Whatever your concept of an “urban Italian kitchen,” you wouldn’t look for it among the potted palms in the 80-foot atrium of a 3,000-room conventions palace just outside Disney.
Which is the point made by Siro, the sharp new spot that replaced the Ristorante Tuscany in the center of the Orlando Marriott World Center. It’s unexpected, very unexpected.
Surrounded by Florida hotel seashell colors, Siro stands out as a pile of mismatched lumber in orange, white and barnwood salvage. No more high-dollar veal and high-cream pasta. Instead, there’s braised chard, pork belly and a green eggs and ham pizza — or a snack salad of octopus and garbanzo beans.
Siro’s idea of “urban Italian’’ means the rustic fare preferred by rural peasants and now in fashion among big city hipsters from Portland to Brooklyn.
Such change-ups are coming fast in Florida hotels. In the last 30 years, hotel meals have come from last-resort forgettable to first-class creative. Today, big hotels, whether 10 or 100 years old, are dramatically revamping their food line-ups once again — often to be less formal and on rare occasions, more affordable.
Some aim to draw more locals, some to lure new and different guests and some to keep guests in house. Whatever the menu price, hotel kitchens have the big brigades and budgets to afford hand-made techniques and pricey ingredients, local or imported.
Prior to Siro, the Marriott World had a typical mega-hotel menu of 10 restaurants — steak house, Japanese, fancy Italian, Starbucks, sports bar, poolside cafe and so on.
Now chef Anthony Burdo has enlivened that mix by giving Orlando its most contemporary Italian restaurant with tricks from the smartest new places in New York and California: Roasted marrow bones, risotto fritters, red gravy and misshaped arugula malfatti.
Prices are quite friendly for hotels or any foodie destination: Veggie antipastos, from baby artichokes to fennel, are $8; meat and seafood, $11 and $12. Charcuterie is a rare bargain: A $12 board has generous hunks of cheeses and prosciuttos and salamis, including spreadable nduja.
Out: The ornate L’Escalier and the Florentine Room.
In: After a multimillion-dollar revamp, the baronial hall now hosts HMF, a tribute to Henry M. Flagler and to the classic Palm Beach cocktail party. It pours every New Era trend and retro fantasy into a chilled icy shaker, two parts “Mad Men,” one part Gatsby and one part food truck, all served with Worth Avenue glamour. The midcentury look is from super stylist Adam Tihany, who did Per Se in New York. Even the sleeve-gartered barkeeps and cigarette girls (but no cigarettes) get designed, coiffed and made up by Guerlain and Fekkai.
Drinks from celebrity sommelier Virginia Philip and Juan Gomez run from class Gibsons, with house-cured cocktail onions, to a Railcar #91 of Cognac lemon, local honey and orange foam named for the tycoon’s private car.
Solid fare is a flashy mash-up of farm market vegetables, a Japanese robata, old school Italian pizzette, sushi, Stumptown coffee and baked Alaska. One part of the menu credits “the very best gourmet food trucks” for the likes of duck bao buns, wagyu sliders, chicken meatball tacos and wild boar empanaditas
($17 to $24).
Out: The Verona, classic Ritz gourmet dining, an exemplar of grand French and a pioneer of local and organic produce in Sarasota.
In: A new culinary team at the 10-year-old hotel has launched Jack Dusty, a breezy seafooder with a menu from fried alligator “tots” and oysters with collards to sushi ceviche and whole hog snapper in coconut curry broth. Trimmings are both gourmet (watermelon salad with fennel pollen) and modern comfy (house made ice pops, chocolate cake in a jar). Drinks include clever cocktails and an 18-label rum list.
The revamp included tearing out regal fittings and stuffed wing chairs for more open décor. Jack Dusty remains the hotel’s all-day space starting with breakfast and has moderate prices — starters run $10 to $20; steaks, chops and fish entrees top out at $30.
Where Verona was a special-occasion place, hotelier Brad Jencks sees Jack Dusty as a “restaurant that happens to be in a Ritz-Carlton,” affordable enough that he sees locals in three or four nights a week.
Out: The old Setai Grill, not as expensive or as Asian as the Setai’s main restaurant. The grill served trendy drinks and fashionable plates.
In: The Setai Grill relaunched as a very sophisticated steak house matching any in Miami’s top-dollar carnivore category. Chef Matthias Gervais provides French and Asian undercurrents, yet the star is dry-aged beef from Pat LaFrieda, New York’s celebrity butcher, including a 2-pound bone-in tomahawk steak ($125).
Two-fisted meat eating is not New Age, yet prime beef easily fits the Setai’s elegant indulgence. The Iberico ham is top pata negra from Cinco Jotas, the foie gras from Rougier, the carrots with the veal chop are baby purple heirlooms. The amber osetra caviar is layered with stone crab and crème fraiche ($305).
The wine cellar has a massive Champagne section.