Unlike New Orleans, Austin, or even New York, Florida doesn't really have an indigenous cuisine. What it does have is an abundance of fresh produce, seafood and meat. Husband and wife couple Julie and James Petrakis, take the best of Florida and serves it up on a plate at their restaurant The Ravenous Pig.
Having enjoyed my first experience at The Ravenous Pig I was looking forward to this special dinner, which was a re-creation of the James Beard dinner that 5 talented Central Florida chefs staged in New York City earlier this summer. A peak back into the kitchen revealed a full house of chefs efficiently churning out plates like a well oiled machine. Impressive, considering the small space and abundance of executive chefs.
When we arrived to restaurant was already filled with Orlando's who's-who sipping bubbly and noshing on canapes. The bites included the tasty offerings below.
Miniature biscuit B.L.T.s
Palmetto Creek pork terrine and pickled carrots on a sourdough crostini.
Winter Park Dairy bleu cheese tart with heirloom tomatoes and balsamic caramel.
Deviled quail egg and house-made duck ham, on brioche.
Grilled octopus with romesco.
Our host for the evening was the local food celebrity and self-ascribed "flogger" Scott Joseph. Having recently published his guide to Orlando's burgeoning food scene and with an iPhone app in the works, Scott knows the Orlando dining scene.
Having eaten all day, and polishing off one too many bleu cheese tarts, I can't say we were very hungry at this point, but we all took our seats and waiting in anticipation of the first course.
Citrus coriander cured Florida Cobia, orange smoked habanero sorbet, pickled watermelon relish. Paired with a Ravenous Pig "INOC" by Chehelem, Chardonnay, Willamette 2008. By Scott Copeland from Antonio's La Fiamma.
Back in the day, curing fish was one of the only ways to get it inland before it spoiled. By desiccating the fish with salt, it not only helps preserve the fish, it also alters its texture and concentrates its flavors. Chef Copeland really hit this one on the head, with a perfect balance of salt and sweetness, which brought out the Cobia's natural umami. The texture was firm and dense, without being waxy or chewy, and the smoked habanero and orange sorbet created really interesting juxtapositions in temperature and flavor. The watermelon rind and onion pickles gave the dish a tangy crunch that sealed the deal for me. This was easily the best dish of the evening.
Brentwood sweet corn veloute, Florida frog leg bacon hushpuppy. Paired with a Farrier, "Andiron", Alexander Valley 2008. By Jamie McFadden of Cuisiniers Catered Cuisine Events.
I have to hand it to Chef McFadden. He really made the frog leg disappear into the bacony fried hushpuppy. People at my table who had never eaten frog before were apprehensive at first, but quickly devoured the crunchy fried ball of tastiness. But there-in lie the problem: the frog leg was so well concealed, it may as well have not been there at all. Aside from being a little gimmicky, that didn't really cause a problem with the taste of the dish though. The real issue was that the veloute. While smokey, sweet, and full of umami, it was too concentrated, rendering it too thick and too salty to be enjoyable.
St. Augustine flounder, chef's garden heirloom gazpacho, fried green tomatoes, Canaveral blue crab. Paired with a Tablas Creek "Espirit de Beaucastel" Blanc, Blend, Paso Robles 2007. By James Petrakis of The Ravenous Pig.
I really wanted to love this one. Created by one of the hosts of the evening, this dish epitomized seasonal and local food. Putting green and ripe tomatoes on one plate is a very cool idea, and the nice texture and temperature contrast of the cold gazpacho and hot crispy fried green tomato was fantastic. The dish would have been perfect had it stopped there, but atop the fried tomato was a mound of creamy crab and a slightly overcooked piece of flounder. Neither component added to the dish, and the crab was a distracting detriment. Next time, just give me a stack of fried green tomatoes jutting up from the gazpacho with that relish on top.
Palmetto Creek Farms smoked pork "Napoleon", Deep Creek Ranch chicken fried beef tongue, local rabbit Ballotine with pickled cherry preserves. Paired with a Tenute Arceno "Prima Voce" Toscano, 2006. By Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant.
The closest thing to good on this plate was the chicken fried beef tongue. I liked the tongue-in-cheek reference to chicken fried steak, but the execution was uninteresting at best. The ballotine was dry, chalky and flavorless, while the smoked pork Napoleon was too sweet, too salty and not very smoky. While I'm usually loathe to make judgements about a chef's tallent based on one dish, he had three chances to with this trio and failed to impress with every one.
Vanilla bean creme caramel, huckleberry compote, Florida honey tuile. Paired with a cigar city humidor series IPA. By Juilie Petrakis of The Ravenous Pig.
Softer and less eggy than most creme caramels I've had, this sublime dessert was every bit as good as the photo looks. I have to say that the hoppy IPA was a rather unexpected pairing, but it was delightfully refreshing, cutting through the rich pudding with every sip. The caramel notes and bitter hops also worked really well with the sauce, making that wonderful flavor of burnt sugar linger on my tongue.
Overall I had a good meal in the company of good friends and I really enjoyed seeing the local collaboration come together before my eyes.
Did it blow my mind? No... But if I were ever back in Orlando I'd definitely check back into The Ravenous Pig to see what the creative Petrakis duo is cooking up. I'd also love to check out Chef Copelands full menu at Antonio's La Fiamma the next time I'm down there.
The Ravenous Pig (menu)
1234 N. Orange Ave. (between Orlando and Denning)
Winter Park, FL 32789.
Full disclosure: The Orlando CVB is covering all expenses for this trip. While I strive to provide you with honest, unfiltered opinions on this site, the federal government requires that I disclose this relationship with you.