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Destination Dining

Café de France serves up authentic and inspiring plates that whisk you away to the French countryside.

For decades, Café de France has been one of Winter Park’s beloved dining destinations, proving that it can change with the times while staying true to its roots in serving up finely crafted French continental cuisine. The husband-and-wife team of German and Dominique Gutierrez, who have been running things since purchasing the restaurant in 1986, are a big reason for the longevity. On any given visit, you may see German toiling around the dining room touching tables and offering wine recommendations while Dominique— who helps oversee the menu—peers through the kitchen doors to make sure dinner service is running like a fine-tuned machine.

For those who somehow may still be unfamiliar with this quaint café, you may not spot its hidden-in-plain-sight perch along Park Avenue as you look for street parking, but once inside rich brown and cream tones make the long and narrow white tablecloth dining room quite inviting. Soft lighting sets the stage for a sophisticated repast as cheery and upbeat servers go the extra step to ensure a pleasant dining experience.

I started this particular evening with a Makers Mark Old Fashioned ($12) while my wife opted for the specialty Blackberry Sage iced tea ($4). As the beverages took a bit to reach our table, I noticed that the servers had to make and prepare their own drinks. There’s nothing wrong with this concept, but I can see how it could put the server in the weeds and could also potentially be an issue with regard to the consistency of the drinks. With that being said, my libation was spot on and didn’t suffer in the least.

There’s a reason French food, and just as importantly French technique, are so revered in the culinary world, and Café de France showcases the cuisine beautifully. An order of P.E.I. Mussels ($11) appealed to many senses thanks to a fragrant medley of white wine, lemon cream and shallots. The mollusks were plump and tender and the accompanying grilled baguette slices helped me make quick work of the aromatic broth.

The Escargot À L’ail ($8) was equally as delicious with a unique presentation. Rather than being served in the typical crock with butter and garlic, the escargot were sautéed and served in a bath of roasted garlic cream. Thankfully, more baguette slices to soak up the goodness left behind on the plate.

The soup de jour was carrot, but I had to see how the French Onion ($7) compared to others around town and boy did it deliver on the flavor. The delectable onion broth and the Gruyère gratiné was borderline addictive and I found myself scraping the sides of the crock for hidden remnants I may have somehow missed.

From the moment I planned my visit, I had my eyes firmly set on the Mallard Duck ($29). It’s not often I feel confident in ordering duck, but I knew I would be in good hands here. The skin was rendered perfectly, it was crispy and thin and the sweet orange sauce was a nice counter. The sweet potato and tarragon mash felt the most authentic to me, as there’s something about the flavor of tarragon that transforms your taste buds to the French countryside.

The Sea Scallops ($30), were kissed by the pan leaving a golden brown sear and then rested atop a leek and parmesan risotto before being garnished with caramelized red onion. The creamy risotto was the perfect foundation for the succulent scallops, truly a perfect match.

Although we were stuffed like quails, we indulged in some Profiteroles ($9). Three large puff pastries were split open sandwich style and filled with a thick, cold vanilla cream and then drizzled with a chocolate ganache with whipped cream. They were astounding and went down quite smooth with a glass of 20-year Tawny Port ($10).

For a restaurant with such a track record, it would be easy for it to rest on its laurels, but dining at Café de France is inspiring as they do anything but. The dishes may travel a short distance from the kitchen to your table, but the attention to detail in every menu item goes a long way. After all these years, to say this restaurant does things right would be an understatement.

Café de France
526 S. Park Ave. Winter Park
(407) 647-1869
LeCafedeFrance.com

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s January 2019 issue.

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