430 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park
Oddly enough, ever since the Borders bookstore closed, Winter Park Village is experiencing an energy surge; a few new eateries have sprung up, among them Truffles Grill. The juxtaposition of words in the name of the restaurant might garner curiosity: one ultra-luxurious, one denoting airport fast-casual. Walk in, sit down and take a look at the menu, and you’ll be just as perplexed.
It’s a well-decorated restaurant, with flattering light fixtures and brightly colored vintage travel posters, though unfortunately the ambience is tainted by the hard, 30-minute-maximum chairs and glaringly bright LED televisions at the bar. Truffles Grill isn’t a big place, so that TV glow from the bar slices through the otherwise romantic lighting in the bistro space.
A glance at the menu reveals nothing a person who’s been to Cheesecake Factory hasn’t seen before. “Comfort food with a twist” is the way it was sold to us, and though nothing looked at first glance to have been touched by a stroke of creative genius, we ordered a smattering of dishes and hoped for the best.
We started with the black bean cake ($8), drizzled with a “Southwestern” sauce and sprinkled with tasso ham and corn salsa. Despite its smoke-forward flavor, it was mealy and crumbly. A few bites sufficed. We also ordered baked Brie in puff pastry ($10), which wasn’t worth the price. The en croûte hunk of Brie was covered in a greasy (not puffy) crust and served with half an apple, flimsy untoasted baguette and, bafflingly, two pineapple chunks. We were within the happy hour time frame, though, meaning $5 martinis were available, so my disenchantment lifted slightly.
Entrees arrived at least 30 minutes later. The company was good, so we barely noticed how long we’d sat foodless – though the hard dining chairs had already rendered our posteriors numb – assuaging the wait.
I’d been looking forward to the meatloaf ($13), accompanied by haricots verts and the truffle-oil-spiked mac & cheese for which the restaurant was named. I was disappointed that nothing on my plate had been salted appropriately, but thankful that Truffles isn’t the kind of restaurant where you have to request a salt shaker. The meatloaf itself was flavorful and adequately moist, but it had been covered with a barbecue sauce that was harshly spiked with some kind of horseradish – I suspect the same wasabi that made its way into the crab cake entree’s ($14) mayonnaise, which one of my dining partners ordered. She happens to hail from the Chesapeake Bay area and considers herself an expert on such things as crab cakes. Bready and mushy, it really was an embarrassing little patty that she couldn’t bring herself to finish.
Happily, whoever is working the pastry station at Truffles is doing wonderful things for the sweet tooth. All desserts are made in-house, which is sadly not the norm around town and thus even more surprising here. We shared the chocolate peanut butter pie ($6), a wholly decadent and satisfying dessert, both fluffy and rich, peanutty and covered with a dense layer of chocolate ganache, nestled in a thick graham-cracker crust.
While Truffles isn’t a place I’d take out-of-towners if I wanted to boast about Orlando’s dining scene, once the kitchen homes in on flavor over flair, it might have a fighting chance in Winter Park Village’s rebirth.