Zafra

Dorado Beach Plantation Village Dorado, Puerto Rico • 00646 • (787) 626-1054 doradobeachclubs.com

tuna-duo

If you’re staying at The Ritz Carlton in Dorado Beach and want to mix it up a little from the resort restaurants, don’t. I can completely empathize with the desire for adventure, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Located in the “Plantation,” which I suppose is Puerto Rican for “clubhouse,” as in the clubhouse you’d expect to find at many a golf resort (not to shit on it too much though, it is a rather grand clubhouse, taking cues from its name and looking a lot like a giant house on a plantation), but a clubhouse is still a clubhouse and our dread started creeping in fast as we approached.

Situated in a corner on the top floor the dining room sorta shat the bed. Totally depressing. Away from the water. By the golf course, part of the clubhouse (can you tell I don’t like clubhouses yet?), the dining room is just small and somewhat dated, populated by a lifeless crowd. So, we opted to sit outside where we were attacked by mosquitoes and a bat (guess this explains why we were the only ones sitting outside), who circled around our table for the entire meal. Lucky for me I don’t have much hair left for it to get tangled in. Wifey wasn’t too happy though.

And the unhappiness only swelled from there. The pork chop was dangerously under cooked and even more dangerously boring. As for the salmon entrée, it was also under cooked with a smidge more flavor than the pork.

On the upside, neither of us was bitten by the bat (just the mosquitoes). On the downside, I shoulda listened more closely to the story of Solla Sollew, by Dr. Seuss, when I was a child. Well, lesson finally learned. Even Nirvana has its misses.

1 tooth

 

Positivo

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/positivo-sand-bar

positivo-day

I am positively in love with Positivo. A jack of all trades and a bit of a chameleon, changing from more American fare by day, to Pan-Asian by night and somehow sticking the landing on both. Not that it’s without its misses, but I don’t want to get all negativo, because for resort food, even the misses are pretty impressive.

The setting is relatively standard for a resort of this caliber, situated completely outside with several tables right on the sand. Granted they are the furthest from your servers so should you opt for the better view, just know that attention will suffer a touch.

Of the droves of tasty looking lunch options we split an enormous kale salad that I can’t even imagine eating solo without blowing out your colon from ruffage overload. I liked it very much as it was loaded with goodies to keep it interesting, including corn nuts of all things.

We also had the chips and guacamole, which is the biggest miss of our stay, made surprisingly bland considering the locale. And while there were admirable attempts to make it interesting, they didn’t come through in execution. Nor did the Obsession cocktail, about which I was not very obsessed. It basically tastes like alcoholic coconut water with a spicy rim.

On the flip side, the brisket sandwich with chipotle aioli on ciabatta was pretty awesome. A touch too fatty to be fabby, but the flavors were dynamite!

For dinner the crispy snapper is a must, prepared almost like crispy orange beef, but with fish, obviously. So good. The ceviches are also decent, made very fresh as a ceviche should be, but the octopus was the more flavorful of the two because the halibut needed more lime to give it that all-important acidity.

But stop the presses come dessert, because we have an Ultimato. The grilled mochi is a stroke of brilliance. Caramelized on the top, it almost comes off as a roasted marshmallow wrapped around creamy red bean ice cream. It’s so good it almost makes up for all of the insanity caused by the Puerto Rican Parade in New York City. Almost.

3 teeth

Mi Casa

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/mi-casa-by-jose-andres

Food by Chef Jose Andres for Mi Casa in Puerto Rico

I don’t mean to come off douchey, because no one needs a Douchey Foodie in their lives and let’s face it, a Ferocious one is already bad enough as is, but if you have the means, I highly recommend a vacation at the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Reserve. It is stunning on so many levels you won’t know whether to shit or go blind or just lie on the beach and gorge yourself full of deliciousness, like some wannabe Julius Caesar reincarnate. In fact, I could easily drop a thousand words waxing on about the spa alone, a four-acre, outdoor compound the likes of which you’ve never seen. But that’s for a different blog. So getting back on track, the thing that impressed me the most about Dorado (other than the spa) was the quality of the food at the restaurants, normally a challenge for even the ritziest of island retreats (pun intended).

