8701 World Center Drive | 407-238-8619 | siroorlando.com | $$$$
Let’s face it, the long and often hellish drive is the primary consideration for many when contemplating hotel dining options in the attractions area. But when I heard that Siro Urban Italian Kitchen in the Marriott World Center hotel offered complimentary valet parking, served a dish of roasted marrow bones, and exhibited a staunch commitment to local sourcing (a legitimate commitment, unlike a certain fancy Indian restaurant in Dr. Phillips), I was more than happy to make the drive to the tourist-clogged World Center Drive.
As we entered the grand hotel and approached the hostess stand, we noted the restaurant’s rustic-chic decor, which drew immediate comparisons to Cask & Larder and Prato. Like those Winter Park eateries, Siro also makes use of mason jars – in this case to hold utensils, which diners go through quickly, given the menu’s focus on small plates. Much to my chagrin, the marrow bones were replaced on the newly revamped spring menu by veal sweetbreads ($12). We weren’t as keen on veal thymus as we had been for the marrow bones, but we dutifully sampled the lightly fried glands and noted their delicate, almost bland, flavor; then we moved on to better dishes, like spicy lamb “sausage” served over perfectly prepared polenta ($12). The lamb was thoroughly ground, but that didn’t temper the dish’s comfort factor in any way. In fact, executive chef Anthony Burdo and his team do an impeccable job with their farm-to-fork approach to Italian-inspired fare. Crisp baby artichokes ($8) are so addictive they should be bagged and sold in the snack aisle of Publix; octopus salad ($12) with garbanzo beans and celery leaf was lemony-fresh; golden beets ($8) with pistachio and soft goat cheese would be ideal any time of day. One of our favorites – crispy chicken thighs ($12) served cacciatore-style – exemplified the kitchen’s ethic of simple preparations using fresh, local ingredients. Small gripe: If they’re serious about catering to locals, it’d be nice if the menu listed the names of the farms from whence they source. By the way, if you have any leftover cacciatore, consider ordering the salt-specked house focaccia ($4) for sopping purposes.
Really, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything on the menu that disappoints. You will find entrees, thin-crust pizzas and pastas, should your tastes veer toward larger plates of food. One in particular, the cheese mezzaluna ($11 half; $21 full), featured a sublime mix of half-moon-shaped egg pasta with white asparagus and enough sage brown butter that one of my dining comrades described the dish as a “heart attack in a pretty bowl.”
Coffee aficionados will appreciate espressos being served with small square bowls of raw sugar cubes, lemon rinds and espresso-flavored chocolate. Order a French press and you’ll also get fresh whipped cream along with dark and white chocolate shavings. Yes, the post-meal hot-beverage experience is taken seriously here, so just do yourself a favor and order some coffee (they use the Dark Horse blend from Longwood’s Coffee Roasters’ Alliance). Enjoy it with a bag of ridiculously good zeppole ($5) or tiramisu ($5).
There’s a lot that’s good at Siro, no doubt, yet even with a highly skilled kitchen staff, luring locals may be beyond Siro’s scope. Given how good our meal was, I nevertheless posed an honest question to my dining comrades: “Would you come back here?” I asked. After looking at each other with furrowed brows, they responded in unison: “If I was in the area.”
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