Prix fixe menus with wine pairings offer diners an exclusive experience.
Owners of The Table in Orlando, chefs Loren Falsone and Tyler Brassil [Photo: Jacob Langston/Orlando Sentinel ]
Restaurant Row on Sand Lake west of I-4 in Orlando is packed with every kind of place to eat: Cheap, extravagant, chain, independent, Brazilian, Lebanese, Hawaiian, Turkish, a bistro McDonald's and, most unusual, a restaurant that is closed five nights a week.
But when the doors to The Table are open Friday and Saturday night, the 22 diners lucky enough to have reservations are happy to pay $100 for a five-course dinner of sophisticated cooking paired with cleverly chosen wine.
A many-course, one-price meal is an old idea and a very new one, especially as reinvented by the owners of The Table, chefs Loren Falsone and Tyler Brassil. They are a married team with top credentials from Empire in food-crazed Providence, R.I., where Falsone was one of Food & Wine's best new chefs of 2000. They relocated to Orlando, where she was executive chef at Seasons 52, and both now teach at the Cordon Bleu school in Orlando during the week.
On weekends at The Table, they host very exclusive dinner parties — which could be you and 21 of your closest friends or a few friends and more than a dozen you never met until The Table.
You all share the same menu. It could start with smoked artichokes in truffle vinaigrette, Cape Canaveral wreckfish with wild mushrooms and baby fennel followed by chive pappardelle made in house and with a ragu of local wild boar. Finish with a true cheese course, unusual imports and artisan domestics (maybe Winter Park tomme!) and a fabulous dessert, which could be rhubarb fool or custard tarts and pies with Florida berries.
For The Table, the intimate scale allows the chefs to stick with organic and local fish, produce and other ingredients, which may be available only in short supply. Having only one menu allows time for making a wide range of sauces and baking seven-seed pumpkin crackers and assorted breads and pastries for each course on the changing menu. Likewise, the wines are not big brands but hard-to-get boutique labels, from Washington state dessert wines to Friulian pinot grigio (wine is included in the price as is tax and tip).
Six Tables' duck l'orange [Photo: David Pearlman]
Belgian-trained Roland Levi and wife Gail pioneered the Six Tables format in Dunedin in 1998, with six classic courses from Chateaubriand to roast duck in a private setting for six tables of diners a few nights a week. Levi promoted the concept as a nostalgic luxury for diners and an innovative format for chefs that could be run by as few as two people and on a modest budget. Since then, other Six Tables opened in Boca Raton, Gulfport south of St. Petersburg and Tampa.
At the high end, such meals can be in the spirit of the Japanese tradition of "omakase" where the diner eagerly surrenders to the chef's choice, as at NAOE in Miami, where $85 gives you Kevin Cory's best and freshest. Often the meal is either a prix fixe tasting "menu" that is a sampler of chefs' creativity let loose — expensive but a grand bargain.
Sometimes dinner at a chef's table at the Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach or SideBern's in Tampa features the chef appearing occasionally for play-by-play commentary.?
When Miami's Eden Roc reopened after a revamp, it installed culinary rock star Paula DaSilva in a center ring called 1500 Degrees. The simplest, most efficient tour of DaSilva's force is a five-course tasting menu for $85 ($115 with wine). A shorter tour of three courses in the $37 prix fixe can be just as exciting.