326 S. Park Ave., Winter Park | 407-960-3778 | bluontheavenue.com | $$$
Joanne McMahon’s steadily growing empire has circled back to Park Avenue with her latest venture – Blu on the Avenue – which just so happens to be situated next to 310 Park South, the one that started it all. Now, there are those who love the peacock scene of 310 Park South, and those who can’t stand immersing themselves amidst all the plumage. I count myself as one of the latter, but even though Blu sits next to 310, it’s more subdued than its neighbor. Sure, it’s clamorous and busy and the pretty folk preen and pose, but the attitude, at least on this busy Friday night, was kept to a delightful minimum, and, subsequently, so were our eye rolls, head shakes and snarky comments. And while we weren’t blessed with the most refined of servers (amiable, responsive and efficient, yes; but culinarians they’re not), it only served to further reduce the pretense factor at Blu – not an easy feat at a restaurant whose moniker is expressed in-house as yet another grammar-unfriendly construction: “blu on the avenue.”
Apart from the cool waterwalls behind the bar, Blu is a relatively swank-free space, hardly recognizable from the days when it was Spice Modern Steakhouse. Steaks, by the by, occupy a small area on the menu, whereas seafood dishes dominate. It was happy hour (4-7 p.m. Monday-Friday), so we couldn’t pass up a dozen plump oysters on the half-shell for $7. There’s a burgeoning Blu oyster cult of sorts, and after tasting how the bold brininess of the bivalves give way to a smooth, clean finish, it’s easy to see why. Another starter, gooey fontina cheese ($9) baked with garlic and chervil, is worth ordering just for the shreds of a wonderfully toasted baguette. Slow-roasted beets ($6) sustained the pleasant start, though didn’t necessarily augment it, even with a healthy serving of gorgonzola.
What did augment our meal was the oven-roasted snapper ($24), with its crisp outer skin, the mound of white-wine butter risotto on which it sat and the side of julienned carrots, zucchini and leeks. Perfect. The coffee-cured duck breast ($21), pan-roasted to an impeccable medium-rare, was another deft execution by chef Tony Kreuger and team. The sweet-potato puree was a textbook pairing, while the sambuca demi-glace offered an inventively saucy twist. The lobster risotto ($25) would’ve drawn raves from around the table had the broiled half Maine lobster not been a smidge overdone. But the risotto, creamy (all’onda) and firm (al dente), was given a nice tang with the addition of capers, roasted tomatoes and kalamata olives.
As at any McMahon-run eatery, desserts are made to impress. The pastry chef’s virtuoso peanut butter pie ($7), simultaneously airy and rich, was clearly the ending of choice. Just as rich was McMahon’s take on Boston cream pie ($7), a spongy number that certainly satisfied, but didn’t quite knock us off our chairs. Then again, with the grand intake of food and drink, we were content to stay glued to our seats, sipping on coffee and enjoying our final moments tangled up in Blu.
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