A Short Drive: A Starred Weekend

An inaugural list of Michelin Guide Florida restaurants spurred a most delicious road trip.

Above photos from Knife & Spoon

Knife & Spoon

This new signature steak and seafood restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, conceived and led by award-winning Chef John Tesar, was honored with a Michelin star this year—and for good reason.

According to Tesar, the average steakhouse serves beef aged for 21 days. Tesar’s claim that beef is best dry aged over time is one you can test for yourself at this restaurant. On any given night, diners have the choice to order beef that has been dry-aged 45, 60, 90, 120, 150 or 240 days.

For reservations, call (407) 393-4333.

Above photos from Primo

Primo

With just a short walk down a path from the Ritz-Carlton to its sister property JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, you can enjoy an award-winning farm to table menu crafted by Chef Melissa Kelly. This restaurant was recommended by the Michelin folks this summer. 

For reservations, call (407) 393-4444.

When the Michelin Guide revealed its inaugural selection of Florida restaurants in June, stars were issued to 15 restaurants in Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Along with issuing coveted one and two stars for fine dining establishments, the guide gave Bib Gourmand awards to 29 other restaurants worthy of a visit where one can have two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for under $49. The Bib Gourmand is named for Bibendum, the friendly Michelin Man company mascot.

That list of Sunshine State eateries was all it took for this foodie to start planning a few road trips. And my reaction was exactly what was intended by the Michelin brothers, Andre and Edouard, who were famed for making tires, back in 1926 when they started issuing the guide and maps to highlight food worthy of travel. 

According to the company’s website, “In 1926, the guide began to award stars to fine dining establishments, initially marking them only with a single star. Five years later, a hierarchy of zero, one, two, and three stars was introduced, and in 1936, the criteria for the starred rankings were published.”

The company says its guide now rates more than “40,000 establishments in over 24 territories across three continents.”

The Michelin brothers’ remarkable foresight allowed them to create a marketing platform that is just as relevant now as it was almost 100 years ago—making “driving, tourism and the search for unforgettable experiences available to all.”

As luck would have it, the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, home to one of the Michelin star restaurants, Knife & Spoon, invited several of the other restaurants honored by Michelin to participate in a special mid-October epicurean weekend like no other in Central Florida.

Combine great chefs with exceptional wines, custom cocktails at a five-star resort hotel to sleep off the feasting, and you have all the makings of a perfect weekend.

My favorite invitation to try a new flavor during the event was issued by the bartender at Primo, a restaurant located in the adjacent sister property of JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. While I was contemplating whether to try an Avocado Bloody Mary featuring a potato vodka at the start of an exceptional brunch, he offered, “It’s healthy.”

As he handed the drink across the bar, he shared the basis for the claim: “Everything in the glass comes from the ground. In fact, a good portion of it from the garden we have on premises.”

Primo is unique in that it has an on-site organic garden to support award-winning Chef Melissa Kelly’s classical Italian plates. The day I was there, the restaurant hosted a lineup of six female chefs from across Florida for a five-course brunch that included such delectable offerings as melon carapaccio, roasted pumpkin and steak and eggs.

The final dinner during the Curated Experiences weekend was held al fresco, featuring the talents of chefs from other Michelin-recognized restaurants across the state, with each contributing to different courses paired with wines. There is just something so special about sampling truly inspirational dishes, with carefully selected companion wines, under starry Florida skies on a fall evening. The long tables where guests sat ensured everyone was included, even those who came solo.

Following dinner, we were treated a private concert by Jim Beavers and Jon Nite, Nashville songwriters behind many number one hits for country music artists such as Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Darius Rucker, and a fantastic fireworks finale—a perfect ending to a perfect meal. 

Although the resort’s Curated Experiences weekend takes place only once a year, you can still enjoy the Michelin star dining experience any weekend with a visit to this special resort. Only an hour and a half drive from Ocala makes it an easy choice for busy people looking for a convenient luxury getaway.

In addition to the exceptional meals and bespoke experiences this destination has become known for, the resort also offers amenities such as a world class spa, championship-level golf course and a newly renovated pool. Somehow, the resort manages to create lots of quiet spaces on the sprawling property, which allows you to enjoy quiet time in a hammock or find a spot to catch up with a friend and talk without being overheard. They’ve made it so you never have to leave the resort once you let the valet park your car, which makes it extra hard to leave when it is time to go. But it’s entirely doable—especially knowing you’ll be back. OS

To learn more about the Michelin Guide, including the list of 2022 Florida Michelin Stars and Bib Gourmand listings, go to guide.michelin.com

Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

Photos: Bird’s-eye view of the pool; Standard king room; Family cabana.

For reservations, call (407) 206-2400.

Posted in Ocala Style Features, TableTagged

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