By Dan Harkins
ORMOND BEACH - In its short two-year life, Rose Villa has become one of the most talked-about gourmet experiences in the area.
And it's not just the freshly prepared, continental fare and gracious service that are getting noticed.
Also on point is the immersive Victorian ambiance that's courtesy of owner Bill Jones, the president of Holly Hill's Metra Electronics. He's bedecked the 111-year-old inn he bought in 2007, which sat as commercial space for decades, with his characteristic attention to detail.
It took him three years to put it all together before opening, and for his efforts he received an Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce Beautification Award.
From the complimentary valet, lush landscaping and green, purple and gold facade outside to the replica wallpaper, restored longleaf pine woodwork and eye-catching collection of portraiture and period posters inside - time escapes the visitor for an elegant trip back in history. Mr. Jones even hand-selects the soundtrack, an evocative background medley of early-century supper club ditties.
"Fine dining with history," is how the management describes the experience at Rose Villa, but that wouldn't go far enough to explain the backlit LED menus or the private media conference room.
"Every ounce of passion or detail I put into the food here," said executive chef Chris Pruneau, a culinary school graduate from Schoolcraft College, who's served under noted chefs like "Top Chef Masters" competitor Takashi Yagihashi at his Michelin three-star gem Tribute outside Detroit, "(Mr. Jones) doubles it in ambiance. The guy is like a mad scientist when it comes to décor."
The zinc bar imported from Paris, for instance, as the centerpiece of an upstairs absinthe bar with 27 labels available - making it what Mr. Jones' representative and local Realtor Dorian Burt calls one of the largest restaurant offering of absinthe in the United States. Why zinc? It's cold to the touch, keeping the absinthe and any other drinks frosty much longer than it takes to consume them.
And the immersion into history continues: The doors throughout the two-story inn still bear the oval-shaped brass room numbers from when the establishment first was built in 1901.
Even the kitchen is a showcase with mint tin ceilings and immaculate china, the bathrooms for Carrera marble and commissioned stained-glass pieces.
It's all this suspension of disbelief that slides you smiling into your seat, but it's the food that keeps you there comfortably.
Our table started with a bottle of light and smooth pinot gris from King Estates, then two appetizers: a trio of fat, Ecuadorian shrimp dressed with light greens in a horseradish cocktail sauce, alongside melt-in-your-mouth Tenderloin Carpaccio that - as if not delicious enough left alone - came piled with scallions, capers and tiny fritters containing the famed Stilton blue cheese from Great Britain.
In no way were appetites satisfied by the appetizers, which start at $18. One of four salads on the menu, the Spiced Pear and Duck, was a palate-pleasing blend of sweet and spiced and savory, with tender duck confit on a bed of mixed greens dotted with not only spiced pear but also whole hazelnuts and dried cherries in a lightly tangy warm maple vinaigrette.
We tore into our entrees not from hunger but curiosity.
I paced myself with the Roman Saltimbocca, featuring veal medallions competing with crispy prosciutto in a sage-perked white wine sauce alongside a creamy risotto made slightly sweet with cippolini onion.
My guest was savoring her Wild Striped Bass with the same determination to prolong the moment. One side revealed a flaky and fresh specimen; the other, a crispy pan-seared skin that played a dance on the tongue with the sweetness of the side dish - little explosions of pumpkin ravioli.
The possibilities for dinner are varied but not overwhelming. The 11 entrees in the fall/winter menu that Chef Pruneau just released follow an American course with French techniques. Costing upwards of $22, they range from a Bone-In, 16-oz. Filet or Veal Osso Buco to a Brandied Apple Chicken or The American Turkey Dinner.
For dessert, it's usually a simple choice of three tableside shows: the cinnamon-sparking fireworks of a citrus coffee, a Bananas Foster or a cherries jubilee. Just like grandpa used to get for grandma.
But the chef doesn't rest on those laurels that much. Recently, he threw together a white chocolate-avocado tort as a special that "sold to the first table right away," he said, "then started selling out."
It's all part of perfectionism, he said over dessert. "If you're true to yourself and do everything to the best of your ability, then you've got nothing to worry about. Nothing."
Not a twitch of worry showed on his face.
Rose Villa, 43 W. Granada Blvd., is open 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Call (386) 615-7673 to make a reservation.
When you're done, peruse the area a little. Mr. Jones owns pretty much the whole block leading east on Granada Boulevard to beachside Ormond. On the west side of Rose Villa is Mr. Jones' Caffeine Bistro and Kona Tiki Bar. On the other side is an empty building he intends to turn into an upscale bar festooned with his weighty art deco collection.