Nuevo Latino cuisine
Where: Next to Jimmy Buffetts
Price Range: $$$
Cover: $7 after 9:00 p.m.
Hours: Daily 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. for food; club stays open until 2:00 a.m. Thursday to Saturday
Reservations: (407) 224-3663 or OpenTable.com
This restaurant and part-time nightclub salutes one of the newer ethnic groups to get stirred into the cultural menudo that is the United States — the natives of the 21 Spanish-speaking nations that lie south of the border. It does this most notably through its pan-South-American cuisine. If you’re thinking of Tex-Mex cliches with their heavy leaden sauces, think again. The cooking style here draws its inspiration from traditional recipes but reinterprets them in very modern fashion.
The large, two-level space with its arching blue walls creates the illusion of a sultry tropical night in the ruins of an ancient city. The first-floor stage is flanked by two massive Aztec gods and backed by what surely must be the Andes. Upstairs, a balcony seating area looks down on the spacious dance floor in front of the stage.
The food here is hearty but unexceptional. The kitchen makes a stab at so-called Nuevo Latino cuisine, with its elaborate presentations, but falls far short of the standards set by the best restaurants in this genre. Among the appetizers ($8 to $14), the cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped grilled shrimp is a real winner. Salads ($4 to $14) are delicious and make an excellent choice if you’d like a light meal. Try the chicken breast or the grilled Chilean salmon over greens.
The entrees ($10 to $29) were designed with the he-man meat-lover in mind. The Churrasco Skirt Steak takes the humble skirt steak, rolls it up into a tower and serves it over a bed of garbanzos, ham, and chorizo. Among the seafood entrees the more interesting choices include the Caribbean crusted mahi mahi and the red snapper topped with chorizo sausage. They also do a daily special with Chilean sea bass that is worth considering. There is a separate menu section highlighting a variety of fajitas ($15 to $16).
The desserts ($6) include a caramelized banana custard and mango cheesecake. To ease the strain on the family pocketbook, a kids’ menu featuring $6 meals is offered.
Drinkers have their choice of a lengthy menu of specialty drinks that salute various Latin American countries ($7 to $10). Mixed drink enthusiasts could do worse than set a goal to sample them all. For the less adventuresome, beer is also served and it makes an excellent accompaniment to most of the dishes. A small wine list is offered ($24 to $48).
Upstairs, on a balcony overlooking the stage, Latin Quarter now offers an all-you-can-eat churrascaria "dining experience." Start with the gourmet salad bar featuring sushi, cured meats and cheeses, and lobster bisque alongside the standard greens. Then, when you are ready to meet the meat, grab your tongs and flip the paper disk on your table from red to green. An endless parade of skewer-slinging gauchos will appear and slice a variety of grilled meats at your table-side. Some, like the house specialty picanha sirloin, mango-marinaded spareribs, and smoked sausage, are excellent; a few, like the pork shoulder and bacon-wrapped chicken, are inedibly dry. Most of the rest, including filet mignon, ribeye, and leg of lamb, fall under "acceptable." At $37 for adults (kids are half-price, under 6 is free) you'll need to be a hard-core carnivore who likes their meat medium-well to really get your money's worth, though to be fair similar restaurants elsewhere in Orlando cost more. You can order the salad bar only for $20, a better value.
In the evening, Latin Quarter features low-key, live entertainment. Typically it will be an excellent flamenco guitarist, playing on the outdoor patio when the weather cooperates or indoors when it doesn't. At 10:00 p.m. on Thursdays (Ladies Night) through Saturday, Latin Quarter turns up the heat with a Reggaeton D.J.
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