Crave on

Diners long for the sushi at this modern Millenia Mall-area boîte


When one upscale chain restaurant is replaced by another, it should come as no surprise ' not in our chain-riddled hamlet, and certainly not in the Millenia Mall's high-traffic sector, where no less than five upscale chains ' Brio Tuscan Grille, Cheesecake Factory, McCormick & Schmick's, Blue Martini and P.F. Chang's ' vie for consumers' post-shopping dollars. The Village Tavern was the sixth until recently supplanted by Crave, a spacious 8,600-square-foot restaurant with Minneapolis roots, Asian leanings and a cosmopolitan flair. Servers play up the restaurant's sushi offerings, though the menu is a hodgepodge of Asian, French, Mediterranean, South American, Italian and New American cuisine. And while they don't offer the sheer volume of 'internationalâ?� items that, say, the Cheesecake Factory does, they offer enough to ensure some items are executed properly; precision is compromised in others.

The place itself appears to be a haven for famished fashionistas, with the typical trendspotting fixtures ' private booths, wine vault, sushi bar ' and enough pomo posh to appease the affluent. Their customer service couldn't have been more polished on my first visit, with everyone from the hostess to the servers to the busboys to the general manager doing their part to ensure we were taken care of. Our waitress insisted we order sushi, and when I learned that it was supplied by the Honolulu Fish Company, I knew it would be fresh. Judging from the number of wooden boats gliding out from behind the sushi bar ('It's like the Suez Canal back there,â?� my dining partner remarked), so did many others. The Honshii sushi boat ($25.95) featured a chef's selection of nigiri and maki sushi. The snapper, tuna, salmon, albacore and escolar were undeniably fresh standouts; eggy tamago had just the right amount of sweetness; and the uni and tobiko offered a nice crackle and pop. Only the cucumber and tuna rolls failed to impress me.

Even without the prized otoro on the menu, sushi is, undoubtedly, Crave's star offering ' we likely would've enjoyed more of it had we known how mediocre the other dishes we sampled would be. Blackened grouper ($24.95) was sadly overdone; even the baby shrimp sauce couldn't give life to this dead fish. The grilled ribeye ($29.95), also overdone, was presented in the same lifeless fashion. Plating could use some work in this restaurant purporting a 'vibrantâ?� (as well as a 'freshâ?� and 'Americanâ?�) dining experience. The straw potatoes, admittedly, were quite delicious and the grilled asparagus and sauteed portobello and onion were perfect. Lacking the expected succulence was the brick-pressed chicken ($17.95). While crispy and flavorful, the bird was, you guessed it, overdone. Happily, the roasted chicken and wild rice soup ($3.95 cup; $6.95 bowl) didn't meet a similar fate: The broth was light and the ingredients (lima beans, corn, carrots and barley) hearty.

Dessert options were limited -' it was a busy night ' but the coconut cake ($7.95) atop shaved white chocolate was outstanding, easily a dessert I'd order again and again. From their miniature selections, the lemon mascarpone ($2.50) was just a tad too sweet for my liking. Oenophiles, beware: Their decent wine list has some indecent markups.

Crave conquered Minneapolis and has its eyes set on other cities, namely Coral Gables and the culinary hotbed of Omaha, Neb. So how will they fare in fickle Orlando? If their sushi is any indication, Crave might just make it after all.


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