Thursday, August 19, 2010

Numbers game

Famous former football coach plays high steaks game

Posted on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 at 4:00 AM

We were told the wait would be 25 minutes, which wasn't surprising given it was Saturday night and that we hadn't made reservations at Shula's 347 Grill, a casual spinoff of the Don's chain of upscale steakhouses. A hightop table was offered, but we politely declined, took a seat on the curvilinear silver sofa and opted to wait it out. But someone in the front of the house must have decided to run the hurry-up offense, because not two minutes later, we were being seated at a table in the back of the restaurant, away from the din and clamor of the bar. We may not have been seated in those cozy plush leather booths (they were all occupied), but we had sufficient privacy, given the entire back row of tables was free of diners.

The '347� is a reference to the number of wins Don Shula amassed over his 33-year coaching career. It's safe to say Shula has notched another win with this restaurant situated inside the Westin Lake Mary hotel, but it isn't resounding enough a win to compel us to come, ahem, running back. For one, the potential for a burgeoning hotel-bar pick-up scene isn't really one we particularly care for, nor is the incessant clatter ringing through the restaurant. Understandably, it's the restaurant's raison d'être and the milieu many of its patrons look for. Part sports bar, part trendy steakhouse, Shula's 347 undoubtedly benefits from the spillage from bars and restaurants situated across the street in the Colonial TownPark. 

The space itself is attractive, with metallic steel-grey walls, chrome accents, polished hardwood floors and a centerpiece wine vault splitting the lounge from the dining area. It's a high-energy joint in which our sprightly waiter seemed perfectly comfortable. His suggestion that we start with the honey-sesame chicken ($9) was a good one; the seemingly prosaic starter was a delight ' fried orbs of chicken came in a bowl zested with ginger and stacked with plenty of cabbage and green and red onions for a healthy crunch. But beef is what we really came for, and we were a little saddened to see only four cuts available, three of which were of the 'Shula Cut� variety (premium Black Angus beef that exceeds seven of the eight standards qualifying steaks as USDA Prime). The 10-ounce flatiron steak ($26), while cooked perfectly, was somewhat marred by the spice rub and a pool of red wine demi-glace. A heap of crispy fried onions were a nice topping, but a little less adulteration would've benefited this steak. 

For a few bucks more, the cowboy steak ($32) was simply outstanding. The wonderful marbling and flavor running through this 16-ounce bone-in ribeye made it a dish we'd seriously consider returning for, though next time we'd probably just eat it outside on the patio. We didn't care for the sides of corn-edamame succotash (the texture didn't mesh well with the juicy steak) or the dry citrus rice pilaf. 

Seafood and sandwiches comprise a hefty chunk of the menu, and we were thoroughly gratified by the fish of the day, a hefty chunk of grouper ($26), simply grilled and served with asparagus drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and creamy smashed potatoes. After waiting a while for our dessert order, we ultimately indulged in a divine wedge of warm chocolate cake ($8) and vanilla-bean crème brûlée, a now all-too familiar and common standby. In retrospect, the same claim can be made for Shula's 347.

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