617 E. Central Blvd. | 407-849-9779 | cityfishorlando.com | $$$
When I first reviewed Cityfish version 1.0, way back in the winter of 2008, I praised Craig Ustler’s Urban Life Management Restaurant Group for the seafood joint’s modest digs and kitchen prowess. A mere six and a half years later, the restaurant – now managed by the Thornton Park Restaurant Group, of which Ustler is a principal – is deserving of much the same praise. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, n’est-ce pas?
That said, the updates that v2.0 provides aren’t just cosmetic. On the contrary, they’re necessary to retain the sort of clientele Cityfish has grown accustomed to serving. Granted, tweaks have been made to the interior, but thanks to chef Greg Richie (Roy’s, Tchoup Chop), there’s also a refreshed focus on the menu and a new transparency when it comes to seafood sourcing.
Two visits to Cityfish immediately after Richie took over revealed some kitchen kinks and service bobbles, but on our most recent visit, the experience was damn near perfect. I say near perfect because the basket of fried calamari ($11), while serviceable, just got lost in a sea of superb dishes – like the gumbo ($7), with its dark roux, bites of shrimp and crab, and fried okra layered atop a puck of rice. “Made my palate erect,” I thought I heard one of my guests say. Salvation Cove oysters from Prince Edward Island might’ve been steep in price ($16 for a half-dozen), but we were somewhat consoled to find eight (not six) wonderfully clean, briny oysters on our ice tray. While Hari Pulapaka’s fish tacos are still my fave, Richie’s version (market price; $14 on our visit), at least on this particular night, employed a mix of cod, grouper and swordfish blended with black bean salsa and avocado sour cream, making quite the splash. Swordfish ($20) was also offered as an entrée and it, too, impressed. The thick, fleshy, Cajun-spiced steak came served over charred asparagus and a corn cake for that subtle Dixie bent.
Day boat scallops ($21) aren’t dubbed the “candy of the sea” for nothing, but Richie sears them with a Parmesan crust to give them an utterly decadent character. Along with sides of succotash, hush puppies and red bliss potatoes, this could very well be Richie’s signature creation. A proper puff pastry capped the shrimp and lobster pot pie ($18), popped with color from bright corn, peas, carrots and lima beans. The pie was surprisingly light in consistency without skimping on the shellfish.
If someone in your party is celebrating a birthday, expect a complimentary fried Oreo sundae (usually $7) with lit candle to be delivered to that special person. If it isn’t anyone’s birthday, you might consider ordering it anyway. Otherwise, the seasonal strawberry-peach fruit crisp ($6) topped with blueberries and vanilla-bean ice cream will pander to dieters who tell themselves it’s fruit, so it’s gotta be healthy. The buttery mini soufflé-like ending was equal parts tart and sweet.
It’ll be interesting to see the progression of Cityfish, given Richie’s duties as executive chef and partner of the Thornton Park Restaurant Group. Richie is also pegged to oversee the kitchen at the soon-to-open Soco next door. Either way, it appears as though Cityfish waters won’t run stagnant anytime soon – they seem to be teeming more now than ever before.