Review: Villa de Flora at Gaylord Palms Resort

Today we’re reviewing another of the Gaylord Palms Resort restaurants — Villa de Flora!

Gaylord Palms' Villa de Flora Restaurant

Gaylord Palms' Villa de Flora Restaurant

As you know, I was kindly invited to a complimentary dine-around at the restaurants at Gaylord Palms the last time I was in Orlando, Florida (you can see my photos and descriptions of the Sora Sushi Bar and the Old Hickory Steakhouse here). Gaylord Palms Resort is just a few miles away from Disney World’s main gate, and is a quick taxi ride or drive away from any Disney park or resort.

Villa de Flora Atmosphere
Gaylord Palms Resort is built around a massive indoor courtyard, which is separated into three Florida-specific sections: Key West, St. Augustine, and the Everglades. Villa de Flora is located in the St. Augustine area of the courtyard, directly across from this rustic Spanish castle where the resort holds special events:

Courtyard Castle

Courtyard Castle

The castle could be just one part of your view from this Mediterranean villa-themed restaurant. There are dining rooms inside the main villa area, affording surroundings of Spanish tile, heavy dark wood furniture, and massive fireplaces…

Gaylord Palms Inside Dining room

…or “outdoor” dining rooms (of course, the entire courtyard is covered, so you have no elements to worry about) strewn with lights and decorated casually with potted trees and wicker furniture.

Set Table in the Courtyard

Set Table in the Courtyard

No matter where you choose to dine, the restaurant has made the guest experience even more individualized by placing potted herbs on each table. Guests are encouraged to use the herbs as desired to add even more flavor to their meals.

Herbs and Olive Oil

Herbs and Olive Oil

Eats
Villa de Flora’s buffet offerings are set up as a Mediterranean market highlighting seasonal cuisine from several countries. In fact, the menu here has a twist. Although the service is buffet, each day the restaurant highlights a different Mediterranean country with its dishes, rotating between Spain, Italy, France, and Greece. When we were there, we were treated to specialties like seafood paella, tortilla salad, coconut shrimp, a gorgeous antipasto display, and some amazing desserts. But your choices might vary — it all depends on the day you dine.

Seafood Paella

Seafood Paella

Coconut Shrimp

Coconut Shrimp

Tortilla Salad

Tortilla Salad

Sundried tomatoes, various cheeses, hearts of palm, mandarin orange and dates salad, various breads

Sundried tomatoes, various cheeses, hearts of palm, mandarin orange and dates salad, various breads

Bread Pudding

Bread Pudding

Cake, Tiramisu, Baklava, and Cheesecake

Cake, Tiramisu, Baklava, and Cheesecake

Chocolate Desserts

Chocolate Desserts

Once we had made the rounds of the buffet, we were greeted at our table by our server preparing the house-made Sangria! Although the buffet variety might keep other restaurants from developing house dishes, Villa de Flora has made its mark with a delicious tomato-basil soup and this Sangria, made from a variety of apples, oranges, lemons, cinnamon sticks, fruit juices, brandy, and Réné Barbier Mediterranean wines. The strong cinnamon taste made it stand out from any other Sangria I’ve sampled, and it was delicious.

Preparations for Sangria

Preparations for Sangria

Making the Sangria

Making the Sangria

House Tomato Basil Soup

House Tomato Basil Soup

A Sample Salad Plate of Mine

A Sample Salad Plate of Mine

So how was it?
We were very impressed with this restaurant! How do you make a standard resort buffet into something special? In my opinion, you create beautiful and changing surroundings; keep the menu season-inspired and innovative; focus on taste and presentation; and stay true to the dishes that make your restaurant special. We’re usually not big buffet fans, but the house-made Sangria mixed at the table and fresh, not-too-fussy dishes won us over. (I can still taste that Sangria!!) I was truly sorry we were anticipating the next restaurant, because I couldn’t dig into that line of incredible desserts…!

From my experience there, I think Villa de Flora would be ideal for a business lunch, a family brunch (think Mother’s Day!), or an evening excursion with friends for a few pitchers of Sangria and some delicious Mediterranean homestyle eats. (We actually passed Villa de Flora on our way out of the resort later that evening and it was very lively with groups of people at the courtyard tables having a great time!)

Specs and Info
You can check out the current Gaylord Palms Resort Villa de Flora menu here. Breakfast at Villa de Flora is served weekdays from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m., and until 11:00 a.m. on weekends. Sunday brunch is served from noon until 3:00 p.m.; lunch is served weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Saturdays from noon until 2:30 p.m.; and dinner is served nightly from 5:00 until 10:00 p.m. Bar service (with occasional entertainment) is available from 11:30 a.m. until 10:00 p.m.

Villa de Flora is located in the St. Augustine Atrium, and attire is casual. You can make a reservation online, or call (407) 586-1114.

Old Hickory Steakhouse at Gaylord Palms Resort

I was kindly invited to a complimentary dine-around at the restaurants at Gaylord Palms Resort the last time I was in Orlando, Florida (you can see my photos and description of the Sora Sushi Bar here).

Gaylord Palms Resort is just a few miles away from Disney World’s main gate, and is a quick taxi ride or drive away from any Disney park or resort. On my evening at Gaylord Palms, one of the most impressive restaurants I got the chance to sample was a Gaylord brand signature spot, Old Hickory Steakhouse.

Gaylord Palms Old Hickory Steakhouse

Atmosphere
For those who haven’t been to Gaylord Palms Resort, the many guest rooms surround a huge indoor atrium separated into the resort’s three distinct themed areas — Key West, St. Augustine, and the Everglades. Old Hickory Steakhouse is located in the Everglades district, which is evident in the architecture and decor of this completely stand-alone restaurant.

