Set Your GPS to ‘Delicious’
Chatham’s Place may be a bit hard to find, but it’s well worth tracking down.
Don’t be distracted by the bright lights and traffic of the Dr. Philips Marketplace or you’ll miss Chatham’s Place, located across the street from the southwest Orlando shopping center, in a nondescript low-rise office building.
Opened by the Chatham family in 1988, this perennial restaurant is where local food icon Louis Chatham first impacted the Orlando scene. When he went to France in the early ’90s, he sold the intimate eatery to his sous chef, Tony Lopez, and maitre d’, Maurice Colindres, who still run the Place.
If you’ve never punched the address into your GPS and tried to find it, you’re missing an increasingly rare experience (and I don’t mean the punching or the seeking).
Unlike the giant foodertainment complexes we’ve come to know, Chatham’s Place is a throwback to another, more intimate dining age. The small room holds barely 15 tables, with walls lined with full wine racks, the dark wood and glass glowing in low light. It’s like eating in a very rich person’s library. When you order a glass of wine, the sommelier sniffs or samples each open bottle (surreptitiously, of course) before he pours. The waiters wear suits, and the menu is laser-focused down to a few choice items: eight starters, seven entrees. That’s it.
In such a cozy spot, every table is in sight of the open kitchen. You might think the chefs are watching you, and they are. During a lull in conversation, a waiter will usually appear with a small gift, sent from the kitchen to keep you amused, such as crunchy bruschetta circles or a small dish of wheat pasta with puttanesca sauce (a salty/vinegary concoction made with capers, tomato and anchovies bearing a rather rude Italian name, trust me). Good, house-made bread, my weakness, is served here as a mini loaf, with a dollop of warm feta cheese and herbs nestled under the crusty top.
If it’s cold enough outside for soup, order the satin-smooth Portobello mushroom ($7.50 cup, $9.50 bowl), as lovely to look at as it is to eat.
A starter of tuna tartar ($16.50), marinated in passion fruit and capers, and served with crunchy flatbread points, will appease whether you crave savory or sweet. Combine the Ahi tuna with French cornichon pickles and sneaky hot pepper rings, or tangy citrus slices, depending on your whim.
Like the restaurant itself, the duck breast entrée ($31) is a classic. The bird is bold, with an old-fashioned duck flavor that stands up to a reduced demi-glaze sauce of Port wine and blueberries.
The rigatoni Apalachicola ($29) pairs pasta and jumbo lump crab meat. With fork poised to mouth, I was suddenly aware of another besuited figure standing at the table—the dapper Colindres, there to explain the dish.
“Three classic sauces,” he said without preamble. “The red tomato pomodoro, white béchamel and the green pesto. The colors of the Italian flag. Enjoy.” And then he was gone. The tomatoes, bright tasting and fresh, were a good complement to the pesto (both intensely rich with really good olive oil and unexpectedly cold, a nice touch to wake the palate), but the serving of al dente pasta and crab was disappointingly small for such a price. Side dishes include rustically prepared mashed potatoes ($4.50) and asparagus ($7.50), steamed and topped with cracked pepper, and are exactly what side dishes should be: unpretentious and enjoyable.
Zagat Survey, a world-renow-ned guide to restaurants, gives Chatham’s Place a 27 out of 30 for its food, only one point below Disney’s Victoria & Albert (no one ever gets a 30). Without an actual Chatham in the house, the name alone remains as a high standard. With well-executed food, elegant surroundings and impressive service, Chatham’s Place is living up to it.
ADDRESS 7575 Dr. Phillips Blvd., Orlando