Brilliant As Always

Luma shines on with McGlamery’s creative flavor combinations and a chic dining room.

Life in a professional kitchen is a ballet of timing, a coupling of craft learned over time and split-second decision. The cooks who can best weave this web of chemistry, physics, unexplainable intuition and a large touch of theater aren’t necessarily the ones who make it to television or demand the title “Chef” be used in their presence. They are artists who change the view their audience has about dining. Brandon McGlamery, executive chef at Luma on Park, is one of those artists who looks at food in a different, perhaps reverent way.

Watching McGlamery standing at the line counter is impressive. He surveys every plate before it goes out to a table, adding garnish, checking appearance, making sure each dish is up to standard. He attends to details as if his name were on the sign out front, and the attention shows at the table.

Luma opened in 2005, quickly establishing itself as one of the go-to contemporary American cuisine restaurants in the area, first under chef Todd Immel, who was soon replaced by McGlamery, his sous chef, in 2006. My return visit after several years was long overdue.

Perched on the enviable corner of Park and New England avenues in Winter Park, Luma is a big space in a large and architecturally impressive building. An undulation of thin wood, warmly lit from behind, flows across the ceiling of the room—or rooms; there are many nooks that offer semi-private refuge from the larger space. The combination of marble, leather and metal surfaces makes for a surprisingly cozy atmosphere, considering the number of large (and sometimes noisy) tables, with an open and bustling kitchen capping the long end of the building.

A Florida native, McGlamery has worked for celebrity chefs Thomas Keller, Alice Waters and Gordon Ramsay, and has developed a marvelous vision for flavor combinations. The swings in each dish from mellow to spicy to savory are an engaging journey. The kitchen has a spectacular hand with what some restaurants call “proteins”—meat, fish, chicken—each dish on the seasonal and continuously changing menu becoming a definition of how to prepare and cook.

Consider the grilled Monterey Bay calamari ($13): fruity and almost sweet Castelvetrano olives from southern Italy, meaty black lima beans from Rabbit Run Farms in Fort Myers, the peppery bite of baby arugula, the tang of preserved lemon and a satisfying crunch of olive oil-soaked croutons, all plated around California calamari bits, the intense smoked flavor of the squid complemented by its spicy/sweet/savory partners.

Idaho rainbow trout ($26) is presented as a picture-perfect skin-on filet, crisp on top and moist below, stacked on tiny black beluga lentils and julienned zucchini seasoned with piquant lemon verbena butter and a relish of pickled eggplant. McGlamery has a thing for preserves and pickles.

And bacon. Those with food allergies or dietary aversions should ask a lot of questions while reading the menu. A casual aside from our server (“The Brussels sprouts are cooked in bacon fat,” he happily volunteered) was the only indication that pork was a part of the offering of roasted chicken ($23) and made me wonder—and ask—what other ingredients might be hidden. But back to the chicken: leg and thigh sections from the justly famous Ashley Farms in North Carolina, skin crisp from Luma’s very hot oven, intensely flavorful and in my mind the epitome of chicken dishes. It rested on a layer of creamy butternut squash purée that mixed with the browned chicken juices and accented the roasted flavor. The sprouts displayed their hidden bacon-ness in aroma but not so much in flavor (“You can hardly taste it,” our server curiously assured us), which is not a bad thing for those of us who are fans of the wee cabbages.

There’s many a bean on the menu, and I found a few (lentils, black-eyed peas) to be somewhat undercooked, and the chewy texture and slightly raw flavors took some of the joy out of the dishes involved. Likewise, the gnocchetti sardi ($15), small dry pasta, not to be confused with the fresh dumplings called gnocchi, lacked probably a minute in cooking time. Shreds of meat from peekytoe crab and Florida spiny lobster, creamy sea urchin, sweet Zellwood corn and the aforementioned undercooked peas augmented a garlic-spiked sauce. It would have been an exquisite meal without the chewiness, but these may have been missteps unique to the day.

Luma’s wine list, guided by Cara Cown (profiled in our September issue), is extensive and varied, with every item offered by the bottle, glass or half-glass, which I thought thoroughly civilized. Service is fast and attentive, if a bit eccentric; the menu is small enough that a waiter should know how to pronounce each dish.

The quality and inventiveness of what comes out of Chef McGlamery’s kitchen are worth the prices on the menu. He is a virtuoso.

Luma on Park
290 S. Park Ave., Winter Park
Entrées: $21 – $39

The best bargain at Luma, aside from the people watching afforded by a handful of outdoor tables, is the three-course, $45 prix-fixe menu, including wine pairings, available Sunday through Tuesday.

Categories: Reviews