Blu on the Avenue has replaced Spice Modern Steakhouse on Winter Park's Park Avenue. The concept is from the people who operate neighboring 310 Park South and 310 Lakeside in downtown Orlando.
Spice's dark interior has been renovated into a room filled with light. The white walls give the space a clean, upscale feel. Tables — a mix of high tops and the usual choices — are in dark woods, but that doesn't dim the freshness of the space. And like other avenue eateries, the front opens up completely to the street, allowing room for strolling shoppers as well as café tables.
From the name and wave graphic on the logo, first-time guests might think the menu is all about fish and seafood. Swimmers and the like dominate, but there are steaks, chops and poultry options.
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326 South Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789, USA
From the sushi menu, we started with the Florida roll ($10), a straightforward combination of cream cheese, crisp cucumber, tempura fried shrimp, seared salmon, scallions and ponzu sauce. My only quibble was searing the salmon. It diminished the rich fish's flavor and gave the small draping an off-putting, milky-white appearance.
Our plateau de fruits de mer ($18), was an icy platter of three oysters, three jumbo shrimp and a ramekin of jumbo lump crab. Accompaniments included tangy vinaigrette, cocktail sauce and a generous dollop of horseradish. The oysters — one fabulously plump, the others on the small side —all had a fresh, clean flavor. The large shrimp were sweet but a tad dry, but the ample serving of crabmeat was over-the-top indulgent. Add a side salad to this selection of protein and dinner is done.
The deconstructed BLT ($9) was a triumph, with a chunk of pork belly, peppery watercress, acidic heirloom tomatoes and a cheddar gougère. The latter are classic French cheese puffs made from the same dough that makes éclairs so indulgent. I am not much for messing with a basic BLT, but this interpretation was thoughtful and fun.
The scallops au poivre ($26) entree came to the table seared with a muted mint gastrique. The four large shellfish were placed on charred zucchini and topped with black caviar. The words "au poive" signal the addition of a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper. I didn't catch any of the heat, but I loved every bite of the scallops. The beef short ribs ($20) were sweet and fork-tender. The meat was presented on flavorful braised kale with roasted cippolini onions. The round, flat onions had a wisp of caramelized sugars on the finish, making them a good match for the beef.
The black grouper sandwich ($14) at lunch was presented on a hoagie roll dressed with lettuce and piccalilli, a relish of pickled vegetables. Grouper doesn't need much adornment but the condiment pairing worked nicely. The blu Maine lobster roll ($16) with a nicely buttered bun was plentiful serving. The chopped crustacean meat was lightly folded into a lemony mayonnaise.
Service on the first visit was pleasant but a bit unsteady. Our server at dinner was the kind of employee other restaurants will want to lure away: engaging, knowledgeable and efficient.
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Blu on the Avenue
Where: 326 S. Park Ave., Winter Park (between New England and Lyman Avenues across from Pottery Barn)
When: regular menu 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday; brunch 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
How much: $6-$30
Beverages: Full bar, including artisan cocktails
Wines by the glass: From $8
Extras: Good for groups, outdoor seating, separate bar, sushi, table service, takeout, reservations
Wheelchair access: Easy
Noise level: Quiet buzz at lunch and early in the evening; noise jumps as the night goes on
Credit: American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa
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Dining on a budget
Top a small Caesar ($5) with a salmon fillet ($8.50 extra) or order the drunken chicken ($16) prepared with grapes, sparkling wine and served with a potato purée