223 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park | 407-325-5165 | scratchtapas.com | $$
Those of you who were regulars at the now-closed Tatame Sake Lounge should pay a visit to the new restaurant occupying the space – to enjoy the food, yes, but also to take in the interior’s remarkable transformation.
Scratch, a self-described “modern American tapas restaurant,” is the product of the collective itch felt by the four culinarians who own and operate the place. Each brings his or her own unique capabilities to the partnership, but the eclectic design is nothing short of rousing – you won’t find silver antelope horns, a vintage sewing machine or French Provincial tufted banquettes bedecking just any restaurant in town. Oh no. Here, boar taxidermy melds with nautical flourishes, and does so seamlessly, in a way that feels classically urban rather than cluttered. It all lends an edgy, big-city swagger to the place – “a little Hannibal Lecter, but in a good way,” according to my dining comrade. It’s an aspect that hipper-than-thou gastronomes Dustin Haney, Michael Roller, Ashley Byrd and Dennis Robesch consciously nurture at Scratch, and the foursome, along with sous-chef Adam Novak, appear to be in mid-season form.
We were led to a table next to the creatively scribbled chalkboard wall, but seating at the bar looked just as inviting. There, a kegerator ensures a handful of intriguing drafts are drawn every night, though the selection of craft brews by the bottle and the intriguing list of wines are also fittingly eclectic. Same goes for chef Haney’s menu. As I forked short-rib poutine ($9) with twice-fried potatoes and bordelaise gravy into my mouth, I felt myself being transported to a Queen West poutinerie in Toronto, but those melted (read: squeakless) curds brought me back to Floridian reality.
While the buttermilk dressing was an unnecessary addition to the roasted beet carpaccio ($9), it’s nevertheless one of the better beet salads you’ll have the pleasure of sampling. Slices of beet and mandarin orange, raspberries and pistachios were placed around brushes and dollops of red and golden beet puree, and most notable was the addition of green peppercorns: bullets of invigorating joy. The little green orbs found their way into the duck ($12) as well, but while the flavors of the hickory-smoked and lavender-cured magret were exceptional, the meat was a tad chewy and overdone. That said, the accompanying corn maque choux (think upscale succotash) gets top marks. A sous-vide of pork belly adobo ($11) was given a soy glaze before being placed atop a mound of black rice, and a squeeze of calamansi lime enlivened the dish, keeping it properly Pinoy. A deft grilling of branzino ($12) meant soft flesh encased in superbly crisp skin. We didn’t care for the piercing “beer” blanc sauce (Belgian Wittekerke is used instead of white wine); we found the citrus-thyme-marinated fish sufficiently zested without it.
For many, a meal could offer no better an ending than Scratch’s cheese plate ($12), but don’t underestimate the power of their dark chocolate torte with Maldon sea salt ($7), or the vanilla bean crème brûlée ($6), with a top possessed of a worthy crack.
Like Cask and Larder just down the road, Scratch is changing the face of dining on Fairbanks Avenue, and it’s clear this group is in it for the long run. Renovations aside, it’s the uncritical mood and high standards set in the kitchen that makes Scratch worth sniffing out.