Sunday, February 16, 2014

Scratch (Winter Park, FL) knocks it out of the park

We threw Scratch a curve ball last Wednesday night and they absolutely hit it out of the park. You remember Scratch. The new restaurant on Fairbanks Avenue specializing in small plates and honchoed by a group of young out-of-towners. I spoke glowingly of the atmosphere and food and people in an earlier post but in this one I would like to address their adaptability, creativity, and downright fabulous cooking. Am I gushing? Mission accomplished.

We had had Ron's pre-birthday bash in Tampa but that still left the problem of where to have his actual birthday celebration. I had taken him to Scratch after one of our lengthy Wednesday lunches and he had been impressed by the atmosphere and the people. He asked them to host his birthday party -- remember that they do not take reservations and, further, they only have capacity for 40 patrons -- and, after some deliberation, they agreed. They would support a party of 14 people and would close the restaurant seating to the public between 5:00 and 10:00 pm (the bar would remain open to patrons) and attendees would be served from a prix fixe menu. We would supply the wines. This was totally outside the Scratch business model but they plunged in nonetheless. Kudos.

The party was scheduled to begin at 5:00 pm (we start early to ensure that there are enough hours available to accommodate our needs) and, when I arrived, the first indication that something was different, was the missing Advertising Board that was generally placed on the sidewalk outside the restaurant, beckoning at passers-by. There was also a notice on the door informing would-be patrons that the restaurant would be closed until 10:00 pm and apologizing for any inconvenience caused.

Inside, the tables had been set up to support a fine-dining event. The setup was appealing and welcoming. Ron and Bev were already there and Ron had two Champagne mags (1990 Pol Roget and 1989 Jose Michelle) on ice so we began the festivities forthwith.

Ron and Bev (pre-wine)

Within a short time, the other guests began to arrive: The Alcorns first, as is their wont, and Carson bringing up the rear. During this "cocktail hour", we vigorously attacked the appetizers that had been placed on the bar for our benefit and opened a number of high-quality bottles of wine. The conversation flowed as freely as the wine. Scratch had its full complement of staff on hand to ensure that our every need was met along the way and they moved smoothly between us, bringing a little something here, taking a little something away there. They were contributing significantly to what, even at this early point, was shaping up to be an excellent night. And then they gave us the news that they were not going to open the restaurant to the public after all. We had it to ourselves for the entire evening. Pump up the volume.

Eventually we were called to take our seats for the table service to begin. And what a service it was. I present the courses below in the order in which they were served.

Shrimp Ceviche: Lime-cured white shrimp,
avocado pureé, pickled rutabags, red onions,
radishes, micro cilantro, chiles, pineapple oranges
Coq au Vin: Wine-braised Lake Meadows hen,
royal trumpet mushrooms, shallot jam, wine
geleé, parisian carrots, bacon jus
Black Truffle Polenta: Stone-ground polenta,
black truffles, celery-root cream, crispy oyster
mushrooms, truffle jus, arugula, pecorino
Seared Sea Scallop: Seared sea scallop, squid ink
tortellini, sunchoke froth, trout caviar, green pea
puree, house-made ricotta, herbs
Bone-in Ribeye: Grilled filet of spinals (Medium rare),
roasted marrow bones, brioche, bordelaise
Creme brûlée 
Every course was absolutely fabulous. The creativity of the presentation was fair but the flavors were absolutely stunning. The consistency of quality across courses was the kind of experience that you dream about: there were no gaps or "falls-off." As a matter of fact, every course seemed to build on the one that preceded it and was a natural next chapter in the book that was the entire meal.  Steve's perspective was: "Every course was great, but my favorite was the ribeye, which was unlike any I'd had. It was served with bone marrow, which I'd never had like this. A bit of the bone marrow on each bite of the ribeye was amazing. Easily the best beef I've ever tasted."

Even the Creme Brûlée, which seemed rather pedestrian when presented as the capper to this fabulous lineup, was other-worldly. This chef can cook. This meal demonstrated his fine-dining capability, a capability which is restrained by the Scratch business model as well as the size of its kitchen. The meal presented to this group on that night places him firmly in the ranks of Orlando's best chefs (for that type of cuisine). The current Scratch business model does not allow the team to fully display its creativity and skills. But that is another story to be explored at another time with another venture. In the meantime, keep Scratching.

Well it would not be a Ron party without a lot of great wines. Our lineup is shown below.

Remember that the restaurant was closed down for the night? Well they pumped the music up and we danced until the wee hours of the morning. We want to thank the management and staff of Scratch for making the evening so enjoyable for us. We will be eternally grateful. Well, for a long time anyway.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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