The Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table in Winter Garden

Kathleen and Mike treated Adam and I to a fabulous birthday dinner at the new Tasting Room at the Chef’s Table in the Edgewater. The Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel is located in historical Downtown Winter Garden a few minutes off West Colonial Drive. The restaurant is an intimate and fun dining experience owned and operated by Chef Kevin Tarter and his wife, Pastry Chef and Sommelier Laurie Tarter. Adam and I have celebrated several anniversaries in The Chef’s Table Dining Room, and easily consider this restaurant our favorite place to celebrate special occasions in Orlando. We have been enchanted with the seasonal prix fixe menu and wine parings every time, so we were excited to see if the same qualities that make The Chef’s Table Dining Room fabulous translated into a tapas environment.

Our party arrived right after opening, and we were immediately seated. Our server, Michael, was a sweetheart and was knowledgeable of the tapas menu as well as the Tasting Room’s specialty drinks. Kathleen, a cocktail and martini aficionado herself, and all of us thoroughly enjoyed sipping the mixologists’ Gin and Cucumber Cocktail, an Old Fashioned, and a Manhattan. Kathleen has taught me not to underestimate the simplicity of fresh muddled cucumber and Hendrix Gin — delicious through and through — although my favorite drink of the night was a Tasting Room original, the Plant Street Punch.

Flavors of pineapple and citrus dominated the punch in a pleasant way with a dash of Rose’s Grenadine. A word of warning, the punch did sneak up on me! Adam enjoyed a Cilantro Jalapeno Margarita on the rocks. The aroma of jalapeno registered first followed by a nice, full taste of fresh cilantro and the rest of the margarita. Michael assured us that there are well-versed mixologists manning The Tasting Room bar and it showed! I can confidently say that there are few other places in Orlando that can boast this caliber of classic cocktails.

All of the tapas we ordered were delicious, but my top favorites were the Smoked Fish Dip, Boudin Balls, and Corn & Crawfish Beignets. I believe the fish of the day included in the dip was Flounder and Grouper. The dip had a great, even consistency; it held together well on its own but spread like a dream across the accompanying thin pita chips. I could imagine this dip on crostinis or with a small, assorted bread basket.

The Boudin Balls had a hard, fried exterior much like hush puppies, which hid a moist, spicy center filled with rice, pork, pork livers, and cajun mayo. I could easily have eaten a basket of these myself, so thank goodness there were only three to a plate. The plate also had the loveliest egg over easy as a center piece. The egg wouldn’t have been my first guess to accompany the Boudin Balls, but it made an unexpectedly tasty partner to the pork and rice in the dish.

Kathleen dubbed the Corn & Crawfish Beignets “beignet fritters” due to the fried, textured outside and absence of overall sweetness except for the powdered ceyanne pepper sugar garnish, although they were just as tasty as they sound. Crawfish are such hard little critters to eat that I’m so glad I could enjoy easily them in this Southern-inspired combo. The Remoulade sauce was spicy, which cemented this dish as a reflection of Chef Kevin’s southern influences.

My honorable mention goes to the Muffaleta Sliders, which were packed with pepperoni, melted provolone, ham, and salami. The star of this dish was the fresh-baked, possibly rosemary, focaccia. The outside of the focaccia was slightly toasted with a subtle golden hue, and the inside was super warm, dense, yet fluffy. As a self-professed bread fiend, I was one please foodie!

The other tapas at our table were tasty in their own right. The cold plate of Roast Duck Salad was unexpectedly refreshing, and I liked the mild crumbled bleu cheese served with the salad, although the menu cited feta cheese instead. Adam also felt that there could have been more roast duck in the salad. I was looking forward to the Goat Cheese Ravioli, and while the fresh tomato broth and fresh garnishes were very yummy, the goat cheese was very mild to bland.  The flavor of the goat cheese was seemingly lost in the tomato broth. Kathleen was also left wanting maybe a little crostini or accompanying bread of some kind to help enjoy every last bit of that delicious tomato broth — maybe something like the focaccia from the Muffaleta Sliders.

We all also enjoyed the generous portion of Stuffed Poblano Pepper filled with lentils, corn, chicken, and chorizo sausage, although there was something unexpectedly hard inside the peppers. Kathleen guessed it was a few slightly undercooked lentils, but there were so many other fun flavors in the pepper in addition to the slight spice of the pepper itself that the lentils were a small thing.

The desserts shooters were a hit across the table, with the consensus being that the Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse Shooter garnished with a crisp white chocolate wafer. Since I’m not a peanut fan, I was left out of the collective sigh of peanut-buttery bliss. I instead thoroughly enjoyed a few bites of Adam’s Key Lime Shooter and my own Red Velvet Shooter topped with what I think was cream cheese frosting.

Not only were the tapas and drinks delicious, they were affordable. The tapas ranged from $6 to $14, and house specialty drinks like my Plant Street Punch was on special for $3. Like dim sum, the best way to enjoy tapas are with a group of people where everyone can share their favorites or find that they like someone else’s selection more. Chef Kevin and Laurie have succeeded in infusing the tapas experience with the signature high-quality, intimate experience of The Chef’s Table Dining Room. Both Chef Kevin and Laurie were in and out of the Tasting Room making sure everyone was having a good time, and I know this was the Tasting Room’s first week, but I hope that personal touch doesn’t change.

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