Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hamilton's Kitchen at The Alfond Inn (Winter Park, FL)

Hamilton's Kitchen at the Alfond Inn - Rollins is the latest entrant into the richly endowed Winter Park dining scene and its presence cannot help but give diners another reason to travel to the area. I visited the restaurant on Friday night -- two weeks after its opening -- and was extremely pleased with the setting, the cuisine, and the service.

The Alfond Inn is a luxury boutique hotel built by Rollins College with seed money from a $12.5 million grant from the Alfond Foundation. The hotel, located at the corners of East New England and South Interlachen Avenues, features 112 guest rooms, 7800 square feet of meeting space, restaurant, bar, and swimming pool, among other amenities. In excess of $3 million of art from the Alfond Collection and local galleries are on display throughout the hotel's public spaces.

My GPS directed me east on Fairbanks and then suggested a left turn into South Interlachen Avenue. There is no turning lane here and you are separated from oncoming traffic by solid double yellow lines. My suggestion is to make a left turn at Park Avenue instead and then make a right into New England. Valet parking is available at the hotel and is free with a validation sticker from the restaurant.

The hotel is impressive. The foyer is expansive and extends southwards away from the entrance with intersecting corridors providing access to the ground-floor amenities. The first corridor on the right leads to the bar and then debouches into the restaurant.

The western end of the restaurant is dominated by an open-plan kitchen which looks out over a dining room furnished with solid brown wood tables and mismatched chairs (six different chair styles randomly assigned to tables). Seating is booth-style along the walls with four-tops in the core. Four-tops can be strung together to accomodate larger parties.

We were escorted to our seats by one of the fashionably attired hostesses from the reception area and were met with a warm greeting by our assigned waitress shortly after taking our seats. We were each presented with a standard and a Magical Dining (prix fixe menu offered by Orlando-area fine dining restaurants during the month of September) menu and a wine list was provided for the table. At first glance neither of the menus appeared to offer anything out of the ordinary and the wine list seemed rather basic for a restaurant with Hamilton Kitchen's look and feel. Luckily I came equipped with a few bottles from home. The restaurant charges a $30 corkage fee.

I ordered Shrimp and Grits from the standard menu as my appetizer and Pork Belly with Russet Potatoes from the standard menu as my main course (Menu mixing is not normally allowed but the staff was very accommodating.). The Shrimp and Grits was a tasty, generous portion with a slightly tangy note. I paired it with a 2008 Evening Land Chardonnay which was rather Burgundian on the senses. The Pork Belly was less crisp, less salty, and less multi-hued than ones I have encountered previously. Great texture and taste. Accompanied by potato wedges ensconced in clam shells. Paired with a 1987 Chateau Montelena and 2005 Peter Michael Les Pavots. The Montelena was balanced, with soft tannins, freshness and red fruits. Spiciness on the palate with a long finish. The Les Pavots was somewhat leaden; lack of freshness and dominant black fruit. Other members of my group had Cobia and Grouper, meals which were equally impressive.

According to Raoul Matias, Food and Beverage Manager, the food offering will be expanded and the wine list upgraded sometime in the future. Right now they are focused on ensuring that things are working smoothly.

The quality of the food on offer is excellent as it stands today and if, as promised by management, the best is yet to come, Hamilton's Kitchen will become  a fixture on the Winter Park scene.

UPDATE (9/16/2013): I visited Hamilton's Kitchen for lunch on the Wednesday following the publication of this post and my experience was not as encouraging as my initial visit. The environment retains it striking characteristics but the meal and service were somewhat wanting. I had a chicken noodle soup that was salty and the chicken was not very attractive. My hamburger was overdone and not very flavorful. The daytime bartenders were not as attentive to customer needs as I thought they should be, resulting in excessive waits in a non-rush period.

I will revisit the restaurant in the near future to see if this lunch experience was an aberration.

UPDATE (1/6/14): I visited Hamilton again yesterday for lunch and my experience mirrored my 9/16 visit. The service was excellent and management was all ears but the food left a lot to be desired. I started out with a soup that filled me with hope. It was spicy and flavorful. I next tried fish which was done skin-on style but the skin was mushy and the underlying flesh was brown in color and free of flavor. I next tried the Shrimp and Grits. The shrimp was obviously fresh but the entire concotion was unappealing to the eye and the flavor had not workrd its way into the shrimp, giving the impression that it was added to the sauce belatedly. I sent the fish back but did not have the heart to send the Shrimp and Grits back. I closed out with a Burger and Fries without bun. This cooked a little more than I had ordered it but it was edible. The surroundings at this establishment are world class but the food is not. Until the food problem is solved, this restaurant will continue to underperform.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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