Being a foodblogger, I typically look to other food blogs to tell me where to eat when traveling to other cities. I found a dearth of Orlando food blogs before traveling there, and I was having a hard time finding restaurants in which to dine while there covering the Bocuse d'Or. I find Chowhound and Yelp to be remarkably unhelpful, quite frankly. Searching for a decent sushi joint, I get tired of reading things like "I loved the pecans and peanut butter in the Daytona 500 roll, it was really great, authentic sushi, and a bargain." Of course, I made that up, but this is the sort of thing I always read on Chowhound. I just can't trust the opinion of someone who thinks these kind of ridiculous ingredients belong in sushi. Fortunately, Open Table exists. Something about the description of Luma made me think it would be just right for me. When I looked at the website, I thought it might be a little too chic for a frumpy waitress, but I braved it.
Luma on Park is located in Winter Park, which is a delightfully charming suburb of Orlando. For some reason, I always had this idea that Winter Park was where the elderly overwintered; a chef told me I wasn't too far off, but I thought it was a great neighborhood.
As a single diner, I was offered a seat at the pastry counter, a bar-height counter which overlooked the cold app/garde manger station and the dessert station. There's no better way to make a waitress feel at home them plopping her at a presentation counter where she can engaged in banter with disgruntled kitchen workers. It was so entertaining I never even opened my magazine.
The menu made it very hard to decide, but for an appetizer, I settled on the wagyu beef tartare, which contained so many of my favorite things on one plate I just couldn't resist, just look at its beauty:
This was a very generous portion, and tasted amazing. It was perfectly seasoned; notice how there is no toast or anything - it didn't need any. Topping the tartare are pickled ramps (the chef already had my heart when I saw that on the menu) and a bitter green and herb salad. The red garnish is a puree of pickled beets! Another of my favorite things! And then, just to gild the lily - a soft-cooked egg coated in panko bread crumbs and flash fried. Are you kidding me? I was in heaven.
From out of nowhere came some truffled popcorn, and all of a sudden I had a feeling I had been spotted taking pictures. I usually try to be very, very discreet when taking pictures in restaurants, and I never take notes, but I figured - hey, I'm in Orlando. Who cares? The truffled popcorn was really, really tasty and was topped with shavings of parmesan:
Next up was oxtail ravioli. It had chanterelles and I think ricotta salata. Again, just look at it - these perfectly-made fat little ravioli, filled with pretty much just oxtail; there was no cheap filler. I think I ate this whole bowl in about 2 minutes flat. There were amazing, just my sort of thing:
Because I am powerless to resist Anson Mills grits, I ordered a side of Luma's rosemary grits which, if memory serves, might have been topped with a little drizzle of chorizo oil. As much as I love the flavor of rosemary, it is so frequently misused - there is nothing worse than getting a branch or even leaf of unchewable rosemary. However, these grits had a very nice and pleasing rosemary flavor and I vacuumed the entire bowl down with no yucky bits of rosemary. See? It's the little things which can make such a difference:
Then came a scallop from the chef! Perfectly seared, this scallop was served on a different sort of large-grain hominy grits and was really amazing. Even the green beans were perfect, and if you know me, you know that I have a little bit of a dislike for green beans. They were only lightly cooked but weren't squeaky. Of course, the bacon with the beans helped a lot:
Chef Brandon McGlamery came over and talked to me for awhile. I asked him a bit about his history - because the menu reminded me so much of things Chef Tetzloff (from G Michael's) would cook, I thought perhaps he had done some training in Charleston, but if memory serves, he had worked in Atlanta. He told me that he loved pickling veggies, and he loved to do lots of pickles and relishes when things were in season - hence the use of pickled ramps. Pickled ramps, by the way, make a great foil to rich things, as you will see in a few minutes. Chef Brandon expected his supply of pickled ramps to run out around December, and then it's just patient waiting. I know the feeling. He was also going to be at the Bocuse over the weekend.
Sitting a few seats away from me was another single diner, an Italian who had just moved to Orlando from Cleveland. I tried to explain what ramps were, probably not very successfully, but I did my best. The cool thing was, when the Chef sent me the popcorn and the scallop, he did the same for this other single diner, which I thought was really cool.
When the Chef found out I was from Columbus Ohio, he sent over his sous chef Derek, who was also an Ohio boy. He has lots of cook friends who live in Columbus and work on High Street. So, I'll say hi to all of them on his behalf! For being an Ohioan, he gave me his own foie gras and duck liver (non-fattened) pate, along with more pickled ramps (perfect with foie!!), black currant preserve, and fig jam. A little garnish of salt, pepper, and chives was also on the plate, which reminded me of the Vietnamese "black and white" condiment of salt and pepper mixed with lime juice:
This was a great dinner, and I highly recommend Luma. Chef Brandon seems very passionate about using seasonal ingredients, he loves to can things and make pickles and relishes, and the results of these little touches are amazing - from the pickled ramps and the pickled beet puree (something I've never seen before and would love to see again) to the jams and preserves, the homemade oxtail ravioli - everything was spot on. And I'm not just saying that because I was "made" as a food writer. Chef came over and talked to me - asked me lots of questions about myself, and he was a real charmer (I'm sure if I would have outed myself as a waitress he might not have been so nice; everyone knows chefs hate waitresses).
Luma was a bright surprise in the Orlando area, and I give it an A. A note on the wine list - wines are available by the glass and the half glass, which was really nice because I was driving about 12 miles, at night, in a strange city in a strange car, so I wasn't going to drink very much. I chose a glass of roussane/viognier, and was boggled by the giant pour - it must have been 8 ounces. So it was nice to have the option of getting a half glass of red (a Cotes du Rhone) to go with the ravioli.
I did manage to charm the cold app guy into giving me one scoop of Thai basil ice cream, which came out with candied peanuts and was a perfect and refreshing end to a fantastic meal:
and you know what? The manager even called the next day to ask me how dinner was! That's service!
Info: Luma on Park 290 S. Park Ave Winter Park, FL 407.599.4112