There I was, set for a big paella feed. I had the scene all laid out in my head: We'd sit down at a round table, because round tables are inherently more jovial. The round table would be covered with a red-checked tablecloth. Or maybe the tablecloth would be white. Doesn't really matter. We'd toast with glasses of Chianti, chatting about this and that, working on tossed salads and laughing. It would be a scene reminiscent of those Olive Garden commercials, except that we wouldn't be waiting for an overcheesed Italianesque dish straight out of a corporate test kitchen. Oh no. We'd be glowing with expectation that a wok-sized communal dish of saffron-tinged Spanish heaven would soon land in our midst. Life would indeed be good.
My wife did wonder why a place trumpeting its "fine Tuscan cuisine" would specialize in paella, Tuscany being a region of Italy last she checked, but I was not to be dissuaded. (Surely this was just an oversight.) We were in for a treat the likes of which we had not encountered since eating paella from a street vendor in Valencia (the city in Spain, not the community college in Central Florida) 12 years ago.
Sadly, my intel was bad. There was no paella on the menu at Juliana's. There may have been a special a few weeks back, according to our waitress, but not the night we visited. Bummer.
But I'd be hard-pressed to say the evening was a disappointment. In fact, if you liked the Edgewater Grille, you'll like Juliana's Fine Tuscan Cuisine, because it's the same place, with the same chef, the same menu, the same casual-chic elegance and the same view of Edgewater Drive.
The story goes that the sign blew down sometime during the storms this summer, and the owner decided there was no better time to rename the place in honor of his wife. Very sweet. Not to mention that the old moniker conjured images of burgers and patty melts, our waitress told us.
And so beaten, but not broken, we soldiered on through one appetizer of pan-seared mussels with garlic, white wine and lemon cilantro beurre blanc ($9); and another of fried calamari and zucchini ($7). The mussels were large, sweet and perfectly cooked, but that butter sauce was the star of the plate; infused with cilantro and accented with fingernail-size slivers of garlic, we needed extra bread to mop it all up. The calamari was decent, with a nice crunch, juicy flavor and springy texture that is, I suppose, the best you can do with calamari.
I pondered the meat loaf and ordered the lamb shank, but the waitress talked me into the osso buco ($24). Veal is evil, I know, but I'm easily tempted. I don't eat it much, honest. This serving was fall-apart tender and rather tasteless (as veal tends to be in my opinion), but was saved by the mushroom risotto and marinated portobello mushrooms sliced and served on top.
We also tried a seafood fricassee ($26). A mix of scallops, mussels, fish and shrimp over a bed of risotto, this dish was a far cry from paella (which we'd told by our waitress it resembled), but was good in its own right. All the seafood on the plate with the exception of the tasteless white fish was tender and fresh, and the sauce was again triumphant. The chef knows his sauces.
Dessert was a "chocolate chocolate mousse cake" ($7), and a "white chocolate raspberry cheesecake" ($7), both of which were quickly set upon and devoured by the two children at the table. There's no higher praise for dessert than that.
We left stuffed and satisfied, barely pining for that dish that they didn't have.
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