What happens when a few foodies get an invite to experience a local restaurant’s unveiling of their new menu? Food Paparazzi fever!
Alex Brugger and Autumn McCoy, and Rashmi Primlani Owners and Chefs of Finesse, in Lake Mary, Florida recently flexed their culinary muscles for local foodies. From my perspective it is an ingenious way to get the word out not only about their location, more important, to showcase their passion in creating sexy and elegant fare. I had heard foodies talking about this place since it opened in early 2011, but I had yet to visit the restaurant. The restaurant is off Interstate 4 just north of Orlando in Lake Mary, Florida.
Walking into the restaurant your eyes immediately focus on colossal photos of food and culinary equipment with dictionary definitions beside; the dark wood tables/booths and chairs contrast very well with the white plates and napkins. The red light shades give the restaurant a vibrant over-tone. The main dining room has a long bar located on the left side which gets quite busy after-work hours and seems to be a welcome watering hole for the locals and business travelers alike.
When I spoke with Alex and Autumn, it was clear both have not only a obsession for creating great food, but also a thirst to learn how to better what they do best. It shows in every aspect of the restaurant operation.
Finesse has a “Chef Table” in the second dining space behind the front dining area. The chef table can seat 12, and seems to be a very comfortable number for Alex and Autumn to handle. Since there were about 20 foodies and guests the night my wife and I dined.
Our evening started with some tantalizing appetizers of Tuna poké ($12); Ahi tuna with toasted coconut, avocado créma, soy, sesame, onion, served with fried green plantains. The tuna was a nice deep red color and had a slight avocado flavor on the palate. There was a small amount of caviar atop mound of tuna. A nice touch to this dish was the crunchy fried green plantains. The contrasting texture is what I look for and definitely found with the Poké. There was a Rashmi inspired Oxtail Marmalade to go with the selection of cheeses and crackers. The Oxtail had been slow braised for hours in Port wine reduction resulting with these intensified yet complex flavors of the Oxtail, carrots and shallots; finished with an emulsion of tangy-sweet vinaigrette. While I would not call it Marmalade, more like chutney, it was exceptional. This particular appetizer would pair well on a white wine flight during the summer months. Other notable starters; duck confit en croute ($12); not your typical Wellington. Soft puff pastry filled with slow roasted duck melded with duck fat roasted mushrooms (Duxelle) then baked to perfection. Other appetizers were Tuna and salmon pinwheels and Grouper cheek (not on the January menu). A nice surprise for the foodies! I love grouper cheeks but sadly missed this dish because of my incessant need to take photos of the food.
The surprises weren’t over – we all took our seats at which point, Alex and Autumn brought out their version of Bacon and Eggs ($12). Two slabs of pork belly, slow roasted until caramelized, served with two sunny-side-up fried eggs with a nappe of Marsala sauce. Unfortunately, we had to share this succulent and most flavorful part of the pig with others at the table. Eating pork belly is such an amazing textural experience. You have a nice layer of meat, a nice layer of fat, another nice layer of meat, another nice layer of fat, and when you cook it properly, you have a thin crispy layer on top that's crackly when you bite down into it -- which you should never do in less than three seconds. Add egg to the mix and one has what could be classified as a nirvana experience. As if I wanted to be taken to another gastronomic level, we were served Lobster Crab Soup ($7 for a bowl) and a Black bean soup ($6 for a bowl). I liked the Brandied cream in the Lobster soup along with the crab as a garnish on top. As for the Black bean soup, the chorizo added a little spicy touch. I enjoyed the flavors of these two soups and definitely should be on your list to try.
It was a shame we had to choose our main dish. I would have ordered another round of Pork Belly n Eggs; instead, I acquiesced and ordered Paella Risotto.
Paella Risotto ($24) comes with tiger shrimp, chorizo, lobster and chicken; prepared in saffron-shell stock. Speaking as a chef, I look for presentation and flavor profiles; while this dish was not the best looking dish, I was pleased with the perfumy saffron aromas wafting up from the plate. The Arborio rice was slightly overcooked giving it a gummy texture. I noticed the risotto somehow was stuffed inside the plump mussels as they were folded into the rice mixture during plating. If I were serving this dish, I would strategically place the lobster, shrimp, and mussels after the risotto was on the plate. The lobster meat was easily removed from the tail and sweet on the palate.
My wife ordered the pan-seared grouper ($28) which comes with a deep fried risotto cake and steamed green squash (Chef’s choice of vegetable), and is finished with a key lime butter sauce. The grouper was cooked perfectly, flakey, sweet, with the citrusy-ness of the key lime butter… contrasted with the crunchiness of the risotto cake, which I did not care for and perhaps should be removed? The need for chef’s to place a starch with most “center-of-the-plate” items seems unnecessary and doesn’t showcase their culinary skill. In the end, I preferred the grouper over my Paella.
Finesse’ dessert selection for the group was seductively delicious. Three desserts were brought out for us to taste… Chocolate Molten Cake, Flan, and fried Banana cheese cake. I enjoyed 2 of the 3 desserts. The Chocolate Orange Molten Cake ($10), almost Souffle-esque made with Ghirardelli chocolate, inside was an amazing gooey ganache center, with peanut butter Anglaise poured into the center of this mound of decadence by our server. While my palate could not detect much if any peanut butter in the Crème Anglaise, the orange-zest was quite pronounced. For all you chocoholics… a must have dessert. The second dessert was the Caramel cream cheese flan ($7). Incorporating natural caramel with softened whipped cream cheese then slow baking this mixture, it makes for a more firm but creamy silkier flan than I was used to but was a brilliant finish to a superb evening!
The impression I was left with was to make sure I return and try Finesse with other guests in the near future. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and special thanks to Alex, Autumn, and Rashmi.
On a separate but related note, Finesse’ website needs some updating. At the time of writing, the dinner menu has not been updated since 2011 and the lunch menu since August 2011. Since the menu’s change continually it is a challenge to make sure there is an up-to-date menu. Bit of an oversight, but should be corrected, and hopefully soon. As for me, I will be heading up to the restaurant again to try it as a regular guest and not part of any event. I’ll report back on my findings.
For more information about Finesse, please visit http://www.finesse-therestaurant.com