Enlisting the help of famed chef, Jose Andres as their focal point in the dining scene, Dorado manages to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton with rock climbing spike boots strapped to her feet, to use a self-dating sub-reference. And I don’t say this lightly, because truth be told, I’m actually not a huge fan of Jose. I typically find his cuisine too tricky for its own good, but Mi Casa is a home run (again, intended) way better than The Bazaar in LA.

Now it doesn’t hurt that we were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean waves as they crashed into the rocks whilst a symphony of whistling tree frogs serenaded us, but the inside is nice as well. Just hard to compare to the alternative.

Starting with drinks, the Silver Lightning cocktail is quite nice and refreshing, although I don’t quite recall everything that was in it. Cucumber and a silver rum is about the best I can do. Apologies. I was on vacation, so hopefully you’ll find it your heart to forgive me. The wine selections by bottle and by glass are also impressive and service is pretty impeccable throughout 90% of the resort or more, and at Mi Casa it is no different. Waiters were attentive, elaborate with descriptions and knowledge of the menu and best of all, very forthcoming with the recommendations.

Of the recommends, we went with jamon sourced from black-footed pigs which are apparently only fed acorns. It gives the meat a nice underpinning of nuttiness, and the meat itself is very buttery, silky and delicious. On the downside, the tomato bread they serve it with doesn’t do the meat justice. Would love to see this paired with something more worthy, that actually compliments the flavors of the charcuterie more so.

The other reco we pounced on was the sauteed shrimp with arbol chili (similar to cayenne), poblano peppers, shallots and aged black garlic. It was phenomenal. So complex and layered with rich flavors that it might just be one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve ever had. Granted I’m usually just as happy with a good old shrimp cocktail and some kicking sauce, but that should take nothing away from this remarkable dish.

Our only zag from the recos were the Brussels sprouts, lightly sautéed and served up with dried apricots and a medley of other goodies. Unfortunately, this was the biggest miss of the night though, shame on us. Not that it was bad, but the sprouts were decidedly overpowered by the cots in a pretty big way.

For our entrée, wifey and I split the halibut, which was prepared flawlessly, served over a creamy leek purée that danced with the fish like a ballet in your mouth. The perfect light compromise should you want to save room for dessert, which you do. Trust me. Because it steals the show.

First let’s discuss the casa-shaped chocolate ganache, drizzled with flecks of salt and served up with spiced, candied hazelnuts and a heavenly praline ice cream. It is the richest house I’ve seen since the Breaker’s Mansion in Newport, RI. But as good as it was, the deconstructed key lime pie swooped in and bested it. So inventive with the pie on the bottom, a crumbled, crispy crust through the middle and a burnt meringue on top. So inventive. So magically delicious. But is it an Ultimate? Whoa, mamacita yes it is!

So bringing it home like a champ, Mi Casa is also bringing home 4 knives along with it.

4 teeth

Highball & Harvest

4012 Central Florida Pkwy. Orlando, FL32837 • (407) 393-4422highballandharvest.com

Dining-N-Style-highball-harvest-Main

The JW Marriott and the Ritz Carlton are both so massive on their own that when you connect them it creates a structural morass the likes of an MC Escher drawing. And while you might wish you had Google maps to find your way through the Shining-like halls of this behemoth, there’s gold in them, thar hills! The treasure I speak of is Highball & Harvest a contemporary Southern restaurant located somewhere in the belly of the Ritz.

The décor is a little all over the place, but ultimately passes as nice and the service is suspiciously friendly, perhaps I think that because I’m from New York City where most people that jolly are heavily medicated.

But our waiter’s chipper demeanor aside, he was also spot on with the recommendations, the first of which being the Parker House rolls . They are so good I actually recommend NOT ordering them, because the temptation to fill up on bread will be immense. Which means you’ll need to dig deep, mustering up some serious willpower so that you can enjoy the things to come. Things like the crab cakes with fried green tomatoes and remoulade. An ultimate worthy dish to the second power, proving tops in both the crab cake category as well as the fried green tomato.

Another dish I highly recommend is the blackened grouper. Cooked perfectly and placed over a bed of hominy ragu, adouille sausage and pickled okra.

