Friday, August 19, 2011

Latin Quarter, Orlando, FL

Latin Quarter Restaurant in Universal Orlando CityWalk doesn't have a website of its own (not associated with the Universal Studios theme park) least not that I can find. This and other clues lead me to believe that Latin Quarter is a glorified theme park restaurant strategically situated among some of the more nationally familiar tourist crowd-pleasers like Margaritaville, Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. That's okay, because it was easily as good as any of the aforementioned (which is not to say it was "great").

The goal of this cavernous and lavishly overstated eatery is to immerse you in pseudo Aztec, Incan, and Mayan architecture and "give you the sensation of dining under the stars near an ancient temple"...which it sort of did in an elaborate and uber-contrived Caesars Palace meets Disney World's Pirates of the Caribbean ride kinda way, but without the Caesars Palace prices (prices, in fact, were astonishingly reasonable considering the respectable quality of the food and the Citywalk location). We were strapped into seated in the "patio under the stars" themed quarter of this behemoth ride SouthAmericaLand (featuring an observatory-type dome twinkling with projected celestial lights), which I can't say was unpleasant although I never for moment forgot that I wasn't in Macchu Picchu. Okay...the shame of theme park dining is clearly making me snarky. Dialing it down, now...because I secretly might've liked it a little.

We met our pals from D.C. who are in town to treat their progeny units to a whirlwind Orlando Overload before they go back to school. The six of us started with two orders of Trio Empanadas (one shredded chicken, one pulled beef and one blue crab) and two orders of the Tostones con Pollo which turned out to be a helluva lot more food than we were expecting for $8.99 and $7.99 respectively. One of each would've more than enough.

I'm an empanada snob so I'm not going to rave about these...they (and the tostones) were a little dumbed down for the masses and didn't offer a whole lot of spice or interest, plus I perfer a more traditional picadillo filling to the shredded meat used in the ones we got. Still, qualifying everything based on the Latin Quarter's target demographic, these appetizers as well as everything else we ordered exceeded expectations and I was impressed by the fact that tostones even appeared on the menu in Kraft Velveeta Mac'n Cheese Land. Honestly, you can be hard-pressed to find them in Tampa or Miami Latin dining spots.

Zack kept me in stitches by channeling McCaulay Culkin for our entertainment pleasure over the course of the evening. This must be posted:

See the resemblance?

And if you squint a little:

Our other beautiful young companion, Madison, put the wine-and-fried-food-snarfing adults to shame with her healthy selection of a very attractive Caesar salad and probably the most beautiful fruit smoothie ever served. She left nothing but croutons on her plate, deeming them "too hard".

After being blindsided by the mastodonian proportions of the starters, we decided (like typical old folk) to split a couple of entrees. I love Cuban sandwiches and Chris was eager to try one, so we went in together on a relatively fine rendition of this Florida classic. The $10 sandwich was absolutely huge so it worked out well...and the kitchen very nicely plated each half along with accompanying flavorful black beans and rice for us. The only slight disappointment was that the Cuban was toasted, not pressed. Still good and an amazing bargain...neither of us could even finish our half:

The boyz, being equally satiated by this point, decided to share an order of the $24 Paella de Latin Quarter which was very nicely done. They, too, managed to leave food on their plates even with the split portions...and it was quite a respectable paella. I wasn't transported to the Columbia when I tasted it, but it was damn good all things considered...and again nicely separated into two smaller portions for the guys.

I wouldn't call it a "destination" restaurant, but food and wine/cocktails were better than expected and truly delivered for the price point. Plus, you don't have that 2-hour wait to get into Margaritaville or Hard Rock Cafe...and the menu is more interesting than you'll get at either. Our service was sporadic and borderline acceptable, but I think it's just the nature of the beast in this environment. If you ever find yourself forced to dine at Universal CityWalk, there are worse choices you could make.

Good times!

Latin Quarter on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment