Saturday, October 5, 2019

Cress Restaurant (DeLand, FL) is back (and is serving lunch to boot)

Cress Restaurant is back. Long one of the leading restaurants in the Greater Orlando area, this creation of Chef Hari Pulapaka, and his wife Jenneffer, had been withdrawn from daily operations and, instead, presented as a special-events/limited-operations entity. This "retreat" was driven by the growth in civic and charitable causes to which the owners had became devoted while still holding down full-time jobs (he as a Math Professor at Stetson, she as a Podiatrist).

But buttressed by a brand new team, Cress has resumed normal dinner operations (Tuesday through Saturday) and has expanded to now include lunch service (Tuesday through Friday). The new members of the team are:
  • Tom Brandt, General Manager and Co-Owner
  • Suran Brandt, Manager
  • Sam Bove, Executive Sous Chef
I had not dined at the restaurant since its return to full service but corrected that by making a reservation for the first day of its lunch service. The city was in the midst of a road-beautification project on the day of my visit so we had to park some distance away from the destination and lug our wine bags back. Our pain was diminished significantly by Suran's warm welcome. There were some changes to the decor but overall it was the same inviting space that I had come to know and love.

We were shown to our seats and presented with the lunch menu. I loved it at first sight: substantial offerings in categories titled Soups, Salads, Appetizers/Sharing Plates, Sandwiches, Signature Mains, and Sweet Plates. I sat back and popped a cork. It was going to be a long day.

I started out with the Bell & Evans Chicken and Andouille Gumbo: chunks of chicken and sausage in a thick, rich, spicy sauce. A slightly rustic taste with a note of acidity. Parlo went for the North African Lentil Stew for her soup course. I tasted and it was awesome.

Bell & Evans Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
with steamed rice and parsley

North African Lentil Stew with harissa toast.
mint, lemon

Parlo and I shared the Signature Escargot. This dish has always been one of my favorites on the dinner menu and it did not disappoint this time. Mushroom as a through line.

Signature Escargot with clarified butter, garlic,
mushrooms, and grilled bread

I have had Pork Belly at Cress before but not suited up in this manner. I do not like bread getting between me and my pork belly so I disrobed it to reveal the thick juicy slab of PB nestled within. It went well with the accompanying fire-roasted vegetables. Substantial and tasty.

Berkshire Pork Belly Banh Mi with sauce
 Manchurian, house slaw, spiced peanuts,
cilantro, mint

For my main dish I had the Tikka Masala curry but also snared some of Saru's Creole Shrimp and Cress Grits. The Tikka Masala is a Cress staple and was just as good as ever. The Shrimp and Grits did not disappoint.

Tikka Masala Curry with Tofu and vegetables,
steamed basmati rice, garlic naan, cilantro

At the end of the service Chef Hari came over and spent some time with us. He was in a very relaxed mood and seemed especially pleased with the current state of affairs. As we lauded him on the dishes, he again stressed the importance of spices in his cuisine (the through line, he said).

Chef Hari

The team

Orange Infused Vanilla Bean Créme Brûlée with fresh berries,

We also got to spend some quality time with Suran once her duties were complete. We sat around talking and drinking and then took the party over to The Elusive Grape. Just like we always do.

I am wishing this incarnation of Cress Restaurant all the best. They have all of the ingredients in place to be successful. Tom brings significant restaurant management experience to the table, as does Suran. This frees up Chef Hari to focus on the menu and training the Sous Chefs and Jenneffer to focus on the wines and wine pairings. It also allows them to travel to civic/charitable commitments knowing that things will continue apace on the home front.

If you have not visited the restaurant, now is as good a time as any. If you have visited previously, try lunch. Please note that this is not an unbiased review of this restaurant: I like the people and I like the food.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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