Norman's - Ritz Carlton- Orlando - 5 Stars
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled- Matt
Top 5 Florida
Writing from personal experience, he deserves all the accolades and then some. This is, without a doubt, out of all the restaurants I have dined in across the country, the best restaurant in Florida and the second best in the USA. No contest.
From the minute you walk into Norman's, the place exudes class. My head server was a delightful lady named Trisha. Trisha was polite, professional and extremely knowledgeable about the evenings menu selections. She did an outstanding job. She is a role model for all servers. My assistant server was Dora. Yes, you read that correctly, Norman's uses assistant servers so that the customers needs will always be met promptly. Dora was also the epitome of a server. Presentation is a huge factor in a restaurant of this caliber. And let me assure you, Norman's nailed that as well. Every dish was brought to the table with elegance and placed in front of me like a work of art and rightly so. As it was my first time dining here, I went with the Chef's Tasting menu in order to get a feel of just what kind of gastronomical art Mr. Van Aken was preparing that evening.
I began my culinary adventure with a selection from the well stocked bar. I ordered my favorite cocktail, a rye based Sazerac. This was mixed perfectly and generously.
The first course in my Chef's Tasting prix fixe journey was the Steak tartare coupled with a pea and a walnut puree, topped with sprouts I would swear were just cut and all of this was laid elegantly on a ginger soy sauce. The ginger soy sauce added an Asian flare to the traditionally French fare I found unexpected and thoroughly enjoyable. The second plate to arrive was the Key West Shrimp Ceviche. The shrimp in this Latin staple were so fresh they almost moved on my plate and brought me to tears. I am not one easily moved to emotion such as this. I couldn't wait to see what Norman was going to do with the Foie Gras slated for the next course. I was not disappointed. The Foie Gras arrived in a ceramic dish perfectly baked to the consistency of French Toast and melted in the mouth with a spectacular buttery taste. Perfection. The fourth course on my Chef's Tasting was a spectacularly tangy Brazilian Styled Creamy Cracked Conch Chowder made with Saffron, fresh Orange, Star Anise and a Coconut "Cloud." The joining of the established Brazilian seasonings with the Floridian Conch made me want to break out in a Salsa inspired Samba right there in the middle of the restaurant (with great will power, I restrained myself). Again, perfection. Next to my table was the Pan-Seared Fillet of Yellowtail Snapper. I know. I was as excited to taste it as you are to read about it. This delectable fish came with fire grilled Asparagus spears in a Citrus infused butter sauce along with the "belly" of the most sumptuous Garlicky Mashed potatoes I have ever had. The Snapper was Pan-Seared to perfection and so fresh tasting I am sure it was caught that morning. The second to last course on my delightful culinary exposition into Norman Van Aken's kitchen was his take on the American standard, Pork Tenderloin. The Tenderloin was first lightly rubbed with a mix of freshly ground peppers, then cooked to perfection and bedded upon Norman's very own "21st Century" Mole (sauce). The flavor was so complex it was like peeling an onion. Which each bite I discovered a new layer of flavor. Just when I thought it couldn't possibly get any better, my final course for the evening arrived. For desert I had gone with the Deconstructed Bananas Foster. As it was placed in front of me I was convinced that if Heaven exists, this surely must be it. The bananas were cut and fried to a create an exquisite candy crust. They were placed on a caramel sauce, topped with a freshly baked caramel brittle and topped with a generous scoop of banana ice cream. Big Boy says, "It doesn't matter if you are in town or if you live within 500 miles of Orlando. Just go to Norman's and be prepared for a true adventure in gourmet dining that will leave you wondering if it was real or just an out of this world tasting dream."