What made the La Coquina brunch special? According to Scott Joseph's Orlando Restaurant Guide (La Coquina is Closing, 9/10/12):
The brunch was distinct because the food stations were set up in the kitchen. Guest (sic) would walk among the cold salads, shellsfish, cheeses, and sausages to make their selections. Then, when ready for the entree, guest (sic) would step up to the chef's station and order from among three or four options to have the food prepared a la minute. They would return to their tables with the always wonderful food, and eat in the beautiful dining room with its soaring ceilings and cascading chandeliers. And, always, the champagne flowed freely.My heart lit up with joy when I heard that the hotel was bringing the brunch back for one-time only -- February 2, 2014 -- as part of the celebration of its 30-year anniversary. I signed up immediately to partake in this revisit of the "scene of the crime."
The day of the brunch dawned bright and sunny, in stark contrast to the brooding, dreary, gloomy, wet weather we have been experiencing of late. Saru drove over to our house and joined us for the trip to the restaurant. The other members of our group were scheduled to meet us there. Once at the hotel, we turned the car over to the valet and made our way into the expansive lobby which appears to stretch for miles to the south and east. The focal point of the lobby is an elevated bar in the southeast quadrant which is separated from the pedestrian concourse by a water course. The memories came flooding back as I looked around: the many pre- and post-dinner drinks we had consumed on our way to or from Hemingway's; of the many times I had traversed the lobby while heading to brunches past; and of the large cage (no longer there) which was the home of a bright red, extremely voluble macaw (now a free-range bird).
The unusual entrance to La Coquina was ahead of us and to the right with its futuristic tangle of steel covering the stairs leading from the hotel lobby to the restaurant on the level below. The elegance of the restaurant's dining area begins to reveal itself as you descend and unfolds flower-like as you venture deeper into its folds. The outer walls of the restaurant are made of glass, providing stunning views of of Lake Windsong and the carefully manicured grounds beyond, as well as allowing the restaurant to be bathed in natural light. Inside the restaurant the tables were robed in white upon which sat multicolored chargers and flowers, along with glasses of various sizes and a supply of perfectly hefted silverware.
We were greeted at the Hostess Station by a smiling staffer who checked our names against the reservation list and, after enquiring after the rest of our party, led us to the best seat in the house, directly above the sun-drenched lake. And as Scott Joseph had reminisced, as soon as we sat down, the Champagne began to flow (It was Prosecco, actually). As I looked around, I saw fellow diners glowing with satisfaction (they had made it) and anticipation (of what was to come). They had thought that La Coquina had been permanently consigned to the dustbin of history; yet here they were sitting, in once-familiar seats at once-familiar tables. It was temporaray but that only contributed to the overall sense of satisfaction.
The Prosecco was not dry enough for my wife so the staff hustled a bottle of Argentinian sparkling to the table. While they were opening it, I mentioned that I was "locked and loaded" and queried after the corkage fee. After a brief negotiation (which consisted of them telling me what the corkage fee was), I had them open my bottle of Dom and settled back for a pre-Super Bowl brunch extravaganza.
The floor was flooded with wait staff. The main waiter at our table was J.P. but he appeared to be assisted by every other server in the room; plus some managers. When we were ready to peruse the offerings, J.P. led us between the tables and into the kitchen. Beautiful and bountiful. It began with a caviar station and worked through fruits and cakes and breads and cheeses, and seafood, among other delights, before ending at the cooking area where orders could be placed for one of the 10 or so entrees on offer. La Coquina had risen from the dead but was as energetic and energizing as ever. I headed to the starting point, grabbed a plate, and made a beeline for the caviar station.
I started with a caviar and cheese platter followed quickly by a shellfish platter. Both paired beautifully with the Dom, especially the juicy, grey-toned oyster flavors with the yeastiness and toasty notes of the Dom.
While running through the courses, I encountered a number of friends who had, like me, come to recapture some of the memories. I was in the kitchen with Adam of wineontheway.com and Eric K., looking over the wine offering of the hotel when we noticed that they had a bottle of DRC La Tache. We called the manager over and began a discussion about acquiring it. I went back to my table while the Manager went off to consult with his people about the sale of the bottle. The next thing I knew I was called over to the wineontheway table; they had bought the bottle. The wine appeared rather delicate in the glass but the fragrance was powerful. Strawberries and muted red fruits. Firm on the palate but elegant nonetheless. Still youthful. Balanced. Slight drying tannins. This elevated what had already been a glorious day. Oh well. I have to go back over to my table to entertain my guests. But I am taking my glass of La Tache with me.
During the course of the brunch I had numerous conversations with management, staff, and patrons as to their observations regarding the event and the likelihood of this happening again. Patrons were wholeheartedly in support of bringing back the weekly brunch, as were the staff. Both groups hoped that the enthusiastic response to the offering would push management to revisit their decision to terminate the brunch. In two separate conversations with the Jon Couts, Director of Restaurants, he indicated that brunches are expensive animals with food costs alone approaching 45%. While the hotel is happy to see the great turnout of the event, and while brunches are a great way to connect with the local populace, management will continue to look at the success of this event as validation of the 30-years of service that they have provided in the Orlando area.
Great day. Great event. We ended up covering both seatings. We were the first to arrive and almost the last to leave. We did not want to let it go. I cannot leave without mentioning the phenomenal music played by the pianist. He ranged from Royals (Lorde) to Phantom of the Opera without missing a beat. The Broncos could have learned a thing or two from him.
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