Alright, the title's a little misleading. Technically only the No. 1 pick – Walt Disney World's famed Five-Diamond venue Victoria & Albert's – actually requires male guests to wear jackets. Some diners balk at restaurant dress codes, but when it comes to fine dining, wearing a special-occasion dress or cufflinks seems to level everything up, making an opulent evening out that much more sumptuous. Not that you'd call the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa's signature venue anything but. With up to 10 prix fixe courses available, dining at Victoria & Albert's is nothing less than a culinary experience, which is why reservations are best made well in advance. But lest you think the Disney realm is the only place in Orlando where dining is magical, be sure to investigate this roster’s other gems. Those looking for a classic steakhouse experience will find no fault at Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster where thick cuts are seared to perfection and the side dishes are as decadent as anything off the dessert menu. Fans of superior Italian, particularly the lakeside variety, will enjoy both Antonio's La Fiamma off Maitland's Lake Lily and Longwood's three-decades-long favorite, Enzo's on the Lake. Celebrity chef Norman Van Aken's namesake at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes will delight those who enjoy Floribbean fare and if you're looking for something with more of a locals-only feel, check out Luma on Park. Its walkable Park Avenue location boasts many options for pre-meal cocktails and window shopping to work up your appetite.
The Boheme's Sunday Jazz Brunch is indeed something special, but this elegant venue (set inside downtown's Grand Bohemian Hotel Orlando) serves lunch and dinner, as well, though it may be better suited for the latter with its romantic, dare we say sultry red décor. Fare covers all bases rather well from hand-cut aged steaks to stone oven-baked pizzas and an array of other specialty entrees, plus sumptuous desserts . A three-course prix fixe menu allows for elegant $49 samplings and of course the hotel's extensive art collection is free to enjoy, as is the live music in its Bosendorfer Lounge (407-581-4700)
The Venetian Room
It's all those things people love to read: AAA Four-Diamond, award-winning, all that, but more importantly The Venetian Room affords diners a truly exceptional, sumptuous evening of fine dining. With entrees that top out over $40, you will pay for it, but the service, the detail and the food are truly exceptional. Creamy lobster bisque with chunks of tender meat lie in wait beneath a layer of flaky, buttery puff pastry, flavorful, slow-braised bison short ribs satisfy the heartiest of appetites, but if you're splurging on the luxury of the Venetian Room, you have to save room for dessert. Tahitian vanilla-bean creme brulee is decadent, the Black Magic Dome of bittersweet chocolate mousse even more so, but the Grand Marnier souffle;with creme anglaise? Ooh la la. (407-238-8060)
Enzo's on the Lake
Enzo's has long been a fixture for fine Italian dining in Orlando, wowing diners with cuisine to match its peerless lake view for roughly 30 years. In fact, the setting is so delightful that many make it their choice for all kinds of special occasions and private parties, weddings included. All that said, Enzo's charming bar and sculpture gardens are a wonderful setting for a simple, lovely dinner, as well. Enzo's is classy, its servers affable and knowledgeable and it's food quite reliably delicious. Favorites here include the bucatini alla Enzo, a creamy-rich pasta dish rife with prosciutto, bacon, mushrooms and parmesan. (407-834-9872)
Antonio's La Fiamma
You may already know Antonio's Market & Cafe, the friendly deli/market/restaurant adjacent to Maitland's lovely Lake Lily Park. You can pop in, enjoy a sandwich to take to the waterfront or even peruse (and open) a bottle of wine to enjoy with your salad, hero or other delicacy. Antonio's La Fiamma, ensconced upstairs, however, is the market's more elegant cousin, a fine-dining venue that's been a local favorite for years. Enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine at the full-service bar and if weather permits, grab a table outside overlooking the lake as you select from a menu comprised of Northern and coastal Italian favorites. (407-645-1035)
