1568 Maguire Road, Ocoee | 407-614-3765 | rusteakwinebar.com | $$
Prior to seeing the Friday evening crowd waiting to get into RusTeak Restaurant & Winebar, a self-described “local gastropub,” we had no clue we’d be stepping into the most popular eatery in all of Ocoee. Sure, it was happy hour and throngs had amassed to take advantage of $5 wines and signature cocktails, like the cloying ice wine martini (normally $9), but friends who live in the area suggested we make reservations regardless, and it’s a good thing we did. The joint was packed and it didn’t let up. Either the pickings are slim in Ocoee, or chefs Danny Otero and Mike Antol are doing something right. Possibly both.
We felt somewhat privileged sitting in a booth right in the heart of the main dining room, and in full view of all the action where we surveyed a mixed bag of folks chowing down on a mixed bag of offerings, and what a mixed bag it is. In addition to your typical starters, there are flatbreads, burgers, salads, soups, sandwiches, pastas, sides, 12 assorted entrees and half a dozen desserts, not to mention specials. When menus cross the 50-item threshold, I duly lower expectations, then pray the kitchen is large enough to handle the extra output, and that there’s enough skilled staff to do the prep and properly execute the dishes.
I guess those prayers were answered, because most of what we sampled on this busy Friday night was met with clear approval, the thoroughly average jumbo lump crab cake ($11) notwithstanding. It was fine, but nothing compared to the Tuscan steak flatbread ($9) with its shaved prime rib, house-made sundried tomato spread, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, caramelized onions and mozzarella. Fingers fought, flailed and forked for every last piece before settling for the consolation bowl of garlic-lime-and-herb edamame ($5). The savory soybeans held tempers in check, but we all looked ahead to our mains, the nightly specials in particular.
The first: mutton snapper ($27) cooked in parchment paper with cherry tomatoes in a Key lime beurre blanc. While heavy, the sauce didn’t obscure the flavor of the fish at all, though serving a side of additional beurre blanc seemed like overkill. The second: lamb porterhouse ($42), a bone-in cut I’d never sampled before, and one that ate like a beefsteak. Every salty, charred chunk was a gnaw toward ecstasy, even with an unfortunate side of sautéed cabbage with porter reduction that seemed to spar with, rather than round off, the cut. On the sandwich front, we praised the hefty half-pound RusTeak burger ($10) for its bacon, fried egg, provolone and potato strings, and the brioche bun deserved kudos as well. As with the mahi-mahi sandwich ($10) on focaccia, the breads are procured from Douce France, a Winter Garden bakery run by French couple Ron and Sophie Sacagiu. (Sophie’s father once ran La Normandie on Colonial Drive.) The mahi-mahi’s only fault was the lack of blackening spice on the sandwich, but the fish was perfectly done.
Service couldn’t have been more professional and courteous, and the timing never felt hurried or drawn out. That said, RusTeak may want to invest some time in finding an in-house pastry chef. Neither the too-sweet carrot cake ($6) nor the tiramisu ($6), which seemed tinged with raspberry, wowed us.
While the packed quarters aren’t an indication, there’s always room for improvement.
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