Hours: 11am-10pm Monday-Saturday; 11am-9pm Sunday
The most embarrassing question this restaurant reviewer regularly fields is "Where can I get good seafood in Orlando?" Lee & Rick's Oyster Bar has good oysters, I always answer, somewhat lamely. The truth is, it takes only a short search to find places serving worthy Gulf oysters, fried grouper sandwiches and the like. But when you want seafood served with panache, that's when you should go to McCormick & Schmick's.
One of the original restaurants at the Mall at Millenia, McCormick & Schmick's belongs to a high-end chain that does an effective job of balancing the demands of high volume with the creativity of a chef-centric kitchen. Much like the 1800s restaurant it sprang from, this updated McCormick & Schmick's is darkly lit and gilt in brass. The forest-green room is spacious but has nooks where diners can enjoy privacy. The hostess led our party to a booth that was partitioned off by decorative wooden walls and hidden by lush velvet curtains. My friend cheered.
I started with a bowl of steamed littleneck clams ($8.95) briny gems in an acidic broth of white wine and garlic. My couple of companions shared a sampler of glistening oysters ($10.95/small, $19.80/large), which was an education. Six different types of cold-water oyster considered the gems of the oyster world, as opposed to, say, more common Gulf of Mexico oysters were on the menu that day: Skookum, Malpeque, Stranges Bay, Wild Cat Cove and Chincoteague. Like everything else at McCormick & Schmick's, the oyster selections change daily in accordance with market availability. As they worked their way through the plate, my friends made declarations, such as "Salty!" and "Mmmm. Sweet." Although all were delicious, the overall favorite was the Wild Cat Cove, which prompted the ordering of another round of that variety ($1.95 each) just to be sure. The Wild Cat had a fuller, meatier flavor with a hint of saltiness and buttery flesh that slid right down. If you're used to eating them by the dozen, keep in mind that this is a completely different experience. I love a bucket of Gulf oysters and a cold beer, but McCormick & Schmick's has the kind of oysters you pair with a bottle of champagne.
McCormick & Schmick's menu reflects a delightfully simple, classic style. Nothing tests the palate, from Caesar salad ($6.95) to New York strip ($26.95) to crème brûlée ($3.95). What sets the food apart is the high-quality ingredients, which yield maximum flavor. Mixed greens with blue cheese crumbles and candied walnuts ($5.80), for instance, is something I've seen on too many menus. But here the standard was excellently dressed, neither too thinly nor too saturated. Each bite of the salad coated the mouth with nutty, fruity flavor. It was then that I realized that I could try anything, even the mundane options, and I would probably be pleased. And, indeed, the fried calamari ($9.80), regular pub-food fare, also tasted exceptional, the breading clinging to the tender octopus. "I've never tasted calamari that wasn't chewy," my friend said enthusiastically as she dipped her ringlet into sherry mayo and then citrus-horseradish marmalade.
But no discussion of McCormick & Schmick's is complete without mentioning the fish. I had long heard rumors that they use no freezers, instead receiving everything fresh daily. That is not exactly true they do have a small freezer in the back for french fries.
If I have anything negative to say about McCormick & Schmick's, it has everything to do with location. Why tack such a good restaurant onto a mall? Can't we please start thinking of places to put restaurants that would be more welcoming to non-shopping natives? McCormick & Schmick's is not the kind of place you go thinking, "I'll pick up a new blouse and, oh, while I'm at it I might as well grab a fish dinner." No, McCormick & Schmick's is an event. It is a reason to go out.
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