Expectations were high when word came that Bernard Caramouche (former culinary director of Emeril's Orlando) and Larry Sinibaldi (former executive chef at the Palm Restaurant) were joining forces to open Two Chefs Seafood Oyster Bar in downtown Orlando. The fact that it was to be situated in the lesser-known North Quarter and in a space recently vacated by a coffee shop certainly didn't seem to matter – these two highly lauded culinarians were expected to impress, and impress big. At first blush, however, I was somewhat underwhelmed. With Bond-villain names like Caramouche and Sinibaldi, I would've expected them to swiftly eradicate bad behavior like idle chitchat by the hostess and waitstaff at the counter fronting the open kitchen.
Luckily, that was the only real negative we experienced in a night full of positives. Sure, the "habanero red sauce" served with our Connecticut Blue Points tasted more like Texas Pete (the distinct flavor of the habañero pepper was absent), but the baked oysters on the half shell ($14) made an ideal prelude to the kitchen's NOLA- inspired dishes. And while the plating of the jumbo lump crab cake ($12) wasn't noteworthy, the sweetness of the delicately held round was, as was the serving of house-pickled vegetables and the truffle mustard sauce.
The no-fuss plating seems to underscore the restaurant's distinctly casual mien – the main dining room is more high-school cafeteria than Commander's Palace, but try not to judge this resto by its decor. Judge it by its fried chicken ($12) instead. Did the crackling skin elicit hearty grunts of approval? Did the flesh induce in us a lubricious haze? Were our digits licked clean of crunchy, seasoned residue? Yes, yes and oh hell yes. The basket came with a side of chef Larry's homemade bread-and-butter pickles, but that side portion wasn't enough. We demanded more, and the poor server, startled by our rapacious eyes, dutifully obliged. Bottom line: You likely won't find a fried bird done any better than it is here.
The blackened flounder ($24), on the other hand, was a tad dry and suffered from a heavy seasoning, but it was the bed of kale, crab, corn and cherry tomato on which it rested that I took issue with – too many competing textures and flavors, plus I don't like getting bits of crab mixed in with my fish. I'd rather they keep it as a side, or remove the crab and drop the price of the dish. A wonderful roasted duck hash ($12) topped with a fried egg and drizzled with truffle oil brought us back to a more ravenous realm. It's a starter, but a filling one. If you're the sort who revels in moaning loudly at eating establishments, order that hash with a side of the seriously stellar charred okra ($5), then let those smoked ladyfingers do all the talking.
Biting into the banana bread pudding ($10) elicited the sort of expletives only a truly superlative dessert can rouse. The F-bombs flew; uncouth utterances of "F me," "Holy F" and "F-ing F!" were dropped as we forked bites of praline cheesecake ($12) into our yaps. Clearly pastry chef Amy Gilbert has a gift, and we totally expect her to open her own bakery one day.
In the meantime, we expect Gilbert, Caramouche and Sinibaldi to hone and improve their worthy eatery. No doubt the neighborhood will continue to grow, and I'm all for them making this sector of the city more French Quarter than North Quarter.
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