The Boheme still stands for a posh experience, but some offerings aren’t as tasteful as the setting.
When I called to make a reservation for dinner, Tracy, the sultry-voiced person at the desk, thanked me for “booking at The ‘bo-EM.’ ”
In my mind, that’s how I pronounce it—like the Puccini opera. But it turns out that, like me, Tracy was a bit out of step. Ever since The Boheme restaurant opened in 2001, everyone has pronounced it “bo-HEEM,” as if it were a shortening of the boutique Grand Bohemian Hotel in which it resides. And, alas, that hasn’t changed.
However you say it, the word suggests the downtown Orlando hotel’s somewhat loose interpretation of mid-19th century Bohemian culture, reflecting more a sense of poshness and grandeur afforded to Austrian princelings than the lifestyle of the starving French artists, free-loving Czech radicals and romanticized Gypsies, for which it was termed. (Think Puccini’s Mimi with a health plan and an expense account.)
The walk from the grandly appointed lobby of the AAA four-diamond-awarded hotel to the restaurant leads through the Bösendorfer Lounge, which can switch from a relaxing place for a glass of wine to packed hipster hangout at the drop of a cocktail napkin. It features mannequins dressed in feather boas and garters straight out of Cabaret (not a Bohemian icon, but let’s not be picky). The bar is named after the astoundingly expensive Imperial Grand Bösendorfer Piano, which, oddly, isn’t in the bar at all but next door in the Klimt Rotunda, the banquette-lined space where artwork by Austrian Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt hangs and jazz can be heard most evenings. The rotunda, in turn, leads to the restaurant.
It’s been several years since I’ve been in The Boheme for dinner, and while there have been many changes in the kitchen, the room, with its immensely high ceiling, dark woods and burgundy accents, remains its same posh self. The lineup of chefs since 2001 has kept the staff hopping and Orlando supplied with a stream of seasoned pros: Todd Baggett (who went on to Beluga and Ocean Prime), Zachary Martin (now at the Celebration Hotel), Robert Mason (executive chef at Fiorella’s Cucina Toscana) and currently, Chef Josh Bernstein.
The menu is neither Czech nor Austrian, but a focused assortment of Mediterranean and American influences. The starter that I recalled from previous visits is the lobster bisque ($7) and thankfully it has remained as rich and sherry-laced as ever. A couple of bowls of this and two baskets of The Boheme’s very appealing hearty and whole-grain bread would make a meal.
My companion ordered the “sampler,” which pairs three courses and dessert with wine for $59. The dishes were presented as smaller “samples” of main course meals, but you couldn’t tell by me. A starter of Kessler (as in Richard, the owner of the Grand Bohemian brand) calamari (normally $11) was a very full plate of breaded squid rings and bits, topped with a sort of Italian salsa—chopped tomatoes, olives, Asiago cheese and cilantro—that at times competed with the flavor of the nicely prepared seafood. A rather ordinary, but large, green salad tossed with feta cheese (on the menu at $6) was followed by a beautifully prepared 6-ounce filet Mignon (8-ounce version, $26), comparable to the best steakhouse offering. Ask if there are alternatives for the wine pairings: Frog’s Leap Sauvignon blanc is a great selection; Greg Norman Shiraz, not so much.
My choice of Ahi tuna ($22) was a dense, 4-inch cube of seared “sushi grade” fish, and I think it missed the point. Sushi is sliced almost scientifically to present a large area of thin raw fish to the tongue, where it literally cooks in your mouth. A giant block of tuna is difficult for the average diner to cut and even harder to finish, and it’s a shame to turn such beautiful fish into a chore.
I can recommend just about every side dish ($3 each). Firm, almost rustic mashed potatoes, deeply rich mushroom ragout (a slow-simmered stew pronounced like the Italian ragu), even a slightly too-sweet but al dente tomato risotto, would complement any meal.
If you’re like me, you’ll save the dessert course. Take your blackberry crème brûlée ($7), with its surprisingly rich, fruit-laden pudding, out to the rotunda, order a glass of dessert wine and savor one of the few intimate jazz rooms in town. It’s a sweet way to end the evening.
The Boheme Grand Bohemian Hotel
ADDRESS 325 S. Orange Ave., Orlando