Room to grow

Have you been to the town of Celebration? It's so ... clean. And planned. And it has those "Neighborhood Electric Vehicles" (with reserved parking spots that you al-ways pull into before seeing the "NEV Parking" sign).

The Celebration planning extends to food as well. If anyone can afford fabulous chefs, Disney can; yet the cuisine at the immaculate Plantation Room is good but unimpressive.

Although Café D'Antonio, Columbia and the Market Street Café -- the more visible dining spots along the main drag -- were packed, Plantation Room, ensconced in the Celebration Hotel, was eerily quiet on both midweek evenings I visited. It's more of a special-occasion kind of place than somewhere to go on impulse. The room itself is gorgeous, alive with the subdued sparkle of crystal glasses and good china. And the background music of 1930s' jazz is fun. But The Plantation Room misses the goal of a well-manicured dining experience: a spectacular dinner.

Head Chef Jean-Louis calls his creations "New Florida Cuisine." Well, they're new and in Florida, but nothing cried out "Sunshine State" except for the sweet and spicy fruit salsa, full of mango and pineapple, which flavored the crab-cake appetizer. And covering firm escargot with an overpowering cream sauce did nothing for the flavor or Floridaness of the wee mollusks (both $8).

The filet mignon ($28) was one big honkin' piece of meat, a good 4-inches thick; unfortunately, it was served in a much-too-salty mushroom sauce. Salt also was the villain with the breast of duck ($19) that was tender and darkly tasty, but a little too far removed from the oven to be as crispy as it should have been. The accompanying and impressive tower of crisp sweet-potato slices filled with mashed sweet potatoes was delicious, though.

Sweet potatoes (if it's a plantation, this must be the crop) showed up flavoring grits around the grouper ($22), a nice combination. In fact the fish was the best taste of the evening, lovingly uncomplicated and cooked to firm and juicy perfection, served with baby bok choy. So why was the whole dish covered with threads of deep-fried scallions? The selection prompted my companion to ask, "What am I eating here, grass?"

Even though we ordered both the cherries jubilee and bananas foster, neither was flambéed at the table -- and that might tell the whole tale of the Plantation Room. The bits are all there, but nothing really lights a fire.


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