The room is open and inviting, a beautifully choreographed blend of Mediterranean details and oceanic flair. A wall of arched windows lets the light play a role of prominent presence and at night become an illuminated view of the iconic Grand Floridian estate. The arrangement of tables flows from lounge to restaurant like a wave, creating a spacious, breezy atmosphere commensurate with a Mediterranean resort, where every table will likely provide a uniquely pleasing experience for the diner.
The bar is deceptively small, accommodating no more than five unless you’re willing to stand, but the lounge area well compensates. We arrived on the early side, specifically to enjoy a drink at the bar, which was lucky, because it filled up quickly. We ordered a couple of dry Kettle One martinis, which were unbelievably terrible. So much so, we would have sent them back were it not for a clearly tense situation behind the bar in which the “head” bartender was clearly angry about something, slamming the door of a small wine chiller and exclaiming, “I need a manager here,” while barking orders at the younger, female bartender who’d made our drinks.
Perhaps they were just too wet, or maybe it was the rocks the martinis had been shaken with that gave them such an unpleasant cast, but we managed to make them disappear shortly after being seated at a lovely table right next to a window. Round two, which we ordered with Grey Goose in place of the Kettle One, was perfect, so we chalked it up to just one of those things and moved on.
We moved on to appetizers, which our waiter, Lonzy, described with inaccuracies, but we were mostly very happy with the results: Mark’s charcuterie was nicely balanced, with duck-breast prosciutto, chorizo, and bresaola alongside a tangy asiago and a more mild fennel-infused mozzarella; while Amy’s yellow-tomato gazpacho,with smoked rock shrimp, tomato and cucumber salsa cruda, piquillo coulee, and sherry vinegar lime ice was something special, albeit a bit acidic at the finish.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t have gotten a more lackluster waiter. When we asked if he had any standout entree recommendations, he suggested we look at the menu and “see what speaks” to us; from there, if we had any questions he’d come back later to check on us. Not the response we were after, but when he returned and we had questions, it was clear his inability to bring the menu to life. The scallops were “very popular,” the short ribs “excellent.” Ironically, the woman at the end of the bar had ordered the short ribs, which were new to the menu, and she was less than impressed.
Amy opted for the pan-seared grouper in a cioppino that was more like a bouillabaisse, as there was no spice whatsoever, over squid-ink linquini; Mark had the grilled salmon with cabernet risotto and green pea nage. Both were very good, though unremarkable, but it was the service that did the most damage. So much so that Mark quickly wished he had tipped 15% tip instead of 18%. At least we didn’t have dessert–or wine with dinner, so we reasoned that it all evened out.
Will we go back? Likely. Eventually. But it didn’t make the “must” list. Not yet, anyway.