Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant is the newest addition to the Waterford Lakes Town Center enclave.
What makes Cooper's stand apart from the usual chains that thrive in east Orange County is its format: A combo platter of dining destination, winery, wine-tasting room and gift shop.
The concept, which originated in a suburb of Chicago, pairs Cooper's Hawk wines with creative turns on upscale-casual fare. There is not a lot of new ground broken in the kitchen, but the food is good.
All guests pass through the gift shop and tasting room to be seated. For those who like to shop, the path can be somewhat distracting, but I found the staff to be gracious and accommodating.
A tasting includes eight pours and starts at $7, a fair price and a nice way to spend your time if you have to wait for a table.
The dining room has an eclectic décor of brown tones with a good mix of booths and regular tables. There is more seating in the bar.
We started with the Cooper's Hawk appetizer sampler ($21.49), a platter with four over-the-border egg rolls, several chicken pot stickers, two crab cakes and so-so calamari. There was too much fill in the cakes for my taste, but they were pretty good. The tender calamari had no flavor; a little salt and pepper or herbs in the breading mix would have helped. The egg rolls had a pleasant shot of heat and the pot stickers rocked.
On a second visit we tried the Asian pork belly tostadas ($8.99), which our server described as "life-changing." For me that is going to take a Lotto win, but the appetizer was wonderful. It had a nice balance of flavor and texture from sweet pork, rough-chopped scallions, sesame seeds, fresh cilantro, radish and a sweet chili barbecue sauce.
For entrees, the soy ginger salmon ($20.99 dinner, $14.99 lunch) with wasabi buttered potatoes and Asian slaw was perfection. The rich salmon bordered on a juicy medium rare, the potatoes were enlivened by the wasabi topping and the Asian slaw had just the right mix of sweet-and-sour crunch.
Anne's chicken saltimbocca ($17.99 dinner, $13.99 lunch) with prosciutto, provolone, sage, artichoke hearts and capers in a white wine lemon sauce is a to-go-box worthy selection. My only quibble is that the sauce made the overall flavor more like a piccata rather than the wallop of flavor a saltimbocca always promises.
The country rigatoni ($15.99) is a hearty mix of Italian sausage, mushrooms, chicken, fresh herbs and roasted grape tomatoes tossed in a tomato garlic cream sauce. The only thing I would add to the equation is a little more sausage.
The chicken giardiniera ($16.99 dinner, $12.99 lunch) featured Parmesan-breaded poultry topped with shaved Parmesan and served with Mary's potatoes (whipped with butter and cream).
Of the wine portfolio, I only sampled the barrel red, a serviceable blend that pairs nicely with beef or pasta. I am leaving a more extensive review of the wine for when I return with my colleague, night-life reporter Tod Caviness.
Winery & Restaurants
¿¿ (out of four)
Where: 529 N. Alafaya Trail in Orlando (next to Pier 1 Imports in Waterford Lakes Town Center)
When: Tasting room and restaurant 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday; bar 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.
How much: $5.99-$32.99
Beverages: Full bar, specialty cocktails
Wines by the glass: From $6.75
Extras: Catering, children's menu, gluten-free options, good for groups, family friendly, outdoor seating, private dining, takeout, takes reservations, televisions, vegetarian options, wine shop and tasting room
Wheelchair access: Easy
Noise level: Moderate buzz (weekdays) to loud (weekends)
Credit: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
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