Greetings epicurious hounds,
Despite several bad reviews herewith, by chowhounders clearly in the know, we took a leap of faith and set forth for Norman's at the new Orlando Ritz Carleton. Having been thoroughly wowed at several Ritz Carleton dining environs, particularly the Buckhead, Atlanta room, we had high expectations.
Alas, to say we were extremely disappointed with Norman's would be an understatement.
Although the interior design was lovely and the service highly attentive and personable, the meal was an utter calamity. They offer a $55 prix fixe as well as a tasting menu, and we opted for the former. In retrospect, we should have paid for our Martinis, and made haste for Flying Fish, or one of Orlando's other consistently delectable dining experiences.
Both shrimp and pork appetizers arrived stone cold, one with totally raw pasta, giving new meaning to the term "al dente". All the food artistry in the world could not hide the disgraceful lack of taste and texture. Sent those back, and they returned exactly the same fashion. Sent them back again and told the kitchen to keep them.
Entrees were indescribably bad. My wife's "Pad Thai" with Pompano was almost as tasty as a box of mediocre Chinese take-out! Sickly sweet and cold, with a tiny Pompano strip on top. Greasy and awful. Sent it back. My "Cuban Pork" was two slabs of dry tenderloin, tilted as food art, and smothered in steamed corn niblets and black beans. Sent it back and asked for our check.
It was as though a group of teenagers had taken over the kitchen and let run amok! No kidding. I have never had such a horrible dining experience. Just because a kid graduates from CIA or one of those other similar chef mills, does not mean he or she should be on the line. Far better to have formative years and years in mama's kitchen, like so many of the world's great chefs.
Now, when I told our very nice waiter (embarrassed for his kitchen, obviously) how we felt, he told his manager, who appologized profusely, and kindly comped the entire meal, except for our wine and spirits. Very logical, and appreciated. So, we left hungry but relieved to know we would never be back. Had a Cognac in the lovely Ritz piano bar, and went to a drive-through for junky sustenance. Hey, at least you get what you expect, presumably prepared by the same calibre staff in the back of the house.
I should say again the service was excellent and NOT the wait staff's problem (we left a 20 % tip), and the atmosphere was nice, but celebrity chef Norman Van Aken has obviously spread himself too thin to compete with the likes of other Orlando hot spots. I suspect he cut the ribbon and left town, leaving the VERY recent CIA grads in charge.
The Ritz Carleton has fallen substantially from grace with this in-house "Stormin" Norman disaster. Diners (Chowhounds beware!) I rarely vent thus on Chowhound, but this is the exception!