Hours: 11am-2am Monday-Friday; 10am-2am Saturday; 10am-midnight Sunday
No longer burdened by his eponymous chophouse in Longwood, restaurateur Manny Tato can now focus energies on his chain of Spice Modern Steakhouses in Winter Park, Heathrow and the soon-to-open downtown locale that once housed the Lake Eola Yacht Club. And judging from the inherent swank his Park Avenue steakhouse exudes, its longevity should outlast the space’s predecessor, R Bistro, though I have to say the split-room layout is a little odd and lacks consistent sophistication.
On one side sits the bar/lounge, where the inebriated wails of martini-soaked fashionistas drown out the vanilla-tinged melodies of live entertainment. What’s worse is that the hybrid cacophony filters its way through the divide and into the dining room, not enough to rattle the postmodern art off the walls but enough to warrant my waiter’s remark, “Didn’t know you were dining in a nightclub, did you?”
Still, there’s a fair amount of culinary dash to go along with this supper club’s ornamental flash. The generous round of baked brie ($9) was flawlessly executed, right down to the flaky, golden-brown pastry, and a dip in the strawberry compote made it all the better. Guinness-marinated fried oysters ($12) were lightly battered and fried to a subtle crisp, but the accompanying hoisin-soy sauce resulted in a bittersweet clash of east and west.
For a steakhouse, there weren’t many cuts from which to choose – only five, in fact, along with pork and lamb chops. But the two cuts of beef I did sample were top-notch; actually, they were “upper choice,” a USDA grade not quite as good as prime, but exceptional nonetheless. The 12-ounce center-cut filet ($36), a wonderfully tender chunk of beef, may put a dent in your wallet, but your palate will be forever indebted. I’ve always thought it offensive to adulterate a great piece of beef with béarnaise or hollandaise, but I’ll admit the chimichurri-ish cilantro-garlic sauce ($3) was a worthy dip for the filet.
No need for dressings of any sort with the vibrantly flavorful 16-ounce ribeye ($25), its synthesis of meat and marbling making for a rapturous melt-in-your-mouth affair. Both steaks come with a heaping serving of mashed potatoes, green beans and a dollop of gravy, so no need to order any of the a la carte sides, but if you must, opt for something other than the baked macaroni and cheese ($6). The singed-dry penne suffered from too many licks of the flame, and could’ve used a more liberal topping of sharp cheddar. A few chicken and vegetarian dishes are also offered, as are seafood specialties like pan-seared blackened grouper ($24) served over parmesan orzo.
With the exception of the chocolate chip cookies and milk ($6), the dozen or so desserts continue the extravagance, but the colossal slab of overly sweet tiramisu ($5) underwhelmed with its density. A wedge of moist “black-tie mousse cake” ($6), with its thick chocolate frosting and buttercream center, fared a little better.
From bold reds to nectar-sweet endings, their extensive wine list comprises nearly 200 selections, though a flight of four 2-ounce pours ($16) offers a taste of four different world regions. For all you night owls, a menu of light fare is served from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Tato is raising the, ahem, stakes with his foray into the meat market, and no doubt his new-school chophouse spices things up by rejecting stodgy and traditional for trendy and urbane, with nary a reduction in food quality.
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