Sun-splashed fun cuisine

On a recent trip to Disney's BoardWalk, we discovered that one of Orlando's nicest Mediterranean restaurants also has one of the silliest names: Spoodles. Try saying that with any credibility, as in, "I had some excellent spice-crusted salmon with potato-fennel gratin and truffle oil ... at Spoodles."

Head chef Bart Hosmer explains that the name is a twist on "noodles" and "spoons," in hopes that guests will pick up on the spirit of fun. And true, this is a place where friendly waiters and chefs are just as much a part of the atmosphere as the open-air kitchen stage, lush displays of fruits and breads, and rainbow ceramics on every table.

But the star attraction is what's on those tables. Spoodles calls it "cuisine of the sun" -- dishes inspired by the flavors of the Mediterranean Coast. After a kitchen fire put the restaurant out of commission briefly in July, things are now back up to speed. And Hosmer is putting the final touches on the new fall menu to be officially introduced on Aug. 30, but we sampled a preview on our visit.

By all means, try one of the fire-baked flatbreads. We had a delicious version topped with roasted garlic, portobello mushroom steaks, basil and goat cheese ($12). But we had mixed reactions to the light medley of oak-roasted clams and mussels simmered in fennel broth. My guest scooped up every last spoonful, but I found it too mild-mannered. It was beautiful, though, laced with leeks and parsnips.

Among the entrees we tried, our favorite was braised lamb shank ($23), served on the bone, standing straight up on the platter. It was prepared osso buco style, garnished with a gremolata of crumbled garlic toast, parsley and lemon zest. The whole thing was nestled in a creamy bed of fluffy herb polenta studded with corn nuggets.

My guest also had a gorgeous fillet of yellowfin tuna ($23), which was seared outside and left ruby red inside. Drizzled with a saffron-scented aioli, the fillet was buttery soft, and it gave in easily with a nudge of the fork. On the side was a lovely chilled salad of summer beans in yellow and green.

Among the prominent changes at Spoodles, the wine list has been doubled to include about 100 selections. The menu helps amateurs along by recommending a featured wine and describing its qualities in lyrical detail.

Because Spoodles is located on the Boardwalk, it's much more than just a place to eat. Located among the waterfront shops and cafes that resemble turn-of-the-century Atlantic City, Spoodles is ideal for those occasions when you want your dinner plans to include sightseeing and entertainment.

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