The ducks might be gone, but not much else has changed since Hyatt Hotels purchased the Peabody Orlando for $717 million in 2013. That goes for the hotel's top restaurant as well. Apart from the required name change (Napa to Urban Tide), the hotel's brass opted for an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach, and it's a bloody good thing they did. Chef Jared Gross and his staff haven't missed a beat since the Napa days, and not messing with that harmony was integral in keeping his kitchen compositions as sound as ever. The decor, on the other hand, poses a bit of an aesthetic disconnect with the new branding. Those warm colors and earthy hues don't exactly jibe with the new seafood-centric theme, but as my guest remarked, "It'd be a shame to tear up such a beautiful interior." So it's a little more wine country than coastal Florida? No big whoop. It won't spoil your mood any, certainly not after the impeccable service and inspired dishes you'll undoubtedly appreciate.
Service was one of my peeves with Napa, but our polite and informed server single-handedly altered my perception, and his recommendations were spot-on. Admittedly, evaluating chef Gross' dishes became an exercise in grumbling on a very granular level – critiquing food that was skillfully prepared and exquisitely presented. Take the "festival of tomatoes" ($14) salad. Locally grown baby heirlooms and oven-dried tomatoes graced with shaved Parmesan were outstandingly fresh, and a scoop of Thai basil sorbet made for an original topping. But it made the aged balsamic wholly unnecessary, even borderline intrusive, especially considering a champagne emulsion was also employed. Grouper cheeks ($16) with delicately bitter shishito peppers over sweet creamed Zellwood corn were a standout, and the latter practically had us swooning. I'm not saying the corn upstaged the grouper cheeks, but the texture (like cornbread batter) made it the clear star on the plate. Sushi-grade tuna ($20) was given the five-spice treatment before being perfectly seared, then placed atop mounds of green bamboo rice risotto. The rice, infused with bamboo extract, is a nice touch, but the spicing in the tuna seemed a bit too subtle – an aggressive hand would've paid off nicely here. Same goes for the lemongrass vinaigrette, which wasn't quite acidic enough, resulting in an overall flatness. At this point, I should state that these very minor misgivings didn't stop us from wholeheartedly devouring everything we were served.
When our mains arrived, the nitpicking all but ceased. Blackened, skin-on Florida yellowtail snapper ($32), served over kale with charred lemon, was immaculate. To say any more would slight its faultless simplicity. A trio of sauces, while exceptional (especially the red curry coconut aioli), wasn't really needed to augment the flavors of the snapper. It stood on its own. The Meyer Ranch filet ($45) was expectedly, and remarkably, plush. An oven-dried tomato Barolo reduction gave the steak a flourish of luxuriance to help stomach the sticker shock.
There's no bread service, though the aged cheddar biscuits ($3) with burnt onion jam and pimento spread gives your meal a Red Lobster feel. A pleasing wine list is marred only by its markup – yes, dining amongst conventioneers with hefty expense accounts has its drawbacks. I'd nevertheless recommend dropping $8 more on the spice-roasted pineapple rum cake with coconut sorbet and lime crisp. It's a rummy cake.
"From Florida's bountiful coast" is one of the restaurant's many catchphrases, and it's an appropriate way of phrasing how good the catch is. As far as this Urban Tide is concerned, there's no need to stem it.
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