Serious catch

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If there's one thing you don't want to smell when you're in a seafood restaurant, it's fish. Straub's Seafood in Altamonte Springs passed the sniff test on a recent visit. The longtime popular favorite also impressed us with outstanding service despite some glitches behind the scenes. The broiler was on the fritz on this particular Saturday night. Since many entrees are normally available broiled, this could have been a major problem. But our waitress handled the situation with aplomb and improvised by steering us toward menu items that could be baked, fried or mesquite-grilled instead.

The bread basket is so good that it competes with the appetizers. We were far less interested in the escargot ($6.95) than we were in sopping up the garlic-butter broth with our hot, oily, herb-crusted rolls. And the shrimp Rockefeller ($6.95) were topped with a heavy mixture of spinach and Monterey Jack cheese -- a little too heavy, but then that might have been due to being baked rather than broiled.

When it came to choosing dinner, the menu was almost as helpful as our waitress. It details the flavors and textures of 28 kinds of fresh fish, from Boston scrod to Carolina rainbow trout. We chose Florida black grouper ($15.95), a premium variety which is not to be confused with blackened grouper. It was quickly seared on a mesquite grill, which sealed in the sweet flavors and maintained the firm texture. And although the "captain's platter" is a bit pricey ($21.95), it's a good way to sample two highlights: Steamed Florida lobster tail and mesquite grilled shrimp on a skewer. Both were superb. The platter normally comes with broiled scallops, so we substituted some crunchy, fried Ipswich clam strips. As far as we were concerned, you could skip all of the side items except one: The cole slaw was very creamy yet amazingly light, seasoned with a hint of celery salt.

If you order dessert, let it be coconut-banana cream pie ($3.95), which might as well be called "mile high pie" because it's a daunting portion of banana filling topped with thick, whipped cream and toasted coconut.

If you want a trendy, flashy atmosphere to accompany your seafood, you'll have to head to Bahama Breeze. In the absence of a slick, corporate decorating budget, Straub's Seafood is refreshingly devoid of themes or concepts -- just a few tropical prints and a couple of seashell lampshades. It's the kind of setting you don't notice, especially after the seafood arrives.

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