Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Modern Japanese in Orlando
Matt and I were invited by Tito A and Tita B to spend the holidays with them in Orlando, Florida. It was going to be six weeks of relaxation in what is, literally, America’s playground. Orlando is famously known to be the home of the grand Disney parks and resorts, Shamu at Sea World, a wide assortment of water parks, and of course, the glorious Florida sun. Being the food-crazed person that I am, I was excited to sample the gamut of delectable dishes the southern US has to offer more than anything. I was not expecting the variety that bigger cities have, but I opened myself to the possibility of being pleasantly- surprised.
Luckily, there was plenty of interesting food haunts in the Dr. Phillips area where we stayed. One of them which we went to more than once was Dragonfly- a cool, lounge-y place that describes itself as a “modern izakaya”. An izakaya is defined as “a casual place for after-work drinking” or “a Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks”. Anthony Bourdain’s tv feature on Japan’s bountiful culinary landscape gave me a visual of an izakaya- a variety of meats on a stick roasting on the robata grill, while salarymen, hunched over their sake or beer, muse over the long day at work, either by their lonesome or as a rowdy group.
But walking into Dragonfly with Matt, A and J, you know immediately that this is not the izakaya of the Japanese middle-class. The crowd during dinner is Orlando’s young and well-heeled (Tiger Woods owns a home nearby), where the women are Pilates-skinny and they like to show it. The hidden speakers provide the hip soundtrack of chilled-out electronica as the cute receptionist walks you to the bar or directly to your table. I recommend ordering a cocktail while you ponder over the menu- I recall having a delicious cucumber martini at one point.
The decors are neo-Japanese with a contemporary use of bamboo, dark wood, granite and glass. The lighting is expectedly subdued at the bar, but the dining area is well-lit, which encourages family dining. During the few dinners we had there, I spotted a couple of tables with children, who were thankfully at their best behavior.
The food in Dragonfly ranged from the traditional to the “inspired”- from their grilled items that were simply seasoned and perfectly- cooked over charcoal, to the sushi rolls that contained cream cheese or octopus. The unanimous favorite was the Miso Yaki Black Cod with Wild Mushrooms and Chrysanthemum Leaves. The naturally-oily fish is literally like butter, complimented by the sweet miso sauce and earthy mushrooms. A perfect dish. So perfect I failed to immortalize it with a photo and even J’s photo of it I cannot save.
Being an izakaya, we had to try items from the robata menu, or what is more commonly-known as yakitori. The meat and vegetables are austerely seasoned with salt and pepper, and then grilled. You can eat them as is, or dip them in Dragonfly’s trio of sauces- teriyaki, spicy miso and orange yuzu. Aside from the chicken wings and bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms, the stand-out would have to be- surprise, surprise- the wagyu rib-eye. Soft and juicy and smoky, you chew a little bit slower to savor the decadent meat macerating in your mouth.
Dragonfly introduced me to Orlando’s love affair with the sushi roll. It is literally everywhere- from grocery store chains to Polynesian-inspired hotel lobbies. And purists beware, because Dragonfly (as well as a few other sushi places we checked out) have a taste for the outlandish. Some of my favorites are the Cobra Kai (red onion, snow crab, tempura flakes, lemon slices, Loch Duarte salmon, garlic-shiso pesto, balsamic) and the Salmon Skin (toasted smoked salmon skin, kaiware (sprouted daikon radish seeds), scallions and roe). For those who care for more traditional sushi and sashimi, their sushi bar offers beautiful fresh seafood.
After dinner, and if the weather allows it, you can relax at the outdoor patio where they have a full bar and a DJ on weekends. We got to sample some of their craft beersand cocktails, and they also had some top-shelf Japanese whiskey.
Thanks to A & J for the photos.
800 W. Sand Lake Rd.
Tel. no. (407) 3703359