While there is no doubt that posh fine-dining venues can inject extra romance into special occasions – anniversary getaways, proposals, birthdays and the like – even rom-com fans will note that romance is oft found in unexpectedly casual joints where people are more apt to relax, unwind and, in Florida, have the added option of wearing inexpensive flip flops. You'll find a bit of both on this list, topped by K – a College Park favorite where local ingredients, a seasonal menu and a wonderful atmosphere have been bringing customers back since 2001. Over at the charming, old Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden, the Tasting Room at the Chef's Table offers the same exquisite Southern-inspired fare as its namesake next door, but in more casual digs. And if you like smaller plates (sharing is caring, after all) Txokos serves an array of delicious Basque-influenced pintxos in the locavore confines of Audubon Park's East End Market and on Friday nights – with wonderful live Spanish music, to boot.
From its dark red velvet banquettes inside to its twinkly lights outside, Paris Bistro serves up a bit of the famed city's flavor upon sitting down. Just wait until you try what's on your plate. Wonderful preparations of classics like lapin aux pruneaux (braised rabbit in red wine sauce with prunes) and chateaubriand (filet mignon sliced table-side with a choice of phenomenal sauces) look phenomenal and taste better. This eatery offers reasonable lunch and brunch deals, its menu diverse with offerings from rich entrees like coq au vin and veal Normande to rich sandwiches like the croquet monsieur to American favorites like its Paris Bistro burger – with an over-medium egg on top. Great for family or business lunches, tops for a truly special date night. (4076714424)
Affording incredible views of the Disney landscape from the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort, this fashionable, long-time favorite has undergone a recent "reimagining," and now features a design inspired by mid-century modern California and an updated menu with exciting additions – but retention of a few old faves, one of which is the sublime oak-fired filet of beef with heirloom tomato risotto, baby vine tomatoes, petite basil and tomato butter. Meat lovers will also find the 24-hour short rib "filet" a melt-in-your-mouth experience. With new floor-to-ceiling windows expanding its already sweeping 360-degree vistas, steak (and seafood, and sushi, and dessert, etc. and so forth ad nauseum) lovers will find a thousand things to enjoy at California Grill, from its menu to its atmosphere. (407-824-1576, 407-939-6244)
Tasting Room at the Chef's Table
You may have read about the long-lauded Chef's Table at the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden. It's sort of a not-that-kept-best-kept-secret. Its $55/per person, three-course dinner is an Orlando favorite. It's also romantic, in part for its charming, unique and laid-back location (the same could be said of its staff), in "the rest" for its rich, delicious, often Southern-inspired fare. Next door, however, is the Chef's Table's offshoot, a small-plate venue known as the Tasting Room. Here the dishes are smaller – supposedly, anyway, some are exceptionally generous – and made for sharing. And really, what's more romantic than that? Plus, they come from the same exceptional kitchen. Fried green tomatoes to grits, pork belly sliders to duck confit flatbread, you'll want to come back and try them all. Become a happy hour regular and you'll manage in no time. ((407) 230-4837)
It's slick and red, chic and modern with a little vintage essence and located in a hopping little corner of downtown. But Kres Chophouse isn't just a pretty face, it offers quality dining the opportunistic carnivore will pair with a Magic game at the nearby Amway Center, live music or dancing at a nearby nightclub (perhaps even some flamenco over at Ceviche) or even a slow stroll around Lake Eola, which bolsters romance as well as digestion. The Mixed Grill at Kres – garlic shrimp, filet mignon and double lamb chop served with asparagus and decadent three-cheese au gratin – makes for a generous sample platter. (407.409.7227)
Maxine's on Shine
We can't deny that grand hotels, with their opulence and elegance and servers wearing ties, can be romantic. But we're also fans of small neighborhood joints where live music and an oft-convivial vibe can make a pair on a date feel simultaneously a part of something, yet wonderfully invisible amid the good-natured revelry. Maxine's is a cozy, lively place that may inspire a couple to move in for close talking over a bottle of wine and a bowl of buttery, garlicky drunken mussels (just make sure you both have it!). Regular "Parlour Nights" with live jazz (and classical, Latin and classic rock) piano and a twinkly-lit patio don't hurt, either. ((407) 674-6841)
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)
Soco Thornton Park
Soco offers up loads of plated Southern comfort, though its name is actually a representation of Southern contemporary – which means you'll find some down-home diner favorites that have undergone an evolution into something more upscale. Think boiled peanut hummus, mac-and-cheese croquettes and chicken and dumplings that infuse the latter with lobster. Its dining room is warm and inviting but its al fresco sidewalk seating infuses meals with a hip, urban vibe that ticks everything up a notch. As appealing for dinner as it is for Sunday brunch or happy hour cocktails, Soco's patio is lively and hip. But the food here is exemplary, and well worth the visit even if the Florida rain is teeming outside. (407-849-1800)
One of the nice things about restaurants that source locally is that save a few likely staples, you're never quite sure what they'll have when you show up. So it goes at K Restaurant, a College Park favorite that manages to check the "relaxed" and "friendly" boxes while holding up its "romantic" end of the bargain, as well. This makes it as nice a place to bring your significant other on an anniversary as it is for a food-focused girls' night out. K will unwind you with its atmosphere, whether you dine indoors or al fresco, along with its wine list, then knock your palate out. Entrees here might include a luscious filet mignon on potato gratin, tender duck breast with fried Brussels sprouts or a rich, sausage-infused mac-and-cheese. (407-872-2332)
Intimate and chic, but hardly pretentious, the folks at Scratch makes you feel at home whether you've dropped in for a drink at the bar or to sample its sublime small plates (which you can also do at the bar). Its location on Fairbanks is just a skip from the nightlife options of Park Ave. and Hannibal Square – ambling over from either will up your evening's romantic vibe, making it feel like a random place you've decided to try after a day exploring a new city. Its wine and beer list are extensive, its wait staff knowledgeable and its seasonally rotating menu a wonderful array of tastes both traditional and exotic – and sometimes an amalgam of the two. Artful plating makes each selection almost too pretty to eat. Almost. (407-325-5165)
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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