Listen up. I do not say this lightly.
It requires a form of artistry to work with subtlety on a consistent basis and still be confident that the end product will be special.
I had never been to The Strand restaurant at 807 North Mills – just north of Colonial. I had a friend who spoke of it frequently, and finally she brought me there for dinner. Like much of The Strand, the original entrance and decorative glass block has been retained by the charming chef/owners Alda and Joseph Rees. Retaining that front reminds me of lunch places from decades past, and The Strand does do lunch, but in the evening, it becomes a place where magic happens thanks to the subtle artistry of this very-married chef duo.
Everything about the place is subtly understated and sophisticated. From the European jazz playing in the background to the pale green walls and highly polished, natural wood tables – to the seating created from reclaimed wood (some with original paint), but sanded and polished as if by decades of happy patrons. The ambiance is “a little bit country, a little bit city sophisticate,” and most importantly – comfortable and welcoming. Chefs Alda and Joe achieved what they stated as their mission – from their website, “Our restaurant highlights the historic, mid-century sensibilities of Orlando’s Mill’s 50 District.” Uh huh. With seasonal dishes made from scratch, and chef’s specials inspired by fresh ingredients, the restaurant could also be a French bistro. I felt welcome and happy there even before I tasted the food.
The Strand is located at 807 N. Mills Ave in Orlando. For more information, visit strandorlando.com or call 407-920-7744.
And then I tasted the food … and I tasted the food. The whole “field to feast” thing truly works here, because no taste is ever sacrificed for an easy – or showy – attempt to be impressive. In my notes I had written, “Each taste is subtle and fabulous,” so please bear with me as I tell you how much I loved every beautiful plate set before us.
As a full-out-foodie, I got excited as I came to realize we were enjoying “real food,” or “nutrient-rich food,” which I sincerely believe can – and will – make a difference in our lives.
For appetizers we began with the Chef’s Special – a chicken liver mousse served with bread crisps and a side of pickled baby Florida figs and watermelon rind. This is where the word “subtle” kept reminding me that the spices and seasonings used by Chefs Joe and Alda were consistently perfect for the dish without ever standing up to be saluted. Consider if you will, the liqueur in a mousse or pate is often so prominent that it is the liqueur we taste. Such is not the case with the food at The Strand.
We continued our appetizer tasting with two personal favorites – fried green tomatoes served here with poached Florida shrimp, tomato relish and brushed with a tarragon aioli. The Creole breading on the fried tomatoes was so light – so subtle – and so delicious I could hardly believe it was a simple mix of flour and corn meal. And what a great idea to put the tomatoes together with poached shrimp. The poaching seals in the shrimp’s natural tastes, neither adding to nor taking away from the “real food” shrimp — highly recommended.
The Watermelon and Tomato Salad shows off why Chef Alda seems driven to pickle. The tomatoes are local, which means they can be served when they are truly ripe, and the watermelon bits have been marinated and almost pickled. Even the salad is garnished with pickled blackberries (terrific). Chef Alda says her pickling is her way to “hang on to those fresh tastes of summer.”
My entrée – the Blackened Red Snapper – was served over a bed of incredible corn grits and a side of grilled zucchini. By this time I was thrilled to be tasting these “real” foods and thoroughly enjoying tastes which had, of course, always previously been there, but had been smothered or covered up by heavy-handed seasoning. My friend’s Duck Breast was served over a healthy/tasty black eyed pea and wild rice salad and topped with three giant grilled asparagus stalks. I casually took one of the stalks and, biting into it, exclaimed that even the grilling of these three asparagus stalks had been done with such care that I felt as if I had never actually tasted this vegetable before. Offered a taste of the duck, my quick “yes” was rewarded with two perfect bites of rich duck breast meat cooked to juicy perfection and with an ever so slightly sweet taste. I found out that subtle sweetness – so perfect for the duck – was a cherry and wine reduction. This is the way duck should be cared for and served. This is also a good place to acknowledge the exquisite plating at The Strand. Plating is simply the way the food is put on the plate and delivered to the diner. Each serving was presented with elegance and a very real sense of composition.
We agreed that the winner among the desserts is the Chocolate Hazelnut Custard with a dark chocolate sauce and one more surprise that will remain so until you dine there.
One only needs to dine once at The Strand to fully understand their pride in offering fresh, seasonal ingredients from local farms. Every dish is made from scratch from what is available and what chefs Joe and Alda believe will taste best for us. One dining experience at The Strand, and they have my complete faith.