Old Hickory Steakhouse, (c) Gaylord Palms Resort

Old Hickory Steakhouse, (c) Gaylord Palms Resort

Old Hickory Steakhouse is a traditional and upscale restaurant, with a chef who’s [Read more…]

Sora Sushi Bar and Lounge Review

Sora

On my recent trip to Disney World I was invited for a complimentary dine-around at Gaylord Palms Resort, which is a massive complex just outside of the “gates to the World.”

I’ll say in advance that I’m not usually one to leave Disney property all that much when I’m on a Disney trip. There are just too many things (including restaurants!) that keep my attention Disney-focused to spend precious vacation time elsewhere in Orlando. But visiting the Gaylord Palms was pretty eye-opening regarding what else is out there! Clearly, the chefs at Gaylord have been able to carve out a distinctive dining niche for the resort that includes interesting themed surroundings coupled with Really. Good. Food. While there, I visited four different restaurants; today’s review is of Sora, Gaylord Palms’ sushi bar and lounge. I hope you enjoy this first trip outside the gates!

Sora Entrance at Gaylord Palms Resort

Sora Entrance at Gaylord Palms Resort

The Atmosphere
Now, when I heard Sushi Bar and Lounge, I immediately thought, “Hmm…not really my speed;” even when I lived in New York City I wasn’t a “Bar and Lounge” person. But I can honestly say that this place is not at all intimidating. The restaurant has a relatively open floor plan, lined with comfy booths and offering views into the resort’s atrium and lobby (appropriate, as “Sora” means “blue sky” in Japanese). Walking into Sora doesn’t give the feel of a big city nightspot with blaring music and lights so dim you can’t see where you’re walking — it feels like a hip, but accessible place to pick up some appetizers, light dinner, and cocktails.

Sora Seating Areas

Sora Seating Areas

Sora Inside

Sora Inside

The Eats
While Sora is known for its innovative sushi menu, I was glad to discover that both the adventurous and the picky will find things to try here. And it’s a fun selection. If you take a look at the menu, you’ll see what I mean. You can even order a drink based on how you want to feel — Balance, Nirvana, Opulent, Divine, Distinct… .

Sora Menu

Sora Menu

We started with “Zen,” a delicious drink made with Zen green tea liqueur, Peach Schnapps, and Sauvignon Blanc. The presentation was stunning and the flavor was like nothing I’d ever tasted. I really enjoyed it and wished I could see how all of the drinks looked and tasted (maybe next time!).

Sora's Zen Cocktail

Sora's Zen Cocktail

If you move on in the menu, you’ll see a thorough sushi and sashimi menu that includes BBQ eel and octopus along with standards like tuna and salmon. You can also choose from soups, salads, starters, or dinners, such as sea bass and duck. Try the “omakase” — the chefs will prepare something just for you based on the catches of the day and what’s fresh from the farmer’s market!

BBQ Pork Bao Bun Sandwiches

BBQ Pork Bao Bun Sandwiches

We sampled the Bao Bun Sandwiches, which offered a choice of barbeque pulled pork, vegetable and tofu stir fry, or miso glazed fresh fish of the day, served with Asian slaw, sriracha mayonnaise, and lemon chili sauce. We were served the pork sandwiches, which were “Do-It-Yourself” — fun to put together and sample with the different sauces.

Sora's Bao Bun Sandwiches

Sora's Bao Bun Sandwiches

Another interesting twist Sora has introduced is offering “tapas”-style dishes like Lobster Fritters or Spicy Tuna Nachos in two sizes — “nosh” and “share.”

Overall
We were impressed with Sora. It’s difficult to make the “bar in a resort” into a destination, but the interesting drink menu and fun-to-eat dishes — along with the easygoing atmosphere — make it a great place to stop for pre-dinner cocktails or even a light dinner. If you’re a sushi-lover or a cocktail connoisseur, definitely give it a go.

Sora is open daily, serving food from 5:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. The bar is open daily from 4:00 p.m. until midnight.

Food & Wine Experience at Gaylord Palms Resort

Gaylord Palms Food and Wine

I was recently treated by Gaylord Palms Resort to a “Dine Around” at the hotel and was quite impressed with the dining options and the staff.

Zen

Zen

I took dozens of food photos, which I’ll share with you soon, but in the meantime I wanted to let you know about the resort’s Food and Wine Experience:

This limited-availability package provides special all-inclusive experiences and itineraries that incorporate a visit to Epcot with other extraordinary culinary experiences that are not otherwise available to an Orlando visitor.

Old Hickory Steakhouse Cheese Selections

Old Hickory Steakhouse Cheese Selections

Enjoy intimate receptions, extraordinary winemaker’s dinners, special tastings, and chances to meet and interact with our resort chefs, beverage partners and culinary staff. In addition, a visit to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival will be supplemented back at the hotel with special materials, and unique culinary experiences available only to our guests.

Availability: October 16-18, 2009
Duration: 2 nights
Price: From $499 per person
To Book: This package is available by phone only. Please call (407) 586-2000 to make your reservations.

Villa de Flora

Villa de Flora

Gaylord Palms boasts several fantastic restaurants, including Sunset Sam’s Fish Camp, Villa de Flora, Sora (Sushi and wine bar), and the Old Hickory Steakhouse, where the chef is quite proud indeed of his favorite cheese cows!

I hope you get a chance to visit, but if you still need some convincing, stay tuned for my upcoming blog about my Dine Around at the resort.