|Photo Credit: Jim Hobart/Macbeth Photo|
Given that, the moment I found an email in my blog's inbox about a gluten-free guest chef experience in Winter Park, I knew I could not pass up the opportunity. Hosted by Chef Bob Aungst, a local chef and gluten-free entrepreneur, at the Bistro on Park Ave, I was sold, and began counting down the days until the night arrived.
As I arrived for my 6:00 pm reservation, I could tell the night was going to be special the moment I arrived and was shown my table. Located an enclosed veranda-like space at the front of the restaurant, the room was breathtakingly beautiful and exquisitely decorated, with simple, yet elegant table settings. Letting the beauty of a serine summer afternoon on Park Ave shine through, I loved the abundance of greenery, orchids, sunlight, and incredible views of a courtyard that made me feel millions of miles away from usually hot and miserable Central Florida.
|Photo Credit: Jim Hobart/Macbeth Photo|
What struck me as truly amazing about the event is that all of the courses and food that would be served is gluten-free. In addition, the kitchen was de-contaminated both before prep, and before the event started. Although the Bistro typically serves gluten-containing items on it's regular menu, I was amazed that Chef Bob and the team jumped through all the hoops to make sure that even the most sensitive of diners could enjoy the meal.
The dinner consisted of a four-course meal, carefully curated by Chef Bob to feature the season's most vibrant flavors. While Chef Bob took responsibility for the first three courses, Erika Boesch, owner of the Bistro on Park Ave personally crafted the dessert course. Herbs used in the design of each dish came directly out of Chef Bob and Erika's personal herb gardens. The Ancient Olive, a gourmet olive oil store next to the Bistro also collaborated for the dinner, providing an assortment of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
Because of my dairy-free constraint, my courses came out in a different order than the menu shows. Because the risotto cakes were not dairy-free, Chef Bob brought out my salad course first to allow for a custom dairy-free risotto to be freshly cooked once I got there.
Those who read my blog know that I'm usually not a big salad fan, but I must give Chef Bob full credit for crafting one I not only enjoyed, but ate every bite of. Atop a bed of flavorful spring mix (a word I don't often pair with salad), sat fresh summer tomatoes, a slice of cucumber, and blueberries. Tying in all the flavors was a nice champagne-ginger vinaigrette that provided a nice flavoring without overwhelming the other flavors present.
Arriving soon after was the beautiful pan seared chanterelle mushroom risotto, a modified version of the risotto cakes on the menu. I was sold on this delicious preparation from first bite, as the creamy risotto rice was enhanced with pepper, tender chanterelle mushrooms, incredible balsamic vinegar and delicious olive oil. As much as I wanted to rapidly consume every bite of the dish, I forced myself to take slow, savoring mouthfuls, which ultimately proved the perfect way to relish the complex, yet not competing flavors. Of all the dishes, this one really brought the "comfort food" factor, and showcased the excellence of the Ancient Olive's products.
If the risotto course could be described as blissful, the next course definitely takes my vote for most impressive. Chef Bob brought out my red snapper en papillote personally, and opened up the parchment paper right at the table to reveal a colorful and tantalizing array of colorful vegetables atop the tender white fish. Taking the dish to a whole new level, Chef Bob drizzled on dill infused olive oil after the big reveal. Arranged so that each ingredient would steam to the point of perfection, I loved the layers of each ingredient. Roasted Broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes all were vibrant and flavorful, far from their bland counterparts that have sat too long in the grocery store.
The snapper was perfectly tender, giving way with only a touch of the fork, and shone especially bright with the dill oil as its dressing. Steamed colored carrots (the purple, orange, and yellow slices you see) proved to be a surprise and a delight in this dish, stumping both my mom and I as we attempted to guess what the mystery ingredient might be. When we inquired about them, Chef Bob brought out the raw colored carrots from the back to let us see their beauty up close (see those in the photo collage below). I am told they can be found at Whole Foods or The Fresh Market.
Last, but certainly not least was the dessert course, and again here my meal differed from other diners due to dairy. Instead of the blueberry cheesecake souffle, I was presented with Champagne granita with macerated Reinier cherries and fresh mint. Elegant in its presentation, I was impressed by the plump cherries and finely shaved champagne ice at the bottom of the glass. Tart and sweet, the dessert was light and a perfect ending to the meal since I was stuffed by this point. Having never tried Rainier cherries before, I loved the firm, juicy fruit, and adored the sweet, crisp ice that soaked up the cherry juice. As twilight was setting in, this dessert was a magical way to end the evening, and could not have been more satisfied when I ultimately put down my utensils for the last time.
I hope through my words and photos that I am able to this amazing dinner justice. The combination of the exquisite atmosphere, excellent service, stellar food, and novelty of getting to enjoy food without fear proved to make that night one I will not soon forget. Having missed opportunities to enjoy a nice dinner with my mom for either her birthday or Mother's Day, we agreed that this luxurious night was worth waiting for, and exceeded both of our expectations. While it's not the kind of dining we engage in normally, the transcendence of our usual routine was an really special experience.
I tip my hat to Chef Bob, Erika Boesch, the Bistro on Park Avenue staff, and Ancient Olive for flawless collaboration. After this experience, I will definitely make a point of returning to the Bistro on Park Avenue to check out their regular menu and will continue following Chef Bob as I hope he hosts more events in the area for the gluten-free community.
I also want to give a shout out to Jim Hobart of Macbeth Photo, who was on hand to capture the evening in photograph. Thanks to his generosity, I am able to share his beautiful photographs on this post, and in the below collage. Specializing in head shots, architecture, and lifestyle photographs, I am very impressed with his artistic mastery.
For more information about Chef Bob, click here. For more information about the Bistro on Park Avenue, click here. For more information about Macbeth Photo, click here.
Disclaimer: This review is current to the original publication date. Updates will be noted. I was invited to the event by Chef Bob Aungst, but all opinions are my own. I did not receive compensation for this review, and both my mom and I paid for our meals. This was a one-time special event, and does not reflect the usual menu at The Bistro on Park Avenue.