158 Tuskawilla Road, Winter Springs | 407-327-1600 | southandyork.com | $$$
With the possible exception of Stefano’s Trattoria, there really hasn’t been a compelling enough reason to make the conscious decision to dine in Winter Springs, but South and York hopes to change all that. The Euro-Southern eatery inside the Winter Springs Town Center touts itself as a farm-to-table restaurant, though on our weekend visit, none of the servers seemed to know any of the local purveyors from which the ingredients were sourced. In fact, apart from regurgitating menu descriptions, the servers didn’t seem to know very much about the menu at all.
I’m glad owner Edgar Cruz, an accomplished chef whose résumé includes stints at the Gramercy Tavern and Daniel in NYC as well as Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta, wasn’t around to witness the less-than-polished, overly casual comportment of said servers. Then again, it may have provided a much-needed reality check for him to see the butchering of table-setting basics. I kid you not – knives were laid to the left of our plates, forks to the right. When our meals arrived, plates were brusquely positioned in front of us, with no care paid to the lit candles being pushed along with them.
On the flipside, the kitchen holds much promise, thanks to Cruz’s experience, dedication and skill. He does source locally, and he makes his breads in-house and fashions a laudable lamb loin ($14). The medium-rare cuts bathed in a lamb stock reduction made a stellar start to our meal, even if the Publix-worthy wine list left much to be desired.
We followed the lamb with an order of gnocchi ($11), served with French horn mushrooms and given a further blast of umami with a healthy drizzle of truffle oil. This being a proper farm-to-table resto, the menu, naturally, changes daily, but one fixture seems to be the exceptionally tender slices of New York strip ($24), dry-aged in-house for two months. The slivers come served over roasted red and green peppers and sided with thick-cut fries, topped with Parmesan and drizzled with – you guessed it – truffle oil. (Maybe Cruz should follow in the Gramercy Tavern’s footsteps and do away with that overused and ersatz lubricant.) The burger ($15) was wonderfully juicy, though the competing flavors of bacon jam, pimiento cheese, fiery pickles and fried green tomatoes made it distinctly indistinct. Apart from two moist bites of red snapper ($24), the rest of the skin-on, pan-seared fish was overdone, though we loved the rustic touch of stewed white beans with tomato and sage. A few tweaks would iron out the overall balance issue with the food, and that’s an issue that carried over to desserts as well. The golden-raisin-and-cherry bread pudding ($7) was so laden with the former that the latter was wholly indiscernible. The chocolate cake ($7) was pleasant, but not particularly noteworthy. The same goes for the interior. Apart from the cool garage doors and cozy bar nook, the décor seems an afterthought.
For what it’s worth, I have no reservations declaring South and York the best restaurant in Winter Springs. The foundation Cruz has laid is a strong one, and he undoubtedly has the capacity and know-how to raise the bar in Seminole County, and possibly beyond. To see that talent go unrealized would be an utter shame.
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