7025 CR 46A, Lake Mary
Let’s be honest – naming a dining establishment “finesse (n: the restaurant)” may show a bit of swagger, but it also holds open the door to a pair of unwanted guests – Closer Scrutiny and Unwanted Criticism. Chef Thomas Keller’s famous motto, “It’s all about finesse,” may have influenced Alex Brugger’s choice of a name for his Lake Mary restaurant, but as Kierkegaard said, “Irony is a disciplinarian feared only by those who do not know it, but cherished by those who do.”
While we were truly impressed by the quality of food coming out of the kitchen, it was the finer details – the polish, the subtlety, the … oh, what’s the word … finesse that we found lacking. Permit me to elaborate: Being served entrees when we haven’t had a chance to sample our appetizers is not a sign of finesse. A dictionary wall with definitions of “espresso,” “chipotle,” “brie,” etc. is more fitting of an upscale grocer, not a refined boîte purporting to ooze finesse. Neglecting to add caviar to the “crispy caviar potatoes”? Red pleather booths with racing stripes? No finesse. But finesse alone does not a good restaurant make, and, after a completely underwhelming first visit to the restaurant, we were wowed by the food on our latest stopover. I’m convinced that the kitchen has upped their game enough to rid the space of the jinx that saw three previous tenants close their doors.
A perfect poaching allowed us to enjoy the duck confit ($12) in all its unadulterated glory, and had we not been pre-empted by the premature delivery of our mains, we would’ve reveled in every sublime morsel of the buttermilk-marinated fried grouper cheeks ($12) as well. But with all the food hogging the table, the entrees ultimately held our attention. Without question, the tender chimichurri-rubbed Angus skirt steak ($19) is one of the finest such cuts I’ve had the pleasure of sampling. The steak alone is worth making the drive here, and if Shula’s 347 across the street were smart, they’d copy it and serve it at their steakhouse. Once a spoonful of caviar was added to the crisp potatoes accompanying the crab-stuffed flounder ($26), we could see the dish for what it really was – outstanding, right down to the Key lime-butter sauce.
Like most eateries nowadays, Finesse has jumped aboard the “source local” trend, but unlike other restaurants of this caliber, their menu fails to mention where their ingredients come from. Deep Creek Ranch? Lake Meadow Naturals? Pasture Prime Farms? Who knows, but the ingredients of the chocolate-orange molten cake ($10) might have come from Shangri-La. Our server punctured the cake, which takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and performed a tableside pour of peanut-butter crème anglaise into the cake’s Ghirardelli chocolate and ganache core. Nice. The tres leches martini ($8), by comparison, was an also-ran.
The perfunctory service could also benefit from a little fine-tuning, but let’s give credit to Brugger and co-chef Autumn McCoy. They’ve turned their establishment into a legitimate option for the Lake Mary-Heathrow gastronome, and the packed seats appear to warrant the cred. With some added polish, Finesse will be properly defined.