The Ritz-Carlton is keeping curiosity humming along during renovations of its restaurant and establishing a "pop-up" restaurant called CdZ Restaurant & Lounge.
But the quality of the food and its execution should not be a surprise—it's excellent.
On Thursday afternoon Patch headed to the CdZ for lunch overlooking the marina.
The Ritz is renovating the Verona next door through January into what will be a modern waterfront fish house with a new name, so Chef Dwayne Edwards and staff thought it would be a great time to set up the Ca d'Zan lounge as a sort of test kitchen to see what they could invent and what the public wants more of, according to James Cole, executive assistant manager of food and beverage at The Ritz. So for now, the lounge is rebranded as the CdZ during its 90-day adventure.
And what a day to celebrate food on Thurdsday when Edwards was just announced as The Ritz's Executive Chef after he arrived here in 2011 as Executive Sous Chef following his rise through the culinary ranks across the country at top-rated restaurants.
The CdZ, which seats 80 inside with 30 outdoor seats to get some fresh air overlooking the marina, is going for an updated American steakhouse feel.
For lunch, my guest ordered the crab cake sandwich that included some pleasant additions, as well as subtractions.
She examined the crab cake like a doctor, surgically separating the meat to see if there was any hint of filler, and she couldn't find any in the massive crab cake. Instead, it was a citrus zest she tasted, which is a spicy orange mayonnaise, and avocado.
The potato chips were a sense of wonder, as ,in I wonder how they made them so crispy yet so thin? Lunch is suppose to have a "light" feel, and these chips had a nice airy bite to them seasoned with a "Florida Sunshine" custom-made spice blend that hinted of fresh Gulf of Mexico sea salt. Lucky for us, the chips come with each sandwich for lunch.
I opted for the 1855 Steak Sandwich, which is a great alternative for a hamburger if you're doing a beef sandwich in a test kitchen. Go with a filet steak sandwich like The Ritz because hamburgers have been gourmet-ed to the extreme where it's just too much at this point.
The blue cheese was more of a creamy finish while retaining texture instead of having dry clumps of blue cheese escape the bun and onto the plate like at many places. And while it complimented the tender filet steak, it played nicely off the dark Cigar City beer that bordered on a porter, and was full on flavor but light to the lips.
And never underestimate the brioche bun—it's like the workhorse of buns, keeping all the contents of the sandwich together, doesn't fall apart while being so soft on the inside.
Dessert, however, almost had my guest fall apart in her chair. The chocolate molten lava cake is meant to fall away, letting the surprise inside flow, but this wasn't some run-of-the-mill chocolate sauce winding its way through the bowl. Edwards uses Bailey's Irish Cream without overpowering the sauce while a taste of hazelnut comes up for a "hello" outside the cake.
My red velvet cake with a scoop of gelato was perfect. There's two elements to a good red velvet cake: actually use red velvet cake and not some sort of take off on devil's food cake and the best cream cheese icing around.
The chilled cream cheese was thick enough to bond each layer of cake together like it was a work of masonry because only a carpenter could have constructed such a cake. A raspberry sauce surrounding the gelato offered an alternative sweetness to the cream cheese and then came the texture where clusters of a homemade version of a Crunch bar joined the mix.
Part of the surprise is whether some of these delicious dishes will make an appearance at the reborn and renamed Verona restaurant as the CdZ will turn into more of a banquet facility that retains its wood finishing.
There's only one way to find out—and that's by dining out.
1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive
Breakfast: 7 to 11 a.m.
Lunch: 11a.m. to 5 p.m.
Dinner: 5 to 11 p.m.
For reservations, call 941-309-2000.
I'll Have What Patch Is Having
1855 Filet Steak Sandwich With Caramelized Onions, Maytag blue cheese, Arugula and dijonnaise— $18
Crab Cake Sandwich With Avocado, Fried Red Onions, Spinach, House Tomatoes And Spice Orange Mayonnaise— $18
Cigar City Beer—$7
Pinot Grigio from Italy — $10
Chocolate Molten Lava Cake With Bailey's Irish Cream— $12
Red Velvet Cake With Cream Cheese Gelato — $12