On the mortal end of the spectrum I would place the kale salad the sticky toffee pudding and the donuts. None of them were bad or even mediocre, but they just didn’t wow like their predecessors.

I do, however, feel the need to expound upon the donuts as I applaud the presentation. Dusted cinnamon sugar donut bites served warm in a paper bag next to a tube of Nutella which you use to inject the donuts full of chocolaty wonder. It’s definitely good, but just shy of great.

But I don’t want to end things on a blah note, because I really did love this place. So, I have saved one of my favorite things for last, the cocktail. Called the Doc Holiday it comes in a copper mug filled to the brim with Tito’s vodka (not something I believe was around during Doc’s existence, but I’ll let it slide), ginger beer, grapefruit and blueberry jam. Plus hand-cut ice. Now I’m not exactly sure how hand-cut ice actually influences the flavor of the drink, but they seem to be very proud of it at H&H. And while I kid the things I love, I can’t say enough about this drink. In fact, it’s not just a drink, it’s an experience. As is Highball & Harvest in its entirely. Run. Don’t walk. Assuming you can actually find it.

4 teeth

L’Ondine

La Croisette, 06400 Cannes, FR • 0493942315 • ondineplage.com
 le-baoli

When mussel season hits, this place is a must. Located right on the beach with the gold and white awnings, just down from the Carlton. There are several other things here that are good as well, such as the caprese and artichoke salads. But one word of caution, the portions are humungous. I’m guessing they have Americanized them for all the tourists. Or Italianized them for family style? Well, whatever they did, they awesomized the Moules Frites. The best I’ve ever had. Each mollusk carrying with it a faint memory of the sea, along with a white wine broth so good you’ll want to sop it up with a bushel of baguettes.

3 teeth

Norman’s

4012 Central Florida Pkwy Orlando, FL 32837(407) 393-4333 • normans.com

MONGO+VEAL

Oh Yelpers, I find it laughable that you compare the service here to the likes of the French Laundry. I have been to both and it’s like comparing Michael Jordan to some guy who owns a basketball. The sommelier , while good, was an apprentice as opposed to a master. The waitress and back servers made several mistakes including taking away a plate while my friend was still chewing and leaving a newly presented dish go unexplained. I think you’re letting the fact that it’s in a Ritz Carlton fool you. Now I’m not deducting a knife or anything for this, but I am calling bullshit on the “impeccable” service.

And as for the romantic décor, it isn’t. It’s nice. But you can’t help but notice you are in an expansive hotel wing.

But don’t think this is another bash session on Yelpers, after all, they got a few things right. For example, the Yucca stuffed shrimp with habanero was very good. I expected a little more heat from the dish, but it’s still definitely worth ordering. Another great recommendation was the pork belly served with an artichoke puree, brussel sprouts and a sherry reduction. Best thing we ordered. And finally the key lime cheesecake was another solid call from the Yelping contingent.

But here’s what they missed:

The ciabatta bread is insanely good, tasting more like a beignet than ciabatta to me, but no complaints there. Just try to control yourself or you’ll never make it to dessert. I know, I sound like your mother.

Another miss is the consensus of praise for the fried green tomatoes. I’m guessing most of these people have never had the dish before because it’s typically savory and even a touch tart. Whereas Norman’s serves it in a tempura batter with a tomato jam on top that turns the dish decidedly sweet, which isn’t to say it was bad, but when you order an iconic dish, your mouth starts to prepare itself for a certain set of expected flavors, so to zag so drastically from it just didn’t work for me.

And the biggest infraction of the night was the chicken. So overcooked and dry it was humiliating… for the chicken. To have died in vain for such poor performance is a poultry tragedy. And while the preparation surrounding it was nice, it was brought down by its headliner.

The second biggest miss came right on the heels of the chicken, with the Havana Banana dessert. And normally I’m bananas about bananas, but this dish is so unworthy of the hype I almost want to hunt down the Yelpers who touted it and pull out their tongues because they obviously aren’t using them properly.

Funny enough, however, the free dessert that comes with your check was the best of the lot. The dark chocolate, hazelnut truffles are incredible. Great way to end a good meal. And while I am only giving it three knives, it’s definitely better than Primo across the way, which I also gave three knives. So consider this an honorary three and a half.

3 teeth