Sunday, March 25, 2001

Mt. Doric poetry

Posted on Sun, Mar 25, 2001 at 4:00 AM

"Nay, take a seat with us, Honor and eat with us," They answered grinning; "Our feast is but beginning."

When Christina G. Rossetti wrote those words in "The Goblin Market" in 1862, Dora Ann Drawdy was just settling into the Florida wilderness that would someday bear her name. And Rossetti certainly wasn't thinking about Vince and Janis Guzinski's restaurant when she told of the trials of sisters Laura and Lizzie. But "I ate and ate my fill, Yet my mouth waters still," fits the Goblin Market pretty well.

Not yet five years old, the restaurant is tucked into a side alley that, by the looks of all the new construction, won't be hidden and secluded much longer. Call for directions anyway. Trust me. The building was actually a small warehouse once, now set up as two cozy dining rooms and outdoor seating front and back. What parts of the gray walls that aren't covered in bookshelves are filled with windows, and the place washes with light, particularly in late afternoon when the setting sun streams across the lake.

Unlike the Goblin Men of the poem, the Guzinskis (who courted by reading poetry to each other) do not have cat faces or crawl like snails, but they do inspire some witchery in the kitchen. There's a nice hand with soups with unusual touches, like the French onion served with a crown of deep-fried onion strings, or a thick and flavorful crab bisque that's presented with a small crystal pitcher of sherry so you can season to taste ($5.95 each). A superb bread with a texture almost like pound cake comes to the table with the soup, and it's delicious.

Appetizers are just large enough to, yes, whet your appetite. The crab cakes with a tart cucumber-onion relish are very popular ($8.00), as is the unusual combination of artichoke hearts stuffed with pesto cream cheese and tempura battered ($7.00).

My waiter, Norm, was just attentive enough, apologizing when my entrée arrived in ten minutes instead of the promised five.

Judging by the poem, Lizzie would prefer ordering "Filet Portabella" ($23.00), a tenderloin topped with a portobello cap and melted brie on puff pastry and Béarnaise. Laura, with her passion for "grapes fresh from the vine, Pomegranates full and fine," would probably order "Snapper St. Martin" ($24.00), the filet pan-fried with an orange sauce, kiwi and banana. I was impressed by the flavor and presentation of the Atlantic escolar ($22.00), a firm and buttery-flavored fish that's also called walu -- very trendy right now but very tasty. It's served with a dollop of crab meat and avocado and covered in Chardonnay cream sauce, and quite a pleasure. The shrimp and lobster pasta with lemon cream sauce looked tempting too... maybe next time.

Mt. Dora is about 25 miles north of Orlando, and it's a pleasant drive if you avoid the highway. Open the windows, grab a driving-music CD, and head on up.

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