price tag, I would’ve expected a visible amount of black truffles on the filet at the very least, but alas, nary a shaving was seen. When we brought it up to our server, he kindly offered us more of the black truffle and cauliflower puree, but that was small consolation. Adding insult to injury, the flavorful Buckhead Beef filet was unevenly cooked, with most of it medium-well to well-done, and just a small portion cooked to the requested medium-rare. Consolingly, the fresh catch ($32) – skin-on monkfish pan-seared with a brown butter-and-caper sauce – was laid atop an impeccably fashioned corn succotash, and the accompanying crab croquette was properly meaty. Two sides to consider: jalapeño-honey-glazed sweet potatoes ($7), like wee blocks of sweet gold, and salty charred broccolini ($8) with caramelized onions.
The butterscotch pudding ($12), with a light infusion of 12-year-old Macallan scotch, Chantilly cream and sea salt-chocolate toffee, made an indulgent ending. Fresh fruit en fata ($12), orange frangipane topped with orange sorbet and warm fruit compote, came in a wee pouch (think fruit sous vide), de-bagged tableside.
The hotel is owned and operated by Rollins College, though we have Hamilton Holt, the school’s 8th president, and Windus to thank for the restaurant’s name and impending fame. All hail the chief, and the chef.