We stayed at the new JW Marriott, part of a vast resort complex newly opened in July 2003. Norman's is the signature restaurant of the Ritz Carlton and is run by Norman Van Aken who owns Norman's in Coral Gables. Primo is the signature restaurant at the Marriott and is run by Melissa Kelly. Here are my comments. I also posted these on Fodors where I normally hang out:
Normans at Ritz Carlton, Grande Lakes, Orlando
This restaurant is drop dead gorgeous. The main dining room is domed with a center table surrounded by wine cabinets. The lighting is even and luminous at a low level that is conducive to conversation and romance. The service is modified French style. The headwaiter (a lovely woman on loan from Maisonette in Ohio) was warm and welcoming but a little too attentive for our tastes. It seemed we were approached at every bite asking how each mouthful tasted. Normans had two menus: a 5 course tasting menu and a 3 course prix fixe menu. We went with the latter which at $55 seemed quite reasonable.
My husband ordered Yuca Stuffed Crispy Shrimp with Sour Orange Mojo, Torn Greens and Habanero Tartar Salsa which was two large shrimp served on a mesclun base. Very good but not earth-shatteringly so. I had a cold seafood salad that was watery and surprisingly bland. I am hard pressed to describe this 10 days later.
My entree was Lapsang Souchong Tea and Shallot Stuffed Grilled Salmon Spiral with a Confit of New Potatoes, Steamed Spinach, Lemon Butter Sauce "Mer Noir"
I enjoyed this entree but it was a little rare for my taste, especially as it was stuffed. The stuffing did not properly heat in order for the kitchen to serve the salmon rare. Odd, I thought, and the spinach added nothing other than color.
My husband had "Mongolian" Barbequed Marinated and Grilled Veal Chop with Grilled Chinese Eggplant and Thai Fried Rice. This was very delicious and the best thing we tried all night.
Desserts were also surprisingly bland: Tres Leches, Passion Fruit and Pineapple with Meringue Glacé and Cinnamon Ice
Panqueques de Manzana" Apple Stuffed Crêpes with Dulce de Leche, Créme Frâiche Sorbet.
Primo at the J.W. Marriott, Grande Lakes
This was my favorite of our stay. It has the atmosphere I am looking for in a fine restaurant in 2003: a beautiful but relaxed decor. Different levels keeping the sound under contol. Good view of the kitchen. Pleasant and friendly but not intrusive service. Gorgeous murano glass lighting
fixtures made everyone look great under their diffused light.
The executive chef of Primo is Melissa Kelly whose main restaurant is in Maine. Organic produce and meats are the hallmark of this restaurant. Flavours melded together well and gave meaning to the dishes rather than being just another ingredient to list on the menu.
First courses: parfait of toasted organic beets, heirloom apples and Turtle Creek goat cheese was light and delicious. Maine Jonah crab, hearts of palm and avocado timbale with lemonbalm vinaigrette had a great crunch and the avocado played off the crab very well.
I had a pansoti pasta main dish that was stuffed with butternut squash, maine lobster and brown butter sauce. There was a great deal of lobster and the flavour shown though. This was a wonderful dish that I would order again.
My husband had a dry aged Niman Ranch steak with fresh vegetables and a goat cheese smashed potato cake that was a sensation. He pronounced it one of his best steaks ever and he is difficult to please in this regard.
We had cheese for dessert and a lovely moscato. The wines at this restaurant are superbly chosen.
Of the three restaurants we tried on our three nights, Primo takes the prize. We will return again. LMF