Steakhouse in Downtown

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    Restaurants are organic things. Like the tide, they ebb and flow. Owners and names of places change at a dizzying rate. And, in a town where good chefs are a bankable commodity, it can be challenging to keep track of who is cooking what where.

    Who's in the kitchen? It could be a chef from Disney, a woman trained in France or a guy who was managing an Arby's last week. A change can come because someone wonderful becomes available; sometimes it's because someone just left.

    Sometimes it's both. When The Boheme opened in the Westin Grand Bohemian Hotel downtown, Chef Todd Baggett had the enviable job of matching a menu to the expansive art collection and opulent-looking setting that surrounds diners. And mostly he succeeded. When he moved on to Wolfgang Puck's, the vacuum was filled by Robert Mason, former chef at the famous Vic Stewart's steak house in San Francisco and the California Café at Florida Mall. Mason promises he will take the restaurant "to a new level."

    There aren't any changes in the room itself. Same dark woods, massive columns and burgundy accents, same eclectic and sometimes puzzling art.

    As for the kitchen, the highs and lows suggest that Mason's reign also is organic. Our waiter, a bubbly chap, promised that the new fall menu was "more flavorful." I didn't see massive differences between the pre-Mason era and now. The menu still has seafood, and hefty chunks of Angus beef in several incarnations. The "au Poivre" with garlic-pepper crust ($26) is very "flavorful," though not quite as tender as I had expected. Breast of Muscovy duck ($25) and lobster still find their way to the table, and it was good to see the large a la carte vegetables available (order the "exotic mushrooms" -- in fact, order two and you may not need an entree).

    The new dishes fit in with the scheme. A pan-roasted chicken breast, stuffed with vegetables and served atop spaghetti squash ($19), is tender and good; the herb sauce made from the drippings is extraordinary. Combine that with a deceptively simple "Boheme salad" ($6) and its irresistible Gorgonzola vinaigrette dressing, and you'll leave the table happy. But "Shrimp 2 Ways" was four shrimp that tasted almost the same "way," and didn't seem worth 12 bucks.

    A new jazz brunch on Sunday allows you to eat roast turkey, omelets and waffles while hanging out around the $250,000 Imperial Grand Bösen-dorfer piano. Take an extra napkin.

    This November, Kres gets its proverbial star on the Red Meat Walk of Fame when it joins the ranks of other Orlando steakhouses celebrating 10 years in the business of beef. Quite the accomplishment for a high-end chophouse that a) opened in the heart of a bar- and club-infested strip, and b) had the audacity to shun the established practice of possessive nomenclature. In the world of Ruth’s and Linda’s, Morton’s and Charley’s, Christner’s, Shula’s and Vito’s, Kres is the odd man out, and that suits this downtown boîte just fine.

    From the onset, Kres looked to draw a more urbane and sophisticated clientele, and, save for the smattering of pre-clubbing 1-percenters, this tactic, even 10 years later, appears to have worked. The turn-of-the-21st-century decor feels slightly dated and perhaps a redesign is in order, but Kres is still worthy of being housed inside one of downtown’s most architecturally revered buildings – not just for its bill of fare, but also for its throwback focus on customer service. From our initial phone call to make reservations to the genial farewells on our exit, the staff here made us feel prized – as prized as, say, an expensive foie gras. No: foie gras crowning a tenderloin of elk! Yes. And that just so happened to be one of the dishes in which we indulged: an 8-ounce cut ($35), to be exact. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, the lean elk loin was made instantly rich with that buttery tiara of foie ($13). Nary a hint of gaminess; no dental-displacing sinews; just a perfect cut married perfectly with that buttery epicurean delight. Our prime 18-ounce rib-eye steak ($39) may have been a tad undercooked, but that just made the leftovers all the better the following morning in their rebirth as steak and eggs. The rib-eye’s marbling was sublime, and its flavor more so. Steaks and chops are served a la carte; our choice of greens and starch sides were grilled asparagus ($8) and cheddar-rosemary mashed potatoes ($7). Though both served their respective purpose, we would’ve rather ordered another side of foie.

    Prior to all that luxurious richness, we started with an old-guard staple – oysters Rockefeller ($15), baked with a properly herbaceous butter sauce. Our impeccably trained server also suggested a nontraditional starter to break up our Gatsbian feast, namely “Aegean style” lamb ribs ($14). The ribs are marinated in kalamata olive oil, spicy mustard and herbs, then braised to a soft succulence before being zested with caramelized lemon wheels. It’s a difficult dish to eat delicately, but then again, steakhouses don’t exactly play to the genteel side of dining.

    Our server’s suggested wine pairings were admirable, though in-house sommelier Rob Christie patrols the red-velveted space offering recommendations for serious wine drinkers. Red velvet didn’t find its way to the dessert menu, but white chocolate bread pudding ($9) did. The meal-capper was sumptuous, ample enough for two, and hooched with enough panther sweat to bring back the Jazz Age.

    As you exit the restaurant and take in the grand space, the original art, the triple-crown and dentil-crown molding, one thing becomes exceedingly clear: Kres naturally exudes a verve and panache that other steakhouses can’t match. If flair is as important as your filet, Kres is the place.



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