Mrs. Lo’s birthday is approaching rapidly, and since her actual birthday coincides with our kids going back to school (and it’s been a LOOOONG summer, that can’t happen soon enough), we decided to celebrate her birthday early and head down to the JW Marriott Grande Lakes so that she could have spa day and then dinner at Norman’s. We’ve been to Norman’s a couple of times before and it is easily one of my three favorite restaurants in Orlando, so we were excited to have an excuse to go back.
While Mrs. Lo spent the day at the spa, I did what any other sane person would when given an open, child-free afternoon in America’s tourist playground: I sat in my hotel room, basked in the peace and quiet, napped, watched kung fu movies and then savored the view from the 22nd floor as the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in. And let me tell you, it was nothing but good, my friends. Here’s the view from our room pre-thunderstorm:
Once Mrs. Lo got back from bankrupting us, errrr, her spa day, it was time for the main event, dinner at Norman’s, located in the adjacent Ritz Carlton. One of my favorite things about Norman’s is the fact that the service, while professional and elegant, is not overly formal or stuffy. The wait staff and sommeliers are knowledgeable and friendly, and more than willing to offer advice about the menu selections and wine pairings. We opted to go with seasonal tasting menu, which was priced almost unbelievably low, more than $30 less than the price posted on their menu online, and really was an exceptional value. The chefs were kind enough to include a fois gras dish that was on the normal menu in our selections so that I could get my offal fix. We also opted for the recommended wine pairings, which again was priced well below normal. Our waiter explained to us this pricing for the tasting menu was new, and if it worked out well they were considering extending it into October. Here’s hoping that they do.
Before the start of the meal, we were served an amuse bouche of strawberry sorbet with pepper, which was very attractively presented, along with a complimentary glass of champagne to toast Mrs. Lo’s birthday, which was a very nice touch (the restaurant customized our menus with a happy birthday message and provided a small chocolate fudge dessert as well).
Our first course was an extremely interesting pairing of watermelon, heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and radishes. It’s dishes like these that always make me happy that I ordered the tasting menu, since this isn’t something that I would normally think about ordering, but it was really excellent and a great way to start the meal. The watermelon salad was paired perfectly with a glass of Spanish Basa Rueda. (In an effort avoid repeating myself, all of the courses were perfectly paired with wines.)
Next up was the fish course, a wonderful piece of cobia with “melted” English peas, hush puppies and grape slaw, served with an Italian Cortese di Gavi, Alba. So very good, and probably Mrs. Lo’s favorite course of the night.
Ed note: I apologize in advance if I get a little emotional here for a couple of paragraphs. I get a little weepy talking about fois gras.
Next up was my special request, the fois gras course, which they were kind enough to include and to plate both tasting servings for me, since Mrs. Lo won’t touch the stuff with a 20 foot pole. I am not complaining about this in the least. Norman’s presentation is quite fantastic, and the story which accompanied it, if true, makes it even more so. Allegedly the chef came up with the recipe in his search for an appropriate meal to quell the drunken munchies after indulging a bit too much. And so the “Down Island French Toast” was born, which is fois gras topping a griddled brioche and covered in passion fruit caramel. Unbelievably good stuff.
At the suggestion of our server, I set aside one of the fois gras slices for the next course, which was duck served with vanilla scented figs, jerk spice and topped with a quail egg. Add some duck liver to that? Yes, please.
I was still reeling from how good the duck was, and almost forgot that the next course was coming, a roasted pork loin served with a pork cheek ropa vieja, cherry chutney and baby squash. Everything about this dish was amazing, but the pork cheek stole the show. So much flavor packed into those couple of bites. This came with another Italian wine, the name of which escapes me, but needless to say it was excellent.
Finally we got to the dessert course. You’d think we’d be stuffed to the brim but Norman’s paces these meals so well and portions each dish to allow you to enjoy the flavors without overloading you on anything. Give me four or five small plate courses over a Man vs. Food sized filet any day of the week. Dessert was another dish that highlights the advantages of a tasting service, as I likely wouldn’t have looked twice at this one on a menu, but it was most excellent and a great way to end the meal. We had a slice of pineapple topping a tequila soaked sponge cake, topped with ancho chile berry confit and coconut sorbet, served with a Chilean dessert wine. We both loved this, even though Mrs. Lo found the ancho chile to be a little overpowering.
So ended a wonderful meal at Norman’s. Thanks to all of the staff there for making Mrs. Lo’s birthday dinner a very memorable experience indeed.