Chatham's has been wowing Orlando's fans of fine dining since 1988 – an impressive feat for any restaurant these days – and that's likely due to a well executed combination of ambiance, service and culinary excellence. From lump Cajun crab cakes to filet mignon, Florida grouper to rack of lamb, the menu is not extensive, but laden with interesting spins on classic dishes. Whatever it is, it keeps diners coming back for special nights out. Attentive but unintrusive service allows diners to enjoy their meals quiety, intimately, and often with live piano accompaniment. Chatham's is an excellent choice for client dinners, as well, but when it comes to special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries and other potentially romantic occasions – it's an ultra-reliable go-to. (407-345-2992)
Chef's Table at the Edgewater
It should immediately be noted, the average main course price is not $56 – that's the cost of your impeccable three-course meal. This intimate room inside the Winter Garden's historic Edgewater Hotel is a sorta-kinda best-kept-secret in Orlando. It has made everyone's list, from local publications to Zagat's Top Restaurants in America, but its size and location (out in Winter Garden; about 15 miles east of downtown Orlando) has allowed it to keep some of its clandestine buzz, despite being open several years. Menus shift with fresh ingredients but never disappoint. Chef's Table is a special-occasion delight. Turn your cell phone off; leave the kids at home. Enjoy. ((407) 230-4837)
Luma on Park
After years in Winter Park, Luma is still winning raves from regulars and winning over newcomers in its high-rent space on Park Avenue. And what a space it is. With lovely outdoor tables on one of the prettiest corners on park, diners can enjoy the verdant pergolas of Central Park and beautiful flowers of the Park Plaza Hotel balcony while enjoying modern American fare. Inside you'll find equally well-appointed spaces and a kitchen where James Beard finalist Chef Brandon McGlamery turns out inspired cuisine (and, surprise-surprise, seriously snappy pizza). Check it out and find out why Orland-local celebs – and even the universal variety, such as Sir Paul McCartney – make Luma on Park a regular stop. ((407) 599-4111)
Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster
What opened as Del Frisco's Prime Steak and Lobster back in the 90s via an agreement that permitted them to use the Del Frisco's name for two decades will before long become Christner's Prime Steak & Lobster. The current name is transitional. Ask the locals, however, and you'll hear that the quality of the steaks and service is still top-notch. In fact, ask New York transplants and snowbirds and you'll often hear them mention Christner's Del Frisco's in the same sentence as the famed Peter Luger, heralded for a century-plus as the Big Apple's best. At CDF, steaks come with a crisp, seared exterior, service is exemplary and sides are sumptuous. (407-645-4443)
Norman Van Aken is a culinary legend – and a proud adopted Floridian, which plays nicely into delicious and often Latin-, Caribbean- and even Key West-infused fare. Sit outside and enjoy spectacular views of lakes, gardens and the Ritz-Carlton's expansive, green golf course or dine in climate-controlled majesty – vaulted ceilings and Italianate windows help bring that outside essence in. Tapas like Key West shrimp ceviche or delicate caviar may prime your palate for creamy cracked conch chowder or rhum and pepper painted Florida black grouper. Norman's is, of course, not a one-dollar-sign venue, but for vacationers and those looking for a sumptuous meal out, few venues are as resplendent as the Ritz-Carlton, and few restaurants could match it as well as Norman's. (407-393-4333)
Victoria & Albert's
While exemplary fine dining can be found throughout the Disney compound, none surpass the level of service delivered during a Victoria & Albert's prix fixe, seven-course meal that can only be described as a top-of-the-line culinary experience. Meals here are an event, whether served in the elegant dining room or, if intimacy and knowledge of the kitchen's inner-workings are more your game: the Chef's Table. Here, six guests will dine in the kitchen alongside the chef, learning the ins and outs of running a AAA Five-Diamond restaurant. The Queen Victoria Room, a newer addition to the V&A roster, holds just four tables. Diners here enjoy traditional gueridon service where waiters prepare much of the meal from tableside trolleys. Unless you're a regular on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," Victoria & Albert's is an eatery probably best reserved for very special occasions, but meals here – and the service that comes with – are guaranteed to become memories that will last a lifetime. (407-824-2591, 407-939-3463)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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