King of the sea


Even if you're one of those chow-time populists whose bullshit sonar starts pinging whenever a "name" chef opens another high-concept, decor-forward eatery, you'll feel your cynicism melting away upon contact with Todd English's bluezoo, the upscale seafood restaurant -- sorry, they prefer to call it "coastal cuisine" -- newly located in the Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel.

A motif of mannerly sophistication asserts itself the minute you're welcomed by the courteous reception staff and led past the glowing blue bar to your table. The darkened dining area -- coolly stylish yet far more comfortable than the typical modern-art project masquerading as a restaurant -- is peppered by overhead fixtures with sculpted waves that simulate the feeling of being "under the sea" (to employ the Disney vernacular). The hostess places a napkin in your lap -- letting go at exactly the right moment to forestall a cry of "Hey, now!" -- and you're off to the submarine races.

On a recent visit, our waiter proved knowledgeable, outgoing and endlessly patient, even when we took a seeming eternity to decide on our order. Even his belief that just about everything on the menu merited some usage of the adjective "phenomenal" came off as endearing rather than obnoxious.

As it turned out, he was awfully close to correct. We started with an order of lobster chive dumplings ($13), big and filling, with tender lobster in a wonderfully flaky shell (though the mango pico de gallo, green lentils and red-curry "spill" was a pleasant challenge to our waiter's assertion that almost nothing on the menu is particularly spicy). The salad of roasted beets ($9) quickly earned plaudits for its superior greens and avoidance of an over-oiled texture.

As an entree, the "fish grilled simply" ($29) was a must-have, both as an example of the lower-priced range of the menu and because it sounded downright spiritual. ("Grill fish simply, so that others may simply grill fish.") From among the day's choices, we selected the mahi-mahi -- not the most adventuresome option, but we're the people's paper, remember? The fish was wonderful in its oaken flavor, and we thought we had landed a real trophy -- until we sampled miso-glazed Chilean sea bass ($32), whose buttery consistency (and hint of maple, we thought) made it slap-the-table delectable. We immediately doused our mahi-mahi with the accompanying sauce of warm crabmeat, Dijon mustard and chives (one of three sauces offered) in a vain attempt to achieve parity.

An experiment with side dishes yielded mixed results: The spicy shrimp cole slaw ($6) impressed with tender shrimp and a peanut dressing that balanced richness with dashes of the slightly spicy Chinese radish daikon. But the "shake & bake fries" ($6), topped with grated Parmesan and crushed garlic, was no more than the sum of its ingredients. The dessert of warm chocolate cake ($10.50) was prepared with malted cream and cocoa sorbet, yet in a blind taste test, it could have been confused with an ordinary fudge brownie. Still, given the excellence of the entrees and the ambience, complaining that bluezoo's supplementals were inconsistent would be like attending a "Lord of the Rings" movie and coming out disappointed that the trailers didn't look like much.

When it was time to settle up, we noticed that we had mistakenly been charged for two sides of fries. Our waiter promptly corrected the error, and while he was at it, he also comped us for the cake, which he felt had taken too long to reach our table -- a classy move that fit the overall excellence of the entrees, the ambience and the service. The prices won't make the place a weekly destination for most folks, but splurging whenever you can afford to is great way to feel like king of the sea.


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